Mission Opportunities

As a priest I have lived where different Episcopal Churches have called me to serve. Those places include Panama City, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Newington, Connecticut; Signal Mountain, Tennessee; and Hayesville, North Carolina. All of these places have vastly contrasting cultures, and the churches have diverse styles of liturgy and ministry.

You may have noticed that one these places includes Panama City, Florida. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was the first place to call me to serve as the Assistant Priest on the staff. It is a significant place for me in my ministry; I was ordained by Bishop Duvall to the priesthood at that church in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

One of the cultural phenomenon that typically occurs in ministry is that healthy relationships are formed and still sustained in a positive way once the priest is called to a new ministry and moves geographically to a different location. I have not heard from some of my friends in the Panhandle area; however, most have responded to my telephone calls and texts to inform me that they have survived Hurricane Michael. Their houses, nonetheless, sustained varying degrees of damage. This piqued my curiosity so I logged on to an accredited government web sight of satellite views of the area around St. Andrew's. The church is still standing but the church house where the Choyce family lived is not. It is completely flattened by the historical trees that surrounded it. It was quite humbling to zero in on the space and realize where my family and I had lived for three years is now flattened.

There are all kinds of mission opportunities from local to national to international. Hurricane recovery is a significant ministry opportunity for all of us. We can participate in mission and ministry opportunities by physically partaking in them, and praying for those involved in the experience, as well as financially supporting those who will be touched by the experience. In additional to your pledge, over the next month please be looking out, in addition to listening out for those opportunities to financially sponsoring a missionary, along with contributing to the places where they will serve. And by all means, palpably participate in the mission or ministry experience. As Jesus said to his disciples - and is true for us today - Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all creation.

Please call me at Good Shepherd with any questions. If I am not able to answer them, I will put you in touch with the right person who will be able to do so.

The Transformation of Faith

Let us go forth in the name of Christ. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Let us bless the Lord. The Deacon or the Priest says this part. The People always respond, Thanks be to God. We use the words, Alleluia, Alleluia unless we are in the Church season of Lent as a part of the Dismissal. Some churches are also creative in the bulletin with the line - The worship is over. Let the service begin.

I remember as a child my thought was basically, thank God that's over with. It was just a silent thought and not a verbal expression. I was not that blunt but happened to teaspoon of culture to keep quiet. My simplistic and sarcastic understanding of church was that it was about an hour of time to get over within the context of a beautiful building. We heard the Bible, listened to a sermon, sang some hymns, ate flakey bread and drank wine. And then left. I was missing a key component of the dismissal - the and then left part of the service.

So much of my beliefs were a compartmentalization of faith. There were things that happened in the holy place of the church. It even had a different feel to it than other indoor and outdoor spaces. There were other things that happened outside of the holy place of the church. In my mind, there was no connection of one to the other. I went to church, and then I left. Ticket punched. That was the end of that.

What do you do after you leave? It is a complex issue. We are not human doings. We are human beings. I have a Master's Degree in Divinity, as well as 25 years of ordination to the priesthood but still cannot make this a simple spiritual subject. Here are some questions for all of us to consider: What did you hear in the Scripture texts and in the sermon? What did you sing in the hymns? What did you experience when you went to the Altar to receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ?

It is still a complex issue that even the correct answer will not be able to resolve. Faith, however, is not about correct answers.

Faith is more experiential than academic. For instance, I am a strong supporter of Mission Trips. When you go in peace to love and serve the Lord, you never know where that will lead. Will you go on an International Mission Trip? Will you go on a National Mission Trip? Will you serve the mission needs of this local community? In the midst of the mission, the singular of you becomes the plural of we. When we, as the church community of Good Shepherd, go and serve other communities, transformation occurs. Pounding nails, working in a food pantry, staying at a homeless shelter together transcends theological and even political views.

We worship together. We go out into the world together. Where will that lead us? The only way we are going to find out is to do it together. When the worship is over, then the service begins.

Sabbaticals

I have been ordained to the priesthood since 1993. If anything that means that I have had quite a lot of experiences in that time period from serving parishes in Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Tennessee, and now in North Carolina. It was from the Episcopal Churches in Connecticut and in Tennessee where I was the Rector that I took a Sabbatical. These Sabbaticals encompassed some study at Sewanee, some staying with members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota (Companion Diocese of East Tennessee), plenty of sleep, and all with my family.

This was all at a time that there was plenty of good ministry going on in both of the churches in Connecticut and Tennessee. It was in that time frame that my Bishops in both Connecticut and East Tennessee would remind me that my example for ministry was Jesus who intentionally took time away in the midst of his busy ministry. For example, after Jesus fed the five thousand, his popularity surged. The people were going to make him king by force. What did Jesus do? St. John records, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. Instead of riding his wave of success, Jesus left. In fact, Jesus left again. Amazing. The Son of God needed to be by himself again. It was part of his spiritual discipline

Clergy also need to go away - that is literally the only way they will get away - to be alone. I modified my getting away to happily involve my family. Fr. Bill will be away and out-of-touch. Delmer Chilton and I will be here and in-touch; we also have 40 and 25 years of ordained ministry, respectfully. If you do the math, you have two clergy with plenty of experience to be with you. Good Shepherd will continue to have the diaconal ministry of Turner Guidry. Furthermore, during the week, I will typically be here Monday through Wednesday. Delmer Chilton will be here for the later part of the week. We are both available for clergy pastoral appointments here, as well as bringing Holy Communion to those who are unable to get out. Tom Wilkerson will continue in his role and Senior Warden, and Teresa Gribble will continue in her role as Junior Warden. I could confidently go on and on about the things that will remain the same. In other words, we are in good shape. Though Fr. Bill will be deeply missed during his Sabbatical, he will even agree that Good Shepherd will move forward without him and he without us.

Both of my Sabbaticals were for me times of spiritual recharge, recreation, and reconnection with my family. I did not know how much recharge, recreation, and reconnection I desperately needed. The only way I was going to discover this was to literally get away. Pray for Fr. Bill during his time of Sabbatical. We will all come back together ready to move forward in the ministry that Christ has called us all.

Made in God's Image

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 815)

The above prayer is, in my opinion, one of the very best in The Book of Common Prayer. As I will often refer to that section of the Prayer Book as the White Pages, the chances are quite likely that the Prayer Books in the pews have a small stain strip of dark on the outside of the pages roughly a quarter of the way from the beginning that are in stark contrast to the white. The discoloring comes from the traces of oil and dirt found on our fingers. Contrary to this, the White Pages have rarely been opened; we miss out on some of the best prayers when we narrow our focus to the pages of the Holy Eucharist.

There are sometimes that we can recount those occasions when prayers from the Prayer Book and verses of scripture spring to life right before us. For instance, once in my priestly ministry I was down in an Emergency Room of an urban hospital visiting a parishioner who was about to be admitted for some extensive medical testing. All around was a jumble of humanity - age, wealth (or lack thereof), races and languages, genders, severity of injuries, etc ... I am embarrassed to admit it, but a very real sense of claustrophobia was wrapping emotional tentacles around me as the space began to fill with even more sights, smells and sounds. It was right after the parishioner was admitted that I bolted outside to walk around and get some fresh air. I put that phrase in quotes, because I walked right into - of all places - the smoker's section.

It was a frozen moment. There I was in a gray suit, black clergy shirt with white clerical collar; there they were with tattooed arms and legs, bald headed or long braided and multicolored hair, combined with a chaotic cacophony of clothing, with the common denominator of cigarettes being puffed on. There was a pause. It came down to this moment of time just outside of an urban ER that the question of identity and role came to the fore. It was clear from my collar that I was the religious figure. So what did that mean?

The gospels refer to Jesus as being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It goes deeper than that, however. Jesus simply did things differently than the regular religious figures of his day. He interacted with the outcasts. (If you're in the smoker's section outside of an overflowing and chaotic ER, then you are an outcast.) What would you have done in that very moment? I can write that it was a sacred time of reminding myself of who I represented. How did Jesus act in these sorts of situations? Inwardly I laughed because Jesus would have physically healed everyone; nevertheless, emotional and spiritual healing can come through our human conversation and contact.

Gentle nods. Sincere smiles. Warm handshakes. Genuine offers of cigarettes. All of these came together and questions concerning one another's health began to permeate the air far more than the smoke.

Since I could not drive at night, my ride picked me up within ten minutes. I know I experienced Jesus out there. I pray that some of the smokers experienced Jesus in me. As the prayer starts off, O God, you made us in your own image ...

Transitions

Philippians 4:7 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

There are those times in our lives that tend to put our lives into perspective. There is absolutely nothing like a move to do just that. It is like a palpable anxiety. You really do look around at all of your stuff and it does get a bit overwhelming as to just where to begin. But you do. You have to. It clearly is a classic case of denial to not begin to get some cardboard boxes and enter into the moving process by starting to unload dresser drawers of their contents of shirts and shorts and then put them into those boxes.

You come across – or at least I did – things that I can only categorize as stuff. I found myself shaking my head and saying out loud, why in the world did I keep that? or oh, that’s where that went.

Like I wrote earlier, a move does put life in perspective. Faded pictures of family were amongst the boxes showing Anne, and our children Neil, Drew, Kelly, Preston in varying phases of our marriage and of parenthood. Anne and I have been married 33 years. Exclamation point. Our children are all now in some process of lives independent of us.

I am glad that amongst other boxes obscure papers were kept. There were just some of those obscure papers in a box labeled Pension and Disability. They are the detailed and complex medical records that I needed to obtain both of those financial items of my pension and disability in order to simply pay bills. One of the pieces of medical paperwork in particular was a picture of my scalp with a letter C-shaped scar in stitches from one of my surgeries. There are other photos of different operations that show similarly shaped scars.

I know that many of you have heard my testimony of my return to the Institutional Church, and more importantly, my return to God. I left. God did not. Nevertheless, that will be another article.

I do want to emphasize that I do not take health for granted – or life for that matter. I am amongst the walking wounded here at Good Shepherd. It may be the outer and visible signs of our physical health; it could be the spiritual and emotional wounds that are not visible whatsoever. But on June 13 and before then about 50 of you came or texted or emailed or called and supported me in my move from one place to the next. Thank you! Two hours was all it took, although I did have some help the day before from one parishioner as we moved three pieces of furniture.

After a prayer, everyone left. I stared at all of my stuff again. It was too overwhelming this time to simply begin that process of putting my possessions back into some semblance of what would become their proper place. And when I thought I could get a bit of a Sabbatical from transitions, I received an email from Anne that showed our son Preston giving a classic “thumbs up” just as he was about board a plane to take him to his internship to Krygyzstan. Transitions equal possibilities.

What is going on in your life right now that is a transition? What possibility could it bring?

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, p. 832

Markers in Time

There are those moments in time that we hold up as significant. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to the 99.99% of the wonderfully normal times, there are interspersed times that do transcend the ordinary. One of these times is graduation.

Back in early May on a Saturday morning, one of my children graduated from college. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in Art with a special emphasis in sculpture. He, along with approximately four hundred other students, received their Undergraduate Degrees under the broad range of opportunities afforded by the School of Arts and Sciences in a diversity of subjects. This did not even include the later graduation of the completely separate School of Business.

Anne and I, along with another son, were there to participate in the ceremony. There is not a word or words in our language to describe the feelings one has when their child walks across the stage, shakes the President of the University’s hand, and then receives that piece of parchment that proves they have graduated. It was undeniably a celebration.

I did not even attend my college graduation – though I promise you I did graduate with an Undergraduate Degree! The graduation ceremony was not required. On the other hand, Seminary graduation was certainly mandatory. Not one of my classmates outwardly showed or verbally shared that they did not wish to partake in that wonderful moment of our spiritual formation. It was three years of Master’s Degree work with many late, late nights of study and then followed by early, early Chapel. Seminary was, therefore, both academic and spiritual.

Father Bill went to a Seminary called Nashotah House; I went to Virginia Seminary. They both had their own way of approaching what it means to be a Christian through the lens of being an Episcopalian. We bring our seminary educations to you for your growth in those holy, sacramental markers in time.

The sacraments are both holy and markers in time: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Unction (prayer for healing), Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), and Ordination. Defining Holy or Holiness is impossible, though it is real - it is what God does and not what we do by studying harder. We may have to get there – or be available at our house or in the hospital - for that sacramental marker in time for God to do it, however. It’s not magic done from a distance.

For instance, to receive that little wafer and sip of wine we believe are the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we hold out our hands or open our mouth to receive the Eucharist. When I miss the Sunday Eucharist, I know I have literally missed something. That bread and wine do literally feed us. It is my strongest inclination that God, as our Heavenly Father, is just like any proud parent watching his or her child receive their diploma. It doesn’t matter, however, what our grade point average is in order to be baptized, or confirmed, receive the Holy Eucharist, be married, receive prayers for healing, confess our sins, or even ordained. I think that there is this sense of overwhelming joy in God’s heart for you to show up and receive all the wonderful gifts of the sacraments that God has made especially for you. It is a holy time – a holy marker in time – when you show up. And God celebrates!

From Fr. George

Good Shepherd is a wonderfully noisy parish. That is an unusual manner to begin a Shepherd’s Voice article. If you come to Good Shepherd during the week, chances are that you might just find that something is going on in one of the classrooms or Parish Hall or Undercroft or library. The noise reflects a dynamic life within Good Shepherd, as well as preparation for an active life in outreach just outside the walls of the church building itself. Check out your weekly email (Good Shepherd events), the website (goodshepherdhayesville.org), your bulletin insert, as well as your Vestry Person of the Day (VPOD) Sunday morning announcements to get a sense of the vibrancy of Good Shepherd. It is essentially the Nave that is quiet.

This description of Good Shepherd might take some kind of intellectual adjustment, as well as spiritual modification, especially if you have come from a wonderfully quiet parish that had a very parttime staff. This corresponds to the matching hours for their presence in the parish. Realistically not much is going on in the office nor in the rare classroom areas. Perhaps, not much is going on at all. Of course, a canonically-required Vestry meeting will happen on a monthly basis; the choir will most likely meet on a weekly basis. Also, the Altar Guild will come on Saturday morning to prepare the Altar for the upcoming Sunday worship. Furthermore, there will probably be an occasional gathering of some sort - a Lenten offering is an example. The Nave, however, is quiet.

I bring up the compare and contrast of a wonderfully noisy parish and a wonderfully quiet parish. Who is right? Who is wrong? Those are loaded questions. They certainly reflect diverse spiritual priorities, because they are both wonderful.

I would not want to write that one kind of parish is right, while the other kind of parish is wrong. It is not that simplistic. I can only respond from a personal, priestly point of view. There are times when a study – either continuing for years or encapsulated to a certain number of weeks or limited to a day – is precisely where I need to participate. Moreover, sometimes group meetings of new possibilities excite me. Other times I need the absolute silence and stillness of the Nave to get a literal sense of God’s holy presence.

If anything, I believe that wonderful noise and wonderful silence can complement one another. When it is only the spiritual offerings that I attend, ironically my soul reaches a point of exhaustion. When it is only the literal sanctuary of the Nave that calls out for my presence, there reaches what feels like a saturation point in my soul.

The spiritual life is never easy to balance. Furthermore, what is balance for one person may not be a balance for another. As we move into the extensive Church Season of Pentecost in May, use it as a season for spiritual growth. Maybe you need to be in the silence of Nave. Perhaps this is a time for you to try out other opportunities at Good Shepherd. There is only going to be one way to find out. As the Video on our website concludes – Come and See.

From Fr. George

All one has to do is face towards the Altar and gaze in awe of one of the most peaceful stained-glass windows that there is in the Episcopal Church, or almost any church for that matter. Ironically, there is no stained-glass to it at all. The glass is perfectly clear so that it does not cover up any of the splendor in the distance. There is a series of mountains that are extraordinarily adorned in any season of the calendar year: the vibrant, varying jade greens of summer; the explosion of a gamut of nearly unpredictable, multi-colors in autumn; the powdery, white snows and leaden grays of winter; and the inkling of emerald, inflamed buds just starting to pop out from their winter doze.

Words do not do anything that is close to recounting the naturally splendid beauty that these mountains portray. It is like something spiritual is reaching down into our most intimate part – our soul – to whisper that creation is reflecting a Creator. The longer I have lived in Hayesville, I continue to be stunned by the splendor the area of Western North Carolina and North Georgia communicates. Mountains and fresh water – there is something incredibly special about the combination of those two. And this is coming from a guy who always has been mesmerized by sand, shells, and salt water.

We can look out upon those mountains every Sunday or any other time you happen to be at Good Shepherd; nevertheless, where we call home additionally has the hypnotic gifts of bodies of water. Lake Chatuge spans North Carolina and Georgia. Additionally, Fires Creek, Tusquittee Creek, and the Hiwassee River twist and turn their way throughout where we call home, literally in some of our backyards. If, however, you are willing to do some exploring of the origins of the rivers, creeks, and streams, you might just find yourself in an environment that takes you by complete astonishment.

I believe that Creation reveals a Creator. Admittedly, it is not that hard of a stretch for a priest to hold to this belief. There is, nonetheless, quite a difference to experience it along a root-riddled, rocky trail leading to a whispering waterfall. Over time the whisper grows louder as the conversation of the falling water picks up in volume. Quite suddenly the conversation becomes a pleasing roar that woos me to discover what I barely even visually behold.

White water stunningly succumbs to gravity down and off elevated rock formations. It even splashes outward and onto uneven rock outcroppings, as well as micro-forests of Mountain Laurel. Sometimes my glasses and my cell phone camera mist over with the imperceptible union of the blending of air and water. The entire atmosphere plainly feels both pure and powerful. I simply stay and breathe it all in.

While a drop of water is an absolute wonder, combine it with other tiny drops of water and a miraculous transformation occurs. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this: Too frequently we think that we have to do spectacular things. Yet if we remember that the sea is actually made up of drops of water and each drop counts, each one of us can do our little bit where we are. Those little bits can come together and almost overwhelm the world. Each one of us can be an oasis of peace.

The pouring of fresh water from our baptism brings us into the Church community where each one of us can be an oasis of peace, as well as part of something bigger than we could ever be as a single drop of water. As a single drop of water and as hundreds of drops combined, you and I are part of God’s creation, where God is our Creator.

From Fr. George

Lent is just one season of the Church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost are the others. Rightly so, the Church sees Lent as a forty day season of penitence. The synonyms for penitence in a Thesaurus range from shame, repentance, atonement, contrition, remorse, regret to sorrow. There seems to be a range of negativity in those synonyms. Many of us do not need to be reminded of our need for penitence, while others of us do need to be reminded that our faith has this component to it.

Some of those synonyms are quite destructive. Shame, for instance, is something that Jesus would never do to us. Reminding us to repent, however, is something that is brought up throughout the entire Bible. Furthermore, Jesus was frequently quoted in the Gospels as proclaiming some variation of repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is complex for us to reconcile the sense of penitence without being toppled over into depression; this is not the purpose of Lent or even of our faith.

For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it is C.S. Lewis who is able to give me a better appreciation of the balance of Jesus through the character of Aslan. He is the Lion in the title of the book and a clear representation of Jesus through the exact actions in his brutal, sacrificial death and his spiritual, real resurrection.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are the children who enter the world of Narnia through the Wardrobe mentioned in the title. Two of the characters in Narnia are Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. They invite the children to dinner. Over the meal, an otherworldly conversation turns to the Lion Aslan. The children all begin to develop a strange feeling just upon hearing his name. Lucy bravely asks if Aslan is safe. Safe? said Mr. Beaver. Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you. Toward the end of the book, Mr. Beaver says, He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.

We cannot tame Jesus, yet we cannot be frightened of him either. It is a delicate balance. The Collects or Prayers for the season of Lent can be found in The Book of Common Prayer on pages 166-169 for Rite One and pages 217-221 for Rite Two. Those prayers all provide incredibly accurate summaries and maintain that delicate balance for that specific Sunday of Lent. You are encouraged to read through them all, and as a part of your Lenten discipline to read the prayer for the upcoming Sunday.

Give yourself over to the commitment and joy found in Lent during Lent this year of 2018. Treat yourself. See where the journey takes you. I can write in full assurance that Lent never ends with pain and death but points to new life and resurrection. There was a full cross; there was an empty grave. That too is our faith.