Acting-as-if in trust and hope – Bill Lewellis

The Morning Call, April 29, 2017

In The Marriage Plot, a prize-winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, two Brown University graduates decide to backpack through Europe. They part when one wants to go to India to serve at Mother Teresa’s guesthouse for the dying.

After a week in Calcutta, working within his comfort zone, he is challenged by an older man to do some of the dirty work. Begin with bathing a dying man. The older man removes the dying man’s bandages that hid ugly and awful smelling infections. He pours water on the man while saying “This is the body of Christ.”

The young man soon leaves. On his way out of Calcutta, he begins mouthing a different prayer he knows because he has been a student of religion: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Centuries earlier, John Wesley brought the gift of spiritual Methodism to many Anglicans. Some say he reformed England, though in the early 1700s, he was close to despair and did not have the faith to preach. He was about to give up the ministry when a Moravian friend counseled him to “preach faith till you have it. Then because you have it, you will preach faith.”

For years, Wesley felt dry within, not motivated even to pray. He found himself crying out, “Lord, help my unbelief.” One evening in 1738 he reluctantly attended a meeting where someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. While the leader was describing the change God works in the heart, Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” and he trusted in Christ.

I served with the late bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, Mark Dyer, who used to advise people in the depths of their spiritual dryness to “act as if you believed.”

Everyone experiences doubts about the faith at times, said Pope Francis. He did, many times – but such doubts can be “a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply. One who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”

A quote attributed to one of my favorite "saints," Dorothy Day, says: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily."

Mother Teresa, however, who received the Nobel Prize and has been declared a saint by the RC Church for her compassion with the poor and the sick and the dying, is the 20th century winner of the spiritual dryness derby

Letters made public years after her death in 1997 revealed that this “living saint” spent nearly 50 years without feeling God’s presence, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

Because I have experienced doubts, dryness and spiritual crises, and continue to do so, even at 80, I find comfort in such admissions from people I admire.

Have you ever been beset by doubt about your religion or spirituality, about the presence of God in your life, about the existence of God? Know above all that faith is not belief so much as it is acting-as-if in trust and hope.

Sharing your doubts, dryness and spiritual crises with those among us who need comfort and courage in our own lives would be, I think, acts of integrity and works of mercy.

Finally, listen to Jesus. How many times did he say something like: Fear not. Be not afraid. Be not anxious? Listen to Jesus. Stay connected to the vine.

[Canon Bill Lewellis, [email protected], an Episcopal priest, retired since 2010, served on the staffs of two bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for nearly 25 years and on the staff of the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 15 years before that.]

Diocesan Life for July/August 2011


You can download the .pdf version here as well: Download July-August2011_DiocesanLife_SMALL

Forward Life Planning Workshop, May 22

[From Charlie Barebo] The Forward Life Planning Workshop, presented by Charles Cesaretti, Diana Marshall and Charlie Barebo, will be held on Saturday, May 22 at St. Luke's, Scranton. Although sponsored by the congregations in the Northern Tier, this workshop is open to all congregations in the Diocese of Bethlehem. Please note that registration and luncheon are free.  However, for planning please call Ely Valentin, 610-691-5655 x 222, or email [email protected]. The program has both pastoral (PB, pg. 445), as well as institutional implications, since many of our congregations have benefited through the planned gifts of former parishioners to the parish's Endowment Fund. Download the pdf file below.

Download Forward Life Planning.pdf

 Forward Life Planning

Saint Matthew Society Programs

By Charlie Barebo 

The feast of St. Matthews was September 21. Matthew was a tax collector when Jesus called him to be a disciple. In those days, tax collectors were despised. But rather than looking down on them, Jesus took time to share a meal with those whom the world had rejected. This act made an impression on the Pharisees and they criticized Jesus. That gave Jesus an opportunity to define the nature of his ministry: “I have come to call not the righteous but the sinners.” It is easy to dine with those of good standing or high reputation. But they are not the ones who need to know that God loves and blesses them.

Bishop Paul created the Saint Matthews Society as a vehicle for recognition of those who had made large gifts or provisions for such gifts in their estate planning. Bishop Paul’s intent was the gifts would be directed to the donor’s home parish. To support the creation and recognition of such gifts Bishop created the staff position of Missioner for Development and the Saint Matthew’s Steering Committee. Our original steering committee included some of the real movers and shakers in the diocese. Char Horst, parishioner of St. Barnabas in Kutztown and a lawyer, helped mold the steering committee into a cohesive unit. In the first two years of existence over 100 individual gifts to local parishes were created and identified.

Today ongoing St. Matthew’s programs are operating in half a dozen parishes in the diocese. Over 125 potential gifts have been identified. Roughly 12 local parishes have realized gifts. These gifts have provided the means to fund the purchase of vestments, bibles, chalices, crosses, building renovations, made buildings handicap accessible and funded outreach. In some isolated incidents they have funded routine operational expenses for parishes experiencing financial duress. During this economic downturn roughly 35% of the parishes in the diocese are expending principle from their DIT accounts to fund operations. While endowments are never a replacement for stewardship they can help bridge the gap during a period of short- term crisis.

This year changes are afoot in our St. Matthew’s program. Char Horst resigned her position in March. Bishop Paul called me to become our new Missioner for Development on June 1. As a matter of my personal discipleship I am doing this work for no monetary compensation. I used to work for silver, now I work for life. Parts of my responsibilities are to breathe new life into the Saint Matthew’s program.

We are starting by creating regional pods of St. Matthews. Ultimately we will have six pods. This year we are blessed that Father Charles Cesaretti has agreed to help organize our first pod in the Northern Tier. This will entail recruiting and motivating the clergy and a key lay person in each church. Each Vestry should adopt resolutions that provide for overseeing endowments if one is not already in place. A regional Will’s Workshop in the Northern Tier, one adult forum in each church, developing a parish specific booklet that guides a parishioner through the steps taken should a loved one pass, and creating a vehicle for ongoing communications are part of our plan. By 2014 we will have created the opportunity for every viable church in the Diocese to create their own St. Matthew’s program. Any parish interested in starting or re-invigorating their existing program can call me at 610-509-8767. We can start now!

We have all rested in the shade of trees that were planted by those who went before us. Let us insure we are planting trees for those who will follow.