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Monday in Beverly Hills

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

I had just arrived a block west of Rodeo Drive to the church I would serve in Beverly Hills. The rector told me not to bring my lunch, that it would be the church’s treat on my first day. I decided that morning that the lunch venue would offer me some clues about how to navigate my future ministry and the people I would serve. Where would we be eating lunch?

When I was a seminarian, part of the thrill of preparing for serving a church community for me was the thought of integrating into the community I served. My bishop told our ordination class, “Be prepared to go anywhere and serve anyone.”

Being a young woman from Central Indiana, ministering to people in just about any place other than the Crossroads of America felt like a great frontier. I read the experience of author Kathleen Norris, a Washington, D.C., native, who discovered a vocation to serve God and God’s people in the quiet monotony of the Great Plains. As she writes in her spiritual autobiography Dakota, “The fact that one people’s frontier is usually another’s homeland has been mostly overlooked.”

I had arrived at my very different frontier: amid selfie-taking tourists, harried traffic, and busy storefronts.

On my first office day at All Saints’, I met the people who called this place their spiritual homeland. And as the noon hour drew closer, it was time for lunch. Read more

Commended to God: A Service for Embryos

A few years ago, a couple came to me, because they had to make the difficult decision of what do with the leftover embryos that were created as part of the process of conceiving their twin children. They were so grateful for these embryos—and the beautiful children that had come from the two used embryos. They wanted a liturgy to honor those embryos and the potential life with in them. Together, we adapted the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer’s funeral service for a child and created the following liturgy.

Embryo

A Service of Thanksgiving for Embryos

Gather in the Name of God

All stand while the following is said

Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it
is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
(Matthew 19:14)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he
will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away
every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 7:17)

The Lord be with you

People And also with you

MinisterLet us pray.

Creator God, we thank you for the gift of children. We thank you for name(s)—their joy, curiosity, kindness, boldness and infinite appetite for life. We thank you for the embryos and science that gave us the gift of name(s). Your beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them. We entrust these embryos to you and pray you will care for and bless them. Amen.

The Lessons

Romans 8:31-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 10:11-16

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Prayers of the People

In the peace of God, let us pray, responding, “Oh, God, have mercy.”

Loving God, we thank you for your faithfulness to parent’s name and parent’s name as they journeyed through the wilderness of infertility. You remained faithful to them along their entire journey, and strengthened their faith and love in You and in each other.

Oh God, have mercy.

Creator God, we thank you for the gift of science and technology. We thank you that it can be used to help create life. Lord, this presents us with many difficult decisions to make. Your Holy Word does not speak of these choices. We pray your grace and mercy upon all choices parent’s name and parent’s name have made and make today.

Oh God, have mercy.

Gracious God, we thank you for the longed-for gift of name(s). We pray that they will always feel loved and cherished—by you and by those around them. We pray that in their relationship with their parents they could experience a taste of the kind of love you have for them.

Oh God, have mercy.

Embracing God, we pray for these embryos. However you acknowledge them to be—as a life or as the hope of a life—they were created through love and prayer. Welcome them into your kingdom, Lord.

Oh God, have mercy.

Bless parent’s name and parent’s name, Lord, as they complete this journey. Help them know your love and peace.

Oh God, have mercy.

The minister concludes the prayers with this Collect:

Compassionate God, your ways are beyond our understanding and your love for those whom you create is greater by far than ours; comfort all who grieve. Give them the faith to endure the mystery of life and the mystery of faith and bring them in the fullness of time to share the light and joy of your eternal presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Commendation

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of all mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

We commend these embryos to the mercy of God, our maker; redeemer, and comforter.

We entrust you to God. Go forth from this world in the love of God who created you, in the mercy of Jesus who died for you, in the power of the Holy Spirit who receives and protects you. May you rest in peace Amen.

The Holy Communion

The blessing and dismissal follow.

A Litany Against White Supremacy

The author

As Charlottesville, VA becomes the focal point of white supremacy and those who stand against it, this litany was prepared by myself and Pastor Elizabeth Rawlings for use in worship.

Litany against white supremacy

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper. Read more

The Spiritual Art of Writing Icons

Jonah and the Fish

When I was diagnosed with cancer while in seminary, I started to question my faith and to question whether I was really following God’s call for my life. I knew I needed to find different spiritual practices to keep me grounded. So I started with the practices I knew: I would read the Bible and pray. Still, I felt like something was missing.

The Visitation

During one of my treatments, I noticed that a woman next to me would look at a card and then close her eyes. She and I began to have a conversation, so I asked about the card in her hand. She was holding a picture of an icon of the Virgin Mary and praying for Mary to intercede on her behalf. The icon itself was beautiful! She brought me a picture of The Visitation icon the next time we met, and I kept it inside my Bible. I enjoyed looking at it and being reminded of Mary and Elizabeth, but I used the icon in a different way.

Later, my husband heard of a local woman who taught iconography. He contacted her, found out there was an opening in one of her weeklong classes during the summer, and asked if I would be interested. Read more

A Conference Story

As young clergy women gathered in Vancouver, Canada, for YCWI’s tenth anniversary conference earlier this July, the scenery was gorgeous and the weather was spectacular. The conference was uplifting, invigorating, challenging, and exciting. The keynote speaker, the Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, inspired us with her biblical storytelling and challenged us to consider where our stories intersect with God’s stories.

One of the things I love about YCWI is that my colleagues already know so much of my story. Indeed, they know much of it without me even having to say a word, because it is our shared story. It is the story of being a young woman ordained to ministry, and all the joys and struggles that go with that – the frustrations of receiving more comments on your hair or shoes than your sermon; the anger of coming up against the stained glass ceiling; the challenges of balancing dating and ministry, or motherhood and ministry. All of that, is held in the knowledge that we are called and gifted by God to serve the church in all that we embody as young women.

These are my people, my village, my church. And they are part of my story. Read more

three traffic cones

Blocked Exits and Holy Ground

three traffic conesFor the fourth day in a row, I was leaving the church building after dark. As my three children and I made our way to the back parking lot after a long day of Bible, Music, and Art Camp, I was feeling guilty. Guilty that we were out past my toddler’s bedtime. Guilty that my kids had eaten pretzels and leftover corndogs from the church refrigerator for supper. Guilty that it had taken me all evening to set up for the next day because I hadn’t lined up any volunteers to help. Guilt weighed me down more than the sleeping three-year-old in my arms. As we trudged across the asphalt toward the car, I was dreading the hour-long commute home and kicking myself for making my kids pay—yet again–for being preacher’s kids.

So when I approached the parking lot exit and saw the tall orange cones that were blocking our path, I might have uttered profanity under my breath. In my exhaustion, I had forgotten about the repair work that had been done to the pavement that morning. I begrudgingly swung the car around, driving slightly recklessly, the way you do when you are grumpy and tired and in an empty parking lot that’s just begging for you to break the rules and exit through the entrance. But when I made the turn at the back of the lot, my headlights landed on two moving figures. I was startled. Who in the world would be hanging out behind the dumpster on the back corner of the church’s property at nine o’clock in the evening? For a few seconds, I suspected violence.

But as I searched for my phone to call for help, I realized that the people in the corner of the lot were praying. Read more

The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah

A Prayer for My Sons

The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah

The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah

A Prayer for My Sons:

God, protect them.
Protect them from ignorance of their privilege and the advantages they will have as white men.
Protect them from entitlement.
Protect them from being indoctrinated into a system of white, male violence against women and against people of color.
Protect them from the temptation to stay silent and complicit when they witness injustice.
Protect them from the illusion that we live in a post-racial society of equality and justice.
Protect them from insular living that might threaten their empathy or release them from righteous anger when any of your children are hurt or in need. Read more

Sometimes We Need the Lines: A Review of the Adult Coloring Trend

adult coloring bookColor me skeptical. When I first noticed craft-store and grocery-store displays of mandala coloring books, artist-quality colored pencils, and overpriced pen sets, all marketed to adults, I winced. Don’t get me wrong. As an artist and former art teacher, I’m excited when the mainstream crowd gives a nod to the arts. And as a children’s minister, I’m equally jazzed when adults trade their carefully constructed decorum for childlike fun. (My sixty-something, always elegant senior minister once raced through an enormous, inflatable bouncy house at our church picnic, and I count it a blessing to have witnessed such joy.) And yet, I felt uneasy about the adult coloring trend. The commercialism of all the mass-produced coloring books raised an initial red flag for me, but the nagging feeling in my stomach didn’t stop there. At first I couldn’t put my finger on the cause of my growing grumpiness, but then it hit me: all the intricately drawn coloring pages seemed controlling. Sure, marketers were touting these books as creative and meditative outlets, but weren’t they really just enticing us to color inside the lines? Read more

A Prayer for the End of Nursing

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

O Lord, you have searched me
and known me.

You knew the moment when that sweet baby skin
first touched my chest
when that sweet little mouth
gaped like a fish
when that shocking moment of connection was made:
Mother. Child. One.
You knew.

You knew the struggles, and the pain.
The mostly sleepless nights
The one- (two-) (three-) (three-thirty-) a.m. wake-up calls.
The disconcerting, disorientating, barely-functioning
delirium/delusion/hallucination/exasperation/rage…
And still
the sweet baby skin and the gaping little mouth
the instant peace and the murmuring suckling.
You knew.

Read more

A Prayer for Syria… A Prayer for Peace

Women PrayAs I write this, the world waits to see if (or, sadly, when) the U.S. and its allies may launch some sort of military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for the country’s use of chemical weapons last week. Indeed, the news reports and gruesome images of the ongoing violence occurring in that region have been difficult to watch. Even before the recent use of chemical weapons, thousands upon thousands have been killed. The recent attack involving chemical weapons has resulted in some nations – including the United States, Great Britain, and Germany – announcing their intent to hold the Syrian government accountable for its actions. Now, with the threat of retaliation of these countries who believe they need to intervene, many of us wonder how far and wide the violence may spread.

Sisters and brothers – let us pray for God to be present as we face this current struggle.

Creating One, Holy Parent of all the world, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Child of the Almighty, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Wondrous Spirit of the Eternal, have mercy on us.

O God, you created all people in your Divine Image. We praise you for the beautiful diversity that exists in your creation. In your wisdom, you call us to live as neighbors with one another – despite our differences. You call us to embrace one another in the name of your peace and your love.

God, we come to you in this hour with hearts that ache for countries that are in turmoil: countries that have become locations of horrific violence and strife. We pray especially for Syria. We cry with those who have lost loved ones. We weep for the thousands who have perished. We pray that the hardened hearts of those who have abused others may be softened by your Spirit.

Lord, for the countries that have threatened retaliation against Syria, we pray that they be guided into the ways of your truth and your justice. For the countries that have threatened retaliation against anyone who strikes out against Syria, we pray for your patience and peace to prevail. Encourage all leaders to make careful decisions – to seek peace over pride. Holy One, teach us to understand that an eye for an eye is not a solution – it only causes us to stumble about in the dark with no vision.

We know that there is a time for everything under heaven, O God. There are those who would have this be a time of war; but we pray – we plead, Blessed Savior – for this to be a time of peace. Teach us all – in every nation – to beat our swords into plowshares. Direct our hearts and our hands to transform our spears into pruning hooks. Let this be the moment when we begin to truly let your peace rule in our hearts and lives, for we are tired of war.

Creating One, Holy Caretaker of the cosmos, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Prince of Peace, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Enlightening Spirit of God, have mercy on us.

Amen.