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.

"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?

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The Rev Eleanor Hart to retire June 1

Ellie Hart The Rev. Eleanor Hart will preside at her final service at St. Thomas Morgantown on May 29 at 10:30 a.m. A reception will follow.

Eleanor was married to the recently deceased Harry Hart. They have a son Sean now living in Reading. She also has two stepsons and two Grandsons. She taught in the Twin Valley School District for 25 years.
Eleanor was ordained a Deacon on April 22, 1989, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Birdsboro after training at St. Gabriel’s in Douglassville. She began volunteering at Rainbow Home a personal care home for people with AIDS. Discerning a call to this ministry she retired from teaching and served as pastoral care at Rainbow Home and was hired by Berks AIDS Network in Reading. This ministry led to ordination to the priesthood in October 1994. During that time she also was associate at Christ Church Reading. At the request of the diocese she trained for interim ministry and served in that capacity in St. Anne’s Trexlertown, St. Mary’s Reading, and St. Thomas Morgantown. She also served as associate at St. Alban’s Sinking Spring and priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas Kutztown. Eight years ago she began her ministry at St. Thomas Church in Morgantown, first as priest-in-charge and then as rector. She has served on the Commission on Ministry and the diocesan AIDS task force. 
Through Berks AIDS Network, she ran a support group at Berks County Prison and is now leading Bible Study at New Persons Center in Reading, a transitional housing for men coming out of prison. She intends to continue that ministry after retirement.

Farewell for Canon Cal Adams

Sermon by Bishop Paul Marshall
Discipleship isn’t a contest, it’s a community
St. Gabriel’s, Douglassville, June 27, 2010
Gen 31: 44-50; I Cor 3:4-11; Luke 17:7-10

It’s a funny feeling being here tonight. You are losing a rector, I am losing a colleague and an immensely wise confidant. Where ought we to go in such a vulnerable place but to the Bible, the family album par excellence. Let’s just go to our family story without more introduction, and see what may help us put this moment in perspective. That is surely something Fr. Adams has consistently taught us to do.

Our Old Testament lesson is one of the more striking tales of Genesis, especially when all the verses are included. Jacob and Laban had spent twenty years deceiving and cheating each other, switching wives, switching livestock, along with other dirty tricks. Jacob has proved the more crafty of the two, and has made himself quite a fortune at Laban’s expense. We meet these shady characters today when Jacob has determined that the best possible thing for him is to get out of town before Laban calls his cousins in Newark. There is one last swindle and it happens at this point: Rachel steals Laban’s household gods, the deed to the property, so to speak, and lies about it in a particularly offensive way. If there had been television this would have been a soap opera.

Jacob and Laban’s solution to the situation where neither is comfortable with the other anymore is to call God as judge and protector while they have their backs turned. God is to “watch between them,” not “watch over” them. That is technically more of a Hebrew curse than a blessing, but it makes clear that the issue is too big for them to handle, and all they can do is trust God. Jacob does leave, and on his journey comes up against Esau, whom he also swindled years ago, and finally does come to his moment of truth and repentance. If there hadn’t been the parting nobody would have gone to the next step of maturation.

Awkward as this story is, it does point out that all relationships must end, most of them end without everything being perfectly resolved, and that in order to be free to get on with what is next in our lives, we must leave each other in the hands of our loving and just God.

Tonight is a very different kind of parting, very different indeed, but it is a parting. Longer than Jacob and Laban were together, St Gabriel’s and Canon Adams have labored not against each other, but for and with each other, learning and doing the work of Jesus. You have done so with results that are greatly admired in the diocese and community. Well done, all around.

I know that you had a night to share your stories about Canon Adams, and that is great. Yet the overall story of Fr. Cal and St. Gabriel’s ends tonight, and ends on a big win, but their individual stories go on, and the Old Testament reading reminds us that ultimately we can only entrust each other to God’s keeping—our directions will be very different now. Separation is an act of spiritual as well as personal maturity. We must embrace it, however reluctantly.

If I were sitting in the pews tonight I might be wondering whether after 23 years of successful work under an unusually savvy and truly kind leader, we can go on. I might be wondering whether times will change too much.

And of course it will never be the same. There will be new things to learn and do, and relationships in the parish will change and grow.

But this is not a time for fear. As our Presiding Bishop had occasion to remind us recently, the Holy Spirit did not go home on Pentecost afternoon and sign up for disability benefits. The Spirit remains active in the Church, and we are invited to rest deeply in that Spirit, listening and watching for guidance and courage—just as we have throughout the long and varied history of this church from colonial days to the present.

Let me give just one example, a tangible one. By all accounts, St Gabriel’s has, in living memory, done seven, seven, capital programs. Nobody comes near that. With your resources you have rescued a struggling nursery school that is now a success. You have been creative with the use of real estate (note-to-self: do not mention tallest cross in Berks County). There are seniors now living on your land whose lives are so much better for your foresight. I hope you have a mechanism for remembering often enough how much you can do! The icing on the cake is that everything you have done with money has been to enhance mission, not escape it. That is something for which I am deeply grateful.

Among all this success, there it hangs, that modest sign, week by week, the simple and direct invitation to all people to learn and do the work of Jesus.

If the best prediction of future performance is past performance, there are many reasons for courage and eagerness after tonight.

When a good leader leaves, people will say, “Look what WE did,” and they will be right. A good leader shows people places and circumstances where they can grow, even plants a seed now and then. But as our epistle insists, it is God who gives the growth. We very rightly acknowledge Fr. Cal’s gifts, talents, and hard work tonight, and I am privileged to know personally something of the depth of his spirituality and sweet humility—we acknowledge that and thank him for sharing who and what he is in the service of Christ and his Kingdom. But if you know Fr. Cal as I do, you know that every step of the way he has counted on God to see the work through, and his faith has not been in vain. You have had that most special kind of leader here, one who uses the product.

Whether we think about Fr. Cal’s future or St. Gabriel’s future, can the formula be any different? Learn, do, trust. Learn the work of Jesus. Do the work of Jesus. Trust the work of Jesus.

When we keep our focus on how we are functioning, as you have done so extraordinarily well over the years, so many problems are put in perspective or don’t arise at all. I give you the gospel tonight as a bit of an example. It sounds harsh at first – Jesus almost never talks in stained glass tones, does he? – but it’s really gospel, really good news. One of Jesus’ on-going problems was that the disciples were not above squabbling about who was most important, and they could get very touchy—now you have to remember this was a long time ago. Jesus’ message to them is simple: if we are not obsessed with comparisons, if we are focused on just doing what we are called to do, using the gifts and talents we actually have, that’s being healthy normal. Discipleship isn’t a contest, it’s a community. Satisfaction comes from the sense that each of us actually does our part, without comparisons, without living for that pat on the back that the insecure seek. One of the things I love most about Fr. Cal is that he has done his ministry for the sheer joy of it. There were turns he could have taken that would have been self-aggrandizing, but he has remained the servant of God’s people because that is who he really is and enjoys being.

On hot Sunday afternoons, I end sermons on the top quarter of this very page, but you have installed air conditioning this week. For which I congratulate you, but it’s a two-edged sword.

So I will go on and say something that I hope you will cherish now and actualize continually. I don’t know any priest who more consistently speaks of his parish as “we” rather than “they” or “them” than does your rector. Fr. Cal has been a success here because he is connected to St. Gabriel’s life, not existing over-against it. As long as all those who lead and serve this parish consistently remember that we are connected to one another in Christ, God can do much. The fact that your vestry meetings are such thoroughly spiritual events is important reinforcement to that consistent memory, and I hope you will maintain the tradition

In a minute, like Jacob and Laban building their altar, we will put God in the middle of the situation by saying the Creed. But then i is actually going to happen: the rector publicly hangs up his spurs and you say that you will honor his decision, really honor it. There may be tears, there may be uncertainty, but there is also the knowledge that the God who has brought us safe this far will safely see us home.

So Father Calvin, we thank you, we admire you, and we wish you and Pamela nothing but joy.