Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In The Wilderness

Dispatch from Tanzania

I'm sure many of you have been reading the news about the Primate's meeting in Tanzania. The American Church has been asked to refrain from blessing a certain group of people, ordaining them as Priests or consecrating them as Bishops. I hope the irony of this is not lost on you. We are told that the Primates went to a former slave market in Zanzibar and there repented of the church's complicity in the Slave trade. The silence of the church in those many years was deafening. And now finally we repent!

It seems to me many ears are deafened again to the cry for justice. Can you imagine Jesus singling out any group of outcasts for exclusion from the blessing of the church? Can you imagine Jesus telling any group of people; "I will not bless YOU!" It is unthinkable to me! What are these Primates thinking about? I am convinced that at some future time another group of Primates will gather in Tanzania to repent of this action. The word "Primate" is an unfortunate name for leaders of the church in this context. It makes them seem somewhat sub-human. God have mercy on us! It is thus we tread the wilderness road of Lent.

Galilean Idol!
By Paul Bresnahan

The prayer we say goes "Lead us not into temptation" and so we certainly mean that, no doubt. But we are also children of a time that is fixated on the cult of celebrity. Whether it is all the publicity and attention around the tragic events of Anna Nicole Smith, O. J. Simpson, or an astronaut caught up in jealousy and capital crime, we are drawn as a moth is to a flame by the exploits of those on the "People" pages of our weekly tabloids. We live in a time when sex, money, and power are the driving engines of our culture. Even in our better moments we cannot help but be utterly charmed and drawn into the charm, beauty, and youth of our "American Idols." Compare that with the ancient virtues of our faith: poverty, chastity, and obedience and wonder with me, if you will, how far we've come.

We enter now into the season of Lent. And we, like Jesus, have a wilderness to endure. How shall we, like him, find the wherewithal to stare down our deepest temptations? Is Jesus a measure in any sense against which we could compare him against the "American Idol"?


It amazed me, I confess, when I discovered that so many in my congregation adored the television show "American Idol." There must be a puritanical streak left in me from my New England ancestry because the very notion of idolatry still evokes an automatic sense of revulsion. But then I, too, watched several episodes of the show and found that the cult of personality has indeed an especially powerful tug to it. The beauty and talent of youth and the aspirations and hopes of fame and glory are so utterly alluring. Like pure sparkling gold, the dazzling glitz of the cult of personality cannot help but draw us in unthinkingly into its grasp. How can anything so sexy, young, beautiful, and talented be anything but pure and lovely, gracious, and effervescing?

But then something so often goes so horribly wrong. Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, while so voluptuously beautiful, are also so likely to die so young, and under the cloud of self-inflicted self-destructive behaviors. Pete Rose and "OJ" Simpson were so skillfully powerful on the field in their respective sports. But then it all slipped through their fingers in the former case because of gambling the latter under the cloud of a horrible capital crime. The hands that hold the wealth of the greatest multi-national corporations cannot escape the temptation to overreach the boundaries of ethical behavior. Even Ken Lay of Enron is gone now it seems, swept away with the excesses that left tens of thousands penniless and out of work.

And so the engines that drive our culture are Sex, Money, and Power. We are drawn into their pull like a vortex pulls all that comes within its grasp. Unless we are careful, vigilant, and sober, we can become drunk with self-indulgence, and succumb to the destructive tenacity of each.

It is no wonder the Bible warns us about idolatry. The golden calf is still very much with us dear friends. But its glitter and glitz is far subtler than we might at first suspect. We may not take it seriously. But when we take stock in the cold light of day of what so often happens to our idols, we might have a better sense of what it means to plod the wilderness with those people of faith who have come before us. Thus now we enter upon our Lenten journey.


It must have been tempting when Jesus faced the evil one. He could have fed the hungry with a wave of his hand. It was tempting. He was God we're told. He could do anything. Why not feed the hungry? He was famished as the devil rightly observed. So are the poor by the millions around the world. Why not just change the stones to bread? It was so tempting. And yet he knew, as do we that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). How tempting it must have been to feed his beloved poor!

He could have made peace, too. He could have just taken all the power of the nations into his own hands and he could have imposed an arbitrary rule of peace as imposed by God. He was God, let's remember. Talk about tempting. Feed the poor and impose peace! That must have been so alluring. They all wanted someone to come down out of the clouds and usher in the new reign from above. We still do. But Jesus would not. All he had to do was worship the evil one. He could have taken the sword into his own hands and done what we've been doing all through history. Only he could have done it once and for all! Talk about tempting. But he will not take up the sword the nations of the earth.

And finally "Prove that you are God. Go ahead, jump off the pinnacle of the temple and do it where everyone can see it." The devil must have really tempted Jesus with that one. That's like doing it on CNN and Fox TV News live for everyone to see. We cannot help but wonder the same thing from time. For God sake just prove it once and for all! We cannot trust those who claim that they saw you rise from the dead. We want to see it live on television. Only then will we believe. That was tempting, too, I'm sure. So much so that Jesus said... don't tempt me!

So there he was tempted in the wilderness by those matters that most deeply trouble the heart of God. Feed the poor, bring peace, prove who you are so convincingly that we will finally submit to you.

If we are to believe in God it will have to be through the generosity of our own hearts that the poor will be fed. It will have to be through our own kindness and courage that we will find our way to peace with justice rather than rapacious greed. It will have to be through the discovery that the love of God and the love of our neighbors one at a time, and every group, race, orientation, and creed on the planet that God truly reigns in the human heart. There is no other way. "Everyone who calls on the name of God will be saved," Paul says in today's lesson from Romans. Notice that citation said "everyone." There were no exceptions. It appears that this is the only way. It is the way of Jesus.

And so we find ourselves glued to our television sets to see who will win. What a voice that young man has. How handsome. That girl sings with such confidence and passion. Her eyes are so full of excitement and hope. How we love these young people. And how much we worship youth, with all its beauty and charm. To be sure they remind us of a time when we, too, were perhaps somewhat more alluring than we have now become. There is something of an ephemeral quality to this charismatic quality that we do indeed worship in our American Idols.

Too often they, like the rest of us, are found to have clay feet, and a fatal flaw that is exploited through notoriety and self-indulgence. And so for them and for us all our true vulnerability becomes more apparent. When Jesus entered the wilderness he was very vulnerable indeed.

In fact the Galilean Idol was vulnerable not just in the wilderness. He was vulnerable throughout his life. When he healed, he could feel power "go out" from him even when a woman would touch but the hem of his garment. He refused to send them all away but broke bread, said the blessing, and gave them as much as their hearts and souls desired until there were baskets of scraps gathered up that numbered as many as his disciples. He healed them. He taught them. He fed them with every word that comes from the mouth of God. And if they found themselves at wits end, or maimed, or leprous, or outcast from the temple because they were of ill repute, he found a way to bring them closer to God. Even the rich tax collector found repose in his company.

This Galilean Idol was no ordinary example of a cult of personality. He was the perfect image of God made flesh. He was unafraid of the wilderness. He entered the wilds of his own deepest doubts and despairs with courage and profound honesty. He wanted to feed the hungry. But taught us to share and to live by the word of God. He wanted to impose peace in the midst of warfare and could have dispersed the Roman Legions with a wave of his hand. But he taught us not to worship Caesar's way but God's. We're still awkwardly avoiding that lesson. He wanted us to know him as the living God, but he chose instead to die on the cross, alone and accused of a capital crime. The instrument then of a shameful death became the vehicle though which he forgave us our sins and gave us eternal life.

This Galilean Idol did not want us to worship him; he wanted us to worship God alone. He avoided attention, and went to lonely places where he could pray. But the multitudes sought him out because he satisfied the deepest longing of the human soul... not for sex, money, or power; but for love, forgiveness, and eternal life.

It is interesting to me that the old virtues that our faith traditions used to teach with authority were poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are still the ideal of the monastic communities of Francis, Benedict, and Ignatius.

We are now in our own wilderness and we are being called to face our own deepest doubts and despairs with God's own courage and profound honesty. It is an anxious time where depression is the modern epidemic. And yet we have everything we could ask for. We have ample supplies of sex, money, and power concentrated as never before in the Euro/American West. And yet we ache for something more; or is it something else?

The tragic figures of Anna Nicole Smith and all the others point out to us that something is very wrong with the modern psyche. Wouldn't it be interesting if something as old and as ordinary as Lent could put us back in touch with the truth about us?

Ash Wednesday in the liturgical churches calls us to mark the foreheads of the faithful the burned ash of last year's palms; not to make a "show of our religion" but as a reminder of our mortality. Somewhere between the polarities of sex, money, and power on the one hand and poverty, chastity, and obedience on the other, is Christian stewardship. We all have these superb gifts from God. Let's return them to God and share them with one another as God intended. Those of us who can walk the way of the cross will find it none other than the way of life and peace. Won't you look with me to the Galilean Idol who is no idol at all? Won't you look to the face of Jesus and gaze into the heart of the love of God and don't be afraid any more. He will walk with us, and be our companion along the way. He will guide us as surely as day follows night unto the wellsprings of God's everlasting day.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Freedom and Justice for All???

Dear friends,
The other shoe did indeed drop this week with the Primates of the Anglican Communion asking the American Church to refrain from blessing any more same sex unions and from ordaining any more priests or consecrating any more bishops who happen to be honest about the fact that they may live in a commited monogamous same sex relationship.
There are many of us who believe that this statement smacks of the same kind of institutional bigotry that we have repudiated in the past but usually long after the crime has been committed. The primates for instance released a communique in Zanzibar at a former slave trading market acknowleding the church's role in slavery and repenting now of the same.
So now, in the long tradition of Galileo, Lincoln, Darwin and others, we again refuse to embrace the knowledge we gain from science, or follow the teachings of Jesus who made it especially urgent that we reach out to the margins of the social order to bring into the fellowship of God's love those most like the lepers and outcasts of his day.
The Reverend Ed Bacon of All Saints, Pasadena has articulated the point superbly in the following words;
The Reverend Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church Pasadena, will
challenge the theology of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, who, in a
communiqué delivered Sunday, ordered the U.S. Episcopal Church to
refrain from creating rites to bless same-sex unions.

"We have been blessing the unions of our gay and lesbian parishioners
for 15 years and we have no intention of denying them blessings in the
future," said Bacon. He will express his objections in his sermons this
Sunday, February 25. In making such a statement, Bacon puts himself at
odds with his Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who endorsed
"a season of fasting from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex

Bacon said, "As rector, I will reject all Episcopal invitations to
"fast" from doing the justice work of embodying God's inclusive love. The
fast to which Lent calls us is to foreswear acts of interpersonal and
institutional bigotry and discrimination with which this communiqué is
dripping." Bacon will invite all present on Sunday to stand and hold
hands in solidarity with one another, saying to the Church-at-large that
All Saints will continue blessing same-gender unions in the future. Bacon
will also encourage each worshiper to pray supportively for Bishop
Jefferts Schori in her ministry of pastoral care, compassion, and justice
for all.

"There is already too much exceptionalism and exclusion in the history
of Christianity without extending our institutional practice of making
outcasts of our LGBT sisters and brothers. I believe that one day
Anglican primates will gather somewhere for a corporate confession of this
prejudicial act of February 19, 2007, just as the Anglican primates
gathered last Sunday and confessed that slavery was an evil practice in
which the Anglican church played a sinful role. In order for All Saints to
exercise its role of leadership in the larger Church, to move us toward
that day of repentance, we need the energy of every one of our members
and friends at All Saints to help us transfigure the Church from within
so that it can become what God has always envisioned."

All Saints Church is located at 132 N. Euclid Avenue, Pasadena, Ca.
For further information or to schedule interviews,
please contact Director of Communications Keith Holeman at
I find these words compelling at a time when many in my own church and family will find the statement of our Anglican Primates nothing less than a rebuff and a cold shoulder to those we love so much. NO! NO MORE! All people will have our blessing!
We are a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLE!!!
May God have mercy on us.
And may God Bless us EVERYONE!
Fr. Paul

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New York Times Article on The Episcopal Church

Here's a fine article in today's New York Times that takes note of our New Presiding's bishop's preparations for her journey to the gathering of 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion in Tanzania. Given the controversies we're embroiled in in present times, the meeting promises to have some interesting moments. Her new book is also catching some special attention.
A primate by the way, is not a chimpanzee or other such sub human species, though the behavior of some of those bearing that moniker would seem to reflect that. No indeed! A primate in the parlance of the Anglican Communion is the "prime" bishop of a province of the church of which there are 38 in the world wide Commion. The American Church known as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America is one of those Provinces. We are now the third most widely spread church in the world.
Here then is the article.

The New York Times

February 11, 2007

New Episcopal Leader Braces for Gay-Rights Test

At a book party last week at the New York headquarters of the Episcopal Church, a line of more than 100 fans waited to have the church’s new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, sign copies of her new book of sermons, “A Wing and a Prayer.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori, the first woman presiding bishop in the history of the Anglican Communion, appeared a bit surprised at the celebrity treatment but clearly enjoyed the sentiment.

She is about to head off to a hostile reception.

This week, Bishop Jefferts Schori will represent the Episcopal Church at a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with the presiding bishops of the 37 other provinces in the global Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest church body. Some of those bishops, known as primates, have broken their ties with the American church after it ordained an openly gay bishop and permitted the blessing of same-sex unions.

Some primates have said they will not sit at the same table with Bishop Jefferts Schori. Some have threatened to walk out of the meeting.

In an interview in her office last week, Bishop Jefferts Schori said the conflict was more about “biblical interpretation” than about homosexuality.

“We have had gay bishops and gay clergy for millennia,” she said. “The willingness to be open about that is more recent.”

She said that what she wanted to convey to her fellow primates was that despite the highly-publicized departure of some congregations (a spokesman said 45 of 7,400 have left and affiliated with provinces overseas), the Episcopal Church has the support of most members, who are engaged in worship and mission work, and not fixated on this controversy.

“A number of the primates have perhaps inaccurate ideas about the context of this church. They hear from the voices quite loudly that this church is going to hell in a handbasket,” she said. “The folks who are unhappy represent a small percentage of the whole, but they are quite loud.”

In the global picture, however, those unhappy with the Americans are a significant bloc, and some are ready to cut off the American branch of the Anglican Communion. Conservatives were emboldened recently when an influential bishop, N. T. Wright of Durham, England, said in an interview, “Even if it means a bit of pruning, the plant will be healthier for it.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori said the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, had accommodated the conservatives because he also presides over the Church of England, where the conservatives are a more substantial presence than in the United States, and are increasingly assertive.

Bishop Jefferts Schori, who is 52, exudes a cool presence, sitting erect in a crimson shirt and white clerical collar. She uses few words to make her points. In her previous career, she was an oceanographer, specializing in squid and octopuses.

Ordained a priest only 13 years ago, she is the former bishop of Nevada, where she permitted blessings for gay couples and voted to confirm the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. She was elected presiding bishop last June, a nine-year assignment.

She said opposition came primarily from a “handful of primates,” led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, with support from those in Uganda and Rwanda. She said they had made it appear as if the bulk of the Anglican Communion was arrayed against the Americans, when that was not the case.

“It’s abundantly clear that there’s a diversity of opinion in the provinces of the Communion” she said. Asked why they are not more vocal, she said, “I think that has to be tenderly nurtured. You don’t want to put people in a precarious situation” by encouraging them to speak out against their own primates.

One African bishop recently did so. After the House of Bishops in Tanzania voted in December to cut ties to the Episcopal Church and stop accepting its donations, Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo, who leads the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, wrote a letter saying, “The issue of homosexuality is not fundamental to the Christian faith.”

At the meeting in Tanzania, Bishop Jefferts Schori is to sit down with the primates of 13 provinces that do not ordain women as priests, not to mention as bishops. But she said her sex was not the reason some primates were preparing to shun her. The problem is that some bishops say the Episcopal Church has failed to repent or to declare a moratorium on gay blessings, steps required by a committee of officials commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2004.

She is likely to be face to face with Archbishop Akinola, who has created a rival network of conservative churches in the United States.

Bishop Jefferts Schori said that if she is rebuked at the meeting, it will not be anything new; she experienced that before as an oceanographer: “The first time I was chief scientist on a cruise, the captain wouldn’t speak to me because I was a woman.”

Asked how she would respond if primates walked out on her, she said, “Life is too short to get too flustered.”

Monday, February 05, 2007

Membership in the Episcopal Church

For those of you who are excited about a church that really believes in a fully inclusive church, here's some language that we could use to articulate our understanding of what Jesus was and is all about.

St. Peter`s Episcopal Church

24 St. Peter Street

Salem, Massachusetts 01970

Office: 978-745-2291 &

Come visit anytime; “We are a house of Prayer for ALL People”

-Isaiah 56:7

Membership at St. Peter’s


When Jesus lived on earth, he sought out all sorts and conditions of people. He recruited fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the blind, the halt and outcasts of all sorts to teach us that God’s love embraces everyone. He gathered a remarkable group around him to be his disciples. Whether they were rich or poor, Jew or Greek, male or female; to him there was a special place in the heart of God for everyone.

The Episcopal Church has in recent years embraced the teachings of Jesus by opening its ordained and lay leadership to men and women of all races, and in all conditions of life whether divorced, single, gay or straight. There is now no barrier to ordination. There is no barrier to membership. We have embraced ALL people who seek to love Jesus with all their hearts, and souls and minds. And so now we welcome YOU and those you love to the household of God.

God’s love for YOU

When Jesus died for you, he did so for whoever you are and whoever you become. He forgives you and all your sins: the big ones as well as the little everyday ones you simply can’t quite overcome. We believe that he is our Advocate with God, that he is the Righteous One, and he has paid the price for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. (see 1 John 2:1-2)

Welcome to St. Peter’s a house of Prayer for All people; and a House of Prayer for YOU.


All that is required to be a member here is your regular attendance at worship, and your financial commitment to God’s work. God expects us to respond to human suffering and to seek peace with justice wherever possible. We work with God in the creative, redemptive and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to bring the Hope of God into reality. We work in concert with God and one another to pattern our lives after the life of Jesus.


Our salvation was earned for us by the Gift of Jesus on the Cross two thousand years ago. His death and resurrection was the guarantee of our salvation. Nothing we can do can change that fact. The Grace that he has given to us is total and complete. We are now invited to embrace what God has already done for us. To help us see what has happened by what Jesus did on that cross, we are invited to come into that fellowship through Baptism. In Baptism we joyfully embrace the church which is the body of Christ.

If you have not been Baptized or would like to arrange for Baptism, please speak with the Rector or call the office.

Baptismal Procedures

Typically, we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism 4-6 times a year at public worship.

All Saints Day: November 1 or the Sunday following

Baptism of our Lord: The Sunday following Epiphany which is January 6

Easter Eve at the Easter Vigil

Pentecost, fifty days after Easter

At the time of the Bishop’s Visit


The great “Episcopal” moment of a Christian’s Pilgrimage in the Episcopal Church is that moment when we proclaim our faith in the presence of the Bishop and receive the laying-on-of-hands. This ancient ritual represents the physical and spiritual connection we have to Jesus through the Apostles. Down through the ages this connection has remained a constant. In Confirmation our proclamation of faith strengthens us to do the work we are given to do by God in remaking this world in God’s image. The Bishop represents our connection to Christians throughout the world and throughout time. The laying-on-of-hands is that moment when we receive that gift that makes our relationship with Jesus a physical and spiritual one.


Typically, the rector will provide classes and tutorials to prepare people for baptism and confirmation.

Consult the office or the rector for particulars.


When we move from congregation to congregation in the Episcopal we typically transfer our “letter” from one congregation to another. Contact the office to have you “letter” transferred when that seems appropriate.


Generosity is a matter of central significance in our discipleship. The amount we give is not as important as the amount of love we put into our giving. We give in a thousand ways. We give through our care for one another, the offering of our time and our skills and talents in concert with God’s purposes and through our financial commitments to God’s mission through the church. Our gifts include our tireless work for the transformation of human suffering into joy; the diligent search for peace and reconciliation and the search for justice. The holy places God provides for us to gather are signs of God’s presence in this dark, dangerous and sinful world. Without your generosity these holy places cannot continue. Members are asked to used their envelopes and we also hope you will consider a gift to the church in your estate