Friday, June 23, 2017

Exploring something new this summer

Dear friends,

A blessing and a challenge of liturgical worship is that the words of the service become so familiar. the blessing is that those familiar words can be a source of great comfort, and anchor in the midst of life's changes and uncertainty. The challenge is that familiar words sometimes become stale, so well known to us that we no longer truly hear what they are saying.

During worship this summer, we will be exploring some prayers and liturgies that differ from what we typically use in our worship during the "program year" (September through May). At the 8 a.m. service, we will pray Eucharistic Prayer I instead of Eucharistic Prayer II. At the 10:30 service, we will incorporate wording from an Episcopal resource called Enriching Our Worship, and toward the end of the summer we will use the service of Holy Eucharist from A New Zealand Prayer Book. If you are paying close attention (and I hope you will be!), you may notice slight differences in the wording of the Nicene Creed: the dropping of the phrase "and the Son," which invites us into a centuries-old theological debate about the nature of the Trinity.

My hope is that these less familiar and perhaps unexpected words will catch your attention and invite you into fresh and deeper understandings of Jesus, who is himself the Word. In the words we hear and speak in worship this summer, may we indeed hear anew what the Spirit is saying to God's people.


The Diaconate: Process and Formation

In 1994, at the time I went through the ordination process, we went through the same discernment process as those called to the priesthood, with the exception that those feeling called to the diaconate were required to have had a ministry in the world of some duration.

My initial meeting with my priest was followed by a year of prayer and spiritual direction. After a year, I submitted my paperwork with the encouragement of the people who had mentored me during this process.

The first step, after discerning the call with a priest,  was meeting with  the Canon to the Ordinary, followed by a meeting with the bishop and my priest. If the bishop heard your call, he encouraged you to apply to be an aspirant. This was followed by a weekend retreat with other aspirants, the bishop and the members of the Commission on Ministry. Each applicant’s spiritual autobiography was thoroughly explored by commission members in small group interviews throughout the weekend. At the end of the weekend, we were either encouraged or discouraged to continue in individual meetings with commissioners, based on the interviews, our letters of endorsement and various evaluations from our ministry sites. This was a stressful weekend. 

An aspirant is assigned to a parish for three months and also to a field placement. I was assigned to Old Donation in Virginia Beach, and Mary Immaculate Hospital, required to spend 10 hours a week at each place. In the parish, I was to meet with a lay discernment committee once a week, preach three times, teach all levels of the congregation, make pastoral calls and learn a deacon’s role in the liturgy. I was mentored by the Rev. Joy Walton and Karen Meridith at Old Donation, and the Rev. Al Wray at MIH. They were both very rich experiences.

At the end of our internships in the parish and the world, we met again with the Canon to the Ordinary, who advised of  next steps if we wanted to continue in the process and apply for Postulancy. Psychological and psychiatric tests and interviews followed that, as well as background checks. There was an interview with the full Commission on Ministry.  Granted postulancy, we then were assigned to our formation program, held at Duke University and coordinated by Dr Earl Brill, a Christian ethicist, and Dr. Fred Horton, a professor at Wake Forest. We attended this program for two years, every other weekend, with reading, and written assignments. We studied Old and New Testaments, Church History, Ethics, Homiletics, Liturgy, Ministry and History of the Diaconate, Theological Reflection, among other subjects, combined with participation in various types of worship.  We did not have to take Greek or Hebrew. This was in the early days of computers, so conveying some assignments via email made for smoother communication between the weekends we were in class, and made it possible to cover more ground. We had postulants for the diaconate from four different dioceses, with a plethora of social and institutional ministries, so this was a wonderful experience. My last year, I also did my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residency at Riverside Regional. 

We took our General Ordination Examination via computer at the end of this time. My computer crashed more than half way through, and even Mark Winward, then an assistant at St Andrew’s and a Mac expert, could not resurrect what I had completed. I had to take two days off from work to start over. I have not had a Mac since.

There were three interviews with the commission over time (as well as a yearly retreat with everyone in the process), all stressful, as the commission has new members each year, and some of the issues raised and questions asked, were repetitive. Final psychological and psychiatric tests and interviews were repeated. At the end of it all, almost 100 people sign off on each person ordained in the church, counting parish of origin, parish of internship, and three years of commission members, and faculty in formation, CPE, and School for Deacons, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists.

Our diocese has a different process now, and a shared School for Deacons with the Diocese of Virginia, with a great deal of the work being done via computer, and only periodic retreats of those in formation. CPE is no longer required. The internship in a parish comes at a later time in the process.

While I was in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, I served on the Commission of Ministry, which had an entirely different process. We had our own School for Deacons, moderated by a priest, who called various clergy in to serve as adjunct faculty. The ministries were primarily parish-based, and they were allowed to stay in their parishes of origin, permanently. In this diocese, you do not return to the parish in which you were ordained, and deployability is a requirement, usually anywhere from every 3-4 years.

I was sent to the Diocese of Upper Michigan to observe their process in 2001. They have ministry teams in many remote locations composed of Canon 9 priests, deacons, Christian education leaders and musicians who are in formation together, usually taking Education for Ministry, and are called to the various orders by the parish. At the time I visited, they had not sent a priest to seminary in over 15 years. We visited four churches and experienced worship with them, with various levels of vitality and always faithfulness.

In dioceses with few resources, formation is tailored to the needs of the church and whatever resources are available. A diocese that has no school and cannot afford EFM for those in formation, might have reading for Holy Orders as the norm.

My own process was enriched by having taken EFM and doing all four steps of Servant Leadership Formation, as well as the Training for Trainers, prior to entering the process. I would encourage anyone who is pondering a call, to explore that call in spiritual direction initially.

The Rev. Katherine T. Gray

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Vestry liaisons help nurture parish ministries

At our June meeting, St. Andrew's vestry members chose "liaison areas" in order to help organize our life together in this busy, active parish.  John Whitley and Doug Vaughan will continue on as wardens, and all other vestry members will serve as a liaison to a particular ministry area to ensure that each parish team or activity has an advocate on the vestry, someone in touch with its successes and needs.  Activity/team leaders will be accountable to and supported by vestry liaisons.  Knowing what's going on in every area allows the vestry to make informed decisions; craft the calendar; and shape and nurture the life of the parish.

Vestry members and their liaison areas:
  • Finance - Mary Gibson Waddill
  • Outreach - Elise Wall
  • Pastoral Care - Mary Wood
  • Christian Formation - Dan Waddill
  • Communications - Ann Turner
  • Parish Life - Merrill Hemmert
  • Worship - Dick Barnwell
  • Evangelism - Jay Lambiotte
  • Properties - Danny Switzer and Carter Ficklen
 Learn more about our Vestry members and how to contact them here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Our Ramadan experience

If you didn’t take part in one of the visits to the Ramadan celebration at Peninsula Islamic Community Center, arranged by John Herbst, you missed a wonderful opportunity. We were warmly welcomed even before we made it inside the building. Everyone was genuinely happy that we were there – smiling faces greeted us, introducing themselves, anxious to make us feel welcome. Once inside, preparations for the evening meal were in full swing and the women happily accepted our offer to lend a hand in the kitchen.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline – sounds a lot like Lent, doesn’t it? But we learned that it's also a time of celebration and joy, to be spent with loved ones. This community, full of joy and love, gathers every evening during Ramadan to pray and break their fast. The celebration began once the call to prayer was made. The day’s fast was broken with a snack of dates and fruit and then the evening prayer was offered. Once the prayers were complete, dinner was served.

We talked with two delightful young women during dinner, both York County natives who, as one said, were “lucky to be born Muslim.” She had just graduated from high school and will be attending VCU in the fall, but she’s not sure of her major yet. She was a delightful dinner companion and generously answered all of our questions – everything from how she observes Ramadan, to whether she had ever been bullied because of her religion. Our other young host had just completed medical school and was headed to upstate New York for her internship. She told us that her family will be coming to New York at the end of Ramadan so they could all be together for the three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, or "the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast." It's a holiday for which everyone comes together for big meals with family and friends and exchanges gifts – sounds a lot like Christmas, doesn’t it?

We left after dinner, but the celebration and prayers continued into the evening. It was an unforgettable experience, not only because we learned so much, but because we made wonderful new friends. We are truly grateful to John and Anne+ for this opportunity. We encourage you, if there’s another chance to visit the Peninsula Islamic Community Center, not to miss it!

Mary Poole

Ann Turner