Saturday, December 24, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Today is one of the Winter Ember Days. The Ember Days happen near the transition from one season to another four times a year. They developed as times of penitential prayer at these seasonal changes in a society which was largely rural and agricultural. The impulse was simply to offer to God the work of the season ahead, beseeching God's blessing. They date back to at least the 5th century.
No one knows exactly why, but from their beginning they were also thought of as appropriate times for ordination. So today, if you look in our Prayer Book for prayers for this day, you will find them as prayers "For Ministry," and, of course, in our day we know that means the ministry of all baptized people, not just the ordained.
Nevertheless, this is a good time to pause and pray for the ordained among us, for those preparing for ordination, and for the continued raising up of people for the ordained ministry.
So I ask your prayers for our Bishop, Prince, as well as our retired bishops, Jack and William.
And I ask your prayers for myself, for John, our deacon, Mary Ann, the rector of St. Stephen's, and for the other clergy who are part of our community: Sandy Cordingley, Phil Schaefer, Peter Peters, Carolyn Lumbard, and Dennis Wienk.
And I ask your prayers for Cheryl Frank, who is in the process of applying to be a postulant for ordination, having been nominated by myself and your Vestry.
And I ask your prayers for Michael Laver, who is in the discernment process, working with a committee of folks from both Two Saints and St. Stephen's.
Thanks, and I will pray for you and your ministry, too.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Lucy's name means "light," and it is no accident her feast day is on December 13. In the old Gregorian Calendar, this was the shortest day of the year. After today, even though we have a lot of winter yet to come, the light begins to take back the night. So, especially in northern Europe, this was a very important day, a day of hope.
In Scandinavia today, children will bring their parents breakfast in bed, some of them (carefully!) wearing a wreath of lighted candles (I suppose most of them are electric by now). Last night they will have written "Lussi" on their doors and hung a picture of the saint. In ancient times, this was to announce to the demons of winter and the night that their brief reign was over. "Lucy fires" are lit this evening as another sign that the light is triumphing over the darkness.
Lucy is my companion, I guess, whenever I am looking for the light. Here, in the Middle of Advent, feeling oh so far behind, not sure when I'm going to have time to Christmas shop, feeling more unprepared for the liturgical celebrations ahead than I have for a long time, I have need of Lucy's light to help me see the One who is coming, whether I am ready or not, and he is coming with Good News.
Monday, December 12, 2011
This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
I wonder if we could think of John’s setting up camp to prophesy and preach and baptize as a kind of first century “Occupy” movement. “Occupy Bethany,” or “Occupy the Jordan.”
Monday, November 28, 2011
There is probably not anything more un-Episcopalian than standing on a street corner proclaiming that the end is near. Unlike in some Christian circles, the end times is not a significant topic of conversation among us. To be perfectly honest, I am not particularly unhappy about that fact.
Yet here we are at the beginning of Advent and, at least at the beginning of this season, we are asked to reflect on what we mean when we say "Christ will come again." I said yesterday at the Eucharist that we read "end time" texts from the Bible and assume the news they bring is bad. Jesus is coming back and this time he's angry. We say every week in the Nicene Creed, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead..." No matter which way you try to spin it, judgment sounds painful. Do any of us not have aspects of our lives that will be judged harshly? I suspect not.
When St. Paul considers this reality in the eighth chapter of Romans he realizes something very important. He says
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
His answer is, "Nothing." The one who will be our judge is first our lover, the one who prays for us always, whose life was an offering which took in the life of the whole world. Our judgment will result in our freedom. We have nothing of which to be afraid.
We sang a contemporary Advent hymn at the end of the late Service yesterday which can have the last word (the second verse):
Can it be that from our endings, new beginnings you create?
Life from death, and from our rendings, realms of wholeness generate?
Take our fears, then, Lord, and turn them into hopes for life anew:
Fading light and dying season sing their Glorias to you.
Dean W. Nelson (b. 1944) (from Wonder, Love and Praise, #721)
Sunday, November 13, 2011
|Bishop Barbara Harris preaching from Two Saints' pulpit.|
Back at the Hyatt, we perused exhibits about ministries occurring in each of the six districts of the diocese. Our parish showed a Right On School display.
Later Friday evening, delegates enjoyed an informal dinner with entertainment provided by each district. The Rochester district was well represented by Harmonically Yours from St. Stephen's.
Formal business sessions were conducted on Saturday. We cast ballots for several offices. The Rev. Mary Ann Brody was elected to the Disciplinary Board.
We also voted on ten resolutions. Dr. Marilyn Wienk, chair of the Public Policy Committee, introduced Resolution G, which called for the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. The resolution was initially defeated, but was later reconsidered and amended to call for a withdrawal of troops as soon as possible. The amended resolution passed.
Bishop Prince Singh gave his annual "state of the diocese" address--calling for us to become "authentic spiritual activists."
Chris Cleveland, vice-chair of Diocesan Council, presented the report of council. The proposed 2012 diocesan budget proved to be somewhat controversial. Several delegates expressed concern about how the decision was made to eliminate the diocesan youth missioner position. A significant minority of no votes were voiced to the budget.
Two task forces are working on crucial diocesan financial concerns. The first is addressing the apportionment formula by which parishes financially support the diocese. The second is evaluating the supplemental health insurance benefit the diocese provides to retired clergy and their spouses.
My modest contribution to convention was to edit a video of greetings from other bishops--including Bill Burrill, Jack McKelvey, Gayle Harris, and Steve Lane. Most of the clips in it were shot by Bishop Prince Singh on his iPhone while attending the House of Bishops meeting in Quito, Ecuador, last September.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
By the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
Most people love Hallowe'en, or at least they did when they were kids. Some Christians are "opposed" to it because of its pagan roots, and its supposed origin in worship of the Devil. To participate in it is to participate in "occultist" activity.
Well, here we have a problem. Christian tradition, especially its worship (including the liturgical calendar), has deep roots in two sources: the Jewish tradition of the time of the apostles and pagan practices throughout the ages. Christians have a long, long history of adopting and adapting pagan practices. All Saints' Day is a case in point. Many northern European cultures had a day at this time of the year (often considered the first day of the new year) when the dead were said to communicate with the living. Christians' ongoing relationship with the dead (what we call the communion of saints) meant that it naturally gravitated toward these celebrations even if it could not adopt all of the practices associated with it. Voila, All Saints Day.
Dressing up in costumes is fun. Of course, we want to avoid costumes that are racist, or that promote violence. Those are contrary to our values. Halloween is not a day off from upholding the dignity of every human being.
Hallowe'en and All Saints may be a very good time to have a conversation with young people about evil and death, since we do seem to dance around its edges as part of our celebration. How can that conversation go? Lots of ways, but here are three basic talking points:
- We participate in evil when we choose to do injustice, choose not to make peace (reconciliation), and when we refuse to love our neighbor as ourselves (and that includes not loving ourselves).
- We all do these things from time to time and God is always ready to forgive us if we can be honest about what we have done.
- Jesus came to struggle against evil and death and they appeared to win when he died on the cross. But he did not stay dead. He came back from the dead to proclaim that evil and death had been defeated once and for all. Any power they have after he was raised is temporary.
If you have this conversation, you just might get a question about the devil, and even hell. Is there really a devil? Is there a real hell?
Good luck. This is tricky ground. It is easy just to say "No, we don't believe in these things," but that is too simple an answer. Here's my answer.
I don't know if there is a real devil. I do know that there is real evil in the world and that I am often tempted to participate in it. I also have experienced evil that could not be explained simply by human will (someone choosing to do bad). We do not know where this evil comes from so sometimes we speak about the devil, or Satan, as its source, giving evil a name and a place (hell). Whether or there is a Satan or a Hell, we know this: Jesus has conquered them. At Easter we sing about Jesus smashing the gates of hell so that no one has to stay there any longer.
There are lots of things in this world to be afraid of, lots and lots and lots and lots. And it is OK to be afraid of them. But they cannot take you away from God. When you were baptized, the priest put oil on your head, made the sign of the cross and said, "Nicole, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever." You are chosen by God. You are a saint. Nothing can change that, that's how strong God's love is.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Friday, October 7, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Walter was a kind, grandfatherly-type of man who was also tough as nails. He had been Bishop of Iowa for many years (1972-1988) before he went to assist in Newark. I didn't know him then, but I suspect he was a natural in that mid-western, rural setting. There was nothing pretentious about Walter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, visited the Diocese of Iowa in 1981, and Walter managed to convince him to pick up a piglet and pretend to give it a kiss.
Walter's trial was a watershed moment for the church. Conservatives were frustrated that they had not been able to get General Convention to stop the ordination of openly lesbian and gay people, so they decided to turn to the seldom used ecclesiastical court system. The previous charge of heresy against a bishop had been made in 1923. The court that convened ruled that there was no basis for a charge, that the "core doctrine" of the church was not in question, and so a trial never actually happened. The hearing in Wilmington, Delaware in 1996 was a dramatic moment, however. I was privileged to be present. Interestingly enough, it was the first time I met Bishop Jack McKelvey, then the new Bishop Suffragan of Newark, and Walter's chaplain for the trial.
To me, Walter was the epitome of the change that occurred in the Episcopal Church in the 1980's and 1990's. He was no trained theologian or biblical scholar (which is not to say he wasn't a very smart and shrewd man). He was no new-fangled, elitist liberal who was trying to make over the church into his own image. He was just an honest, everyday Christian and Episcopalian, who loved serving Jesus. And in that service he learned that inclusion trumps exclusion every time. He knew love and faith and hope when he saw it, and could not deny it based on a couple verses of scripture.
I loved Walter Righter and I am proud that John and I counted him and his faithful wife Nancy as friends. Rest in peace and rise in glory, Walter. Enjoy the feast at the welcome table.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
One of the things I did when I was on vacation in August was clean out my files at home. Thirty years of accumulated paper. Frightening. But I found some old jewels, of course, which was worth the time.
It is astonishing how quickly we’ve begun to accept terrorism as a permanent part of the international landscape. Astonishing because there is a fairly painless (and fairly obvious) alternative.
The greatest threat to civility—and ultimately to civilization—is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what—who—created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures—even violence—are required.
America is currently awash in an unpleasant surplus of clanging, clashing certitudes. That is why there is a rhetorical bitterness absurdly disproportionate to our real differences. It has been well said that the spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure you are right. One way to immunize ourselves against misplaced certitude is to contemplate—even to savor—the unfathomable strangeness of everything, including ourselves.
 From an article printed in a long defunct newsletter called New Options, the editor of which was Mark Satin, who presumably is the author of the piece.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
9/11 Vigil Vesper Service
All are welcome to join in solemn observance of the 10th anniversary of the violence of September 11, 2001.
Saturday, September 10th at 6 p.m.
Christ Episcopal Church
141 East Avenue, Rochester
Speakers: The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene and Ms. Fatima Bawany, Islamic Center of Rochester.
"Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." 2 Corinthians: 13:11
Friday, August 26, 2011
On Wednesday evening Dr. Pamela Chinnis died. I fear that many Episcopalians do not know who she is, which is a tragedy. She was one of the great shapers of the Episcopal Church in the late 20th century.
Friday, August 19, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Gilliatt died Tuesday, August 16 at the age of 67. She was Associate Professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she had taught since at least 1984. She was also a faithful servant to the church and a faithful colleague and friend to me and to many, many others.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Some Facts and Thoughts about Marriage
The Very Rev. Michael W. Hopkins July 17, 2011 A Work in Progress
What is the Biblical Witness?
- Male/Female pairings in contract/covenant are certainly supported by both Testaments, although the norm is multiple wives, which is never clearly disallowed (except for bishops!).
- Prohibition of adultery one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). Men could divorce a wife for any reason by the time of Jesus. Women could not initiate divorce. Jesus forbids divorce except in cases of adultery (Mark 10:2-9) and seems to support monogamy (as most Jews had done by his time).
- Wedding imagery has some importance in the New Testament: the Wedding at Cana as the setting for Jesus’ first miracle (John 2), Jesus identified as the bridegroom (Matthew 25), Jesus’ words about divorce (Matthew 19), the image of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5) and the husband awaiting his bride in Revelation (19:7, 9).
- Instructions for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and Colossians
- Two people are marrying each other. The priest is primary witness of the marriage, but it is not correct to say that the priest is “marrying” the couple.
- The priest pronounces a blessing on the marriage, which in no way is required to make the marriage valid.
- All this is done in the context of a “normal” Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist (ideally).
- The priest also provides a service to the state and to the couple by signing their marriage license, thus making the marriage legal. In New York State, religious leaders may preside at weddings and sign marriage licenses. There is no mechanism for their certification.
- In the church’s language they are making a covenant with one another and with God. The terms of this covenant are contained in the vows. The Prayer Book also says that there are three purposes for this covenant: Mutual joy, Help & Comfort, Procreation (Generativity).
- The 1928 Book of Common Prayer gave no purpose for marriage in the rite, but the earliest Prayer Books cited (in order): Procreation of Children, a Remedy for sin and to avoid fornication, and mutual help and comfort.
- I tend to talk about fidelity, mutuality and service.
- In the language of the state, the couple is making a legal contract that accords them a series of benefits.
- In terms of the Bible and the Church’s tradition, one has to take the stance that revelation is continuing with the lead of the Holy Spirit.
- The Marriage rite in the Prayer Book uses male/female language and says “Christian Marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” (p. 422).
- The Canons of the Church say “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman” [I.18.2(b)].
- A resolution of the 2009 General Convention, however, says, “That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”
- The Prayer Book also says “For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion” (p. 13).
- A rite for the Blessing of Same-sex Unions will be considered by the 2012 General Convention. This is being prepared by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Their work will have no bearing, however, on the definition of marriage.
- The Episcopal Church has been on a forty year long journey with lesbian and gay people, who most people recognize, have always been members of the Church. In particular, we have been witness to their relationships and can testify that they are marriages in every sense of the word except for their common gender.
- Christian response to outsiders in the early life of the church are instructive. The Ethiopian Eunuch asks, “What is there to prevent me from being Baptized?” (Acts 8:26-40) Peter accepts Cornelius, a Gentile, as a full member of the faith. “Who was I to hinder God?” (Acts 10 & 11).
- We have come to believe that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual is not a difference between “unnatural and natural” or “sinful and holy” or “dysfunctional and normal.” The distinction is much more like the distinctions made by Paul in Galatians 3:27-28. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are capable of holiness in just the same way that heterosexual people are.
- Marriage is “another sacramental rite.” In our tradition it is proper to call only Baptism and the Eucharist “sacraments.” Marriage as a “sacramental rite” flows primarily out of the vocational aspect of Baptism.
- First of all, the Canons make it clear that no clergyperson is bound to preside at any marriage (I.18.4).
- Criteria must be met: one member of the couple must be baptized, there be no coercion, that both parties may legally be married and understand marriage to be lifelong (a “Declaration of Intent” must be signed to this end).
- Pre-marital counseling must be done.
- At least thirty days must pass.
- There must be two witnesses.
- The Canons say “When marital unity is imperiled by dissension, it shall be the duty, when possible, of either or both parties, before taking legal action, to lay the matter before a Member of the Clergy; and it shall be the duty of such member of the Clergy to act first to protect and promote the physical and emotional safety of those involved, and only then, if it be possible, to labor that the parties may be reconciled.” (I.19.1)
- Re-marriage is allowed when there has been a legal annulment or divorce and the Bishop has passed judgment on the marital status as well. Nearly all second marriages are granted no matter what the cause of the divorce. Written evidence of annulment or divorce must be obtained.
Ah, now there’s the question!