Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas in Three Movements

My readers all know, I think, that I work in an Episcopal hospital. More to the point, the hospital’s chapel is really not the hospital’s chapel. It is an Episcopal chapel, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop, with me as the Bishop’s vicar. The important aspect of that for this post is that there are certain Episcopal services that are maintained: Sunday Eucharist and Wednesday Eucharist with Healing Service.

During most of the year, preachers at those services are CPE students. However, at times during the year the students get a break and staff chaplains preach. So it was that one of my colleagues came to me and asked, “Do you guys [read “Episcopalians”] actually do John 1 for the Sunday after Christmas?” He is scheduled for this Wednesday, and so  would use the lessons from the previous Sunday, this Sunday, Christmas 1. I assured him that we did – that, in fact, for the third Eucharist of any Christmas (usually Christmas morning) we read John 1 and the beautiful “Hymn to the Logos.” “Well,” he said, “I have to write a sermon for Christmas on Luke. So, on Wednesday I’m preaching on Luke.” I blessed him, shrugged my shoulders, and told him to be sure to let the celebrant know.

We have a rather interesting way that we tell the Christmas story, we Episcopalians, in our Christmas services. (I don’t know whether others do it this way. Yes, the Episcopal Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary; but we use it with some of our own idiosyncrasies.) If one were to do three Christmas services (Eve and Day both), we would actually read three different Gospel passages. At the first, we would read from Luke, but only half of what most people expect. We would read about the census, and Mary and Joseph arriving at Bethlehem, and about angels announcing good tidings to shepherds. At the second service we would read only the second part of Luke, about shepherds going “even unto Bethlehem” to actually see for themselves. Finally, in the third we would read, not from Luke, but from John, about the Word becoming flesh.

I don’t know how often that actually happens. We always have an option at the first two services – and, really, at the third – to read the entire Luke account of Jesus’ birth. It’s the story as everyone knows it, and has all that wonderful imagery and drama. Still, the plan as laid out in the Lectionary is to break the Luke account up, and to include the John. The point is pretty clear: to read, again and again and with different emphases, this sentence:

God did this.

Or, better perhaps, since we do break it into three parts:

God. Did. This.

Let me sort this out. It is an event in three movements, if you will. In the first movement, Luke’s story spends a lot of time on the power of the Emperor, and how civil necessity can make people move. However, the critical point comes when shepherds in the fields are confronted with the angel of the Lord; which is to say, with a message from God. “Today in Bethlehem is born a savior, God’s Messiah” Augustus may make some claims, but it is by God’s plan that David’s heir is in David’s city. It is God who proclaims it, and lets us know that God has done it. In the first movement, our sentence is,

God! did this!

In the second movement, the shepherds investigate. They go, and they find, and they see. The message from God is confirmed, and the faith of the shepherds is affirmed. We have the first witnesses. Sure, they’re not folks who are highly esteemed, nor terribly important; but, then, how many of us are? Rather, they are common folk, people who were, as my mother used to say, “of the earth earthy.” Sure, wise men will be great when they get there, but the first witnesses are witnesses we can trust because they are witnesses just as common as we are. The important sentence turns to,

God Did! this!

Which brings us to the third movement, the movement that takes us from Luke to John. It is John’s opening hymn that really lays out what God did. After all, we’ve all heard those sermons – I’ve certainly preached those sermons – about how the common concept of “messiah” in First century Judea was not what God was about. We’ve also realized often enough just how few people really understood. The Twelve didn’t really understand until the end of the story, much less the Seventy (or Seventy-two, depending). The women come closest, I think: Mary his mother, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene; but those stories, by and large, are also in John, and so already in the context of the opening hymn. John helps us all to get it: that what God was about on Christmas wasn’t just shaking things up a little. What God was about was wholesale reordering of how God had been doing things. What God was about was Incarnation, about Emmanuel, about no longer being apart but instead being with us. It is in John that the sentence is really completed:

God did This: the Word became flesh, and lived – and lives – among us.

A blessed Christmas Season to all, and a happy and healthy New Year.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Episcopal Ecclesiastical Endorsement 2015

I am writing this about Ecclesiastical Endorsement, and some refinements in the Episcopal Church's process. I do get to those in this post, but I encourage you to read the whole post so that those changes make sense. I could, I suppose, put the changes first and the explanation after; but, as Scripture says, “what I have written I have written.” Those who know me well won't be surprised.

As many of you know, I do my best to keep track of and post information about and changes in the process of becoming an Episcopal Chaplains. Indeed, my post To Become an Episcopal Chaplain, now all of eight years old, is still the most read post on the site. (Actually, if you’ve found this post because you’re interested in becoming an Episcopal Chaplain, you might want to read it first.)

One of the ways that I learn about changes is my own process. As a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), I am required to undergo a peer review process every five years. It’s part of maintaining my certification. I know that other professional organizations for healthcare ministries have similar requirements. As a part of that process, I apply to renew my Ecclesiastical Endorsement. Ecclesiastical Endorsement is required by APC and by other professional organizations; and while periodic renewal isn’t, it is a best practice that the Office of Mission at the Episcopal Church Center, which is where we connect for endorsement, has come to strongly encourage. (I have also written specifically about Ecclesiastical Endorsement. You can read those posts here. Be sure to sort by date to see the posts in order.)

Renewal of certification is not the only time when one might want to renew Endorsement. If an Episcopalian with Endorsement changes positions and moves from one diocese to another, we would recommend renewing endorsement even if not changing canonical residence. This would be true whether the chaplain is ordained or lay.

Let me give some explanation of that and remind us all of how endorsement works in the Episcopal Church.  I usually say that endorsement is a joint action of the Episcopal Church Center and the diocesan bishop. That’s true of the process. You complete the application and it goes to the Office of Mission. When that is received electronically, either the Rev. Margaret Rose or Terry Foster will reach out to the diocesan bishop for confirmation that the individual applying is known (both person and ministry) and has a vocation for healthcare ministry. When confirmation is received, the Rev. Margaret Rose will send a letter to the individual and to the professional organization confirming Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church. (There may be some interested in Endorsement who are not seeking to gain or maintain certification. More about that below.)

If you think that through, the most important contact that happens in that process isn’t the application or the phone call from New York to a bishop. The most important contact is the meeting and conversation with the diocesan bishop (or bishops, if you live in one diocese and work in another) so that the chaplain and ministry and vocation are known to said bishop(s). We are, after all, an episcopal church; and so nothing of this nature will happen without a bishop’s consent.

That’s more than just a procedural concern. In my earlier post, I quoted from “A Covenant Between Religious Endorsing Bodies And Pastoral Care Certifying Bodies.” That covenant also includes this:

Endorsement is an exclusive covenant relationship between the faith community/tradition and endorsee. The faith community pledges to provide support and discernment to those seeking to enter pastoral care ministry and guidance, support and oversight to those who serve in these ministries. The endorsee agrees to ongoing participation in the life of his/her faith community as well as maintaining communication and accountability to the endorsing agent.
Endorsement addresses the following core standards through a process of written papers, interviews and mutual discernment:

• Ministerial and theological competence• Good standing and accountability within that faith community• Ability to work collegially in diverse and pluralistic environments• Willingness to adhere to the codes of ethics prescribed by the faith groups, institutions served and the agencies providing certification• Continuing spiritual formation and review• Academic and clinical educationEndorsement is not a legalistic ritual; rather it is a mutual covenant and relationship between the endorsee, the endorsing faith group and the certifying body. Each and all are to benefit.

Accountability is important for the chaplain serving, for the person served, for the employing institution, and for the faith community providing endorsement. The certifying bodies aren’t in a position to determine whether someone has “good standing and accountability within [a] faith community,” or “continuing spiritual formation and review.” For us as Episcopalians, our accountability within our faith community is expressed in accountability to a bishop, and without the awareness and acceptance of the appropriate bishop(s), endorsement will not happen.

In that instance, the Office of Mission serves as a single contact for most of us involved. It’s where the certifying bodies look for confirmation of endorsement. It is where bishops connect to give imprimatur. It is where we send our applications. However, in that process, while we might talk of the Office of Mission as the Endorsing Office, it is more accurately an “office of record,” where our application and the bishop’s response is recorded for the benefit of all three parties.

So, does every Episcopalian engaged in healthcare ministry need to request Endorsement? At this date, the application is focused on those who are seeking certification. Are there other circumstances? Yes, there are. There are employers who are not committed to certification but who request Endorsement to demonstrate accountability. There are colleagues who are engaged in institutional healthcare ministries on a regular basis because there's an institution associated with the parish; or because a local institution knows the minister and feels the minister suits the needs of those served. For those persons, it would still be important to be in contact with the bishop. Because ultimately it is the word of the bishop that endorses, those individuals can request the bishop to endorse individually. Moses said, "Would that all God's people were prophets;" and I have sake, "would that all God's bishops required endorsement in some form of all the healthcare ministers in their dioceses." Once again, what makes for functional accountability and functional endorsement is the knowledge of the bishop about the healthcare minister and her or his ministry.

So, central to the process of Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church is the connection between applicant and bishop, which begins directly and is may be recorded by the Office of Mission. To better reflect that connection and accountability, there have been changes to the application form for endorsement. Specifically, there are three questions you might not have seen if it’s been a while since you renewed endorsement.

The first is a request to give the specific date when the applicant informed the bishop of the intent to apply for endorsement. If you are in reasonably regular contact with your bishop, that may take no more than an email. If you’re applying for the first time, or you’ve recently changed dioceses, a meeting is in order.

The third question (yes, I’m coming back to the second) is for those who are canonically resident in one diocese but working in another. It asks who that second bishop is. It’s a clear reminder that it would be important to be in contact with that bishop.

The second question is the one that will take a little more effort. The applicant is asked when he or she completed the sexual misconduct training required in the Episcopal Church and provided in every diocese. The Office of Mission is now asking that the training (or renewal of training) has happened within the last five years. Indeed, you can’t choose a date more than five years ago. 

That was one that applied to me. I’ve been trained and retrained several times, what with job and diocese changes and all. However, I’ve been in the same diocese and the same system for 21 years now. My last renewal was about eight years ago. Now, there are behaviors for which I am accountable to my health system, and to which I recommit each year with my annual goals (and the behaviors our misconduct prevention training teach are covered, generally if not specifically). I certainly have the date when last I renewed my accountability to my employer. However, I thought it worthwhile to contact the diocesan office and learn what renewal education might be available. That protects me, the Office of Mission, and the bishop from questions later about my accountability. A renewal module was available on line from the Church Pension Group. It took me about an hour to complete. Now I have a record that I’m up to date, and so does my diocese. It was a change I hadn’t originally expected, but well worth the small amount of time required.

Note that I had originally been trained and retrained because of my ordination. However, any of us active in ministry in a parish (lay or ordained) probably know by now the expectations of the Episcopal Church (through the Episcopal Insurance Corporation, and so the Church Pension Group) that all in significant ministries have the sexual misconduct training. It is just a basic component of how we make our churches safe places for all, and especially for children and youth. If you’re endorsed and you haven’t run across this, I’m very surprised. If lay and applying for the first time, when you meet with the bishop be prepared to talk about this. It is an important measure in our accountability as ministers who function in healthcare, and who reflect the ministries of the Episcopal Church.

So, that’s what’s newest about Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. Get endorsed. Get endorsement renewed. These are simply opportunities for us to claim both our ministries and our accountability as chaplains serving as ministers of the Episcopal Church.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

General Convention 2015: Support for the Rights of the Disabled

Prior to the recent General Convention I commented here that there weren’t many resolutions that addressed matters of health and healthcare. By the time it was all over, though, a number had been both submitted and passed.

One general related category for which we had a number of resolutions offered was the rights of the disabled. These resolutions were interesting in that they were specifically about the Church speaking to the world. That is, while not denying that access could still be a problem in churches, there is a continuing and perhaps greater problem of access for the disabled in the public: public buildings, transportation, etc. As one advocate put it to several of us, “The fact that the church doesn’t have a ramp isn’t really an issue if you can’t get to the church in the first place.”

Three resolutions were submitted before the deadline on resolutions, and all three were passed by both Houses of Convention. The first was D034 Affirmation and Support of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. We discovered that the General Convention had not spoken to the ADA since 1991, when Convention affirmed its recent passage. In this resolution, in addition to committing to “reaffirm and renew the Church’s commitment… to the principles of inclusion and the protection of the civil rights of all persons with disabilities…” and to “continuing unwavering support, and advocate for total compliance with the spirit and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act by all covered entities…”,  the resolution urges dioceses and congregations to “seek education from available community D/deaf/hard of hearing and disability organizations on supporting full inclusion of disabled persons in all aspects of public life.” This action step was new with this resolution.

The second resolution passed was D073 Supporting Home and Community Based Services. The resolution packed a lot of content into a relatively short text:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention call on states to fully fund all Medicaid and state general revenue-funded home and community-based services and to support programs for persons with disabilities of all ages, to provide individualized services, and to reduce all waiting lists and end unnecessary delays for such services; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention call on states to end the segregation of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in large congregate institutions and other facilities, both publicly and privately operated, and commit to serving all persons in the community; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention urge dioceses and local congregations to discern ways in which they can provide practical support to individuals and families affected by a lack of adequate home and community-based services and supports.

Central to the intent was to focus on services delivered at home and in the community. While such care has been shown often to be less expensive, current standards for Medicaid and other state-funded programs are often directed toward care provided by and in institutions. There can be a sense that such programs are offered as “all or nothing:” the person who needs support can’t request only specific needed services.

The third and most comprehensive of the resolutions was D032 Disability Advocacy in Criminal Justice Work of The Episcopal Church. In addition to recognizing both the Church’s commitment to those who are disabled and to those who are in the criminal justice system, it called on the church to “recognize and acknowledge that roughly half of adult criminal defendants in the United States have a physical, mental, learning, or other disability and two-thirds of juvenile defendants have a disability qualifying them for special education services and instruction;” and to “advocate for the civil rights and proper treatment of and accommodations for people with disabilities throughout the criminal justice system….” There is recognition of those who serve in ministries in corrections, and then calls on “all in the Church who are involved with these ministries to seek training and education on mental and physical disabilities and the legal rights of people with disabilities….” Moreover, for these purposes the call is not for the Church to create new programs, but “by partnering with disability organizations and networks in our communities that provide this training….” The resolution also called for funds for an ad hoc committee over the next triennium “to discuss these disparities in the criminal justice system and to develop a blueprint for best practices, resources for training, advocacy, and future networking to provide support our Church’s work in the area of criminal justice….”

In these three resolutions this General Convention made a significant commitment to support the needs and the rights of persons with disabilities in the public sphere, and especially in public institutions and programs. There would be few congregations in the Church without some opportunity to learn about local efforts and to seek the education these resolutions call for. In a Convention that seemed focused on a few very public (albeit very important) issues, we also made these commitments to support the health and wholeness of these neighbors among us.

Friday, July 10, 2015

And, Another General Convention Is Past

I've had some reflections on the General Convention that has just ended, and the first one published has now gone up at the Episcopal Café. You can read them here. It is, in its way, about the next three years -  and about the last. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

General Convention 2015 - Resolutions on Health

When I began this blog, one of the points was to prepare for the General Convention. So, here we are, coming to General Convention again. 

As in the past, I have looked at the resolutions submitted to Convention to see which might be about the Episcopal Church’s comments on issues of health, whether public health, medical care, or other issues. So far, there is only one that addresses health explicitly. That resolution is C020 “Ministry to People with Mental Illness and Their Families. A C resolution is one that comes by referral from a diocese meeting in convention, and this is from the Diocese of Delaware. The content is straightforward:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church call upon dioceses, congregations, schools and agencies of the Episcopal Church to assess best practices in their mission and ministry for the inclusion, support, and spiritual care for persons with mental illness and their families; and be it further

Resolved, That dioceses, schools, and agencies publish those best practices while promoting and providing links to local mental health advocacy groups and providers.

The desire to identify and use best practices is common across many disciplines these days. In this case, the accountability for the identification falls broadly. It runs the risk of that old saw that “if it’s everybody’s responsibility, it’s nobody’s responsibility.” In the past, we might imagine this passing and then being referred to a continuing body, one of the committees, commissions, agencies, or boards (CCAB’s) in the Church. However, one of the likely consequences of this convention is that there will be fewer CCAB’s, and that those that remain will have more defined (or perhaps restricted) portfolios. This could become an agenda for a network of interested persons, as imagined by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). What we don’t know yet is whether this Convention will lean away from CCAB’s and toward such networks; and if so, when, how, or even if such networks will form.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Once Again, General Convention Is Coming: Pray Hard!

Those who have been reading with me for a while will recall that one of the ongoing topics for this blog has been General Convention. That has included both reports and legislation before the Convention, and considerations and consequences during and after.

Well, this is another General Convention summer. With that in mind, I wanted to point to the information that is already available on line. There has been a concerted effort to make more information available through the General Convention web site before the Convention itself. So, if you'd like to look ahead here are some suggestions.

First, from the General Convention web page you can link directly to the two reports that have been getting the most attention: the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. With an additional click, you can link to the Blue Book reports (formally, the Reports to Convention of Committees, Commission, Agencies, and Boards). Instead of waiting for a printed version, these are being loaded to the web site. And, instead of waiting for one complete publication, reports are being added as they are submitted. So, if there's a report you're interested in and don't see yet, keep checking back.

The same thing is happening with resolutions to General Convention. If you link to the Legislative Resources page, you can link through to all the resolutions that have been submitted. Once again, these are being added as they are submitted, so keep checking to see if your particular interest is addressed.

With the Reports from the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church and the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, and also the election of the next Presiding Bishop, this should be an interesting General Convention. You can go ahead and start your review, and so be better able to keep informed about all that happens in and around this year's General Convention.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Mighty Acts of God

I preached at this year's Easter Vigil at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. For once I chose to preach at the end of the Vigil rather than in the Eucharist of the Resurrection. Knowing that will help make sense of the sermon. 

The Vigil and Eucharist were glorious. I like to think that the sermon contributed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On Loss and Grief and Dreams - and God

My newest piece is up at the Episcopal Café. It's about the relationship between loss and grief - and between grief and the holy. I've addressed this before, but this is the result of further reflection.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On the Word and on Words: Sermon for Christmas 1, Year B

I'm a little slow in keeping up, but I'm still out there. I preached for the First Sunday of Christmas at St. Mary Magdalene Church. It was my reflection on how the Word became flesh, and we became heirs. You can link to the sermon here