Saturday, December 31, 2016



Post-wedding, New Year’s Eve Supper with the Duchess at Usher’s House (where they serve some mighty tasty mocktails…) 


What better way to celebrate the New Year than a Nuptial Mass for a wonderful young couple?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A great way to bring in a very uncertain New Year

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Celebrating the feast of St. Stephen

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas

December 25, 2016


+ Last night, before our Christmas Eve Mass, I was talking to a parishioner about the pitfalls of being an extrovert. A lot of people don’t talk about there being pitfalls to being extroverted. But for me, I climb the walls when I can’t be around people. I find a good amount of energy from being around people.

Yesterday morning and during the day, I was just…down. I was feeling run-down. I was emotional. Christmas does that to me. And by the time Christmas Eve Mass started rolling around, I thought to myself: how am I going to muster the energy for this?

And then…people started rolling in. Let me tell you: people started rolling in! And we ended up breaking our Christmas Eve attendance record (at least going back to 1988).

As the church filled up to the rafters, and the temperature from all those people started to rise, I found myself invigorated and rejuvenated.

As a result, I had trouble settling down last night. I went over to my mom’s and opened presents. I came home and lit the Menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. And I tried to sleep. But I was too wound up.

I felt great!

It just goes to show you: I really am a church geek. I love being in church. I love being around people.  And this morning, even though I knew we wouldn’t be getting a huge crowd of people, I was still pretty excited.

I especially love the Christmas morning mass. The world seems to pristine, so new.  And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this morning that is, in its purest sense, holy.

Christmas Day Mass!

I also understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas.  It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. I admit I enjoy some of those sparkly Christmas displays.   I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.

But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard. That, I think, is what we experience in the secular understanding of Christmas time. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping.  

But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver.  It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.

The Christmas we celebrate here this morning, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.  

The Christmas we celebrate here is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas. Yes, it has a baby. Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.

A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event.

Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder.

And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world.

The event we celebrate this morning is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us.

For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world.  It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes is sobering.

That is what Jesus does to us. That is what we are commemorating today. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter.

What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy. 

The joy we feel today, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, is a joy that promises us something. It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day.  It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.

But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event.  What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in adoration.  It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives.

Throughout Advent I have been re-reading Advent of the Heart by Alfred Delp, a young German Jesuit priest who was killed by the Nazis on February 2, 1945.  This is one of those books that has moved me to my very soul.  My copy of the book is almost falling apart, I’ve read it that much.  In the book, there is wonderful Advent play Delp wrote for children about ten years before his death. It ended with a monologue that captures perfectly a Christian understand of what Christmas truly is.

Delp wrote at the end of his play:

“That is Christmas—that a hand from above reached into our lives and touches our hearts. That is Christmas, not the other things. My friends, believe it, we have to suffer a lot and hang on. Only then is it Christmas.

“Christmas is a not a sweet fairytale for little children—for happy nurseries…Christmas is serious—so serious—that [people] gladly—die for it. —Tell everyone—many things have to change—first—here—inside…

“Christmas means that God—touches us, —that [God]—grasps our hands—and lays them—on—[God’s]—heart. —That God comes—to us—and sets us free. —Tell everyone—the other isn’t Christmas, —only this—is—Christmas, —that—God—is—with—us.”


Today is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. That’s what makes this a holy time.

So, cling to this holy moment. Savor it.  Hold it close. Pray that it will not end.
 And let this joy you feel this morning be the strength that holds you up when you need to be held.

Today, God has reached out to us.  God has touched us.  God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart.  This is what it is all about. God is here, among us.

This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness. And this joy that we are feeling is because the Light that has come to us will never, ever darken.










Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016


+ Most of us, throughout our lives, find ourselves clinging to life’s little pleasures. Occasionally, something fills us with such joy and happiness, that we find ourselves just wanting to savor that moment, cling to it, hope it will never end.  They don’t happen often. And we can’t make those moments happen by own concentrated will, even if we try really hard. Even more often, we don’t ask for those special moments. They just happen when they’re meant to happen and sometimes they come upon us as a wonderful surprise.

Now, having said this, I’m going to admit something to you that will come as no surprise I’m sure.  I really am a church geek. I love being in church. I always have.

And the best times to be in church were always Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.  One of life’s pleasures for me has always been Christmas Eve. And more specifically a Christmas Eve Mass.  Some of my most pleasant memories are of this night and the liturgies I’ve attended on this night. And one of my greatest pleasures as a priest, is to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this evening that is, in its purest sense, holy.

But, I also understand the tendency we all have of getting caught up in society’s celebration of Christmas.  It’s easy to find ourselves getting a bit hypnotized by the glitz and glamour we see about us. I admit I enjoy some of those sparkly Christmas displays.

And you know what I really enjoy? I sometimes really enjoy a good Christmas commercial on TV.

I’ve probably shared this before at Christmas, but there’s one old commercial that instantly put me back into my childhood Christmases.  I’m sure you’ll remember it too.  If not, just look it up on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqhUuH43LNM 

It begins with the Ink Spots are singing “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” Two very attractive people are in a very modern (by 1980s standards), sparsely decorated office overlooking the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.

The man introduces himself as “Charles,” the woman as “Catherine.”

Charles asks Catherine: “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“No,” Catherine says. “What is it?”

We never find out what that question is because, just then, the shadow of a Leer jet flies across the Transamerica building.  Then announcer comes says:

“Share the fantasy. Chanel no. 5”

For some reason, that commercial was synonymous with Christmas for me as a child. So much so, that later, I had to buy my mother a bottle of Chanel no. 5. Now, that might sound sweet, but every since then, guess what she wants ever few years? Chanel no. 5. Let me tell you, that stuff’s expensive!

Now, I know that that commercial had nothing at all to do with Christmas. There wasn’t a Christmas tree in sight in that commercial.  Nothing about it spoke of Christmas.  And yet, for me, it WAS Christmas.  And I remember the joy I felt that first time I bought my mother that bottle of Chanel No. 5.

So, yes, I understand how easy it is to fall to the temptations of what the world tells us is Christmas.  But what I think happens to most of us who enjoy those light and airy aspects of Christmas is that we often get so caught up in them, we start finding ourselves led astray into a kind of frivolousness about Christmas. We find ourselves led off into a place where Christmas becomes fluffy and saccharine and cartoonish. Christmas becomes a kind of billboard.

That, I think, is what we experience in the secular understanding of Christmas time. The glitz and the glamour of the consumer-driven Christmas can be visually stunning. It can capture our imagination with its blinking lights and its bright wrapping, or, as in the case of the Chanel No. 5 commercial, it can do it without any bright lights and wrapping.  But ultimately it promises something that it can’t deliver.  It promises a joy and a happiness it really doesn’t have. It has gloss. It has glitter. It has a soft, fuzzy glow. But it doesn’t have real joy.

The Christmas we celebrate here tonight, in this church, is a Christmas of real joy. But it is a joy of great seriousness as well. It is a joy that humbles us and quiets us. It is a joy filled with a Light that makes all the glittery, splashy images around us pale in comparison.  The Christmas we celebrate here is not a frivolous one. It is not a light, airy Christmas.

Yes, it has a baby. Yes, it has angels and a bright shining star. But these are not bubblegum images.

A birth of a baby in that time and in that place was a scary and uncertain event.

Angels were not chubby little cherubs rolling about in mad abandon in some cloud-filled other-place. They were terrifying creatures—messengers of a God of Might and Wonder.

And stars were often seen as omens—as something that could either bring great hope or great terror to the world.

The event we celebrate tonight is THE event in which God breaks through to us. And whenever God beaks through, it is not some gentle nudge. It is an event that jars us, provokes us and changes us. For people sitting in deep darkness, that glaring Light that breaks through into their lives is not the most pleasant thing in the world.  It is blinding and painful. And what it exposes is sobering.

That is what Jesus does to us. That is what we are commemorating tonight. We are commemorating a “break through” from God—an experience with God that leaves us different people than we were before that encounter.

What we experience is a Christmas that promises us something tangible. It promises us, and delivers, a real joy.  The joy we feel today, the joy we feel at this Child’s birth, as the appearance of these angels, of that bright star, of that Light that breaks through into the darkness of our lives, is a joy that promises us something.

It is a teaser of what awaits us. It is a glimpse into the life we will have one day.  It is a perfect joy that promises a perfect life.

But just because it is a joyful event, does not mean that it isn’t a serious event.  What we celebrate is serious. It is an event that causes us to rise up in a joyful happiness, while, at the same time, driving us to our knees in adoration.  It is an event that should cause us not just to return home to our brightly wrapped presents, but it should also send us out into the world to make it, in some small way, a reflection of this life-changing joy that has come into our lives.

Tonight, is one of those moments in which true joy and gladness have come upon us. That’s what makes this a holy time.

So, cling to this holy moment. Savor it.  Hold it close. Pray that it will not end. And let this joy you feel tonight be the strength that holds you up when you need to be held.

Tonight, God has reached out to us.  God has touched us.  God has grasped our hands. Our hands have been laid on God’s heart.  This is what it is all about.

God is here, among us.  This feeling we are feeling right now is the true joy that descends upon us when we realize God has come to us in our collective darkness. And this joy that we are feeling is because the Light that has come to us will never, ever darken.










Merry Christmas


Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Christmas Letter

December 15, 2016

My Friends at St. Stephen’s,

As we near the birth of Jesus and as we look forward toward 2017, the future continues to look over brighter and brighter for us at St. Stephen’s.

Serving as St. Stephen’s continues to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my priestly life. Our life together of worship, ministry, music and outreach, our life of being a safe place where all are accepted and welcomed has been a source of great personal joy for me and has helped me to see how gracious God is in showering blessings upon faithful, committed people who truly do seek after God.

As we move forward together into this future full of hope and potential growth, I ask for your continued prayers for St. Stephen’s and your continued presence on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and whenever else we gather together to worship and to do ministry.

As you know, I pray for each of you individually by name over the course of each week in my daily observance of the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer). I also remember all of you at the altar during celebration of the Mass. This my way of expressing my gratitude to God for each of you. Above all, know that I also give God thanks every day for the continued opportunity to serve such a wonderful, caring and loving congregation of people who are committed to growth and radical hospitality.

In return, I ask for your prayers for me in my ministry. I depend on your prayers and blessings in my life and certainly can feel the full effect of those good works in lifting me up and sustaining me during those inevitable low times.

And please do join us during this Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Christ. There will be plenty of opportunities to join in the celebration at St. Stephen’s/

My sincerest blessings to you and to all those you love during this season of joy, hope and love.

PEACE always,


Fr. Jamie Parsley+


Christmastide 2016
at St. Stephen’s
 Saturday December 24  - Christmas Eve
7:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music
Christmas tableau for the Children during the reading of the Gospel

Sunday December 25 –   Nativity of Our Lord
11:00 am Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music

Monday December 26St. Stephen
6:00 pm – Holy Eucharist
Fr. Jamie, celebrant/preacher
James Mackay, music
Incense will be offered at this Mass
Supper afterward at a local restaurant



Sunday, December 18, 2016

4 Advent

December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7.10-16; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25

+ I have had an interesting array of Advent reading this year. Inspired by William’s class earlier this Advent on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I have re-read a few of my favorite Bonhoeffer books, including a wonderful book about Bonhoeffer’s views on preaching, Worldly Preaching.  And I don’t need to tell anyone here who took William’s class, Bonhoeffer is really speaking loudly and clearly to all of us right now!

Most recently though I have been reading a fascinating biography of the great author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis by the wonderful Anglican theologian Alister McGrath. Lewis continues to be such an important influence in so many Christian lives, and specifically in the lives of all of us who are Episcopalians and Anglicans.

In this particular biography though, I was especially struck with the story of Lewis’ conversion. As some of you might know, he was an atheist, then slowly, became an agnostic, then he became a believer in God. But his conversion to Christianity was different than his other realizations. Before, he believed in a God who was a rational realization, but One who was totally separate and separated from this world.  When he came to believe in Christ, all of a sudden, it all came together for him. God, in Christ, became personal. And it just sort of happened on its own in Lewis’ life.

I think many of us can relate to this. I know I certainly can.  Yes, most of us it seems have had that sense of the reality of God in our lives at times and we understand that, yes God exists. Out there. Maybe, vaguely, God cares for us and is aware of us. But God is out there. Distant and distinct from us.

For some of us, though, our experience of God becomes much more personal. And we often experience God in what we may call a so-called “Christ moment.”  This Christ moment happens when we see that God, as we see God in the person of Christ, is something much closer to us, much more personal, much more intimate.  God, in Christ, is here with us—in the turmoils and difficulties of this life.  And for any of us who have that “Christ moment” experience (and I hope you’ve had that experience in some way in your life), our spiritual lives change. Our relationship with God changes. No longer is God that distant presence—out there. But, in Christ, God becomes a real presence. Right here. And we feel—truly feel—that God really does LOVE us! And accepts us. Fully and completely. For who we are and what we are.

I had this “Christ experience” in my own life many, many years ago. In fact, it was 35 years ago today, on Friday, December 18, 1981. Now, I really have never talked about this experience with others. I don’t know why I haven’t shared it.  I guess, it’s just always been a very private experience for me. Maybe I’ve never been really able to process it until recently.  But it was a very real.

I had just turned 12. I had long been interested in God and religion in general, though Church wasn’t all that exciting to me. And Jesus seemed like a nice teacher, a good guy, but I certainly did not see him at that time as the Son of God, or God incarnate.  At that time in my life, I was going through a hard time—or as hard for a time as a twelve year goes though (and let’s face it 12 years old really do have it hard often times).

In the midst for this hard time, in the midst for this spiritual searching, I just suddenly, in the midst of this kind for vague sense of God’s Presence out there, I suddenly “got” this whole Christ thing. I got that Christ was God—God with us, God right here. Christ was God in this world, in this flesh. And Christ loved me.  And Christ cared about the problems of that rebellious, eccentric 12-year-old.

Yes, Jesus was still a kind and good teacher in my undertanding. But he was also much more than that.  The distance between that vague God and me closed up. And it all came together, as it did for C.S. Lewis. . It was amazing and it was very important. And I firmly believe it set my course for the rest of my life.

Now, I know some Christians—especially some  Evangelical Christians—may call that a “born again” experience. In some ways, yes, I guess it was. But it was a weirdly intellectual experience as well, which is why I related so much to the story of C.S. Lewis’ conversion in the Alister McGrath biography.  I mean, although there is still so much mystery and so much to the spiritual life I will never understand, in that moment it all just kind of made sense. And it was important to me.

I think it’s very appropriate that that experience happened to me during the Season of Advent (though I don’t think I really knew what Advent was in 1981)  Because this kind of “Christ moment” experience of God is what Advent and certainly Christmas is all about.   

This coming week, with Christmas upon us, like almost no other time in the Church Year, we recognize that what happened in the birth of Christ is the collective experience any for us who have experienced that intellectual and spiritual realization that Christ is God with us.   This coming week at Christmas we are very strongly and uniquely reminded that God is no longer that distant, vague God out there.  But that God is here, with us. God knows us—each of us. And loves us—each of us.  God, coming among us in the form of Jesus, in the form of this child, born to the Virgin Mary, suddenly breaks every single barrier we ever thought we had to God.

No longer are there barriers. No longer is there is a distance.  No longer is there a veil separating us from God.  In Christ, we find that meeting place between us as humans and God. God has reached out to us and has touched not with a finger of fire, not with the divine hand of judgment, with tender, loving touch of a Child.

This is what Incarnation is all about.  And because it is, because this “Christ event” changes everything, because we and our very humanity, our very physical bodies, are redeemed by this event, we should really want to glory in it.  God came to us, where we are, and met us. We may not have asked for it. We may not even have imagined how it could have happened. But it did.  And we are so much better for it.

Throughout our scriptures readings today, we  hear that one common echo:

Emmanuel.

Emmanuel—God with us.

In our reading from Isaiah today, we find God speaking through the prophet announcing that, through the lineage of David, Immanuel will come to us. Paul today talks of how God worked to bring about this revelation of God’s self in human form.  And in our Gospel reading, the angel calls Joseph, “son of David” and that through this lineage, through this virgin, we have Emmanuel.

We have “God with us.” Emmanuel is that point in which God and humanity met. God reached out to us.

This week, on Christmas, we will celebrate that event.  We will celebrate that event in which God finally break through the barriers and, in doing, destroys those very barriers.  This week we celebrate that cataclysmic event in which heaven and earth are finally merged, in which the veil torn aside, in which all that we are and all that we long for finally come together.   Nothing will ever be the same as it was before.  And realizing that, we can say: thank you, God! Thank you, O Christ!   It is an event that transformed us and changed in ways we might not even fully realize or appreciate even at this point.

The coming is Emmanuel—God with us—is almost here.  I don’t think any of us would doubt that.  We see the trees, the lights, the Santas and the reindeer.  But the real Christmas—that life-altering event in which God took on flesh like our flesh, is here, about the dawn into our lives.

Truly this is Emmanuel. This is “God with us.” God is with us.

So rejoice!  The star that was promised to us has appeared in the darkest night of our existence. It is a sign. It promises us light, even all seemed bleak before. There now is a way forward through the darkness. And we will not travel that way forward alone. Oh no.

God is with us.

And that light that reminds of this holy and amazing fact is now shining brightly, right there, before us.

And its light is burning away the dark clouds of doubt and despair.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Dan Rice preached a wonderful sermon this evening. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016



A (late) birthday present for myself: the Poems of Dunstan Thompson

Gaudete Sunday


3 Advent

(Gaudete Sunday)
December 11, 2016

Isaiah 35.1-10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11


+ Today, of course, is special Sunday. Only twice in the Church year do we get to “go rose.” Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Today we light our pink candle on the Advent wreath. And we wear these rose vestments because it’s an important day.   

Today, in the midst of the blue season of Advent, we get to rejoice—or rather rejoice a little louder than usual.  Gaudete means “Rejoice.” We also get to “go rose” in Lent in Laetare Sunday. I love these Rose Sundays!

But for now, we are here, on this Sunday.  And it’s very appropriate that we are rejoicing on this Sunday. As we draw closer and closer to Jesus’ birth, we find ourselves with that strange, wonderful emotion in our hearts—joy. It is a time to rejoice. It is a time to be anxious (in a good way) and excited over the fact that, in just a few week’s time, we will be celebrating God coming to us.

Or, as St. James says in our Epistle reading this morning: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” and then goes on to explain how farmers wait patiently for their precious crops.

We are like farmers waiting patiently for the seeds of our faith to grow and blossom.

“Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

Certainly, so far in the season of Advent, we have been doing just that. We have been waiting. We have been praying.

Two weeks ago in my sermon, I mentioned that when we pray that prayer, “Lord Jesus, come quickly” what we are praying for is that Jesus will actually come to us.  That has been our prayer and continues to be our prayer in Advent.

However…I hate to be this person.  On the surface, doesn’t all of this seem kind of…dare I say? Fluffy and precious? I mean, here we are on this Sunday, with our pink paraments, lighting a pink candle, praying a seemingly sweet and precious and overly simple prayer?

Appearances are important, after all. On the surface, it seems we are not really embodying the spirit of what we experience in our Gospel reading for today.  There we find Jesus discussing John the Baptist.  There is nothing fluffy or frivolous about John the Baptist.  He seems to me kind of like a wild man, out there in the desert in his clothes made from animal hides (that man was no vegan!), shouting about the coming of the Kingdom.  If he was here this morning, at St. Stephen’s, my reaction would be: He is not going to like all these rose vestments.

So, when Jesus asks the crowds, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at?”

Did they go out to see a reed shaken by the wind?  Or someone dressed in soft robes? Did they go out to see something soft and frivolous?  No, they went out to see a prophet.

So, are we, this morning, not living to our ideals as prophets of God by decking ourselves in these rose vestments?  Are we proving to our critics that we are just flash and no substance?  Awww, that’s what I love about Gaudete Sunday.

Let me tell you, appearances can be deceiving.  Here, at St. Stephen’s, we find something else on this Gaudete Sunday.  Yes, it may see all pink and rosy this morning. But what we see is exactly what those crowds in our Gospel reading were looking for.

We, this morning, are a community of prophets. We are proclaiming the coming of the Lord.

One year ago, on our last Gaudete Sunday, we met as a congregation. And we voted unanimously on that Sunday to seek Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Yes, it was one year ago. And that decision was not an easy one for us. It certainly has not always been an easy year after doing so.

There is a feeling among us at times as though we have been shunned a bit, as though people may have chosen to step away from us as we journey forward. We have felt neglected at times and ignored for making the stand we made.  Whether that is intentional or not is not our place to say. I do know that being in such a position is a hard one.

But, I will repeat to you what Jesus asked the crowd:

“What did you expect?”

What did anyone expect when we did what we did one year ago? After all, we are not reeds shaken by the wind. Being prophets, proclaiming the way of the Lord, is hard. I said that then.  I repeat it this morning.

It’s hard. But it’s not impossible.  We are safe on this journey, because, I can tell you, that while others may choose to turn away, or to distance themselves from us, while some may choose to ignore or neglect us, we know that our pathway is safe.

Those images we find in our reading today from Isaiah speak loud and clear to where we have been and where we are going as we follow the path we started one year ago.

“A highway shall be there,” we hear Isaiah say,
“And it shall be called the Holy Way…
It shall be for God’s people…
No traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”

This path we walk is the right path for us. We have had one year on this path to show us that reality.

It has been a hard year, yes. But it has been a very good year as well. While the world went on in its ways, we have remained committed to our path and to our vocation as prophets, even when it all seems overwhelming. But, we have found that our weak hands have been strengthened and our feeble knees have been made firm. When our hearts have been fearful this year, you have it heard proclaimed within these walls, again and again,

“Be strong, do not fear!”

We know that our God will come with vengeance, with “terrible recompense.”  Our God, we know as prophets, will come and save us.  And our pathway will be made straight.

This is why we rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday. Whenever we have doubted the path on which we walk, whenever we are tempted to stray from the road, our God who is coming to us nudges us forward toward the goal.  That is why we rejoice on this beautiful rose-colored Sunday!

So…rejoice today. I say it,  Rejoice! We are following the right path. We are doing the right thing. The decisions we made a year ago and continue to make have made a difference in people’s lives, and will continue to do so. That is why we are out here in the wilderness, proclaiming God’s coming among us.

Let us continue forward. Let us set our sights on our goals. And let us move forward. And let us know, as we journey, that “everlasting joy” will be on our heads. We shall obtain joy and gladness in our lives. And we will rejoice—we will REJOICE!—because sorrow and sighing shall flee away.














Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

3 years Vegan

Three years ago today, I went vegan. At the time, I meant only to do it temporarily. After all, I loved cheese. I mean, I really loved cheese!  In fact, I loved most things dairy. After all, dairy products made going vegetarian so much easier. It seemed to be the natural replacement for meat. The problem was that I although I went vegetarian regularly, I usually ended up giving up on it because I often didn’t feel great after so long, which I blamed on being vegetarian (not on all the dairy I was eating as a meat replacement).

However, after reading extensively about dairy products and the harm they did, and especially after reading about the Harvard study that linked dairy products with cancer, I decided to try veganism for one week. I certainly wasn’t excited about doing it. After all, it seemed so…daunting and hardcore. But what harm would it do? My consolation in doing it was that I promised myself that at the end of that week, I would get myself a cheese pizza.
Those first few days were difficult to say the least. I went through a  kind of withdrawal. I felt “off” all week. I remember one night that first week going to supper at a prospective member’s home. They graciously served me a vegan meal, but I felt so strange while I was there. The best way to describe how I felt was as being almost “tingly.” It felt as though my body were trying to get rid of something.

As the end of that first week neared, I was definitely looking forward to that cheese pizza. Then, something happened. On my very last day, on the morning of the day I was planning on giving up on veganism, I woke up and…I felt incredible! There was a weird clarity to everything. And even better: my sinuses, for the first time in years, had cleared. I thought: well, maybe I won’t take my allergy meds today. I didn’t. And I haven’t since.

 These three years as vegan have been truly incredible. Before going vegan I got sick on a very regular basis with quick, severe flus or hyper-intensive colds that knocked me for a loop. Although they usually worked through my system in 24 hours or so, they came on strong and hit even stronger. I had severe sore throats that would usually incapacitate me, accompanied by searing fevers and intense headaches. My health, in general, was often very skewed. Even when I wasn’t sick, I never felt 100% great. I also had regular insomnia and was often extremely tired. My weight would fluctuate greatly between extremes. To put it bluntly, I often just felt rotten.

But in these last three years, my health has blossomed! I have never in my life felt this good. I haven’t had a single bout with the flu and only occasional, very slight colds (usually while I’m travelling). I sleep like a log every single night. In fact, I sleep so soundly that I often don’t even rumpled the sheets. My digestion is great. My weight has stabilized for the first time in my entire life. I feel like I’m in my twenties. In fact, I didn’t feel this good when I was in my twenties.

Some of the strange things that have happened as a result of going vegan are things I couldn’t have predicted. One of the biggest issues was, of course, the sudden “allergy” I developed toward alcohol. Over a year and a half after having a bad reaction to alcohol, I cannot to this day even take a sip of alcohol. I have no doubt in my mind that it has to do with the changes my vegan lifestyle has done to my body. I’m not complaining about the alcohol, mind you. My newfound teetotaling ways have only added to the general health I have been enjoying.   It’s just a strange advantage.

I know this might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me: I have also become much more empathetic to animals and their plight. It is difficult for me now to see meat on other’s plates and not see the animal behind that food. I have truly come to see that there is something karmic about the violence that goes into the process of meat that disturbs me now in a way it might not have before.  

There have been other incredible pluses to this decision I’ve made, but I won’t go into it all. What I can say is this: although veganism has worked so well for me, I fully realize it might not be the best for everyone. I’m not everyone could be vegan. And I certainly don’t judge those who aren’t.

All I can say is that this is what works for me and I am thankful that I made that decision on the fateful day three years. I also excited to see what benefits await me in the years ahead as continue on this strange and wonderful vegan journey.  



Thursday, December 1, 2016

Stewardship Letter

November 29, 2016

Dear St. Stephen’s family,

This Sunday, December 4, is our Pledge Ingathering—the day when we gather our pledge cards and time-and-talent sheets. I was recently asked a very important question: “what is this pledge package we are receiving?”

My answer is a fairly simple one. Your pledge is a way to say,

“I love this place. I love what it stands for. I love its uniqueness. I love that St. Stephen’s has accepted me when I needed acceptance. I love that it accepts others who need acceptance. I love this place so much I am willing to support it with my creativity, my energy and my financial resources.”

St. Stephen’s is definitely not your typical Episcopal Church—or your typical church by any definition. We are unique. We are eclectic. We do things a bit different than other churches. 

Everyone knows we are welcoming. It is not secret that we are fully-accepting. But we are definitely not push-overs. We are also very strong and committed. And when we stand up for something, we STAND UP. And we speak out.

This is how we follow Jesus and this is how we live as his Presence in this sometimes scary and uncertain world that needs Christ’s radical goodness, radical acceptance, radical love.
In the 1960s and 1970s, St. Stephen’s was at the forefront of full-acceptance of women in all ministries of the Church at a time when such a stand was often unpopular. In the 1980s and 1990s, we were the first congregation in the Diocese of North Dakota to seek full support of GLBT Christians in the Episcopal Church. And last year, we were the first congregation in the Diocese to stand up for marriage equality for all people.

Your pledge makes sure we continue to be the congregation we have always been. Your pledge helps us to continue to be a radical, loving and safe place for all. 

I have said it many times before: if you want to see the Episcopal Church of the future—it is right here. We are it. St. Stephen’s is what it means to be alive and vital as Christians. We are what it means to be all-inclusive, even if that means being inclusive to a fault. We are what it means to accept everyone—no matter their sexuality, their color, their gender, their political party, no matter if they are spiritual skeptics -- everyone is welcome here and fully ACCEPTED here. This is who we are.

And in the face of whatever may come, socially, government-wise, if the skies turns dark and the moon falls into the ocean, we will still be who we are and what we are.
That is what your pledge supports here.

Please return your pledge package this Sunday, December 4 for our ingathering. If you have not received a pledge card or a time-and-talent sheet, please let me know and I will make sure you receive one.

Your financial offering is essential for us to continue to be who we are here. We cannot be the radical, accepting, loving congregation we are without your help and support.
More than anything, however, please know how grateful and humbled I am to be serving as your priest. I am truly blessed by God to be serving a congregation that is excited about what it is doing, that is renewed by its energy and committed to its following of Jesus. Thank you for all you have given to me.

-peace,
Fr. Jamie+

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

1 Advent

November 27, 2016

Romans13.11-14

+ I have realized this in my life: there are two types of people in the world. There are morning people. And there are people who are not morning people. I don’t know what you would call those people.

I don’t think it comes as surprise to anyone here that I am a morning person. I love mornings. I love getting up early in the morning, and I love getting most of my work done early. I always have.  There is nothing like that moment of waking up to a new day. It’s always been special to me.  And I think I’m not the only one.

You know I’m a morning person when I tell people that one of my favorite pieces of music of Johann Sebastian Bach has been, of course, Wachet auf, which was based on a hymn by Phillip Nicolai about a plague that hit his village of Unna in 1598. James will be playing this piece after Mass this morning. And of course, we’ll actually sing the hymn as our final hymn today, "Sleepers, awake!"

It is so appropriate for this season of Advent—and always!  That whole theme of waking up, the night and darkness fleeing is just so wonderful in my opinion. Which is why I love, on this first Sunday of Advent, this theme of waking up. That is what Advent is all about, after all.

Waking up.

Waking up spiritually.

It’s an important theme for us as Christians. Buddhists also place great importance on being awake spiritually. Because, let’s face it, oftentimes, we are not. Oftentimes we just go through the motions of our faith—of our lives. Oftentimes we do not live our faith or ponder our faith with a fully awakened sense. We take for granted all the good things God does for us. We take for granted all the incredible people God sends to us in our lives. We often take God’s goodness for granted. We just sort of stumble through our prayers, our attendance at church, our Christian lives in kind of a fog—in a kind of half-sleep.  But, to truly live our faith, to truly embody our faith, we must be spiritually awake.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans today, we find Paul saying to us:

“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

Just a bit later Paul gives us that wonderful image,

“…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…”

What a great image for us! We know that feeling. Any time any of us have been through hardship in our lives, any time we have known the dark night of the soul in our lives, we know that true joy that comes in the morning after those dark situations. We know how glorious the light can be in our lives after having lived in spiritual darkness.  

On this First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—there is no better image for us that this. This season of Advent is all about realizing that we, for the most part, are living in that hazy world.  Advent is all about realizing that we are living in that sleepy, fuzzy, half-world.  Advent is all about recognizing that we must put aside darkness—spiritual darkness, intellectual darkness, personal darkness, anything that separates us from God—and put on light.  For us, this Advent season is a time for us to look into that place—that future—that’s kind of out of focus, and to focus ourselves again.

I love the image that Paul puts forth this morning of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That is perfect and precisely to the point of what this Advent season is all about.  Our job during Advent season is to “put on” the Lord Jesus.  The “theme” of every Advent season is

“Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

And, in a sense, we make that prayer a reality when we “put on” Jesus.  But how do we do this?  How do we “put on” Jesus, as though he were some sweatshirt or fancy blue vestment?

The fact is, we have already put him on.  We put him on that wonderful day we were baptized. We were clothed in Jesus on that day and we remained clothed in him to this day. Still, even clothed in Jesus as we may be, we still occasionally fail to recognize this wonderful reality in our lives.  

This moment of spiritual agitation and seeking after something more has been called the “Advent situation” by the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller. The “Advent situation” is recognizing the reality of our present situation.  We are living now—in this present moment.  At times this present moment does seem almost surreal.  This moment is defined by the trials and frustration and tedium as well as the joys and all the other range of emotions and feelings that living entails.

But, for the most part, we don’t feel like it all “fits” for some reason.  It seems like there must be more than just this.  Instinctively, spiritually, we yearn for something more, though we aren’t certain exactly what that might be.  And that might possibly be the worst part of this situation.  We don’t know what it is we want.

The Advent situation of Reginald Fuller reminds us that yes, this is the reality.  Yes, we are here. Right now. Right here. In this moment.  But we are conditioned by (and for) what comes after this—the age to come.

Many, many times you have heard me share a quote from the great Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said,

“We are not physical beings having spiritual experiences; we are spirits having a physical experience.”

Or as I saw on Facebook recently,

“You’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust, riding on a rock hurtling through space. Fear nothing.”

Baptism—that physical event in which we were spiritually clothed with Christ, in which we “took on” the Lord Jesus—essentially translates us into this Advent situation.  And the Baptismal life—a life in which we are constantly reminded that we are clothed with Christ—is one in which we realize that are constantly striving through this physical experience toward our ultimate fulfillment. We are spirits having this physical experience.  It is a wonderful experience, despite all the heartache, despite all the pains, despite all the set-backs and frustrations.  And this physical experience is making our spirits stronger.  We should be fully awake for this wonderful experience our spirits are having.  We should be sharpening our vision as we proceed so that we can see clearly what was once out of focus.

In this Advent season, in which we are in that transparent, glass-like world, trying to break out, let us turn and look and see who it is there in the future.  Let us look and see that that Person who is standing there, the One we have been looking for all along.  That Person is the Person we have been searching for all along.  That Person is, in fact, the very person we have clothed ourselves with, but have been unable to recognize. It is Christ. Right there. Beckoning us forward.

Advent is here.  Night is nearly over.  Day is about dawn.  He for whom we are longing and searching is just within reach.  Our response to this Advent situation is simply a furtive cry in this blue season.

Come quickly, we are crying

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.