Definition of Sabbath

1a: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians

b : Sunday observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship

2: a time of rest

One of the things that distinguishes those who practice religion from those who see themselves as primarily spiritual is that those of us in the Abrahamic traditions observe Sabbath. One day a week we take a break from work, technology, routine obligations to rest.  We rest so that we can focus on our relationship with God and each other.  Sabbath is a taste of heaven, in Jewish tradition.  For Christians, it is the eighth day, a weekly observance of new creation.

Among academics and within the Church it is also recognized that in order for leaders to be creative and fresh, they need time away from their regular duties so that they can rest, reflect and think, apart from the daily rhythm of their work.  This time away is called a sabbatical.  Webster defines it this way:

1: of or relating to a sabbatical year

2: of or relating to the sabbath.

Typically, faculty get time away every seven years to study, to write, to reflect, to experience their disciplines in new ways.  They come back to their teaching refreshed, with new ideas and insights.

In the Episcopal Church, it is best practice for vestries to make provisions for their rectors to take a similar break every seven years.  These sabbaticals are budgeted for by the parish and the rector receives full pay while away.  Vestries include the terms of the sabbatical in the covenant they make with their rector in the work agreement.  The Diocese of Texas believes so strongly in this practice that they make $7000 available to each parish to support them in offering this benefit to their clergy.

This is my seventh year as rector of St. Stephen’s.  I have been granted a sabbatical by the Vestry which will last for three months.  Beginning in September and continuing through November, I will be away from St. Stephen’s for a time of Sabbath refreshment and reflection.  I do not have a specific project I will be working on during this time.  The Vestry has invited me to respond to our good Lord’s leading during this time and not to expect a “deliverable” of myself.  I think they are wise…and know me well!

I recognize what an utter privilege it is to have this kind of time away.  Many of us have no job, let alone one which will allow paid leave for education and reflection.  I deeply appreciate this opportunity and will cherish the time as your investment in me and our shared ministry.

I will be sharing more along the way.


Full Court Christians

What a significant week this has been in the life of our country!  From the extradition efforts on Edward Snowden to the repeal of protections of the Voting Rights Act, to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the upholding of Proposition 8 in California.  On the State front there is still inadequate funding for our schools, major attacks on women’s health, and the immediate movement to obstruct full participation of people of color in our democracy.

As Christians, our baptismal covenant requires of us to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every person.  Our worlds coalesce today as our politicians and jurists put before us stark and nuanced choices about the worth of persons.  How we treat and think about those who differ from us is a sign of God’s presence or absence in the world.

We may not all agree on every policy that comes down the line as Christians.  As followers of Jesus though, we have to insist on respecting every human person and to do the work of our Lord.  Healing, embracing those at the margins, proclaiming freedom, working for wholeness, caring for the widows and orphans and the demon possessed is our ministry.

Today a major step has been taken in our country by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.  Full justice has not been achieved.  May we continue as the Church to model dignity and work for it.

Turn, Turn, Turn

“The personal is political.”  This saying was foundational in my adolescence as the Second Wave of feminism was roiling around me.  In the late seventies, when I was a teenager, I heard this phrase as speaking to reproductive rights, vegetarianism, and environmentalism.  Personal choices had collective consequences.  They still do.

I think about this now in the context of my life as a rector at St. Stephen’s.  Personal choices and events have implications which impact not only me, but also my community.  A priest is a public person–my actions can affect the whole.

This spring and summer have been filled with momentous events in my personal life.  My mother almost died; my colleague was critically and is now chronically ill, my youngest child has graduated from high school, and I now inhabit an empty nest with my husband.  My heart is sad, grieving, and tired.

From this personal space, I have had to make decisions so that our common life in ministry thrives.  There are many unknowns coloring these decisions:  St. Stephen’s School is seeking a permanent Head of School, short term disability payments are not paid to the parish immediately, evaluating the most pressing community needs takes time.

I have set as priorities the calling of two people to assist us in our ministry this fall.  One is a chaplain to assist us with the ministry of our school; a part time position which is paid for by both School in community service, and our Church in community outreach in concert with our School.  I have called Ryan Beaty to fill this position because I believe in spiritual diversity, innovation, and relationships with children and youth and I believe he is highly qualified to embody each.   The other position is that of supply priest.  This position is a one day a week commitment centered on Christian formation of youth and adults, with some liturgical responsibilities.  Given the uncertain timeline of Bob Flick’s recovery and our financial constraints, I feel that it is most prudent at this time to focus our clergy requirements to these areas.  I have invited the Reverend Andrea Polvino to assume these duties.

I recognize that both of these are risky calls.  They may not be right.  I may not have interpreted our options and our constraints accurately.  I also know that these choices are for now. My expectation is that St. Stephen’s will great the New Year with two full time priests on staff for the Church and a quarter time chaplain for our school.

I hope you will welcome Ryan and Andrea into our community and receive the gifts they have to offer us.

Making Community

As we are kicking into the academic New Year around St. Stephen’s, I am struck by how much of our mission involves us in the fostering of human beings.  We will begin our Christian Education offerings for children and youth on August 26, our offerings in mission and study will be showcased in the Outreach Festival on the 26th after church, our day school students will enter freshly painted halls on August 27, and our afterschool program which will welcome middle school students on August 27 as well.  Our Christian ministry is predicated on the care and love we find in Christ.  In turn we offer it for the life of the world.

You cannot buy community, you make it.

There is much talk now on the eve of the party conventions of the role of government and its size.  Many of us disagree about this.  One thing is sure to me, the size and role of government or markets is not synonymous with the vision and requirements of Christian faith and practice.  As Christian citizens of the United States, my primary loyalty and values are shaped by the Scripture, Christian tradition and reason.  The bottom line for me is not profit, but human dignity.  At the end of the day what is important for me is not change that I can believe in, but whether the poor are truly cared for and that I don’t kill God’s children.

I am reading Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets.  He argues that economics is an insufficient lens through which to make decisions on many moral issues.  He is not an anti-capitalist; rather he suggests that while markets are good for many things, alone they fail us in determining the good.

We are entering a new season.  May we engage in learning, in creating, and in questioning.



Our Earth Connection

I’ve been traveling across the Midwest to visit my mother and father in Ohio. From Texas to Arkansas, from Missouri to Illinois, from Indiana to Ohio, miles and miles of drought.  Shrivelled corn, skrawny soybeans whiz past the windows.  Looking at the distressed trees and the dusty fields, I am aware of what an urban person I am.  Living in my air conditioned cocoon, I think myself inured from the effects of global warming and the desparate longing for rain.  I would be wrong.

The ranchers and farmers whose lands I pass, are connected to me not only economically, but spiritually.  What happens to the land  literally and metaphorically touches my soul.

As urban people, we are often shut off from the seasons, let alone the rainfall.  This climate calamity calls us to recall our interconnection with the earth and one another.  I will certainly be more observant of the weather and more sympathetic to those who work the land on my behalf.

Finding the Divine in Thin Places

You never know how God will be present in seemingly random acts of kindness and justice.  Today I experienced two such glimpses through our ministry here.

St. Stephen’s will host a vigil protesting the death of Yokamon Hearn by lethal injection in Huntsville.  A group of Quakers coordinates these vigils each time a prisoner is put to death in our name.  St. Stephen’s is part of the site rotation.  It turns out that Naomi, one of our new members who was baptized here on Pentecost, has represented Mr. Hearn for six years as his lawyer.  She called to thank us for being witnesses in this way and to thank us for the support of her ministry.  She will be with his family as he is executed tonight.

The other peek at God action today took the form of Everett.  He called to tell me that he was being released from the hospital and that he has discovered that he has diabetes and will most likely become blind.  Everett has now been clean for one year.  He called to tell me that our ministry to him enabled him to get off the streets and to come to faith.  He also said that his faith will give him strength to face his surgery and the outcome.

I don’t believe in magic.  I am all about the scientific method.  I take subatomic parts seriously.

But I also know that if you look, you can find healing and hope; possibility and love poke through unexpectedly.  You can call it God or not.  I choose to see the divine in these oh so thin places.