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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Of Signs and Symbols

Over five decades ago, The Episcopal Church began an advertising campaign with signs that read “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and many parishes displayed these “welcome” signs in their yards and nearby intersections directing visitors to the church. Many parishioners displayed “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” bumper sticker on their cars. But, I’m not sure anyone takes notice of the signs except Episcopalians, and don’t we want more than 1 or 2% of the population to know the Episcopal Church is here for them too. A sign welcoming visitors is good, but I suspect a 55 year old ad campaign effort goes unnoticed by most people today.

As pleasant as the age old “welcoming” yard sign might be, an eye opening sign, that essentially says the same thing, “Aliens and Immigrants Welcome,” may very well be more visible and echo the true meaning of Christmas.

There are many biblical passages that inform us about the behavior, response and inclusion toward aliens and immigrants among us. The alien may simply be a stranger that you may one day come to know as a friend. The alien may be a transient, a person passing through or residing in this place for a short time, or a homeless person or family (Numbers 35:15). Scripture also informs us that the alien is to be treated the same as the orphan and widow. Ephesians 2:12, speaks of an alien as a person having no hope or feeling alienated from Christ (the body of Christ, the church), and like a stranger the alien and immigrant is a citizen of the saints (Ephesians 2:19). And Numbers 9:14, states that any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the Passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the Passover and according to its regulation; as with the Passover, the universal Christian understanding of the Holy Communion as the union with one another in Christ through the sacrament of the Body and Blood. (All passages taken from New Revised Standard Version)

We reflect upon Moses being a resident alien, an immigrant to a new land, a new place. Mary and Joseph were strangers (aliens) in a familiar town seeking welcome and were given straw in a barn to rest and give birth. This season of preparation and Christmas comes once a year as a reminder of good will toward others, and to say we welcome you into our home.  

This season of Christmas is a time to welcome new residents, new and visiting worshipers to our community. To welcome immigrants is to welcome new settlers and visitors among us.

Our obligation, as a community of faith, is to be Christ-like. For you and me, that means we are lead by the presence of the Holy Spirit who “leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ” guiding us “into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation” (BCP p.852).

Yes, we could put up a sign that reads, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” but who would notice. A sign that says, “Aliens and Immigrants Welcome” says the very same thing, and I suspect, it will be noticed.

May your Advent be holy, your holidays blessed, and your Christmas merry!

Father Dale+

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Of Wind and Fire

As a cradle Episcopalian, I am, from time to time, awakened by our liturgy in surprising ways.  I grew-up at a time when, at least in my home parish, Morning Prayer was the customary service on most Sunday mornings with Holy Communion at least one Sunday a month. The Book of Common Prayer was the 1928 model. It was not until after high school when the 1979 Book of Common Prayer became the authorized Prayer Book and the Eucharist the principle service on Sunday mornings.  It is true, even for a late teen and early twenty year old, adjusting to the 79 Prayer Book was a challenge. Now years later, and ordained, I find myself occasionally perusing historical prayer books looking for something specific, and I am thankful for the most recent revision.

While in seminary, chapel was considered mandatory, as it should be, and Morning Prayer was once again the norm. I recall a classmate asking a professor, why it was important to attend chapel now that General Ordination Exams were over. We were pre-occupied with communicating with our bishops and Commissions on Ministry about placements and callings after seminary, as well as, Morning Prayer had become somewhat boring by this time. The professor’s replied something like this, “It is supposed to be. The routine habit of Morning Prayer provides a foundation of prayer you can follow daily whether or not you have a prayer book. Wherever you are, you are able to acknowledge God’s presence, give confession, ask for forgiveness, pray the prayer of absolution, pray for the Church, prayer for the world, pray for those in any need or trouble, pray for the Church’s mission, and finish in giving thanks to God through Christ, all parts of morning prayer.”

Through the years I have adopted and abandoned the routine of Morning Prayer over and over again as part of my daily routine, but that is not to say my morning prayers were abandoned. The point of this is, I am very familiar with Morning Prayer and sometimes wrongfully feel too familiar. It is in these too familiar times I discover I’m not as familiar as I should be.

For summer this year I changed the service a little bit using Morning Prayer for the Liturgy of the Word with Holy Eucharist. The first Sunday was a matter of adjusting to the change and rhythm of the service as the officiant and celebrant.  This first Sunday, I found that the changed format occupied my mind rather than having a prayer-filled heart.

But something happened as life experiences collided with the prayers between the Second and Third Sundays of Pentecost. You see, I had taken a journey to Las Cruces, NM with 12 other people, some were pastors, some were concerned citizens of non-profit organization, a member of the city council, and the Managing Editor of the Roswell Daily Record. The purpose of the trip was to tour the City of Las Cruces’ response to homelessness, health care, hunger through the campus of ‘Community of Hope.”

As the second Sunday service progressed I was also reminded of the ministry provided to the homeless in Roswell when several people from the community and the parish cleaned up the riverbed where several homeless camp. Through the organization and leadership of Jeneva Martinez, cleaning up the riverbed gave the residents of the camp a choice and opportunity to stay rather than be dispersed throughout the city or face going to jail. Their choice was either clean-up, go away, or go to jail. Not only did people come to residents’ aid but they also persuaded the City of Roswell to allow them to continue to camp there.

At the threshold of organizing the riverbed clean-up I was poked by the Holy Spirit to ask Jeneva to speak about her story and how she was called to be an advocate for the homeless on Sunday, June 5th.  That Sunday Jeneva shared her story of how and where she heard her call to be an advocate for the homeless.  I felt myself awaken to the prayers in Morning Prayer that call us to do more than just remember those less fortunate with a push or even a shove to respond. How I was reminded again and again that I have so much and so many have so little, nearly nothing.

 Prayers fell upon me like a rush of wind and fire with these words taking on a new awakening:
·         “…contrite and humble spirit…”
·         “…and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for life…’
·         ‘…confess our sins, that we may obtain forgiveness…’
·         ‘We have not loved our neighbors…’
·         ‘…our mouth shall proclaim your praise.’
·         ‘…he himself has made us, and we are his;…’
·         ‘…forgive us our trespasses…’
·         ‘…lead us not into temptation…’
·         ‘Give peace, O Lord, in all the world…’
·         ‘Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
·         Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
·         Create in us clean hearts…
·         The gladness of this time in our weekly remembrance.
·         Turning the shadow of death into morning.
·         To drive away wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and gude our feet into the way of peace.

Of course there are more prayers and canticles that draw us to this place where life’s experiences, meanings and thanksgivings reside, yet we are also reminded that we too can be the enemies as others struggle. Thank God for forgiveness and a change of how we see the world around us.  Allow morning prayers to awaken your hope for others.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Of Tributaries and Rivers

 Many churches across the nation from rural to urban, downtown to suburbs are experiencing decline and aging congregations, particularly among mainline churches, known today in some circles as Old Mainline Churches (a disheartening thought); the tendency is to ask, why are people leaving the Church? Why are people not showing up on Sunday? Why is the church not attracting new members? 

Many moons ago, I read Jody Miller Shearer’s book Enter the River as a preface to CPE. As I thought about Jody’s book, particularly the title, in relation to the above questions, and reflecting on the various marketing phrases of the Church like, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”, or “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” (used by our Methodist brothers and sister), or in a past parish I served, “Let our Big Red Doors Welcome the Big Red One” (as the First Infantry Division was relocating back to Fort Riley, Kansas), and a recent example I stumbled across “Where All Souls are Welcome.” Each may well be an appealing marketing phrases, especially for those on the inside hoping someone from the outside comes in out of the rain, but what happens when the rain stops and they stop coming while the rest of us wait inside for the next rain.

The “Open Door” or “Welcoming” as the message of our churches becomes a river we encounter as only one tributary flowing into a stagnant lake if all we do is recap the same old questions every five or ten years. This leads me to wonder whether we are asking the wrong questions channeling us to the same single tributary of stagnant enquiry.

The Church’s message, reflecting a flowing river with many tributaries, is HOPE and ASSURANCE. I would add OPTIMISM. These are primary rafts of the Church’s language. If our questions reflect the rafts of hope, assurance, and optimism, then churches may discover numerous tributaries that lead them to the great baptismal font of limitless oceans of opportunities.

Let our questions become: “What is bringing young adults and families back to the church of their youth?” “Why are Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials (Gen Y), and Boomlets (Gen Z) returning or seeking communities of faith?” What are they looking for, what are they hungry for in build and strengthen their faith?” “Where do these various generations go for information and answers to their own questions?”

Reversing the question reverses the WELCOME mat, welcoming the church to the world outside.  For the church to step out into the rain requires getting muddy and dirty as the rivers and tributaries rise forming new river channels of action with new bold initiatives and creative ways of channeling new ministries and engaging the community in the church’s ministries being and “doing church!”

No, we need not lose sight that the WELCOME mat rests on both sides of the door welcoming people into the church and welcoming the church into the world. A blog authored by Lora Walsh, and posted by Episcopal CafĂ© reminds us the “open door is a gift from God” with rivers and their tributaries of possibilities with vigor.  Let us dare to accept this gift.

Monday, March 14, 2016


In the beginning (1895), four faithful women committed themselves to establish an Episcopal congregation and dreamed of building a church in Roswell, NM. They made their dreams come true with the support of more than their husbands and the bishop; they worked with purpose, enthusiasm, and the Holy Spirit on behalf of the community. One hundred twenty years later, these four faithful souls who built St. Andrew’s continue to motivate us to explore new ways of being the “church” in the larger community of Roswell.

From inside the walls, St. Andrew’s began to ask how we can better use our facility for our ministry to the community.  Andy’s Community Breakfast was created serving over 100 people breakfast and building community on the last Saturday of each month. The talk on the streets immediately changed from the “church that had closed their school” to the church that has opened its doors to feed neighbors in need.

Even so, we recognized a major hurdle for our church, one that many share across the country; we had few youth attending traditional church services and programming. An aging congregation questioned the utility of creating ‘new’ ministries for children, for teens and for families.  Nonetheless, we stepped out in faith, much like the four women of 120 years ago, to re-imagine our parish and to embrace the entire community!

What does ministry look like in the 21st century?  What St. Andrew’s needed was a community organizer (with a passion for children, youth and families) who possessed an open-minded model of servant leadership. That’s what we got! In many ways now we are creating a unique model that fits the needs and interests of our community.  Now we work on filling gaps, filling needs, which often requires us to be the ‘church’ outside the walls of St. Andrew’s.

Life at St. Andrew’s has changed, ministry has changed, and a pulsating being is rising from a formerly invisible downtown church. Some may ask, where is this radical optimism coming from? The answer, again is simple -- faithful people acting through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as the church.

We are the church.  We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, as Bishop Curry says, in Roswell.  We are engaging other faith leaders so that we may serve together, worship together, build a sustainable Roswell together.  We are an historic downtown church with a community-focused mission.  We stand in the heart of downtown Roswell. We stand for the people who are Roswell, and we welcome all into our family, God’s family. Whether you live in Roswell, are visiting or passing through, you are always welcome to worship with us.

Wherever you are, offer a prayer for St. Andrew’s as we work to make Southeastern New Mexico a better place to live for all by entering the river, touching lives and developing relationships, as children of God experiencing the Holy Kingdom here and now. To learn more, visit our website, or find us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.