Labor Day 1998 column, Bishop Paul Marshall

Miners Labored for the Community in a World of Dim Carbide Lamps

[This is Bishop Paul Marshall’s September 1998 column published in local newspapers. It is a rewrite for the secular press of a lengthier column written in 1996 for Diocesan Life.]

My wife, Diana, and I drove to Scranton to visit the Lackawanna County Anthracite Museum a few years ago. I have thought often about that visit and have reviewed impressions it left.

When the coal mine tour guide (whose father died of Black Lung, and whose grandfather died in a cave-in) turned out the lights and showed us the amount of light a carbide lamp (and later a slightly brighter electric lamp) on a helmet provided, and added that this was all the light the miners had from the opening of the mine in the 1850s until its close in 1966, I began to realize what a different world they inhabited.

Long days, mining an eighteen-inch seam on your belly; child labor starting at age seven; water, dirt, and noise; not to mention health, safety, and economic questions. A miner's life is not one I would have wanted. I understood why being sent to the mines in the ancient pre-industrial world was a death sentence for a convict.

The industrial world we enjoy was built by the backbreaking labor of millions of people, supported by the unpaid labor of those who made what homes they could for them, with little hope for something better. We need to acknowledge our debt to them, not because they made some owners and investors wealthy (possibly some who read this today), but because they helped build a country, and for a long time provided much of the economic backbone of our region. May we attend to the grim reminders of what it cost them.

What have we learned? Our workplace is by and large safer and more rewarding than it was for those miners. Most of us have considerably more options about where and for whom we will work. Nonetheless, I think that the basic lessons still apply.

God made humans social creatures. Most of what we do and enjoy depends on what people do for us or with us. People are not to be used, but valued for who they are as God's creatures, and what they give to one another through their work. That gift is a continuing of the Creator's work. How do we teach that to our children so they will continue to build human respect and community? Baptismal vows in the Episcopal Church include one to respect the dignity of every person. How do we help our children realize that faith in action starts here?

We need to be clear in attitudes we model to our children, that while different kinds of work have different levels of responsibility, creativity, and reward, and while social conventions acknowledge this in many ways, everyone has the same personal worth. Our children need to hear us speaking of people from any walk of life with respect -- whether they have more or less education, responsibility, or money than we.

Those of us who have shielded our children from doing volunteer work for the family or in community service may need to rethink that. How else will they learn that among those who follow Jesus, there are no little princes or princesses, but that we are members one of another? How else can they learn that the more privileges one has earned or inherited, the more responsibility one has?

Finally, work cannot be a god. Many species and some human groups simply kill or leave to starve those whose disabilities or age prevents them from contributing, We have learned to respect and care for them and to help them see that there are many ways to participate in the community's life. Japan, a country that does know something about work, marks a Respect for the Elderly day each September. What might a version of that look like in America, brought off with care and without patronizing?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very far from being a socialist. My politics are independent and highly pragmatic, and I would never pretend to have expertise in labor relations. I am convinced, however, that if we believe that God made us, and made us to work together, we need to act as if that is true, and value one another accordingly. When that is happening, I am willing to trust the experts to do much of the rest.

 


Sermon by Bill Lewellis at Bishop Paul's retirement

God-baked, God-broken, God-made
Bishop Paul’s Retirement
St. Stephen's Pro-Cathedral, W-B
Sermon by Bill Lewellis, Dec. 15, 2013
Ezekiel 34:11-16; 2Timothy 4:1-8; John 21:15-19


Bill preaching at Paul retirementLove is a word
"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, I love you. Then what?

"Do you love me, Paul, Diana, Anne, Howard, Andrew?” Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Love is a word. Then what? 

Even God's Word became flesh.

When Bishop Paul heard this passage read also at his 1996 consecration, as today, this passage about loving God and being taken to difficult places, he must have suspected that God's love leads far beyond what we might naively expect.

"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Well, not so fast. Then what? "When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." Will you love me then? Will you love me when you're 64?

About a month ago, I asked Paul: Is there anything you’d like me to say during the sermon. Only two things, he said without missing a beat. (1) Say that whatever has been done these past 17 years, we all did it together. (2) Tell the truth.

Seems like an easy assignment, except that there’s just too much truth to tell. But, I’ll do my best.

Sudan 2006/New Hope
Upon returning from a 2005 mission trip to southern Sudan, Paul Marshall told this story: “At the end of a week in that bomb-torn country, Diana and I baked in a bus for 14 hours.

"Finally you give up wiping your face. As we became increasingly caked with red dirt, and the overcrowded bus grew hotter and hotter, I found myself baking in a creative and holy sense: I knew God wanted my attention. 

"Genesis says humans began our existence as kind of mud pies, and the red dust of the earth baking into my pores helped me have a new beginning of insight: Here were sisters and brothers with almost nothing to their names trying to build a life and a country — how could I go on as usual?

"In addition to altering how I live personally, I have had to abandon some of my bricks-and-mortar dreams for our own diocese in order to see what God would have us do for others. The question that intrigued me was, Could we dare to have a capital fund drive where we didn’t get the money?”

Do you love me? Yes, Lord, I love you. Then what?

From those African mud pies and red dust, the New Hope Campaign was created for the people of our companion Diocese of Kajo Keji and for the needy among us. With his leadership, we did dare. The New Hope Campaign – a capital fund drive for others – has been eminently successful.

Six years earlier, in 1999, with proactive encouragement from the bishop, the diocesan World Mission Committee began to focus the attention of the diocesan community on conditions in developing countries. “Our deeper attachment to brothers and sisters in the third World can only mean good things,” Bishop Paul said at that time. “I’d like to see the day when people from our diocese go to Third World countries to do various kinds of ministry.” And we did. 

Bishop Paul had previously asked Charlie Barebo to help spearhead a capital campaign to develop a diocesan camp and conference center. “A funny thing happened on the way,” said Charlie, “I woke up one morning in the Sudan. It was a life-changing event that has deepened my faith and altered my outlook on this world.”

Do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Then what? Love is a word.

During that 2005 visit, Bishop Paul ordained 37 Africans, including a woman. He and Diana – attorney, registered nurse and Mama Diana in the Sudan – addressed 17 gatherings during the weeklong visit. During one gathering, laying the foundation stone of the Mothers Union Training Center in Kajo Keji, Mama Diana observed that the church in the United States is grateful to have heard the wisdom of African men, but that the African witness will be fully present in Anglicanism when women’s wisdom is celebrated and revered by all. “It is time to hear the voices of African women,” she said.

Over the past year, we have begun to hear of African women bishops.

Headshot
"Would you send me a headshot," I emailed Dr. Paul Marshall back in 1995 while he was teaching at Yale when he became one of five nominees from which we would choose our next bishop. You'll have to use your graphic imagination to appreciate what I received by return email. Picture the ivy-covered buildings and walls of Yale. Paul stood in front of a building but behind a head-high wall. Only his head was visible, as though mounted on the ivy-covered wall. No body, not even a neck. Only a head. A headshot. John the Baptist's head on a platter.

We've got a live one, I thought. I hope he keeps me on staff if he's elected.

Easy mark
In December of 1995, during our Diocesan Convention when he was elected bishop, however, despite my great appreciation of his wit, I neither rooted for nor voted for Paul Marshall.

He soon found out. The tell was that I had prepared a news template with Rosemari Sullivan's name and address, the nominee from Virginia. When the electors voted Bishop Paul in, I substituted his name. In my haste, however, I did not delete Rosemari's address.

He did keep me, but he never let me forget. There were many strategic instances of "You didn't vote for me. I know" – or, to others, "You know, Bill didn't vote for me." I was an easy mark for his wit ... for years ... and years. 

Bulletproof vest
Move forward. Seven months.

July 29, 1996. In this church ... when Paul Marshall was to be consecrated the 919th bishop in the Episcopal succession and eighth bishop of Bethlehem. I understand that four burly men stationed themselves at strategic parts of the church. Many mistook them for ushers. They were police. I didn't know it at the time. 

Edmund Browning was then presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He would ordinarily have been the principal consecrator. He wasn't present, because he had received death threats. The late Bishop Robert Rowley stood in his place ... wearing a bulletproof vest. 

Bishop Paul, that was some beginning!

All because you invited the late Walter Righter, retired Bishop of Iowa, to be a co-consecrator. 

Six years earlier, Bishop Righter had ordained an openly gay man to the order of deacon. Two months earlier, he was cleared of charges of heresy brought by ten of his brother bishops. Thus the death threats and the security.

Bishop Righter took this essentially political charge in good humor. He got a vanity plate for his Subaru Legacy: HRETIC. Being accused became for him a mark of honor.

Bakerwoman God
During her homily at the consecration Eucharist, Bishop Cathy Roskam read a poem by Alla Renee Bozarth-Campbell. I think you will want to hear it. For some of us, hear it again.

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living bread.
Strong, brown, Bakerwoman God,
I am your low, soft and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine
and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth-hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.

Put me in your fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard,
brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God.
I am broken under your caring Word.

Drop me in your special juice in pieces.
Drop me in your blood.
Drunken me in the great red blood.
Self-giving chalice, swallow me.
My skin shines in the divine wine.
My face is cup-covered and I drown.

I fall up
in a red pool,
in a gold world
where your warm
sunskin hand
is there to catch
and hold me.

Bakerwoman God,
remake me.

"When we put ourselves in God's hands to be bread,” Bishop Roskam said, “God keeps messing around in our lives … The process is dynamic, creative, intimate and sometimes painful.”

It's not easy being bread. But, it seems to me to be a bishop's occupational hazard ... and call.

Paul's ministry among us
From my unique perspective, over the past 28 years, on both Bishop Mark Dyer's and Bishop Paul's staff – I saw how broad and deep Bishop Paul's ministry and dedication among us has been ... well-kneaded, God-baked, God-broken and God-made: teacher, pastor, preacher, administrator, author, advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, advocate and reconciler with those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, interpreter of family systems theory, communicator within and beyond the diocesan community, a leader who consults with colleagues, and a person whose ministry as bishop proceeds from prayer and a contemplative vision of God's kingdom.

From my unique perspective, I saw not only how broad and deep was Bishop Paul’s ministry among us, but also how deep was his suffering and how en-fleshed was his love.  

Messages in the Mall
During his first year with us, Bishop Paul decided to write a monthly column and offer it to dailies and weeklies that circulated to some 400,000 homes in our 14-county diocese, and a bit beyond, over the next 13 years. It was a unique ministry that no other bishop in the U.S., episcopal or other, could claim, then or now.

He meant the column to engage the secular culture and to bring the church's message to the culture by commenting on the realities of the human condition and on issues of general interest. With dry and gentle wit, deep compassion and, sometimes, anger, he wrote about topics from the tragic Columbine school shootings to the spiritual ramifications of the TV series The Sopranos.

Doing the column, he told me, was a monthly agony, but it was a way he had ... to reach the most people.

In Learning From What Jesus Did Not Do, he wrote that Jesus "did not give in to his disciples' desire to have more power than others, did not force anyone to believe in him, did not condemn those who were pushed to the edges of life ... The ministry of not condemning was one of the most radical things Jesus did."

One of my favorites, from a column subtitled Don't Confuse Being Valuable with Being Right: "We don't maintain the unity of Christ's Church by being right. The late Rabbi Edwin Friedman said in his lectures on family systems that no aquarium survives unless some fish is willing to eat the garbage.”

Many people beyond the Episcopal Church got to know Bishop Paul through those columns. 

Permit me a commercial. Messages in the Mall -- Looking at Life in 600 Words or Less (Seabury, 2008) is a compilation of some 90 selected columns from those years. I recommend it to you for entertaining ... and spiritual ... reading ... and to get to know this man better. It's even available for Kindle.

The Dance
“We are a curious lot, we who serve the church in whatever capacity,” Bishop Paul wrote in one of four sermons he preached during the summer of 2012 when he served as conference preacher during a gathering in Philadelphia of the Anglican Association of Musicians.

Paul's sermons, not only these four, are among the best I've ever read or heard. But, of course: in his 1991 book on preaching he wrote, “I have a rather pragmatic view of preaching. If it doesn’t help people live, then it’s probably a waste of their time.”

Those who visit our newSpin blog or read my online notes may have wondered why I very recently posted those sermons: Because Bishop Paul told me only recently that he wrote them at a time he thought he was soon to die. 

With that in mind, I searched those sermons for a perceived “soon-to-die” passage. Allow me to quote, in slightly edited form, a passage from the first.

He noted that Gustav Mahler, when asked why he never composed a mass, said it was because there was a creed in it.

“For the orthodox Christianity of Mahler’s day, the creed was for the most part data, not a song. So perceived, it ultimately reduced God to an object, capable of study, dissection, and definition, the fuel for debate and even persecution. Such talk of a domesticated and definable God does not invite the ecstasy of music.

“Beliefs, including our own,” Paul preached, “are motivated, by many things going on inside of us in our deepest unconscious. Not all of us believe with words.

“The creed has gotten more musical of late. The revival of Trinitarian theology in the last two generations has been, at its heart, the rediscovery by western Christians that what the ancient church chose to say about God is not in the first place data; it is doxology (praise).

“Doxology comes from reflection on both practical and ecstatic experience, and Trinitarian doxology comes to the conclusion that God is, in God’s deepest self, in relationship, from before time and forever. 

“Many have observed that the Greek word for that relationship is very like (but not identical to) the word for dance: Three distinct persons in one eternal Dance. Delicate, rhythmic, supple, inviting.

“What we call the heresies often moved theology from the mystical dance to something like bad PowerPoint.

“So to the part of us that resonates strongly with Mahler and other spiritually rich composers who balked at dogma perhaps because of its unmusicality, there come two words.

“The first is that our God worshiped with the creed is not worshiped as a datum, but is adored as the eternal dynamic relationship; we perceive that very God inviting us to join the dance.

“The second word is that if I try to figure God out rather than relax and adore the mystery, and lose myself in it, I condemn myself to theological tone-deafness and will not get to dance.”

I said earlier that, when Paul asked me to tell the truth, I thought that there were too many truths to tell. One of the truths is how deeply he touched many with his writing and his sermons. We’ll never know.

As one who is well into the last quarter of life, I can tell you that Bishop Paul has touched me deeply with a tune that’s easy to dance to.

Will you love me when you’re 64?
Bishop Paul, may the bakerwoman God continue to bake, break and remake you. You’re not too old. God meddling in our lives is good even for bodies he has molded more than once. May Christ, the bread of life, feed and sustain you.

"Do you love me?" Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Then what? 

"When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."

Will you love me then? Will you love me when you're 64?

# # # # # # # # # # # # # #


Four sermons by Bishop Paul (AAM, July 2012)

Grave: TRINITY
by Bishop Paul Marshall (1 of 4)

© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

Gratitude is the chief word I have for the opportunity to share this week with you, gratitude and a little awe, but with your permission I will not go into that now beyond acknowledging the keen pleasure I take at the invitation to be among this company in this hallowed place.

You have given me a tough place to start, however, as our propers are “of the Holy Trinity.” 

You know better than I that Gustav Mahler was asked why, given the immense spirituality of his compositions, he had never composed a mass. His reply was telling, “Do you think I could take that upon myself? Well, why not? But no, there’s the credo in it.” Fair enough, but then he went on to recite the creed in Latin, keeping the ambiguity of the encounter high. 

I think of Mahler today because his story is tantalizing. We cannot say with precision exactly what if any brand of faith he had. Nobody can prove what his conversion Christianity was ultimately about, and there are lots of opinions. That multitude of opinion about the very same information reminds us that all beliefs, including our own, are motivated, motivated by many things going on inside of us in our deepest unconscious, so we may perhaps put nagging historical questions in favor of the theological one when we think of this story. Mahler would not have been the first to write a mass with no creed (of course, he couldn’t write anything-Brevis); why would he have focused on the very existence of credo as a reason to bow out of mass-writing entirely?

Let me thicken that question. More than one of the great composers of religious music in the Anglican tradition, when pressed about theology, has chosen to declare for atheism or agnosticism as did Vaughan Williams. Others will mount an esoteric heterodoxy like that of my beloved Parry. Again, we can speculate about their deepest motives, but is it not possible that for those who sing of God and the Lamb the language of dogmatic theology is, forgive me, not always very interesting, and perhaps quite alienating? Bach is the greatest exception here, but he is always the greatest exception. But for Mahler and my English examples, perhaps it was one thing to set the earnest prayer “Veni Creator Spiritus” in a symphony of a thousand, and quite another thing to set to music a group of propositions. Not all of us believe with words.

Perhaps the dogmatically hesitant have a vital point to make, at least in the present culture that speaks so trippingly of the uncertainty principle and parallel universes. That is, I have to remember that for the orthodox Christianity of Mahler’s day, the creed was for the most part data, not a song. So perceived, it ultimately reduced God to an object, capable of study, dissection, and definition, the fuel for debate and even persecution. Such talk of a domesticated and definable God does not invite the ecstasy of music. Who would want to set the periodic chart of the elements to music?—well, of course, Tom Lehrer did just that, but you get my point.

To those for whom the idea of God as object is unthinkable or at least uninviting, it is life-giving to observe that the creed has gotten more musical of late. The revival of Trinitarian theology in the last two generations has been at its heart the rediscovery by western Christians that what the ancient church chose to say about God is not in the first place data; it is doxology. That doxology (and let us steadfastly remember that all doxologies get an Amen played at the end, just as one is said at the doxology in each prayer!), that doxology comes from reflection on both practical and ecstatic experience, and Trinitarian doxology comes to the conclusion that God is, in God’s deepest self, in relationship, from before time and forever.  Many have observed that the Greek word for that relationship is very like (but not identical to) the word for dance. Three distinct persons in one eternal Dance. Delicate, rhythmic, supple, inviting.

It is also worth reflection that over the course of the years most of the so-called Trinitarian heresies that have been rejected have one thing in common: each of them simplified words about God, made God seem to be understandable and manageable, pedestrian, and certainly less lyrical. What we call the heresies often moved theology from the mystical dance to something like bad Powerpoint. (This is not to say that the Arians, for instance, didn’t have popular songs, but their songs were apparently shallow, slogan-like, and not very sophisticated musically—but that was a long time ago.)

So to the part of us that resonates strongly with Mahler and other spiritually rich composers who balked at dogma perhaps because of its ineradicable unmusicality, there come two words. The first is that our God worshiped with the creed is not worshiped as a datum, but is adored as the eternal dynamic relationship, and that we perceive that very God inviting us to join the dance. The second word is that if I try to figure God out rather than relax and adore the mystery, and lose myself in it, I condemn myself to theological tone-deafness and will not get to dance.

We can focus this by asking what does any of this doxological dance look like when it is at home?

Let me illustrate by mentioning the spirit of a musician who hovers over this meeting. A colleague[1] in my office wrote this about Gerre Hancock back in 2000:

“When I was a seminarian and the thurifer for a Sung Eucharist one Sunday, I opened the ambulatory door as quietly as possible to see how soon incense would be needed in the service.  The ambulatory was empty, and the view from that door to the organ bench is perfect.  And there was Uncle Gerre sitting on the bench, unaware that someone was watching.  The heels of his shoes were cocked on the beam beneath the bench itself.  His hands were just outside his knees, gripping the bench.  His head was bowed, and his shoulders were slumped.  I put it to you that he wasn’t trying to remember how to play Merbecke….

“He was doing that rare thing, rare for church employees everywhere, both lay and clerical.  He was praying.  He’s based his life on the conviction that he’s on earth for one reason: to praise God.  And, he does it with his playing.  He does it with his composing.  He does it with his conducting.  He does it with his teaching.  All of which is to say he gives thanks and praise unto the Lord with his whole heart.”

I left those verbs in the present tense, because that is where they belong. Gerre Hancock touched to many in this room with his authentic blend of faith and art. Perhaps as we honor his memory by singing it, we may also experience just a bit more gladness to feel, experience, and say, “Credo.”

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

Andante: Starving Artists
by Bishop Paul Marshall (2 of 4)

© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the second.  "Andante" is a musical term meaning "to play with a moderate tempo, in a light, flowing manner.]

The first lesson this morning from Numbers 11 is an unfortunate example of the humorlessness of lectionary makers, who have trimmed a story from the wild side into something perhaps too neat and tidy. In its context Numbers chapter 11 is another of those stories that is many layers deep and thoroughly soaked with irony. It starts with the people being tired of miraculous manna – there is the first movement of a cantata right there. In any event, they are sick of the miracle food and remember the Chateau Briand, Hagen Dazs®, and single-malt back in the ghetto in Egypt. Sure, they may have been slaves, but they had all the basic food groups.

Moses is caught completely off guard by this concern popping up when they are finally getting on track with their mission, and we see him here overwhelmed, losing his vision. So he complains to God for most of the chapter, ending up with a stunning combination of blaming, sacrcasm, and whining:

{12} Did I conceive all this people? Did I bring them forth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the sucking child, to the land which you swore to give their fathers?' {13} Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' {14} I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If you are going to deal with me this way, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."

 

YOU gave me this rabble, this motley crew – all of a sudden he forgets he is part of “them.” I’ve been there; you’ve been there, everybody in this room who cares about the church has been there in one way or another. And for some who serve the church, if the truth were told, there are brief moments when death seems likes like a pretty good way out, and the number of church professionals who maintain unhealthy habits is by no means small. Moses speaks for many.

God and Moses, I suppose, could have debated theology and catering strategy for hours, and then they could have moved on to discussion of Moses’ inner child. But God doesn’t argue back, and simply goes to work on Moses’ near-burnout condition, dealing only with Moses’ inner adult.

And the great surprise is, God’s answer to the kind of burnout that only the very gifted and driven experience is… colleagues, community, lots of company on the journey. Moses’ prayer for a quick death is not only ignored, he is plunged headlong into a re-creative and redemptive experience of community. All of a sudden he has 70 co-workers, burden-sharing, perspective-maintaining colleagues who no doubt had active listening skills as well. And those people had been there all the time.

But the interesting thing is that this isn’t exactly a music committee, a choir picnic, or a vestry. They “prophesied,” we’re told. Now that’s an interesting word, because only much later in Israel’s history did “prophet” come to mean unattractive or irritating speech-maker. In the period of our story it means being full of the spirit, being in ecstasy, shouting, dancing, singing words from the Lord in a totally unrestrained state. In short, although the 70 shared in Moses’ spirit and helped bear his burdens, they were more than his briefcase-carriers: they were outside his control. A few verses later somebody immersed in control issues comes up to Moses all upset that although Eldad and Medad (the Old Testament Blues Brothers) – although Eldad and Medad hadn’t been up on the Mountain to be regularly and validly commissioned (sort of like the people who don’t come to rehearsals and expect to sing on Sunday), they were prophesying anyway, right there in public, shouting, singing, dancing, and generally scaring the orderly types.

And through Eldad and Medad’s disorderly conduct Moses gets the point at last. He replies that it would be of great practical value if all of God’s people prophesied. I happen to believe that stories like this one were saved precisely because of the comic, ironic and slightly embarrassing light they shed on great and small figures in the life of God’s people. If we can chuckle at them, it’s probably safe to take a closer look at ourselves in our desperate moments.

First of all, when it all seems too much, it’s good to remember the manna, the miracles around us that have brought us this far. It’s a long pilgrimage, and it pays to remember not only the goal, but how far we have come in our lives, and how God has sustained us. I will explore this a bit more tomorrow.  But let’s encourage each other not to get bored with the miracles of word and sacrament, faith and community, with which God nourishes us regularly. Sacraments and liturgies seldom bring entertainment, but they surely bring sustenance.

And with Moses, I have to confess that it is Eldad and Medad who surprise me, constantly, in my own life. I treasure the encounters with friends but am often stunned back to sanity by perhaps chance acquaintances who often sustain and guide me. Who are Eldad and Medad for you? On the other hand, which of your colleagues is a little too isolated, and might need a phone call? I have a musical example, one that people in this room this morning have taught me to love.

Many of us play it and some of you have recorded Elgar’s “Nimrod,” so perhaps you can hum along as I talk about it as it helps us remember Moses. The longest of the original Enigma variations, the Nimrod movement is not coded with someone’s initials, but marked with that strange Biblical moniker. Genesis merely says that “Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord,” but various ancient traditions assign him everything from keeping Adam’s original loincloth (!) to ruling Babylon and/or Ninevah. This variety invites much wonderful speculation, all of which could be profitable in other contexts, but in Elgar, Nimrod slyly and simply stands for a conversation he had with one August Jaeger, a man from Duesseldorf whose name just happens to mean Hunter, and I mean to invoke Jaeger’s presence as a reminder of how God touches us Mose-types in the unspectacular.

More than his music editor, Jaeger was, for Elgar, both a comfort and source of courage. Recall how in Nimrod he begins sadly, with echoes of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Elgar, of course, was plagued both by depression and his actual exclusion from many an inner circle because of his religion. Like Moses, he was often burnt-out. Once he was so low that Jaeger had take him out for a walk to remind him of Beethoven’s personal struggles and doubts, all which were overcome by Beethoven’s strength of character and devotion to vocation. This was far more than a command to suck it up; it was an affirming reinforcement of character and identity, an invitation to borrow some of Beethoven’s strength.

What happens to the music after the sad encounter is thrilling, in a measured way, and reminds us yet again that mere words seldom have last word. Without erasing the sadness, the music steadily builds in hope, confidence, and fullness (even with tympani in the orchestral version)…but it never reaches the anticipated Edwardian boisterousness, triumphalism, nor does it offer any oblivion to the pain that is expressed early in the piece. In fact, just when the peaking crescendo could explode into another Elgar hit like Land of Hope and Glory, the music fades very rapidly to a centered and calmer version of its somewhat sad beginning. We rush to tromp down the expression while reducing the registration. Then the music stops, without a note of further explanation.

As must sermons. But we hear can hear the whisper through the closed swell shades, never lose heart for our work and always encourage each other to thrive. Just as you are doing by being here this week.

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© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the third.  "Scherzo" is a musical term meaning a fun, playful piece of music.]

It is a pleasure to greet the clergy joining this third convention day. To catch you up: Monday’s talk was a kind of prelude about believing, and yesterday was an andante through God’s plan for supporting emotionally starving artists by plunging them into community. Today is perhaps a bit of a scherzo about the gifted and talented.

Since you don’t have the entire conference booklet complete with bios, I can introduce myself to you with two sentences. I have known Margaret Farley longer than the pope has. However, it is also true that this spring I stood directly behind Peter Conte in line at the Metropolitan Opera gift shop before Goetterdaemmerung but was too shy to introduce myself. That kind of sums it up AND it is also to say that we are a curious lot, we who serve the church in whatever capacity.

But that’s our tradition. I can see it when I imagine taking a photo of the Last Supper. There are Mother Thunder’s two sons, James and John, coming in a little late because they had been at the gym and were still arguing about who had the greatest abs in the Kingdom of God. There’s Matthew, wondering who will pick up the check. Mary Magdalene, wondering why everybody starts calling her Mark when the camera comes out.  Peter having very obvious but strongly-held opinions about absolutely anything that came up. And of course there’s John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, nestled in his bosom, enjoying the master’s favor yet strangely thinking, “There has got to be a book in this.”

But the point is that they are there, and they are both getting it and not getting it, and it will be all right because they are there. And Jesus loved them for all their complex motivations, and saw the possibilities in each of them and chose to work with them.

Fast forward. And his gifts still are that some of us who come to his table would be teachers, some organists, preachers, composers and conductors, not for our own sake, but for the building up of his body, the church, we who have our mixed motives, great gifts, and sometimes curious ways. We who have said or thought about an under-rehearsed piece of music or under-polished sermon, “it is good enough for this parish.” That is God’s loving kindness, having the likes of us about. And having these ministries, we do not lose heart, because Jesus knows what he’s getting when he calls.

About six years ago a niece once removed was just discovering the joy of the piano, and was telling us about it, with a little coaxing from her mom, at Easter gathering. My heart was thoroughly warmed, so I said how cool the piano is, and how grateful I will always be to my late mother for making me practice. I was trying to give her own mother a little support there, but something else was going on for her. She paused, looked at me very seriously, and asked me, leaning against my Steinway B, “Are you talented, too?”

She wasn’t too much wounded by the collapse of her childhood grandiosity. In fact, she was at the perfect age to be reconsidering the world. Five years later she is playing the cello in a regional orchestra and is very much aware of the talents of others, but I got to witness the sacred moment of her realizing that precisely the same passions could exist across generations and between relative strangers, and after the slightest nano-moment of grief she took it very well. Me, not so much.

With the shining wisdom and spiritual insight that constantly elude me just when I need them, I know now that I should have asked if she would like to play a duet: Chop-sticks, Heart and Soul, On Eagle’s Wings, anything. I think that if we had played together we would have enjoyed each other’s talent in a way that would have transcended my acute experience of a generation gap and might have helped her connect with her elders.

There is a grade-A, champion, USDA Choice generation gap dispute in the history of church music. In considering the extraordinary disliking that Cantor J. S. Bach and school Rector Johann August Ernesti took for each other at St. Thomas in Leipzig, I assume that our rooting interest is on Bach’s side, even though we know he could be a little difficult at times and the Rector may have been trying to teach him something. When we look at the unmusical younger man’s resume, however, we find out that Ernesti was not just an administrative thug. Like Bach, he a child prodigy in his family profession; he turned out to be theologically quite important and achieved professorships in both philosophy and ancient languages. Beyond that, his work laid important foundations for how the Bible is still studied. In his spare time he edited classical texts. Oh. Talent.

Two things are certain. One, neither of these gifted and intense men ever went to charm school. Two, the tragedy is that there is no record of either of them ever saying to the other, “Ah, you have talent, too.”

Their basic disagreements were about theology on the manifest, intellectual level, and about power and control on the emotional and organizational level, and that isn’t just a guy thing. No, they represent different skill sets and different generations of piety in collision. We cannot detect from the vituperative correspondence they had about each other when exactly it was that they forgot their love of God and their service to God’s people, that terrible moment when this all became name-calling and morphed into a struggle that reached the King’s ear. Bach, as you know, became violent at one moment in this “affair of the prefect,” and it wasn’t the first violent time in his life. The loser was, of course, the church-goer, the person in the pew.

Bach represented the absolute pinnacle of the old in his field. Ernesti was an important part of the beginning of the new in his. They were 22 years apart in age, so conflict was hardly unlikely. These two clashing virtuosos came rather naturally to mind as I thought about the reality of this day, devoted as it is to acknowledging and blending the gifts God gives among our professions and between our generations.

It isn’t so much that postludes increasingly get applause in church and sermons usually don’t. It isn’t so much that the rector is often the decider and the musician sometimes just has to swallow that. No.  It’s that we all sometimes forget. We drift from the love of God to the love of what we sing or say about God, and then any meanness becomes terribly possible.  People then become threats to our love of what we say or sing, threats to the part of us that can be deluded into thinking we have all the talent.

That is why my little image of the Last Supper was not a joke for the most part and is really quite biblical. Jesus would try to teach them, try to show them, but ultimately they had to decide to work with each other. Saul of Tarsus, he of blended worship in the most extreme sense, would ultimately complicate the scene tremendously. And yet we carry on, trying to be like Jesus and also aware that much is going on, in and out of consciousness, and that ultimately we are all being lovingly tolerated and accepted for who we are: the gifted and talented, yet thoroughly and vulnerably human.

For some, our present circumstances are a great adventure, and for others they are a burden, but we do live between musical, cultural, and theological generations, and some of us are getting old, and we worry about how it will turn out. Ours is one of those historical moments that calls for courage and good will all around. And the belief that God is faithful in the call given to us.

We will have seminars today on the practicalities of our work together, but I have tried a kind of glissando over the attitudes that I think underlie it. First, awareness that each of us bears a divine gift. Second, respect and healthy ambivalence about ourselves and others. Third, awareness that generations alwaysdo struggle. Finally, celebration that it has ever been thus, and God has gotten us to this time and place nonetheless.

I don’t believe in praying in the pulpit, but if I did I would pray the old prayer now, “Guard us, o Lord, from contempt of what is old and from fear of what is new. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

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Cecilia, Martyrdom and Resurrection
by Bishop Paul Marshall (4 of 4)
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the fourth.  "Scherzo" is a musical term meaning a fun, playful piece of music.]

And in the furnace we still praise God today.

We come at last to the translated feast of our patron, the second-century martyr St. Cecilia. Regarding her patronage of music, it would be preferable for me quietly to sit down and let Handel’s version of Dryden’s “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day” fill this time. The poem sees music in the origin of the cosmos and in all aspects of our emotional lives; it even has a stanza about the superiority of the organ. Sadly, there can slide by all too quickly the account of the angel who hears music such as Cecilia’s and appears, mistaking earth for heaven. There couldn’t be more encouragement for what we strive to do! That 35-second recitative might slip by unnoticed, but no one can miss the metaphor for the end of world in the great and final day at the sound of Gabriel’s trumpet. “The dead shall live; the living die; and music shall untune the sky.” In that untunedness is readiness for a new heaven and a new earth, and the music brings it all on.

That closing passage is one of my favorite five minute slices of music, and is a fitting tribute to our patron saint and to the profession of music itself.

There is just that one other tiny thing, if I may. As the words are commonly used, it is not impossible to think of the words “martyr” and “organist” in the same sentence. Or conductor. Or singer. I doubt I can change that, but perhaps that coincidence of terms can be reframed, and our martyrdom, our witness, embraced more fully.

Back in 2010 scientists discovered that the brain scans of someone in a creative moment were indistinguishable from brain scans of schizophenics. Please hear me out on this. The separated feeling, the intensely inward focus, the sense of disconnectedness from others, the altered perception of what’s out there, the sense of possession along with the elation, simply do put one apart from one’s surroundings, and can be quite painful, or exhausting. Apparently it is biologically necessary to experience a kind of ecstatic disengagement with the ordinary in order to be creative. In short, absent other problems, geniuses only look crazy—at the creative moment that is, and then they come back to us. People who never leave the creative sphere, cannot touch down and rest. Choosing to break a creative state can be part of health maintenance.

Martyrdom means witness; often witness through suffering. Many people suffer and many people die suffering, and yet they are not martyrs. Martyrs are those whose suffering points beyond themselves, points to God, as did the prolonged death of young Cecilia.

This is to suggest that musicians, artists, and writers, if they are any good at all, are going to suffer. Perhaps they will also be inconvenienced at the hands of other people, perhaps not, but that is not my concern today. The internal conflicts and struggle to get just the right sound, the right intonation, or just the right word, are more intense than those we serve probably will ever know. Getting what exists so beautifully in one’s own head out of a choir, orchestra, or multiply rebuilt and characterless organ can bring a kind of pain nobody else will ever understand. Historians wonder what it could possibly have been like for Bach, who never heard any of his major works performed by decent ensembles. Perhaps there is more contemporary data available than they think about that.

Thus musicians can have martyrdom several ways, all of them good.

Musicians are martyrs in the sense of witness when things go extremely well and the congregation or audience is drawn into the music and their hearts and minds go to places they never knew existed. When the concepts of “flow” and “ecstasy” meet in the musical moment and everyone in the room touches a deeper reality.

On the other hand, when those days come when obstacle after obstacle must be overcome, and then the only actual tenor calls in sick, and yet God is worshipped through the very fact of our going through with it all because we remember Who it is that we love, a very different and equally important witness takes place.

Finally by all accounts, Bach wrote the Art of the Fugue for the sake of his soul, after he had to some extent withdrawn from public composition. It was enough that the composition existed—that alone gave God glory. Beauty that resides in the head and heart praises God, too.

In every case, when martyrdom is about us, it is fake, when it points to God it is real.

Both for sermon compositional and deeply personal reasons, I want to end these four talks where I began, with Mahler, who paints a picture that complements Dryden’s ode.

My favorite five minutes of his second symphony, probably everybody’s favorite five minutes of that symphony, come at the end of the fifth movement, after the orchestra has rejected a rosy and unrealistic plea for the future, and after Mahler has finished quoting the poetry of others. He finally speaks his own words.

With wings which I have won for myself,

In love’s fierce striving,

I shall soar upwards

To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Its wing that I won is expanded,

and I fly up.

Die shall I in order to live.

Rise again, yes, rise again, will you, my heart, in an instant!

That which you have conquered,

Will lead you to God!

You can feel it build. Was du geschlagen. Was du geschlagen…zu Gott wird es dich tragen. Tubular chimes. Silence. Then the orchestra says it all over again, and a window opens on immortality.

“That which you have conquered” is occasionally mistranslated as what you have suffered. That is to miss the context, the grammar, and the point. Mahler is expressing that side of him, and us, that knows that faithfulness to one’s vocation requires conquest of self and circumstances. It is martyrdom in the most glorious sense.

Spiritual maturity, in this symphony, means taking one’s gifts and winning one’s wings at considerable cost. While we always talk about grace and the gifts that have been given us, vocational maturity is both martyrdom and stewardship; no one but ourselves can sweat out the coming to fullness of God’s gifts in our lives. Mahler’s Second seems to me to echo all the ancient Christian poets who saw martyrdom as victory over self and world. The powerful words and powerful music of the Resurrection Symphony help us believe emotionally that life is not futile, that our various ways of suffering for the truth we carry, perform, and conceive, will lead us to God, if that is what we want. If that is what we want.

The fundamental confession of our faith, the “credissimus,” is that Jesus’ faithfulness led him to both cross and new life. I am saying as directly as I can today that choosing to be who we are as creative persons and being willing to embrace the occasional external suffering and often prolonged internal suffering that the choice may involve is not a sad thing, but a road to glory. “Was du geschlagen,” what you have conquered, in yourself and in your vocation, will lead you to…God. And it will point others in that direction, too.

 

 

 



[1] The Venerable Howard W Stringfellow III, whom I quote with permission.


2013 Convention Address: A Season of Faithful Change

This is the address to the 142nd Convention of the Diocese of Bethlehem on Friday, October 4, 2013 by the Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity. 

A Season of Faithful Change

A year ago, when we met in Scranton, it was my privilege to preside at this gathering and to 0read to you Bishop Paul’s words. This year, I again sit before you as President of the Standing Committee in our first convention since Bishop Paul’s resignation and his sabbatical. On January 1st, he will enter retirement and our diocese will begin the process

ATG picture in b&wof discernment to hear God’s will for us, to choose how to respond faithfully as we raise up a new Bishop and continue the important work of the Gospel in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Much has happened this past year. We give thanks to God for many good things and we also give to God the many things that have changed us and are challenging us.

We are beginning a season of faithful change. The Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, has said “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” A transition like the one we are beginning is a magnificent opportunity that is what we must not waste. We are entering a time of transition that will prod us to grow as followers of Jesus and usher us to a new era in our diocesan community. God has given us what we need. We are in the right place. We are in the right time. We are a diocese filled with gifted, blessed people. What we are about to embark upon will touch every Episcopalian in this diocese. There is much to learn and much to do, and while there is much that is uncertain, and many feelings and stories to hear, I know that we will rise to the occasion. We will together make faithful change.

Actually, we are looking at a lot of transitions this convention. Tonight we will honor our friend and assistant bishop Jack Croneberger. Bishop Jack was formed and raised up in this diocese. We are glad that, after having “lent” him to our neighbors in Newark for a time, that he chose to return home and serve God and the people of this diocese with wisdom, grace and humor. I  hope that you will all join us tonight at Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University for our convention banquet where we will honor Bishop Jack as he retires again!

Bishop Jack: One of your favorite stories is about the guy who tied helium balloons to a garden chair and floated over a city with nothing more than a pea-shooter to control his flight. His whimsical flight is an image of a creative (and sometimes crazy) flight of faith. Thank you for being an example of faithfulness, a clear communicator of the Gospel and a good friend.

It is appropriate that tonight we will also take a moment to give thanks to God for the work of Integrity in the Diocese of Bethlehem. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Bethlehem Chapter and I am happy that we will be celebrating the good work of this group in our diocese and around the Episcopal Church. 

I am very grateful to another “graduate” of our diocese, Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the new Bishop of Rhode Island. He is giving us two days in November to preside at regional confirmations in our diocese. The dates are Thursday, November 21 at Christ Church in Reading at 7 p.m. and Friday, November 22 at Grace Church in Kingston also at 7 p.m. Up north, in a display of the kind of collaboration and shared ministry that is this Diocese at our best, some 12 parishes will send 55 candidates to Grace, Kingston for confirmation!

We are honored to have as our preacher today Bishop Anthony Poggo of Kajo-Keji. We are so grateful that you have come from across the globe to be with us today. I am particularly indebted to you both for your presence at this Convention and for the fact that you will preside at the first regional confirmation during this transition on Sunday afternoon in this Cathedral.

What began as a hot, dusty bus ride for Bishop Paul and Diana Marshall from Uganda to South Sudan in 2005 has turned into a relationship between the people of these two dioceses that has changed us all. Who could have imagined, as Bishop Paul went on that marathon of preaching, teaching and visiting villages ruined by war, that nine years later that would transform itself into a capital campaign that has so far raised over $4.1 million… all to be given away!

Who could have imagined how deeply connected we have become! Since 2006, we have together built five elementary schools, two secondary schools and a college, we have helped many people—mainly women—develop the means to support themselves through micro-loans and we have together educated and prepared people for the ministry of the Church.

Our relationship has changed us. Every picture from every school, every letter from every student that we hang up on our parish bulletin boards and share in our conversation remind us that Christ binds us together and builds us up. The lessons of New Hope will serve us well in this season of faithful change: that out of ruin comes new life; out of despair comes hope. We discover that faith, trust and vision are the tools of the Holy Spirit to change ordinary lives into extraordinary vessels of grace and power.

Bishop Anthony: Please tell the people of Kajo-Keji that God has richly blessed the people of the Diocese of Bethlehem in knowing and working alongside you and we are immensely grateful to you for all you have taught us. May Christ continue to bless and keep you in all you do. Please continue to pray for us.

Finally, as we begin this season of faithful change it is important that we thank God for the ministry of Bishop Paul Marshall and thank him for his seventeen years of leadership as our bishop. He has been for us an inspiriting preacher, writer and teacher. He showed his love and commitment to children and teenagers in his work on Bishop’s Days with Kids and Young People, his work for better schools in Pennsylvania and his work towards Christian formation for all ages. His work has made us more mission-minded in our care for the poor, our proclamation of the Gospel and in the stewardship of our resources. He has touched many lives. We thank God for him and Diana. Please join with me as we offer our thanks with applause.

Our Life of Faithful Change in the Diocese of Bethlehem

A year ago, Fr. John Major told us about the work of Episcopal Relief and Development in the Diocese of Bethlehem that began after floods hit the Wyoming Valley in 2011 and in particular in West Pittston and surrounding communities. Fr. Major and Janine Ungvarsky have worked hard, with the help of many people and Episcopal Relief and Development, to get the St. George’s Regional Disaster Recovery & Outreach Center up and running. They have shown us that sometime faithful change arises out of crisis and that God’s spirit moves through God’s people to shelter and tangibly become divine shelter from the stormy blast.

I want to echo Fr. Major in congratulating Fr. Ed Erb and the congregation at Grace Church, Honesdale. They were recently honored by the Wayne-Pike chapter of the American Red Cross for their efforts during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The church served as a shelter during the storm.

Last year, we passed a resolution requiring that all parishes in the diocese have a disaster plan in effect. So far, one parish has a finished plan, 22 have trained and are writing their plans and thirty-five parishes in the diocese have yet to be trained in what to look for and how to prepare an effective disaster plan. There is still time. The final training session for this purpose is in three weeks. Run! Don’t walk! See Father Major or go to www.episcopalreliefnepa.org for more information.

We are blessed in this diocese with an active and creative Stewardship Ministry who for many years have been showing us the blessings that come from faithful change. Since we last met, the Stewardship Commission brought The Rev. Canon Keith Brown to the diocese to lead a workshop for our Diocesan Training Day in March. Then in May the Stewardship Commission partnered with the Evangelism Commission to offer a conference featuring the Rev. Dr. David Gortner from Virginia Theological Seminary. In July several members of the commission attended The Episcopal Stewardship Network’s annual conference. We also brought several sessions of that conference here to the diocese via a webcast at the cathedral. Members of that group and Stewardship Missioner Dan Charney travel all around the diocese to help parishes in their ministries and, most important, to help all Christians learn to use everything that God gives us for God’s purposes.

Evangelism is the effective communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We live in an age of amazing communication technology and we have barely scratched the surface of the potential these tools bring us. We are blessed with a great partnership with our web-host and e-mail provider ChurchPost, whose business is mainly with churches and whose founders are Episcopalians. Their email platform and for their ability to design customized WordPress web sites for our parishes are resources that are either “free” through your diocesan assessment or available to your parish at greatly reduced cost.  

Even though we Christians are in the business of telling “good news,” and even though we live in a culture defined by marketing, the Church has often been at best clumsy and often allergic to marketing. While we seek deeper connection, we often run away from that which draws  people into a deeper conversation. Maybe it’s shyness. Maybe it’s that we don’t know how to start the conversation that changes hearts. 

One way we hope to address that is through a marketing initiative to help our congregations tell our communities about us and to promote our ministries. You will find in the budget a new line item for marketing and evangelism. We are hoping that groups of parishes will advertise community shared outreach initiatives or perhaps have an ad campaign such as the one several parishes did on WNEP-TV a few years back. If passed, this budget line will provide some seed money on a matching grant basis where the diocese will pay half and the parishes involved will pay half. The parishes will work together and with the diocese to craft the message and to work out a way to measure the campaign's effectiveness. Our hope is that this will help with our evangelism and tell people where we live about us and what we do. 

In addition to Kat Lehman who has worked on these projects, Adam Bond is our new Communication Missioner. He helps us minister and proclaim the Gospel using social media and electronic news reporting. Most people who walk into a church these days will have first checked them out on the internet, and not just on web-pages any more but on social media where they will know how people respond to our parishes every day. Using all these tools effectively builds relationship, deepen connection, and shows us to be a Gospel people living Gospel hope.

They don’t call us the “House of Bread” for nothing! If you look around the diocese, you will be astounded at all the ways Episcopalians feed people. Just here in the Lehigh Valley, you see the oup Kitchen at Trinity, Bethlehem and at New Bethany Ministries, the Saturday Soup Kitchen at Trinity, Easton, and there are ministries like this repeated all over our diocese.

I’d like to take an informal poll right now. Can you please help me? How many of you belong to a parish that feeds people? [Hands.] How many of you have food pantries in closets and classrooms or holiday meals or free community meals? [Hands.] How many of you have connected this feeding to health screenings or after-school tutoring? [Hands.] How many parishes collaborate with other churches and agencies to feed people or fill back-packs for children or bring food to the homebound? [Hands.] God bless you all for your good work.

Look around. All of these hands tell about our activity as a people of God but beyond a show of hands, there are many examples of the incredible ministry in this diocese. In your small groups tomorrow, tell the story of the many great-small ways that God is at work in your communities and use that to begin to imagine a future of faithful change. We are doing amazing things for God in Northeast Pennsylvania. 

Living Faithful Change with Hope and Courage

Starting January 1, 2014, we will enter the formal period of transition towards electing and consecrating a new Bishop. We knew this was coming. When I sat here before you last year, we did not expect that Bishop Paul would be retiring quite so soon; but as the year went on, it became increasingly clear that the physical toll of this ministry was catching up with our Bishop. First, with his medical leave last spring and finally with news of his resignation this summer. I know that all of you are holding Bishop Paul in your prayers and in your hearts.

The Constitution and Canons of this Church are clear that in the absence of the Bishop, the “ecclesiastical authority” of the Diocese becomes the Standing Committee. But the situation we are in today is different than where we will be on January 1, 2014.

Bishop Paul is still our Bishop through December 31, 2013. So while we are the Ecclesiastical Authority, what we do has been delegated to us by the Bishop during the period of his sabbatical. During this period, some things are retained by the Bishop and some things the Bishop has delegated to the Archdeacon and other staff and the rest have been delegated to the Standing Committee.

But on New Year’s Day the Episcopal Chair becomes “vacant” and all the pastoral, administrative and ecclesiastical authority in the diocese goes to the Standing Committee. We will delegate tasks as necessary, of course, and obtain Episcopal oversight—especially on matters that are specifically reserved to Bishops—and oversee the transition.

The Standing Committee started meeting monthly in August and together we are adapting to our new responsibilities. They are: Canon Robert Wilkins, Kate Fanning, Connie Archer, the Rev. Scott Allen, the Rev. Earl Trygar, the Rev. Canon Jane Teter, the Rev. Canon Anne Kitch, Elizabeth House, Ed Schatowski (Secretary), and me, the Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns (President). Bob Wilkins and Anne Kitch are finishing up their terms today and we are immensely grateful for their exemplary work and dedication.

When the news broke of Bishop Paul’s resignation, I said to you:

When there is a big change in life, it is normal to ask “what now?” or “who will take care of me?” or “what should I do?” Our feelings in this moment are no different. On the news of Bishop Paul’s resignation some of us grieve, while others of us are eager for something new. All of us seek the stability of God’s reign and long for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Stability is a Benedictine value that also lives at the heart of Anglicanism. Among other things, stability means seeking and finding God in the present. Stability teaches us that while change is constant, faithful change means listening for God right here, right now. We assume that we are the place God wants us to be and that God has given us what we need right now to move into the next moment with faith, hope and courage.

That being said, I wish I could set out for you exactly what comes next, but much has yet to be decided.

In a little over a week, on Monday, October 14th, the Standing Committee will meet with the Presiding Bishop’s Suffragan for Pastoral Affairs, Bishop Clay Matthews at St. Anne’s in Trexlertown. We will spend the day learning about the process and practicalities of raising up Episcopal leadership for our diocese.

We will decide on a number of things.

First on our list is the shape of Episcopal leadership during the transition period.

We have four basic choices:

  1. We can, as a Standing Committee, run the Diocese as a Committee and only contract for Bishops as we need for specific events such as ordinations and confirmations, and go to neighboring Bishops for the things that the Canons state only a Bishop can do.
  2. We can have an Assisting Bishop—a Bishop, usually retired, who functions pastorally but who is not the Ecclestiastical Authority. This would be a part time Assisting Bishop who will do the things pastorally and canonically that only a Bishop can do, but the Standing Committee would retain full canonical authority.
  3. We can have an Assisting Bishop who is part- to full-time and to whom the Standing Committee delegates some or most of the elements of being Ecclestiastical Authority.
  4. We can elect a Provisional Bishop for a period of 12 to 24 months who would be the Bishop of this Diocese but only until we elect and consecrate our next Bishop.

There are pluses and minuses to each approach. Part of the decision will be driven by our budget. But most of it will be determined by the pastoral needs of the diocese. An assisting bishop is interviewed and contracted by the Standing Committee, while a Provisional Bishop is interviewed and nominated by the Standing Committee to Diocesan Convention, who then votes to elect that person. If we choose to go that route, we will need to call a special convention for the purpose. I invite your feedback and thoughts on which approach you think is best. Whatever happens, be ready…you could be back here for at least part of a day.

Whatever course we choose, it will require a vote of diocesan convention along with the consents of a majority of the Bishops and Standing Committees of the Church, to call for an election. We cannot formally begin our search until an election is called for because what we do here we do on behalf of the whole church. So again…be ready for a return trip! 

The second decision will be about time-line. It takes between 18 and 24 months for diocese of our size to raise up and consecrate a Bishop. You will notice that we are not calling for an election at this convention. This is on purpose.

These days, the typical tenure of an Episcopal bishop is ten to twelve years. Bishop Paul has been our bishop for seventeen. After a long, rich and complex term of office it is essential that we take the time to step back and take stock. We need to listen to each other’s stories, we need to listen, we need time to imagine our future and move together towards it. We may decide that we, as a diocese, need to take some to breathe, listen, and pray before we start our formal search.

Again, you will notice that we have not begun the process of vetting, selecting and appointing a Search Committee and a Transition Committee. This is also on purpose. We need to take time to pray, to breathe, to listen. My hope is that this coming Lent we will take time to earnestly for our diocese in a disciplined way, as a community as the essential groundwork of our discernment and common life. There is no faithful change without prayer.

Searching for a bishop will require a significant chunk of our leadership and volunteer energy. All of you, and all of your congregants will at some point have a part in the process. Like having a good interim pastor for a parish, the ministry of an assisting or provisional Bishop will help us listen to one another, listen to our hearts, and most important of all, listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through our common life.

This is what differentiates our task from a mere executive search. Sure a bishop has a ton of executive responsibilities, but most of all we are discerning as a diocese for who might be called to the office of Bishop in this place; and, we are listening for God to determine what kind of Diocese God is calling us to be, what kind of ministries God is calling us to do and who will equip and encourage us to go in that direction.

An important part of living faithful change will be pastoral care to the clergy of our diocese. The Standing Committee has asked Canon Jane Teter to work with me, in consultation with the Canon the Ordinary and the Archdeacon, to develop a team of clergy to serve as chaplains who will see to the ordinary pastoral care of the priests and deacons of the diocese during the transition. In addition to Canon Teter, the clergy who have so far agreed to serve are the Rev. Nancy Packard, the Rev. Elizabeth Haynes, the Rev. Andrea Baldyga and the Rev. Maureen Hipple. In addition, we have asked the Rev. Dr. Jane Williams of Moravian Seminary to provide clinical supervision to this team. At the next clergy retreat, we will lay out the details of this ministry to the gathered clergy.

So this period of faithful change has many elements: listening and discernment; healing and reconciliation; encouragement and experimentation. It is the job of the Standing Committee to facilitate not only the practicalities of a search, but to provide for the pastoral care to and leadership for the Diocese.  

Because there will not be a neat hand-off from our current Bishop to the next, our task will look a little different. It will be essential that we provide opportunities to listen to one another, create a renewed sense of community, and to heal the hurts and minister to the grief that are normal in with this kind of change. Again, it is very important that we hear from you about your thoughts, ideas, concerns and vision. The small groups tomorrow are an important taste of the kind of work we will be doing together as we move together into a season of faithful change.

But first, it’s time to say “good-bye” and to celebrate the ministry of Bishop Paul Marshall that is now wrapping up. 

All of you are invited and encouraged to come to St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15 at 3 pm when we say “farewell and Godspeed” to Bishop Paul and Diana Marshall. There will be a festive Holy Eucharist in the place where BishopPaul was consecrated and a reception afterwards.

I also invite you to give generously towards a gift in thanksgiving for the Bishop’s ministry. In addition to a fitting gift to Bishop and Mrs. Marshall, we also plan to give a special gift to the New Hope Campaign for a tangible memory in the Diocese of Kajo-Keji, both of which will be presented at the reception. Please go to diobeth.org and click on the link “Make a Gift.”

An important part of saying good-bye is making memory. We are creating a memory book and I also invite you to participate. Please send your greetings, your memories of Bishop Paul’s ministry among us and, best of all, photographs to us at Diocesan House c/o abond@diobeth.org. These will be gathered into a memory book that will be presented to Bishop Paul at the December 15 reception.

Conclusion

Blessed John XXIII told another gathering of Christians during a remarkable season of faithful change that the Church is "… not on earth to guard a museum, but to tend a blooming garden full of life."

We are 13,000 Episcopalians in 14 counties who gather in 60 mission outposts (also known as congregations) to follow Jesus and do his work. We are tending a garden of marvelous richness, variety and life. In a season of faithful change, our challenge is to prune, tend, cultivate and harvest. God has blessed with everything we need to succeed and grow as a community of God’s people. Together we will listen for God’s voice, imagine God’s future, and discover how we will share God’s love, telling what we see and hear.

Thank you for all your prayers and your support. Thank you for all the ways you serve Jesus every day. May God go with you in all you do.

The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns is the Rector of Trinity, Easton and the President of the Standing Committee.


Two celebrations

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We as a Diocese are entering a season of change and we start this time out with two celebrations. We are saying “Godspeed” to both Bishop Paul Marshall and to Bishop Jack Croneberger. Bishop Paul will enter retirement on January 1, 2014 and Bishop Jack retired (again) as our Assistant Bishop on August 1, 2013. We are grateful to both men for their leadership and pastoral care to our diocese. We will be holding two events to honor and thank them for their ministries.

On behalf of the Standing Committee, I am inviting you to take part in two important celebrations.

The first will be at the Convention banquet on Friday, October 4 at Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University, where we will honor and remember the ministry of Bishop Jack. Convention registration is on-line at diobeth.org. (Click on "Diocesan Events" on the right side of the page.)

The second will be on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 15, 2013, as we give thanks to God for the Episcopacy of Paul Marshall at a Holy Eucharist to be held at St. Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre at 3 pm followed by a reception.

We are inviting members of the Diocese to attend both of these events.

The Diocesan Community will present each bishop with a gift in appreciation for their work among us. We know that many of you will want to share generously in the gifts that we will present to each bishop at their respective event.

Please send them to Diocesan House, c/o Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow, 333 Wyandotte Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015. You may also contribute on-line at diobeth.org. (Click on "Make a Gift" at the bottom of the page.)

I look forward to your presence at these two events and thank you in advance for your generosity for both gifts.  We give thanks to God for the many blessings we have received through the ministry of these two fine bishops.

Please hold both Bishop Paul and Bishop Jack in your prayers, and also pray for the Diocese of Bethlehem as we celebrate their ministry amongst us.

Faithfully yours,

The Rev. Canon Andrew T. Gerns
Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Easton, PA
President, Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem


Miners Labored for the Community in a World of Dim Carbide Lamps

By Bishop Paul V. Marshall
Labor Day, 1998

The following is Bishop Paul's September 1998 column for newspapers in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania

My wife, Diana, and I drove to Scranton to visit the Lackawanna County Anthracite Museum a few years ago. I have thought often about that visit and have reviewed impressions it left.

When the coal mine tour guide (whose father died of Black Lung, and whose grandfather died in a cave-in) turned out the lights and showed us the amount of light a carbide lamp (and later a slightly brighter electric lamp) on a helmet provided, and added that this was all the light the miners had from the opening of the mine in the 1850s until its close in 1966, I began to realize what a different world they inhabited.

Long days, mining an eighteen-inch seam on your belly; child labor starting at age seven; water, dirt, and noise; not to mention health, safety, and economic questions. A miner’s life is not one I would have wanted. I understood why being sent to the mines in the ancient pre-industrial world was a death sentence for a convict.

The industrial world we enjoy was built by the backbreaking labor of millions of people, supported by the unpaid labor of those who made what homes they could for them, with little hope for something better. We need to acknowledge our debt to them, not because they made some owners and investors wealthy  (possibly some who read this today), but because they helped build a country, and for a long time provided much of the economic backbone of our region. May we attend to the grim reminders of what it cost them.

What have we learned?  Our workplace is by and large safer and more rewarding than it was for those miners. Most of us have considerably more options about where and for whom we will work. Nonetheless, I think that the basic lessons still apply.

God made humans social creatures. Most of what we do and enjoy depends on what people do for us or with us. People are not to be used, but valued for who they are as God’s creatures, and what they give to one another through their work. That gift is a continuing of the Creator’s work. How do we teach that to our children so they will continue to build human respect and community? Baptismal vows in the Episcopal Church include one to respect the dignity of every person. How do we help our children realize that faith in action starts here?

We need to be clear in attitudes we model to our children, that while different kinds of work have different levels of responsibility, creativity, and reward, and while social conventions acknowledge this in many ways, everyone has the same personal worth. Our children need to hear us speaking of people from any walk of life with respect — whether they have more or less education, responsibility, or money than we.

Those of us who have shielded our children from doing volunteer work for the family or in community service may need to rethink that. How else will they learn that among those who follow Jesus, there are no little princes or princesses, but that we are members one of another? How else can they learn that the more privileges one has earned or inherited, the more responsibility one has?

Finally, work cannot be a god. Many species and some human groups simply kill or leave to starve those whose disabilities or age prevents them from contributing, We have learned to respect and care for them and to help them see that there are many ways to participate in the community's life. Japan, a country that does know something about work marks a Respect for the Elderly day each September. What might a version of that look like in America, brought off with care and without patronizing?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very far from being a socialist. My politics are independent and highly pragmatic, and I would never pretend to have expertise in labor relations. I am convinced, however, that if we believe that God made us, and made us to work together, we need to act as if that is true, and value one another accordingly. When that is happening, I am willing to trust the experts to do much of the rest.


Diocese of Bethlehem Bishop Paul Marshall to Resign

by Adam Bond

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Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — The Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall, accomplished scholar and eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, announced his resignation earlier this month for reasons of advanced age after serving as bishop for a remarkable seventeen years.

In a letter to the diocesan standing committee, Bishop Marshall writes, “It was my long-held intention to serve you as long as the canons permit. Life contains surprises, however. A number of circumstances and conversations have made it very difficult for me to continue as bishop of a diocese that I have come to love with all my heart.”

He laid out a clear timeline for his resignation: “I will turn over ecclesiastical authority to the Standing Committee at noon on August 1... I will move up my long-delayed sabbatical from 2014 to September of this year, continuing that terminal sabbatical until I lay down my crosier on December 31.”

With best wishes and blessings for the people and clergy of the diocese, Bishop Marshall concludes his letter, writing, “I doubt that there are many bishops who have had as much satisfaction over seventeen years.”

Bishop Paul’s leadership in ministering to the people of the Diocese of Kajo Keji in South Sudan is of special note. After visiting South Sudan in 2000, he said, “I have always known, intellectually, of the disparity between what we Americans take for granted and how most of the world actually lives. Seeing it, ... I was grateful, embarrassed, a little sick, but mostly convinced that it is not possible for a Christian to see this much suffering and not lower his own standard of living in order to help brothers and sisters.”

Bishop Paul set to organizing what is one of the cornerstones of his legacy, New Hope, which he described as “something unique, a capital campaign for others.” To date, the New Hope Campaign has raised 4.1 million dollars in pledges and supported the establishment of five primary schools, one secondary school, and a seminary and teaching college in Kajo Keji. It has also raised funds for parish ministries throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, helping provide for flood relief, food and shelter for the needy, and many other social outreach missions.

Long-time colleague and friend of Bishop Marshall, the Rev. Canon Bill Lewellis wrote in 2012, “Bishop Paul’s ministry among us has been broad and deep: teacher, pastor, preacher, administrator, author, advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, advocate and reconciler with those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, interpreter of family systems theory, communicator within and beyond the diocesan community, a leader who consults with colleagues, and a person whose ministry as bishop proceeds from prayer and a contemplative vision of God’s kingdom.”

As for the future, the Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns, president of the Standing Committee, writes that even as Bishop Paul takes time “to imagine how he will serve God in the next phase of his life, ...we as a diocesan community will begin our own process of listening for God and each other as we discern God’s will and together decide how we will act on it. There are many questions and there is much to do. It is important that we do this process one step at a time. ... During the rest of the year, we will also take time to remember and celebrate Bishop Paul’s ministry among us and his many accomplishments as our Bishop.”


Andante: Starving Artists ... by Bishop Paul Marshall (2 of 4)

Andante: Starving Artists
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the second.  "Andante" is a musical term meaning "to play with a moderate tempo, in a light, flowing manner.]

Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpu
Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpuf
Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

- See more at: http://diobeth.typepad.com/diobeth_newspin/2013/03/grave-trinity-by-bishop-paul-marshall.html#sthash.CjbHsxIl.dpuf

The first lesson this morning from Numbers 11 is an unfortunate example of the humorlessness of lectionary makers, who have trimmed a story from the wild side into something perhaps too neat and tidy. In its context Numbers chapter 11 is another of those stories that is many layers deep and thoroughly soaked with irony. It starts with the people being tired of miraculous manna – there is the first movement of a cantata right there. In any event, they are sick of the miracle food and remember the Chateau Briand, Hagen Dazs®, and single-malt back in the ghetto in Egypt. Sure, they may have been slaves, but they had all the basic food groups.

Moses is caught completely off guard by this concern popping up when they are finally getting on track with their mission, and we see him here overwhelmed, losing his vision. So he complains to God for most of the chapter, ending up with a stunning combination of blaming, sacrcasm, and whining:

{12} Did I conceive all this people? Did I bring them forth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the sucking child, to the land which you swore to give their fathers?' {13} Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' {14} I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me. {15} If you are going to deal with me this way, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."

YOU gave me this rabble, this motley crew – all of a sudden he forgets he is part of “them.” I’ve been there; you’ve been there, everybody in this room who cares about the church has been there in one way or another. And for some who serve the church, if the truth were told, there are brief moments when death seems likes like a pretty good way out, and the number of church professionals who maintain unhealthy habits is by no means small. Moses speaks for many.

God and Moses, I suppose, could have debated theology and catering strategy for hours, and then they could have moved on to discussion of Moses’ inner child. But God doesn’t argue back, and simply goes to work on Moses’ near-burnout condition, dealing only with Moses’ inner adult.

And the great surprise is, God’s answer to the kind of burnout that only the very gifted and driven experience is… colleagues, community, lots of company on the journey. Moses’ prayer for a quick death is not only ignored, he is plunged headlong into a re-creative and redemptive experience of community. All of a sudden he has 70 co-workers, burden-sharing, perspective-maintaining colleagues who no doubt had active listening skills as well. And those people had been there all the time.

But the interesting thing is that this isn’t exactly a music committee, a choir picnic, or a vestry. They “prophesied,” we’re told. Now that’s an interesting word, because only much later in Israel’s history did “prophet” come to mean unattractive or irritating speech-maker. In the period of our story it means being full of the spirit, being in ecstasy, shouting, dancing, singing words from the Lord in a totally unrestrained state. In short, although the 70 shared in Moses’ spirit and helped bear his burdens, they were more than his briefcase-carriers: they were outside his control. A few verses later somebody immersed in control issues comes up to Moses all upset that although Eldad and Medad (the Old Testament Blues Brothers) – although Eldad and Medad hadn’t been up on the Mountain to be regularly and validly commissioned (sort of like the people who don’t come to rehearsals and expect to sing on Sunday), they were prophesying anyway, right there in public, shouting, singing, dancing, and generally scaring the orderly types.

And through Eldad and Medad’s disorderly conduct Moses gets the point at last. He replies that it would be of great practical value if all of God’s people prophesied. I happen to believe that stories like this one were saved precisely because of the comic, ironic and slightly embarrassing light they shed on great and small figures in the life of God’s people. If we can chuckle at them, it’s probably safe to take a closer look at ourselves in our desperate moments.

First of all, when it all seems too much, it’s good to remember the manna, the miracles around us that have brought us this far. It’s a long pilgrimage, and it pays to remember not only the goal, but how far we have come in our lives, and how God has sustained us. I will explore this a bit more tomorrow.  But let’s encourage each other not to get bored with the miracles of word and sacrament, faith and community, with which God nourishes us regularly. Sacraments and liturgies seldom bring entertainment, but they surely bring sustenance.

And with Moses, I have to confess that it is Eldad and Medad who surprise me, constantly, in my own life. I treasure the encounters with friends but am often stunned back to sanity by perhaps chance acquaintances who often sustain and guide me. Who are Eldad and Medad for you? On the other hand, which of your colleagues is a little too isolated, and might need a phone call? I have a musical example, one that people in this room this morning have taught me to love.

Many of us play it and some of you have recorded Elgar’s “Nimrod,” so perhaps you can hum along as I talk about it as it helps us remember Moses. The longest of the original Enigma variations, the Nimrod movement is not coded with someone’s initials, but marked with that strange Biblical moniker. Genesis merely says that “Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord,” but various ancient traditions assign him everything from keeping Adam’s original loincloth (!) to ruling Babylon and/or Ninevah. This variety invites much wonderful speculation, all of which could be profitable in other contexts, but in Elgar, Nimrod slyly and simply stands for a conversation he had with one August Jaeger, a man from Duesseldorf whose name just happens to mean Hunter, and I mean to invoke Jaeger’s presence as a reminder of how God touches us Mose-types in the unspectacular.

More than his music editor, Jaeger was, for Elgar, both a comfort and source of courage. Recall how in Nimrod he begins sadly, with echoes of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Elgar, of course, was plagued both by depression and his actual exclusion from many an inner circle because of his religion. Like Moses, he was often burnt-out. Once he was so low that Jaeger had take him out for a walk to remind him of Beethoven’s personal struggles and doubts, all of which were overcome by Beethoven’s strength of character and devotion to vocation. This was far more than a command to suck it up; it was an affirming reinforcement of character and identity, an invitation to borrow some of Beethoven’s strength.

What happens to the music after the sad encounter is thrilling, in a measured way, and reminds us yet again that mere words seldom have the last word. Without erasing the sadness, the music steadily builds in hope, confidence, and fullness (even with tympani in the orchestral version)…but it never reaches the anticipated Edwardian boisterousness, triumphalism, nor does it offer any oblivion to the pain that is expressed early in the piece. In fact, just when the peaking crescendo could explode into another Elgar hit like Land of Hope and Glory, the music fades very rapidly to a centered and calmer version of its somewhat sad beginning. We rush to tromp down the expression while reducing the registration. Then the music stops, without a note of further explanation.

As must sermons. But we here can hear the whisper through the closed swell shades, never lose heart for our work and always encourage each other to thrive. Just as you are doing by being here this week.


Grave: TRINITY by Bishop Paul Marshall (1 of 4)

Grave: TRINITY
© Paul V. Marshall

[Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem served as conference preacher for the June 2012 Association of Anglican Musicians in Philadelphia. He preached four sermons. This is the first.  "Grave" is a musical term meaning "played slowly and seriously."]

Gratitude is the chief word I have for the opportunity to share this week with you, gratitude and a little awe, but with your permission I will not go into that now beyond acknowledging the keen pleasure I take at the invitation to be among this company in this hallowed place.

You have given me a tough place to start, however, as our propers are “of the Holy Trinity.” 

You know better than I that Gustav Mahler was asked why, given the immense spirituality of his compositions, he had never composed a mass. His reply was telling, “Do you think I could take that upon myself? Well, why not? But no, there’s the credo in it.” Fair enough, but then he went on to recite the creed in Latin, keeping the ambiguity of the encounter high. 

I think of Mahler today just because his story is tantalizing. We cannot say with precision exactly what if any brand of faith he had. Nobody can prove what his conversion was ultimately about, and there are lots of opinions. That multitude of opinion about the very same information reminds us that all beliefs, including our own, are motivated, motivated by many things going on inside of us in our deepest unconscious, so we may perhaps put nagging historical questions in favor of the theological one when we think of this story. Mahler would not have been the first to write a mass with no creed (of course, he couldn’t write anything-Brevis); why would he have focused on the very existence of credo as a reason to bow out of mass-writing entirely?

Let me thicken that question. More than one of the great composers of religious music in the Anglican tradition, when pressed about theology, have chosen to declare for atheism or agnosticism as did Vaughan Williams. Others will mount an esoteric heterodoxy like that of my beloved Parry. Again, we can speculate about their deepest motives, but is it not possible that for those who sing of God and the Lamb the language of dogmatic theology is, forgive me, not always very interesting, and perhaps quite alienating? Bach is the greatest exception here, but he is always the greatest exception. But for Mahler and my English examples, perhaps it was one thing to set the earnest prayer “Veni Creator Spiritus” in a symphony of a thousand, and quite another thing to set to music a group of propositions. Not all of us believe with words. Not all of us believe with words.

Perhaps the dogmatically hesitant have a vital point to make, at least in the present culture that speaks so trippingly of the uncertainty principle and parallel universes. That is, I have to remember that for the orthodox Christianity of Mahler’s day, the creed was for the most part data, not a song. So perceived, it ultimately reduced God to an object, capable of study, dissection, and definition, the fuel for debate and even persecution. Such talk of a domesticated and definable God does not invite the ecstasy of music. Who would want to set the periodic chart of the elements to music?—well, of course, Tom Lehrer did just that, but you get my point.

To those for whom the idea of God as object is unthinkable or at least uninviting, it is life-giving to observe that the creed has gotten more musical of late. The revival of Trinitarian theology in the last two generations has been at its heart the rediscovery by western Christians that what the ancient church chose to say about God is not in the first place data; it is doxology. That doxology (and let us steadfastly remember that all doxologies get an Amen played at the end, just as one is said at the doxology in each prayer!), that doxology comes from reflection on both practical and ecstatic experience, and Trinitarian doxology comes to the conclusion that God is, in God’s deepest self, in relationship, from before time and forever.  Many have observed that the Greek word for that relationship is very like the word for dance. Three distinct persons in one eternal Dance. Delicate, rhythmic, supple, inviting.

It is also worth reflection that over the course of the years most of the so-called Trinitarian heresies that have been rejected have one thing in common: each of them simplified words about God, made God seem to be understandable and manageable, pedestrian, and certainly less lyrical. What we call the heresies often moved theology from the mystical dance to something like bad Powerpoint. (This is not to say that the Arians, for instance, didn’t have popular songs, but their songs were apparently shallow, slogan-like, and not very sophisticated musically—but that was a long time ago.)

So to the part of us that resonates strongly with Mahler and other spiritually rich composers who balked at dogma perhaps because of its ineradicable unmusicality, there come two words. The first is that our God worshiped with the creed is not worshiped as a datum, but is adored as the eternal dynamic relationship, and that we perceive that very God inviting us to join the dance. The second word is that if I try to figure God out rather than relax and adore the mystery, and lose myself in it, I condemn myself to theological tone-deafness and will not get to dance.

We can focus this by asking what does any of this doxological dance look like when it is at home?

Let me illustrate by mentioning the spirit of a musician who hovers over this meeting. A colleague[1] in my office wrote this about Gerre Hancock back in 2000:

“When I was a seminarian and the thurifer for a Sung Eucharist one Sunday, I opened the ambulatory door as quietly as possible to see how soon incense would be needed in the service.  The ambulatory was empty, and the view from that door to the organ bench is perfect.  And there was Uncle Gerre sitting on the bench, unaware that someone was watching.  The heels of his shoes were cocked on the beam beneath the bench itself.  His hands were just outside his knees, gripping the bench.  His head was bowed, and his shoulders were slumped.  I put it to you that he wasn’t trying to remember how to play Merbecke….

“He was doing that rare thing, rare for church employees everywhere, both lay and clerical.  He was praying.  He’s based his life on the conviction that he’s on earth for one reason: to praise God.  And, he does it with his playing.  He does it with his composing.  He does it with his conducting.  He does it with his teaching.  All of which is to say he gives thanks and praise unto the Lord with his whole heart.”

I left those verbs in the present tense, because that is where they belong. Gerre Hancock touched many in this room with his authentic blend of faith and art. Perhaps as we honor his memory by singing it, we may also experience just a bit more gladness to feel, experience, and say, “Credo.”


[1] The Venerable Howard W Stringfellow III, whom I quote with permission.


Deacons Driving Deftly – Bishop Paul

Sermon by Bishop Paul Marshall
Ordination of Deacons, 12/21/2012
John Davis, Foster Mays, Andrew Reinholz and Kimberly Rowles Reinholz
Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

I remember the first time I let my son take the car out by himself at night. I also remember the first time I drove by myself as a teen. One coin, two sides. The handing over of the keys, even temporarily, is a very intriguing thing to contemplate. The receiving of the keys is noteworthy as well.

As a young person, I remember my pride, satisfaction and sense of power when I first took that 1961 Oldsmobile wagon out of the driveway and headed into the setting sun. I never, of course, acknowledged that I was also a little leery of the whole thing. A little frightened, in fact, but about that I never said a word to my father.

As a parent I was proud of my son’s obviously good genes in the department of steering large amounts of metal through the impossible tangle of New Haven’s grid of one-way streets and back alleys. I was also worried about him, and didn’t go to sleep until I heard the 1985 Crown Victoria authoritatively rumble back into the driveway. I told him I was proud of him. I never told him I was scared.

You can see where this is going.

The celebration of diaconal ordination is more than one thing. It is a joyful acknowledgement of the vocation and accomplishments of four people who have worked very hard to get to this day. It is an affirmation of the Church’s life and mission. It is a reappropriation of the unique ministry of servanthood that guides and goads the church into action. It is, however, always the beginning of an inter-generational transmission of the Church’s tradition, and to be honest, a handing over of power within that tradition. “Receive this Bible as a sign of your authority…”

And so it is also possible for there to be a variety of feelings about the passing on of tradition, responsibility, and power to Andrew, John, Kim, and Foster.

Side one is simple. Ordinands are eager to go. It is not an easy road to get to this date, and they have accumulated knowledge, skills, and debt. They have tried out the theory and practice of ministry in a variety of more-or-less controlled experiments in what is mysteriously called “the field, ” rather than “the string.” They are ready, but who among them with an ounce of sense would not feel a little anxiety about taking on the responsibilities of ordained ministry? What they say and do “counts” now in a way that may not be fair or right, but is nonetheless real, public, and perceived in many, many ways. Like it or not, from this day on, they become huge projection screens, but that is another sermon.

On the other side of the coin, we who entrust ordained ministry to four ordinands tonight recognize that we are passing something on. Passing something on, even through prayer and the laying-on of hands, is also letting go, a surrender of the future in both hope and anxiety. A new generation is going to have new perspectives. Some refreshing, some perhaps unsettling.

Assuming any of this is true for them as it was for me when I was in their shoes, the first lesson tonight addresses the anxiety ordinands may feel by describing a cyclical pattern of growth that will carry them through the challenges and stresses of ordained ministry. It also explains the existence of the slightly notorious Bible content examination that we unapologetically administer in this diocese.

That first lesson from Ecclesiasticus describes a permanent pattern of engagement with tradition that supports, heals, and inspires.

As we see the devout described in the lesson, study of the scripture and wisdom of those who have gone before control the functioning of their minds. It is the non-optional, non-transcendable, mandatory content of our vocation. But important as it is, sitting with your Bible and other books isn’t enough in the words of this passage: going out among people and observing how humanity behaves, and taking that study and observation to prayer, give ordained ministry its solid core. Interestingly, this pattern of study, observation, and prayer is not described as the route to becoming an authority. No, the passage says that more you learn, the more you will be aware of your own limitations, and the first prayer that is suggested in the text jumps non-defensively into what makes real students; it shows them, as a result of their learning, praying for pardon. We live in that daily office tension between the psalm’s “my sin is ever before me” in the psalm and St Paul’s apprehension that “my grace is sufficient for you.” At that point, when learning, experience, and humility come together before God and in God, there come the gifts of wisdom and eloquence to which we dare to aspire.

Just as I believe that the more metal you have around you when you drive, the safer you usually are, I believe that the better you know scripture and tradition, the safer you are from heresy, schism, error—and badvestments.com. Thus to be of use to God as clergy, we enter a life that requires yet goes beyond our native intelligence. It requires yet goes beyond our savvy about the “real world” of human potential and pain. It requires yet goes beyond knowledge of the Bible and tradition. We hear in this lesson the call to blend knowledge and perceptions in a way that touches our hearts and makes us both earnest intercessors and deep contemplatives, permanent penitents yet eternally filled with hope. Then the Spirit can and does lead with the wisdom that is grounded in living tradition, a wisdom that also moves the tradition ahead.

That, I hope, begins to minister to the ordinands’ anxieties. But what about the anxiety we may feel in passing the torch, about letting go? I feel more at peace about this tonight than I sometimes do. I will tell you why, and I have permission to do this. On Wednesday of this week I opened Ember letters, those quarterly reports that ordinands make about their state of body, mind, and spirit. Such letters necessarily hover between confession and salesmanship. One of them will stay with me for a long time because of the tears of gratitude and hope it brought me.

Again, with permission: The writer reflects on traumas suffered personally, by the church, and finally by the nation in the tragedy at Newtown last week. The letter goes on:

 “Paradoxically, these events, to some extent, have done wonders for the centering and focus of my prayer life, which has allowed me to shift from an inadequate clinical processing of events and circumstance to a surrendering of them before the paschal mystery of Christ and its transformational ability to provide perspective and healing. This processing through prayer allows me to tap into overlooked or otherwise un-recalled reservoirs when my own resources are inadequate. Significant in this is the reminder that prayer makes room for reasonableness and responsiveness amid stress, anxiety, grief, and doubt, each of which otherwise clouds or impairs my ability to be fully present.”

That would be enough to gladden the heart of any person concerned for the stability and future of the church. That a potential deacon can integrate the clinical, theological and personal dynamics of our religion with such wisdom and devotion says something is very right with our church, and is a reminder to us all of what we look like when we are putting the pieces together inside a pattern of study, observation, repentance and renewal. The center of it all is the dying yet risen Jesus and his call to his disciples to serve the world in his name.

It seems a shame to make a person who could write that take on the ordeal of ordination exams, but I have learned never to tinker with initiatory rites.

[ordinands stand] Sister and brothers: we know that the Church is being reborn in ways we are only beginning to see. Venerable types and shadows have their ending, much-loved bath water may need to gurgle down the drain, and familiar forms may well need to pass into footnotes. But cannot we sense new life, new hope, new ways of relating and worshiping lying low in this sometimes bleak mid-winter in order to sprout and bloom in the very near future? With you but also guided by you we wait, we work faithfully, and we walk on. For those who know Christ and stay immersed in the mystery of his passage from death to life, the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night do not pass away. The word of the Lord abides forever. Live in it. Take the keys. We trust you and we trust the God who has called you.

 

 

 

 


Where is the Shelter?

Sermon by Bishop Paul Marshall
Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Christmas Eve 2012
5:00 p.m. Eucharist

I have been coincidentally reminded several times this week that it was here in the Lehigh Valley that I have celebrated my only Spanish confirmation service, along with two of my few Spanish eucharists. Learning to say the Spanish liturgy is not hard—the major trick for somebody with my background is to remember that it is NOT Latin. What was the more complex gift to me in getting involved in that phase of Trinity Easton’s ministry was learning more of the customs of Latino Christians so that my halting conversations with them could be a little more meaningful. And they were generous in teaching. Not surprisingly, many Latino church customs are a unique blend of non- or pre-Christian culture with the overall faith of the Church, just as are many familiar customs that are imported, such as the Advent Wreath and Christmas Tree that come from Germans. When cultures mix with faith, powerful traditions grow.

There is a Central American custom that I hope we will pick up as the culture of the USA becomes more diverse. It is an observance of the nine days before Christmas as Las Posadas, the dwellings. It is originally from Spain, but in troubled America Central it took on a certain passion.

That is, people who have deep memories of oppression, homelessness, and persecution, gravitate naturally to the fact that when Joseph and Mary as poor people sought shelter, they had to take whatever hospitality they could get, if they could get it. When at long last Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem, there was no room for such as them as they went from inn to inn. “No room for them” should be read as “no room for THEM,” as it was anciently a polite expression of contempt. They were poor, dirty from travel, and there were rumors about her. And just as they flashed on in this country in the 1950s, the motel sign repeatedly switched to “no vacancy” when the couple from Nazareth appeared. So they wandered, seeking La Posada, seeking some shelter.

Nowadays, on the nine evenings of Las Posadas, Dec 16-24, Latino people practice going to each other’s dwellings, and the hospitality they celebrate is an affirmation of decency and compassion. It is also defiance of anything in human nature that rejects Christ by denying, marginalizing and ignoring those who are even a little different. Especially children. They ask at each place they visit, “¿dónde está la posada?,” where is the dwelling? Wouldn’t the world be different if we asked that of ourselves each day.

There are regional variations on Las Posadas, but in each version the heartbreak of Mary and Joseph’s story is felt yet overcome. The end of the story on these nights is that Joseph and Mary are recognized as who they are, lights are lit, and there is general rejoicing.

When Central American people celebrate Las Posadas, they celebrate the light, celebrate hospitality, and then party with the kids. (There are plenty of YouTubes you can watch.) They remember together that sure, it was only a stable, but someone was decent enough to let the very pregnant Mary have a shelter in which to have a baby. From that shared space comes a great joy which shall be for all people.

Las Posadas ends up with parties for the children and the famous piñata appears: nobody ever needs to apologize for enjoying children, and, ahem, especially grandchildren.

But it was quite a move on God’s part to enter the world as a child, and in that child come to save us, wasn’t it? God knows that we are at our most receptive when we encounter a child, and as we sing Silent Night every heart opens a crack more toward a deeper relationship with our maker and redeemer. There is chance to open ours wide. Where is the dwelling we make for him?

Beyond the children, though, the nine days of Las Posadas are nine days about ritually remembering being outcast, marginalized, unwanted and rejected. It is about remembering that all three of the stories we hear in church tonight were told in times of threat and pain. Almost every group in America has experienced alienation at one time or another. In Las Posadas, each of us remembers our ancestors journeying, whether that journey was voluntary or in chains. Each of us remembers that nobody creates their own life and that we are redeemed because of a simple act of ancient hospitality by which Christ could enter the world.

But most of all, in a difficult and tragic year in our country, we may wish to remember the light and the piñata at the end of Las Posadas. It is in the darkness that we best see the light. As to the strangers themselves, we remember that Jesus had in mind our own coming to life spiritually when he told us, “whatever you do the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.” The Posada Principle, if Robert Ludlum wrote sermons.

Jesus would spend his life at the margins of society, would usually have no place to sleep unless friends helped him out. He lived and worked largely among those whom he called “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” He, poor as he was, says to them and to each of us that we should come to him with our burdens and he will refresh us. He gives us new life by sharing his life, sharing his life of prayer and care for the sick and needy, sharing his life by pouring it out for us.

Do any of us need cheering up this season? Think of Las Posadas and welcome Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see if it doesn’t help. Smile at a stranger as you walk around the corner at New Bethany. Sign up for “Home for Supper” on Jan 25 at Nativity and you could enter someone else’s dwelling for the first time, mindful of what is being enacted. The next time you give a hand-out on the street or serve somebody at a soup kitchen, tell them your name and ask them theirs. The simplest things can point to the ancient Bethlehem dwelling that takes us all under its roof.

But more than that, when we remember this night’s events in Bethlehem of Judea, the light the star and the radiance the angels shed change the way we look at those around; it changes the way we see those struggling in any way with life; it especially changes how we see the physically needy and endangered, the people who at this very moment live under the Hill-to-Hill Bridge, the New Street Bridge, the parking garages…and the people who will this week come to churches like Nativity for shelter on the coldest nights of the year.

We who know the light of Christ find our brightest moments when we give home and hospitality to the souls and bodies of all we meet.

¿Dónde está la posada?

[point to heart] Está aqui.

 

 


Bishop Paul's Christmas Message 2012

Bob Hope's Christmas Show for Pacifists
Bishop Paul Marshall, Dec. 24, 2012

Mr Hope was a faithful Catholic and I am sure would approve of the use I make of his reputation.

Nobody on the planet ever put as much energy into entertaining our troops as did Bob Hope. For almost 60 years he flew into danger zones to boost the morale of those serving their country. His first such appearance, in 1943, featured a cast of three, and had no opening acts as we might think of them.

I have often tried to imagine what it was like for those troops, over those six decades, to have had no word of encouragement or contact with home for months or more, and then see Hope's company coming in. If anyone ever had an appropriate surname, it was Bob.The closest hints I get are in the First lesson and the Gospel.

This all comes to mind because of the battle noises that are silenced for ever in the first lesson for Christmas Eve (Is 9:2-7) when the prophet interrupts, rather than entertains, the royal court. All the fighting is to stop because light has broken through. The child comes to do much more (but not less) than comfort the troops: he comes to end the conflict. "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." Kings in those days adopted "programmatic names," names that were their platform. Here is a king who adopts one of wonderful counsellor ruling in God's peace.
 
After psalm and second lesson, the scene shifts, doesn't it, to an even more amazing show of light and sounds. Dirt-poor, ritually unclean, and general nobodies, certain shepherds on the late night shift were brought terror, joy, and hope by a great company of angels. These messengers gave glory to God and offered God's peace to humanity.

But the troop of shepherds weren't just entertained by the spectacle; they were engaged, and they responded. They got up and went as fast as they could to find the child, Mary and Joseph. And they, too, praised God.

Morale in our country is not very high for a number of reasons, some of them tragic. Christmas this year invites us to make a special effort to be where we can hear the angels, worship the child, and like the shepherds, make known to all what they had seen and heard. Jesus the Savior is here, at all times and in all places. Each one of us knows someone who needs to know that.

If that someone is us, we know what to do. Those celebrating family will probably end up at a late afternoon or early evening service tomorrow; for me, this is always the time of sheer and holy fun. The midnight liturgy offers us more of a chance to enter the mystery and adore the One who is come among us and gives permission to the part of us that seeks a deeper relationship with God. For those for whom this has been a hard year, perhaps this is the time to try the relative quiet of a Christmas morning liturgy, with the entirely unsentimental but inexhaustibly inspiring words from John's Gospel.

Since this is the first Christmas Eve in 65 years where I shall be alone (but fear not: I will drive up to be with the family already up in CT after Christmas morning liturgy). I am going to use all that quiet to listen to the Christmas portion of Messiah, then the first part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio,

And because in the long run I am really just an old softie, will listen to Paul Scofield reading "A Christmas Carol," and if there is time, watch Jean Shepherd's "Christmas Story," "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life" and an old Twilight Zone episode called "Carol for another Christmas."  I might even watch Bill Murray in "Scrooged." [I sometimes watch Nat Lamp "Christmas Vacation," but will not admit it here.] You have your own playlist--there is no better time to access it than when doing your final preparations and, for me at least, in the quiet between the services.

Sadly, Bob Hope is no longer with us, but Christ always is, and we can but hope that wars will one day cease in Jesus' homeland and throughout the earth. Jesus  is still with us, offering peace for our hearts and joy for all the world. May your Christmas be filled with the light that is the life of us all.

May 2013 bring each of us many opportunities to offer peace as the angels did, and amaze others with our testimony as did the shepherds who first saw the spectacle coming from the sky. God bless you and all of those you love.

Faithfully,
+Paul

(PS the sermons at Nativity tomorrow are about something completely different)

(PPS This begins very internet service on my end until Friday, as I shall be frolicking with Madeleine on Tues-through Thurs, who went to her first Christmas party brunch today without me to protect her)


Is 9:2-7
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.


Prayers – Bishop Paul

[Here is what I will do this morning [Sunday] after the prayers of the people in Scranton, in place of the confession of sin. I will ask the congregation to be seated, the better to pass through the silences.

Let us pray in silence (a pause follows each bullet point)

• for those who have been murdered

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6

Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, School principal

Nancy Lanza, 52, Mother of gunman

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher

Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher

Mary Sherlach, 56, School psychologist

Victoria Soto, 27, Teacher

 • for the murderer, Adam Lanza

 • for those who grieve their death

 • for those who suffer from trauma

 • for those ministering to their bodies, minds, and spirits,

 • for the will to change our culture's norms

 • for the healing of our own violent impulses.

 Let us pray as the Spirit leads.
(lengthy silence)

God our deliverer, gather our horror and pity for the death of these children and teachers into the compass of your wisdom and strength, that through the night we may seek and do what is right, and when morning comes trust ourselves of your cleansing justice and new life; through Christ our Savior. Amen. [EOW 2]

Let us listen in silence for a word from the Lord. How is God calling us to change?

 ...

Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace: 
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is discord, union; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy. 
O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek 
To be consoled, as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born 
To Eternal Life. Amen.

stand

The Peace of the Lord be always with you.

Monday after Newtown – Bishop Paul

By Bishop Paul Marshall
Diocese of Bethlehem

Well, Sunday liturgy has passed and it is the time I have invited in this space spiritually informed reflections

I am grateful for the restraint we have seen and the depth of prayer and reflection that has been reported to me from all corners of the community.

I would like to share some thoughts. I need to say that, like you, I do not have the combined qualifications of sociologist, psychologist, economist and criminologist, etc., etc. That is to say, I have general concerns that I hope experts will address. It is also to say that since nobody has all the skills, discernment is practiced in community.

On the other hand, as a voter, a citizen, and a Christian, I have certain results I hope for from those trusted to govern this democracy. I speak from the hope that is in me.

1.
The most obvious and yet most painful point in this discussion is that access to firearms is an American dilemma of long standing. A low estimate for firearms murders (vs. deaths) in this country is 13,000 a year (FBI site). There are some obvious problems:

--existing gun laws are simply not enforced on the state and national level.

--there are unintentional collisions of rights involved: for instance, Pennsylvania keeps psychiatric records strictly private, a very good idea. At the same time, on the background check for gun purchases, all one has to do is lie about whether or not s/he has been involuntarily hospitalized for a psychiatric illness, and there is no way to check that, a very bad result. Just lie and the gun is yours.

--there are existing technologies that limit a gun to firing by the electronically-identified owner of the weapon; these technologies are not required (some of us who remember the debates over seat-belts have a painful memory here).

--no matter what we do, there are in existence right now more than 194 million guns at large in the U.S. If we stopped manufacture of all firearms right now, there are guns at hand for generations. What do we do about that?

American attachment to guns is a marvel throughout the world. Guns are fascinating machines, pleasant to operate, and powerful tools for the hunter. They are also phallic symbols, agents of aggression, and in the wrong hands, instruments of devastation. Gang members, by the way, usually do not know how to use and care for guns, and end up disposing of them rather than cleaning them, and are often injured by the misuse of their own weapons.

Gun sales always rise after mass murders. A revolver that cost six dollars when I was a youth is now a $500 investment, even though low-end guns are made very cheaply and often imported from South America and Israel.

We cling to gun rights with frontier memories and fantasies of the individual standing between self and forces of destruction. The problem is that we extrapolate flintlocks into Ak-47s. Rambo, Bruce Willis, and other film figures populate our heads. I accidentally watched the last minutes of a popular TV show last night and understand that the heroics there give people entirely unrealistic impressions of combat. Most of our lives do not have film editors.

There are facts to balance the fantasies. Few of us imagine the amount of training (physical and psychological) it takes to draw a gun on someone. The movies just do not indicate the strain, even on trained policemen, involved when a normal person engages in a combat situation. I am among those who has stood between his children and an armed home-invader. While I am willing to die for my generally peaceful principles, and couldn't punch my way out of a dry-cleaning bag for a lady's evening gown, I will not sacrifice my children to those principles, and have had to prove it. Although the encounter was almost thirty years ago, it is like yesterday. At the same time, there is no reason for any civilian to have a rapid-fire semi-automatic weapon handy (please don't call them assault rifles). What it took to subdue our armed New Haven invader was a steady frown and a revolver. I hope you never have this experience, but it is unsentimental reality for me. Any of you who has worked with a law-enforcement person who has had actually to employ deadly forces knows how this experience haunts a healthy person.

All of these factors need to be balanced in ways that honor our laws and make no room for convenient rationalizations. As you know, generally speaking, the police have no legal duty to protect you as an individual, and you have no recourse should they fail to do so. If middle-class people are not to abandon the cities, those who live in some situations need to maintain protection. At the same time, nobody needs combat weapons.

Pennsylvania does not require any training or display of competence to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It does require that to drive a car. To buy a machine gun (a fully automatic weapon), all you need is the signature of your police chief or first selectman (and a lot of money--they are not cheap). There is no reason for any civilian to own a machine gun, and yet you can do it.

What doesn't help: Many of the loudest public advocates for gun control have been guarded by persons with full-automatic weapons, putting us once more into a debate where congress has one standard of health care and pensions, and we have another. Until the playing field is leveled in either case, there will be no motivation to make this a safer, healthier country.

2.
America is unrealistic about mental health.

In the last few decades, most mental hospitals were closed. Government and other payers decided it was cheaper to turn troubled people loose and hope they would take their medication.

As someone who volunteers time each week with troubled people (under supervision, as I am many hours away from a license) I am keenly aware of the risks we take. The involvement of my very small (less than 6 hours) patient load with law enforcement is astounding. Some have gone to jail repeatedly and others have simply disappeared. Others live on the streets and comprise the largest single class of murder victims in the country. The cover for this abandonment of the seriously ill is their civil rights. Again, the ghost of the bill of rights is killing us.

The people I talk to are ineligible for care by for-profit therapists, or never see the same therapist twice. Many of them can get medications, but these are dispensed with about the same precision it takes to drop a nuclear weapon, and titration (the balancing of these meds)  just doesn't happen unless a major incident takes place.

Tragically, people with the most dangerous disorders often prefer not to take their medications, and yet they walk free, a danger to themselves and others.

My continued personal experience is that most physicians in expensive specialities have little of no knowledge of the whole person, find it not cost-effective to know my name, and have been taught next to nothing of psychology. My classmates who are psychiatrists are the first to say that they have sought analytic training precisely because their psychiatric residency was about pharmacology not feelings.

The sad truth is that just as guns simply must be controlled, some people need to be off the streets lest they harm themselves or others. Again, like my experience with the house-breaker in New Haven, this isn't theory for me. I know people who have very little mental process to stand between their urges and the use of fists or knives, including women who wish they had access to guns so that they could kill themselves or others (only about 13% of killers are women). None of them knows Freud's advice that civilized people insult rather than strangle each other. The most chilling story I know is of a person keenly aware that at a different time they would be hospitalized and much less at risk, a person who has been hauled from the brink of suicide more than once, a person whose tragic life is always at risk. This person knows she would be safer in a hospital and that society lacks the courage and the cash to put her in a safe environment

3.
We have, as a diocese, set an example for the culture. I'm not always sure that we know this, but I am grateful for it. With the New Hope program, and before it with the efforts made in AIDS work, and of course at New Bethany and REACH, we have put ourselves on the line for others. Some of our smallest and most at-risk parishes continue to collect food and clothing for the needy.

We have learned to sacrifice. We increasingly learn to discipline ourselves as we face new and somewhat unexpected circumstances.

We work on the moral formation of young people. This is an up-hill battle because so many things compete for attention, and because many, many parents are simply exhausted when Sunday rolls around. Is it possible that we have a contribution to make to the art of parenting? Is it possible that Sunday is not the ideal time to make our contribution?

The culture as a whole has been in a tail-spin since the 1950s. Paying the bill for greed, stupidity, and arrogance will take generations, and then only if we wish to embrace the discipline. Whether you blame the recent financial collapse on the greed of bankers or the delusions of borrowers, we all acknowledge that the culture needs to change. Those of us who have spent the last 40 years preaching self-restraint have the not-very-gratifying experience of having been proved right. Those of us who unblushingly embraced the much-despised "middle class morality" with its virtues of honesty and fidelity in the face of feel-good trends find that we still have a product that needs selling.

The choice to tighten belts is no longer an option. The question will of course be, whose belt must be tightened? Currently the focus is on the rich. When we who are not rich find that it is our turn, let us not shirk from our duty.

The larger question is, do we have a culture? Are there values that the mass of Americans, and more important, their rulers, actually embrace and work for? This is not at all clear to me. Our church has not been particularly energetic about evangelism. It is my hope, perhaps my last professional hope, that the sight of a culture in such disarray that mass murder has a very short news shelf life will motivate the most hardened hedonists to change. We can direct them if we choose.

Long ago we decided that our model was not "Christ against culture," but "Christ transforming culture." I think that the present crisis invites each of us to take each moment of the day, in all the roles we play, in all the relationships we have, to represent Jesus and his gospel as people grope for identity and meaning. I believe that as Christian citizens we have to make our commitments known to those who hold the power of government. I disagree with right-to-lifers, but I admire their determination and their organization. Cannot those of us who stand for basic values not exert the same energy for the life of our country?

I believe that communication is evangelism. I do not believe that journalism is evangelism. That is, our reportage to the culture must point beyond ourselves to the author of our salvation. We must love God more than what we communicate about God. This is hard to hear in a time of unrestrained narcissism, but let us remember that narcissism proceeds not from an over-inflated sense of self, but from the lack of self. Jesus has authentic identity that is given to all who will have him. In a few short days we will sing "where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in." (O Little Town of Bethlehem) Our invitation to our neighbors is to join us in receiving that great reality as it is offered to us day-in, day-out.

Following Jesus is not a sentimental journey. It is tough stuff, requiring self restraint, generosity, realism, and the willingness to pay the bill. It is the determination to love those around us however they appear, and deal justice in its reparative, restorative, and when necessary, retributive form. At bottom, this is a time to re-kindle some of the eschatological flavor of the gospels, not because I expect the world to end, but because I know the urgency required if it is to continue.

Ours is a persecuted religion. Some of the opposition is subtle some is not.  We have to honest and honorable about who we are, for the sake of a world in deep, deep trouble.

+Paul


Sixteen years with Bishop Paul

By Bill Lewellis
June 25, 2012

[Bishop Paul Marshall will mark his 16th anniversary as Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem this Friday, June 29.]

"One thing is clear to me," Bishop Paul Marshall wrote a few years ago to parishioners of the Diocese of Bethlehem. "I have no perception other than that I am called to be here."

On June 29, 1996, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America laid hands on Paul V. Marshall, at age 48, ordaining him the 919th Episcopal bishop in the American succession. Friday will mark the 16thth anniversary of his consecration.

"Each phase of life has its challenges," he has said. "The last phase of life, beyond age 60, is said to be marked by the struggle between integrity and despair. Can a person whose body (along with gravity) is increasingly betraying him believe he still has anything important to offer the species? Can someone who cannot compete physically, and to some extent mentally, with younger members of the species dare to lead? I currently believe that God wishes the answer to be yes, but think the “yes” to that question has to be a conditional one. We will need to match continuity with innovation. The final condition is that when it is time to quit somebody will tell me."

“When we put ourselves in God’s hands to be bread,” Bishop Catherine Roskam preached during the 1996 consecration sermon, “God keeps messing around in our lives, elbows deep in flour, never quite finished, making us ever more delicious and nourishing. The process is dynamic, creative, intimate and sometimes painful. It’s not easy being bread ... May the bakerwoman God bake, break and remake you. May Christ the bread of life, feed and sustain you. And may this House of Bread flourish under your care.”

Bishop Paul’s ministry among us has been broad and deep: teacher, pastor, preacher, administrator, author, advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, advocate and reconciler with those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, interpreter of family systems theory, communicator within and beyond the diocesan community, a leader who consults with colleagues, and a person whose ministry as bishop proceeds from prayer and a contemplative vision of God’s kingdom.

Over the past few years, especially with our expanded ministry with the Diocese of Kajo Keji in southern Sudan and with the inauguration of the New Hope Campaign for that diocese and the needy among us which has surpassed its goal, his ministry among us has grown even broader and deeper.

Continue reading "Sixteen years with Bishop Paul" »


A Time for Prophets

Sermon, Bishop Paul V. Marshall
At the Ordination of
Mary Lou Divis and Charles Warwick
St. Stephen’s Wilkes-Barre – May 18, 2012

        When any person first has the apprehension that God is real everything changes.

What is different about this night is that two people have worked very hard and very faithfully to get here through unusual circumstances. Lou in particular has cheerfully walked a complicated road that I can only admire.

What is also different is that for the third time at St. Stephen’s I take my lead from the music, and want to say a few words about Isaiah’s vision in our first lesson, because you will hear it powerfully portrayed in the offertory anthem.

742, the year King Uzziah died, was not a good year. The good times were over. Uzziah’s reign was for years nearly as prosperous as Solomon’s. It had been a good time to be a Judean. And even when the king fell prey to the sin of pride and was smitten with leprosy, the material prosperity continued for a while under his son the co-regent. But it wasn’t the same anymore. The Assyrians were gearing up and rattling the newest military technology –– iron swords that cut through other weapons like butter –– and there were many in Judah who were frightened or wanted appeasement. The northern kingdom was already an Assyrian vassal state. Suddenly it wasn’t such a good time to be a Judean. Suddenly (increasingly shaky) material prosperity didn’t feel like enough, and come to think of it, the stronger Assyria got, the weaker the stock market was looking in Jerusalem. The pro-Assyrian party was growing in Judah, which meant that that worship of Yahweh was seen as irrelevant or useless by increasing numbers of people. Economic downturn and the seeming irrelevance of religion … is any of this starting to sound familiar? That’s where we start our story.

Isaiah may well have been a priest, but whether or not this is so, his experience of call was in the temple and has a good deal to say about what we do tonight, as we seek vision in an age of recession and violence, an age when we have made ourselves a tributary province of a number of Asian countries, and there is plenty of evidence that we have neither moral compass nor characterological GPS in public or private life..

Isaiah’s call is not a vision with lots of words and instructions –– that would come later. Isaiah’s call was a fundamental experience of who he was as a person and in relation to Almighty God.

Here Mary Lou and Charlie will understand particularly well. Isaiah was not possessed with any strong ambition to be a prophet: it was messy and dangerous work if you weren’t an official state prophet, a hired religious yes-man. No, Isaiah was called to be unpopular by the experience of God’s holiness and God’s mercy. The call came because he was about the business of a faithful person: he was praying.

I wonder how many who have been ordained for a while remember this. Isaiah’s call starts with a vision of God, a kind of intersection of parallel universes: he is in the temple but he is also standing in the heavenly council. He says those simple but devastating words, “I saw the Lord.”

When any person first has the apprehension that God is real everything changes.

After the angels sing what we call the Sanctus and the incense begins to clear, Isaiah makes the right choice.

He doesn’t feel special, privileged or entitled, nor does he feel entrepreneurial about this theophany as St Peter would. He certainly doesn’t Google Whipple’s website for a prophetic mantle. No, he is completely flattened by what he sees and hears. Awe and humility are the only authentic response to a vision of God. Any priest who believes he or she has domesticated God will lead many souls to perdition. Humility is one of the basic tools of our trade.

No, Isaiah’s response to a vision of the Lord of Hosts is the realization that he is quite unworthy to be in that presence, and that goes double for his culture. He is inclined to slink away and go say some penitential psalms.

We must acknowledge the reality of our unworthiness to stand before God’s people and proclaim the word and break the break, but if we stop there we will become useless, because there is more than masochism to ministry.

The “more” is the next moment in this story. Just as Isaiah is getting a good debilitating guilt going, a seraph, carefully covering its “feet” (whatever they were) with one set of wings, presses a glowing coal from the altar of incense against Isaiah’s lips. I would have preferred a cooling dab of holy water. But that’s the point. The sizzling, crackly, burning away of Isaiah’s sin is meant to be an unforgettable experience of God’s cleansing Grace. You stand here tonight because the cleansing Grace of God in Jesus Christ has touched you and changed your heart and lips, as searing as the experience may have been. Just so in Isaiah’s story: the man of unclean lips is both forgiven and cleansed.

Years of therapy are telescoped in this story for a reason. That is, Isaiah has been granted a vision of the divine not for his own spiritual fulfillment — it is not clear to me that our contemporary sense of personal spiritual fulfillment is a biblical concept — Isaiah has been granted a vision and experience of cleansing so that he can hear God asking the heavenly council, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And this new person, this temple sight-seer become Tzadik, says …“Send me.” I think you know the rest. He went on to speak of wolves and lions, virgins conceiving; he said comfort my people; reminded then that though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow. Isaiah was not a pussycat, though. “What do you mean to beat the vineyard and grind the faces of the poor?” To all the ages he said, “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil.” The man, all three of him, could hardly speak without uttering a quotation.

Fast forward to 2012. To say that we are a people whose moral life is out of order is understatement. It is now a matter of law in this country that the legislative process may be owned by the highest bidders and there cannot be much doubt that democracy is in decay. Far worse, Christianity’s good name has been hijacked: an astonishing 91% of young people in a recent poll gave as their first association to the world Christianity, “anti-gay.” Christianity and religious freedom are having their names hijacked to oppress women in ways we thought were over decades ago. Who will in clear words and compassionate acts dare to say that the first word about Christianity is not “anti” anything, that its first word is not a word of corruption or oppression but the word that God loved the world and gave a Son; that the Son did not come into the world to condemn the world?” Who will say that word? I believe that God hopes it is you who will speak.

But you know, if you are faithful you will have the same problem Isaiah did — read his book: Calling for mutual accountability will always be sneered at as inciting class warfare. But the prophets called for it anyway. Preferring plowshares to swords will always be sneered at as weakness, but that is what Isaiah did. Suggesting that the poor themselves have responsibilities and teaching them to meet them may well be seen as patronizing or sometimes racist, but that’s what Ezra did. Resisting First-Amendment bullying by the much larger denominations is going to mean embracing some ecumenical embarrassment, and we will have to remember Paul confronting Peter. Urging a nation to repair its moral character rather than to look for quick fixes is the particular burden of your generation of clergy, just as it was repeatedly for the prophets of both covenants.

Now let me make that harder. The clergy who have been “occupying” various buildings have not brought much aid to the poor or repentance on the part of those they oppose. Banking laws are a little too complex to reform in an ashram — again the importance of restoring impartial government. The battle with sin is defined differently these days. By the year that the King of Rock and Roll died, the revolution of the 60s and 70s was over. We have to be smarter, wilier, sweeter than the merely confrontational. You might think of Desmond Tutu or Dorothy Day as effective models here. Our tools of incarnation, presence, integrity, and adamant dedication to justice all come straight out of the Bible. We just have to be wise as serpents as we attempt to follow Isaiah in transforming our culture.

The courage to do this comes from the presence and power of the Lord Jesus himself. It comes from your life of daily prayer and frequent feasting at the Eucharist. It comes from the examples of thousands of years of faithful predecessors in prayer and prophecy. Jesus’ faithfulness was vindicated, as yours shall be, and he has promised to be with his church for ever, including you and me.

Think this over during the Creed. If you still hear the voice calling, if you still can remember the seraphim flying, if you still want to say “send me,” I’ll meet you by that chair over there in a few minutes. I hope you will come.

 


Important day in West Pittston

Today Fr. John Major and Janine Ungvarsky hosted a combined clergy meeting to review the progress in ministry to flood victims along the Susquehanna, particularly in the West Pittston area. Clergy from Tunkhannock to Honesdale and points north and south of that Rt 6 line were present.

There were several joy-producing moments even in the recollection of devastation. In the first place, Trinity and its friends have been persevering long-term servants of their neighbors, and have found that to be transformative of their life. Secondly, the good people at Episcopal Relief and Development have been nothing but helpful in their conversations. Finally, there was a review of the amount of gifts that have flowed in from you to help in this community rebuilding effort, which will take 3 to 5 years to complete.

As you know, we have a team working to help each place in the diocese be prepared for unexpected large-scale tragedy.

One of the things I have learned is that there is a national registry of volunteers that we can all access to put our skills and interests on tap for future needs. More about this will come to you.

I left the event heartened by the clergy turnout, the persistence of Trinity's priest and people, and the knowledge that ERD knows that we are here and are trying. I want to publicly thank all of them.

Blessings,
+Paul


Diocesan Life March/April 2012

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I Saw You Kneeling There

Bishop Paul Marshall

[Frst published in the February 2012 edition of Diocesan Life, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem]

In a few weeks it will be that time again.

What will you be thinking? How do you suppose people the age of toddlers, teens, seniors, and so on will hear the Ash Wednesday words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return?” We will all hear them as we gather later this month, February 22, for the beginning of Lent, and it might be interesting to imagine for a moment what you and the people next to you could be thinking. Here are some possibilities that occur to me.

Three to six
I suspect that for young children, three to six years old, going up to the rail and being smeared with ash is a new part of their exploring and experiencing the world. The words may not mean very much, but doing all this with parents or grandparents says that something important is going on, a part of what it means to be big. Impressions are being stored, and the intent to be big is forming. This is a bank of experience that cannot be made up later.

Six to twelve
For a six-to-twelve year-old, busily gaining competences in the world but also wondering if they can make it, the words may have some meaning to add to the by-now familiar act of coming up, kneeling down, and being smudged. By this time a great-grandparent or other important figure has died, and the years of awe are tainted with other, darker, realities.

How good to be in a place where this is not denied, and people can be open about reality without freaking out! The calmness of it all. We accept reality and also go forward. As the child’s conscience develops during this period, the calm acceptance of responsibility and comforting words of forgiveness provide a note of balance. Taking on a Lenten discipline of some appropriate kind can be a way of gaining the “mastery” in life that this age group seeks.

Teens
For teens, life’s big question is “who am I?” with “what can I become?” as a close second. Perhaps the last thing teens want to hear is that they are mortal and limited, but they do know about frustration and perhaps rage against it as they seek to become their own person. Perhaps in the midst of that they can also hear that even when they are most alienated they are still God’s person. Finding out who they are involves taking moral responsibility on their own—and beginning to experience that they can mediate as well as receive grace.

Adults through middle age
If we can generalize about adults from their twenties through middle age, big questions form about the ability to love and be loved. Questions of vocation and of financial survival enter along with reproduction and the increasing interest in “what it all means.”

The other side of the coin of the downturn in the economy is that some people are sensing the difference between having and being and are re-examining what it means to be human. Remembering one’s dustiness is remembering that he who dies with the most toys is still dead, and that nobody on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at work. Repentance for adults may be about choosing meaning, maintaining balance.

Older adults
Older adults are seeing their parents die.  That is profoundly sad, but not unanticipated. The shock is that one’s friends are dying off.  The world is becoming a lonelier place. The concept of being dust that we’ve lived with all our lives comes closer to home: I start to feel the dust, and some of it is in my hip joints.  I can and--I suspect--will die.  How do I tell the story of my life? How will I use the time I have left? Will I choose to contribute what I can or will I withdraw?

Looking for the end
And there are those who are waiting to die. For them the words may speak hope and release. They are given little permission to have or express their feelings in our life-affirming culture, and they are a little tired of hearing about plans for their 115th birthday party when they know they are done and now wish for stillness and rest. At least God is honest with them and will be there to receive them. It is OK to say “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” These ashes may be the only affirmation they get this season as they prepare for the last transition, and the agèd eagles spread their wings.

The gifts of Lent
One sentence in a long liturgy, a liturgy about mortality, repentance, forgiveness, and rebuilding the self, and so many ways to hear and respond. These reflections have been in the long run about my awareness that while we are all so different, we are all embraced in a single set of symbols that carry us through life, and beyond it.

As you look at the people around you in worship (and that’s OK to do!), let your imagination go and see if one of the gifts of Lent isn’t increased empathy and prayer for those who stand around the table with us. See if the other gift is not a greater sense of our own belonging to the human community that Christ came to redeem.


Renewal Assembly IV: Empowered Leaders, Renewed Congregations

IMG_3596SMALLHave you found that service on the vestry has enriched your spiritual life? 

Bishop Paul posed this question to his guests on the video prepared for the next renewal assembly scheduled for Saturday, February 11, from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM, at seven sites across the diocese.  The assembly, a retreat for current and future vestry members, is entitled “Empowered Leaders, Renewed Congregations.”

Joining Bishop Paul on the video are Raymond Arcario, who served as senior warden of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem; and, The Very Rev. Anthony Pompa, Dean and Rector of Nativity.

The daylong retreat will draw from Neal Michell’s Beyond Business As Usual: Vestry Leader Development.  “This book,” writes Michell, “is for those churches that are no longer content with business as usual.  It is for those clergy and vestry members who want to be partners in ministry and mission as they explore new and create ways to do and expand mission and ministry.”  Copies of the book will be made available to each vestry attending for a subsidized price of $10.00.

Drawing from Beyond Business As Usual, the retreat will engage vestry members in Bible Study and a number of “teaching” experiences, such as “Four Principles Every Leader Should Take to Heart.”  The purpose is to examine appropriate, effective mental models of the vestry as a “learning community” that plays a significant role in the spiritual growth and renewal of the congregation.

Charles Cesaretti, Interim Missioner for Congregational Renewal hopes "that the retreat will enable every participant to respond in the affirmative to Bishop Paul’s query – Have you found that service on the vestry has enriched your spiritual life?”

Registration is open at www.diobeth.org until February 3.