Monday, December 18, 2017

Badges and Sashes

My baptismal certificate is superglued into this prayer book. A gift at my baptism at age 9. It even has the stickers that were on the paper it was wrapped in. As a cradle and professional Episcopalian I have been given or picked up enough of them to keep one in every room in my house. This isn’t my favorite prayerbook, strange printing that it is, thicker than a pew BCP, but shorter and narrower, it does not hold easy, open or closed. Yet I have kept it where I pray at home for many years, mostly because that certificate resides there. Baptism is the primary call to ministry for all practitioners of the way of Jesus. Baptism is the mark and fuel and commission of all ministry. As I was preparing for my ordination to the diaconate This was the prayerbook, that I chose to pray with.

Looking to bookmark the ordination rite I flipped the pages looking for one of the various items that seem to have found their way there. The first one I found was this card. A Girl Scout membership card. It says: I will do my best:
  • to be honest
  • to be fair
  • to help where I am needed
  • to be cheerful
  • to be friendly and considerate
  • to be a sister to every Girl Scout
  • to respect authority
  • to use resources wisely
  • to protect and improve the world around me
  • to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions.
Finding that card full of diaconal applicable promises it seemed like there was some sort of holy witness there, A voice from when I was very young, who are you to be and how shall we live? The last time I wore a sash - oops stole - frequently was in my scouting days. And I have found myself looking down over the last month at this “sash” and occasionally wondering where the badges are.

People of all sorts went out to see John the Witnesser. People made their way through strange territory to find this unusual John. Opponents and the curious. Folks who have sunk their ships of safety and those still well secured. The desperate, the heartbroken, the anxious and the cheerful. People seeking solace in what seems to be an untamed wisdom. Daring to hope for clarity, for release, for salvation. John the Witnesser echoes the demanding job description in our Isaiah lesson today. Bring good news to the poor. Bind up the brokenhearted. Release captives. Comfort those who mourn. The figurative clothes that God offers in our lesson today are the garments of the Isaian suffering servant. Elsewhere it is commanded - put on your splendid clothing, shake the dust off of your feet. Beautiful is the messenger who brings peace, proclaims good news, whose holy arm has comforted the people. People will see what they have not, and hear what they have never pondered.

The title of deacon comes from the Greek word diackonos which means servant, waiter, or messenger. It is suggested that the roots of the Greek word really mean ‘through the dust’. The dust stirred up by a busy servant on ancient floors or the dust created by a messenger on a mission along ancient streets. We currently, and quite unusually, are a congregation with three deacons. Ann, Pat, and most recently myself. Deacons are certainly the oldest clearly named Christian order of ministry. Yet I suspect most people are a bit mystified by the distinctions.

In some denominations, deacons are not ordained, but special appointed leaders. In Catholic and Orthodox and Anglican churches like ours, we are ordained. We have deacons who are deacons for always, such as Ann and Pat - vocational. We also have deacons who are to have deacons hearts forever, but are expected to be ordained to the priesthood after 6 months or more. Deacons like myself who are referred to as transitional. All Deacons all wear the same clergy shirts as each other, and as priests, and most of us, priests and deacons, are officially titled the same - the Reverend. Sort of odd that a tradition that loves extra titles and names for everything (!) in the hundred years since its reinvigoration hasn’t decided that vocational deacons deserve their own additional title. Most Reverend and Very Reverend are already taken. Maybe Rousing Reverend or Bustling or Invaluable.

The focus of diaconal ministry Is fourfold.
  • Servant leadership, 
  • Proclamation of Christ's redemptive love to all,
  • To interpret to the Church the needs and concerns of the world; 
  • To assist Priests and Bishops in their ministries.
Activities that are all rooted in the servant ministry of Jesus. Tasks that are called for by the prophetic word of Isaiah. Duties that are shown by John the Witnesser. Wade in the water. Speak the truth. Point beyond yourself. Shake the dust. I wonder what our most experienced deacons would want this church to know about the diaconate. In the context of real peril Jesus invites all of us to risk being a holy invitation for others. The way is made level by our union with him and all people and by making his actions real in our lives. Our Gospel passage makes it sound like Jesus is standing here with us in this scene beside the Jordan river. Standing with accusers and wonderers and messengers, Just like us. We pray that he may he be born in our hearts this Christmas, and look, he is already here.

What if we did give badges? Injustice undoing, speaking up for the outcast, served a meal. Tried a new prayer practice, gave generously, offered comfort. Dared to try going to church. Looking around at this crowd gathered to hear John the Witnesser: what badges would you award someone else in this scene or someone in the neighborhood? Are there faith practice badges you worked really hard for? What badge do you need some divine motivation to pursue? As we have done throughout Advent when you come up to communion take a green disc, which does look rather like a badge. Invite you to write or even draw the faith practice badge you would award to someone in your life or community. Our badges probably should be imagined, but as long as we are wondering, What would they be?

Beyond the human messiness of our wilderness is a way, a way shaped by Jesus that isn't just thought about, but enacted, performed and fleshed out. God calls us to seek the badges that the prophet of Isaiah and John the Witnesser declare. Reach out to the refugee, listen to the shamed, challenge the comfortable - especially if it is you. Scatter the ancient dust with service and good news. Risk yourself as an invitation to a beautiful someone who stands here among us, someone who is a way we want to call our own.

Let us pray.

Help me to be a beginning to others,
to be a singer to the songless, a befriender of the friendless;
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing, of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry, of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.
Help me to believe in beginnings, to make a beginning, to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live with the passion of Jesus Christ.


Prayer by Ted Loder

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Have a Nick and Lucy Celebration!

1. Reserve a date in Advent.  I know that sounds like an absurd idea to some of you church leaders and volunteers.  However, it is achievable.  Currently, I have been offering Nick and Lucy as a Formation hour event between the services, and is only a feast of treats.  In the past it has been a whole brunch or a dinner with Sicilian-ish and Turkish dishes.  Different settings have different schedule demands, so choose what works best for you.  I have a silly attachment to trying to place it the weekend between the two feast days (Dec 6 for Nicholas and the 13th for Lucia), but it is often the case that the 3rd Sunday in Advent would work better.

2. Ditch the Miter.  Tea cozy headdress does not become typical for WESTERN bishops until after the 12th century.  Nicholas is 4th century.  And Nicholas was a minister in what became the Eastern church.  Where such hats never really appear.  So please, no miter.  I recommend a knit hat and beard combo like the one pictured on me.  There are plenty of plans for this craft online; and folks on Etsy more than happy to sell you one.  Nick costume should be a plain shepherds crook, plain red hat, a beard, a stole or a simpler cope and either an alb or cassock and surplice.

3. Give Thanks for LED. Make a head sized candle wreath.  I make one with a styrofoam ring and ribbon and LED candles.  More crafty folks could make something more elaborate to be sure.  I limit the candles to four because they do get heavy.  Lucy wears an alb with a red sash for a belt.

4. Act! Recruit congregants who have some desire to do a bit of acting.  I have a script for both saints, who both tell their story. These are saints from beyond time who don't know anything about any other legends connected to them.  I invite the actors to read up a bit on their saint, but to mostly follow the core of the script.  Lucia's script is rather imaginative, drawing on some of the other hagiographies of young female martyrs of that era.  Here are two excerpts from the scripts.  I would be glad to share the whole text. 

My home is called Myra. It is warm and sunny, and on the edge of a very large sea. 
My home is near a land called Greece and near a land called Egypt. They might call the place where I lived Turkey. Are we in Turkey or Egypt? Are we far or close? Oh my.
Well, hmm. Let me tell you about myself. I am a Christian bishop. 
When I was a new bishop, the church was a very big secret. It may have been the biggest secret that ever was. It was a secret because sometimes, men and women who followed Jesus, well we could get in very great trouble for being his disciples. Yet we grew and grew and grew because we worked so hard to follow Christ, to love as he loved and serve as he served.

My mother named me Lucia, which means light.  She says we shine like the sun in the deepest darkest nights. My family, we live on the island of Sicily. Is this Sicily? It doesn’t seem like it. Hmm. 
Well at home in Sicily, our family has lived here for as long as anyone can remember. 
And our family is powerful and our family has plenty of everything and anything. There is nothing that we need that we cannot get.  Several years ago, I woke up early on a Sunday morning.  ....Inside I could see city leaders, a neighbor, other servants, someone whom I had seen begging near the market and many people who were comfortable like my family: and then I noticed my Aunt! ...
Then it began – the beautiful sweet singing, the stories about Jesus, who had died and then lived again, the prayers for friends and strangers, even prayers for the Emperor who hated anyone who didn’t worship him.

5. Gather! Find people to bring the following items
  • Candycanes (vaguely associated with the Bishops crozier), chocolate coin candies, butterscotch candies (they look like gold), and an orange type of candy.
  • Oranges sliced into sections.  Oranges are associated with Nicholas for two reasons.  First that they also look like gold coins (round and orange) and because he is the patron saint of sailors, oranges prevent scurvy.  
  • Cinnamon rolls 
  • Sparkling cider.  There isn't any reason besides it is festive and fun and way better than other options.  I have to wonder if I personally increase the yearly sales of sparkling cider because I use it at almost every event. 
  • If you want a larger feast then find avid cooks to bring other foods.  Breakfast pizzas are a nice brunch option.  These don't need to be region specific, I just find that educational and special.  I have had pasta dishes for later meals with Nick and Lucy.
6. Fetch! Get the following items
  • Tall narrow birthday candles.  I like to use the sparkly ones, but that is because the first version of the event involved sparklers.  Amazingly we did not set off the smoke alarm in the nave.   This year one of the candles lit some of the parchment paper on fire, but that was quickly extinguished.
  • Nicholas saint prayer cards from the St. Nicholas Center.  They used to sell an awesome one that highligted his whole ministry and was very international.  Maybe some pressure could bring that one back.  And if I could find nice ones for Lucy I would be so thrilled.  Maybe you know an artist who could craft one.  Anyways, we put  Nicholas prayer cards in the shoes with the candy.
7. Party! Set up the Feast
  • It could be around seated tables or more of a reception style.  This choice also depends on the food you choose.  
  • Put up signs inviting folks to leave their shoes outside of whatever room you are celebrating in.  I make use of teenagers as 'elves' who work on filling the shoes and lighting candles and other tasks that make things run smoothly.  
8. Pray! This is a liturgical style meal.  Older (longer) versions have scripture readings and more music.  One of my core values in liturgical work like this is that the voices are shared.  I MC the celebration, and multiple voices share the leadership voice.  These are divided up by color.  

9. Serve!  Discover a good and meaningful way to serve together at the end of the party.  We make Take Home Paks.  The possiblities vary by community.  However if we are inviting folks to live into the witness of Lucy and Nick, we should help them give it a try.

10. Prep! Make copies, share scripts, find elves.  Publicize.  

So why do I like bringing these saints together?  Read more from the year before.  

If you would like actual scripts and actual programs please just email me and I am glad to share.  What else do you need to know about setting this good thing up??