Thursday, October 17, 2019

In the Middle-Of: Sermon for Proper 23, Year C

Preached October 13, 2019, at St. Raphael's Episcopal Church, Crossville, Tennessee.

So, the story we have today of Naaman is one of my favorite stories in scripture. I've worked with it a lot. That shouldn't surprise you. Many of you will remember that what I retired from was nearly 40 years as a hospital chaplain. And so, it's an interesting healing story to me. I wish they had told you more. That is, they cut off some things in the lectionary selection that I think are very interesting and relevant to today's lessons. You heard that the King of Israel got la etter, but you have no knowledge about where that came from. They clipped those verses. Basically, Naaman was really important, and so the King of Aram sent an introduction letter from one King to another. But when the King of Israel read, “I'm sending Naaman to you to be healed of his leprosy,” then you see the King of Israel reads the letter. “Am I one to give life or take it away,” et cetera.

The other thing they cut off is what happens after the healing; because Naaman comes up, he proclaims that there's only God in Israel. And then he offers great gifts to Elisha who refuses them. And then he says, “Okay, but I want to tell you something. First I need two mule loads of dirt from here to take back with me to Syria because from now on I'm going to do all my praying in Israel. And the way to do that is to take some of Israel's dirt and that's what I'm going to stand on in kneel on as I pray. The only exception is I'm a big public figure. Once a year I’ve got to take the king in as he says his prayers and I want the God of Israel not to think I'm reneging on anything, because my regular prayers are going to be on this dirt from Israel.”

Now part of the reason I like this story is it is a great example of modern healthcare.Let me retell this story. There's an important official and he has a chronic wasting disease - can't get shed of it; but he gets a verbal referral. He gets a word of mouth referral. And so based on this word of mouth referral, he goes and he tries out a new practitioner. Now he gets to this new practitioner and the new practitioner says, “Okay, we're going to start with a very conservative treatment.” And the patient is really unhappy: “I'm too important. Shouldn't I have the latest medication? Shouldn't I have the latest procedure? Shouldn't we be going through about $1,200 worth of tests?”

But the family says, “You know, it's not a big deal. And if he'd ask you for a big deal, you'd have done it. Try this conservative procedure.” So he goes in, he tries just some basic self skin care and he's healed. And he comes back and he thanks the practitioner and then he goes and he says, “Okay, I'm going to need a new insurer to fit with this practitioner.” So he sets up his new insurance plan (that's the two mule loads of dirt). He sets up his new insurance plan, and he negotiates with his caregiver for ongoing after care and lifestyle change to deal with his disease. Doesn't that sound like modern medicine? 

But it also tells us something about how people saw one's relationship to God. You see, a god had to do with a place. And if you're in a different place, you're dealing with a different god. Zion is the Hill of God and all these other gods - you know, the gods are Tyre and Sidon -  you don't bring them here. It’s a constant refrain in the Books of Kings. And so Naaman says, “Well, if I'm going to be worshiping Israel's God, I need a piece of Israel,” and he takes two mule loads of Israel back with him.

So now we get to the gospel. Jesus is going through no man's land. Well not exactly, but he's on the boundary between Samaria to the West and the Galilee to the East, an interesting conjunction of places. It's sort of in the Jordan river Valley; and it's sort of culturally different. The Galilee was basically settled by Greek-speaking, folks. Now, a lot of them were now Jews. There were Jews in the Galilee, but it was traditionally a Greek kind of cultural area. 

And Samaria: well, we've all heard about Samaria, but let me remind you about Samaria because it'll also make sense of something else Jesus said. You’ll remember that Israel for a while did fine. And then after Solomon things sort of fell apart, and we find them divided into two kingdoms, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. And they don't agree on things. And one of the things they decide not to agree on is that Israel said, “We can't go down to Jerusalem anymore in Judah to worship. We've got to have our own place.” And so they set up worship according to the Torah, but on a different mountain, Mount Gerizim. And if you read through the Books of the Kings, you'll see the things that happened in Israel and you'll see the things that happened in Judah. And you'll find, for example, that Amos and his prophecy was primarily in Israel. They tell him, “We're not interested in you here. Why don't you talk to the folks in Judah?” Other prophets are much the same. And Elisha spends a good deal of time up in Samaria.

But the Samaritans are problematic. First of all, the folks who have Jerusalem think the Samaritans have gone too far by setting up their own altar and their own temple. And then when Israel falls to the Assyrians, the Assyrians have this relocation program. They take a lot of the population of Israel, and they move them and instead they import a lot of other folks. The idea is that, you take people away from the land they know and you give them land, and now they are not dependent on what they've known. They are now dependent on the empire. They're now dependent on the person who put them there and gave them land to live on. Honestly, it's kind of a lot like what China does in its Western territories these days. They keep trying to say everything is part of the Han culture and they keep moving more Han folks in.

And so that's what the Assyrians did. So now for the folks in Judah, that's a double problem. You've got these folks who claim to live by Torah and the new folks come in - and remember you go with the God of the locality. So, they begin to pick up with the God of the Torah, but now there’s an intermingling of bloodlines and of cultures. And as far as the Judeans are concerned - the Judah-ites and ultimately the Judeans, the Jerusalem folks, - as far as they’re concerned the Samaritans are impure. They are not right.  And, they make not right worse by trying to be faithful when they've already fallen too far away.

And now Jesus is well out of Judea, well away for Jerusalem. He's up between Samaria and Galilee and he encounters 10 lepers, 10 lepers, who are aware of what's going on and aware of something about Jesus.

Now we know actually remarkably, literally little about leprosy in the Bible. We think of Hansen's disease. We think of what puts people in leper colonies in a few places, even today, although now it's very treatable. But actually the old Testament describes a whole bunch of skin symptoms that are leprosy. So we didn't know what exactly was afflicting these ten medically. We do know what was afflicting them socially and culturally. Luke said they kept their distance, but they called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They kept their distance because that's what lepers did. They also were impure. They were not quite right. They weren't fit company for man nor beast, as we say, and they had to keep their distance from anybody. They were cursed, and their curse was very visible. It was on their skin. It was affecting their bodies. 

So they keep their distance and Jesus, he doesn't even get close. He just says, “Go show yourselves to the priests;” and they go. And they are all ten healed.

I found myself wondering who these 10 were. They're between Samaria and Galilee. That would make you a long way from Jerusalem. Likely they're Jews, although there wouldn't exactly be priests in the Galilee or in Samaria; except for this one, because he's a Samaritan. He's close to Samaria, and as far as he is concerned, there are priests that Mount Gerizim to go see. For all we know, they were all ten Samaritans.

But they are all ten healed; and one then comes back and gives praise, and says, “God did this.” Jesus says (we presume the entourage was there. It doesn't say that, but who else is he talking to?) -  Jesus says, “Wait a minute. Did 10 get healed? Only one comes back. And as far as my people are concerned, he's a - a foreigner! Go on your way,” he says. “Your faith has made you well.”

Think about how different and understanding this is from what I was talking about with Naaman. We are a long way from God's Holy Hill in Zion, and ten were healed. Only onr saw God in that, but ten were healed; and we are a long way from Jerusalem. And suddenly it looks like God is going to do things we don't expect and God is going to be where we don't expect.

Some of you may know that one of the things that complicates the lives of preachers in this season of the year is that, in fact, in the lectionary they give us two choices of Old Testament readings; and I read both of them. The second one is from Jeremiah and it's very interesting. This is after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. They also remove people, but they just remove the elite: most of the court, most of the professional class. They put their own puppet king in place, and they remove everybody above a certain income to Babylon. And by the same token, the Babylon community of Jews writes to Jeremiah the prophet - who they didn't listen to and now they realize a little too late was telling the truth -  they write and they say, “What do we do now? As the Psalm says, ‘How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?’” And Jeremiah says, “Plant trees, plant vineyards, establish lives for yourselves. Have children, have families, have a future. And also, pray for the larger culture around you because they're prospering will lead to your prospering.”

Well, how could we do that? How could we do that, unless the God of Jerusalem continues to be God in Babylon; unless the God of Jerusalem continues to be God in the wasteland between Samaria and Galilee; unless God continues to be God in the wasteland that is illness. I spent all that time working in hospitals and also in nursing homes, and I came to the realization that being a patient in an institution is like foreign travel. It really is. It's like traveling abroad. The people speak a strange language that you don't understand. They have strange customs that you don't understand. They have a strange wardrobe that you don't participate in. They have really strange rituals that you do participate in; and your money's no good. It's like foreign travel and the God of Jerusalem is in the midst of that strangeness.

We need to hold onto that because, you know, being sick is one example, but all of us have some experience of having to take what we are to another place. I don't know how many others of you around here grew up in Crossville. I don't need to show of hands, but I know most of us moved here from somewhere else. I grew up in Knoxville and yet I moved here from Kansas City. And we brought some things, but some things we found. And all of us had that experience in different ways and in different times of our lives. And, when those experiences are tough enough, they can bring us even to despair. 

And the God of Jerusalem is in the midst of those places. Why? Because as the author of Second Timothy says, “You know, we can fall away. But God is always faithful because God can't deny God's Godness.“God cannot deny God's Godness, and God's Godness, as we human beings are slow to learn. embraces all of it. In the midst of it, God is there,

I was watching a YouTube video. And part of what it says is, is that Elon Musk is offering hope about going to Mars (some people hope Elon Musk goes to Mars), and about what that could mean for us as human beings. But, of course, going to Mars is going to mean some people take something with them to a very strange place; and the God of Jerusalem is there. It is important sometimes that we take our two loads of earth with us to get started. It is important that we have our new insurance plan in place; but in the face of the stresses and the troubles of being in that “middle-of,” of being caught between this territory and that, between this life and that - with the lepers, literally between life and death - the God of Jerusalem, God in Christ is there. Sometimes we'll notice. Maybe 10% of the time we'll stop and see that we’re healed and we'll turn and we'll say “We give thanks for what God has done for us.” That gratitude is the appropriate response, but it's not an appropriate response in a vacuum. It's not a discipline that we learn just to remember to say it. It is the appropriate response to the fact that between Samaria and Galilee, between Kansas City and Crossville, literally between life and death, God, God’s self is there: there with us; there for us.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Ecclesiastical Endorsement in the Episcopal Church, 2019

As I have of late, this is also posted at Chaplair, the blog of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains.

I’ve written before about ecclesiastical endorsement in the Episcopal Church. I have been through our process, and I have been watching the process now for going on 40 years. Over that time, some things have changed; and some things haven’t; and AEHC has been in the midst of it for almost all our 70 years.

In my last post I recalled how endorsement had gone from the individual bishop to AEHC, then the Office of the Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies. After that it went to the office of Mission. With that history in mind, let me clarify how the process works now. (And attached I have provided a flowchart.)

Once upon a time, it was individual bishops who endorsed for healthcare ministry. Now, it continues to be individual bishops who endorse for healthcare ministry. Yes, there is a process, but if an Episcopalian feels called specifically to healthcare ministry the first step is to be sure to have met with the bishop. This is true whether or not the prospective chaplain feels called to ordination or is pursuing certification. Healthcare chaplaincy is recognized as a specialized ministry and the Episcopal Church can endorse persons in any of the four orders for ministry. So, first be sure to connect to the bishop.

As referenced, for many of us the interest in ecclesiastical endorsement began in the pursuit of board certification. It is still required for the largest chaplain organizations (and I would encourage it for whether seeking certification or not). If you are pursuing certification, the next step is completing the form on line here. At this time this will be received by the Rev. Margaret Rose, Ecumenical and Interreligious Deputy to the Presiding Bishop, and our Endorsing Officer; and processed by Ann Hercules, Associate for Ministry Beyond the Episcopal Church. Note that the persons have changed at times, but the process has actually been stable for some time.

Note, too, when you look at the form, there is a requirement to affirm that you are up to date with the Church’s education on preventing and recognizing sexual abuse and ministry misconduct. This is normative for many ministries in the Episcopal Church, ordained and lay, paid and volunteer. Your diocesan office can help you get what you need.

Once the form is received, the Endorsing Office will reach out to the relevant bishop, asking if the bishop can endorse this applicant specifically for healthcare ministry (remember what I said to do first?). She or he will send the endorsement to the Office. Once received Margaret will send letters of endorsement to the endorsed chaplain and to the certifying body, with a copy to the bishop and a copy for the records.

Some have looked at the application and noted that it asks about certifying bodies. There has been concern that a person can only be endorsed if pursuing certification. Others have wondered whether chaplains not seeking certification are required to pursue endorsement. In fact, while many chaplaincy positions require certification, that’s not universal. However, I strongly believe every Episcopalian providing professional healthcare ministry should seek endorsement. For the reasons I have written before, I believe endorsement serves the Church, serves the chaplain, and serves the persons to whom the chaplain ministers. A person not seeking certification can be endorsed. Endorsement in that case, though, need not involve the form or the Endorsing Office. The chaplain can simply request and receive that directly from the bishop.

There is one further consideration. As noted the Episcopal Church will endorse persons in all four orders of ministry. However, if a lay person is endorsed, it is required that the endorsed chaplain arrange for a public service of commissioning. This both publically acknowledges the chaplain’s specialized ministry, and also the chaplain’s recognition of the authority of the Episcopal Church for that person’s ministry. Certifying bodies used to require this of all endorsed and certified lay chaplains. Because of the breadth of faith communities now involved in chaplaincy, the certifying bodies no longer require it. However, the Episcopal Church expects it, whether the endorsement is processed through the Endorsing Office or directly with the bishop.

Now, once endorsed, do you ever need to do it again? Really, that depends. Are you in a certifying body that requires periodic peer review or a similar significant review of the ministry? For example, APC requires that every five years. The Endorsing Office would like you to renew your endorsement at that point, including the Church’s abuse prevention training. 

It would also be appropriate to renew endorsement if a job change takes you to a new diocese. You would in any case want to meet with the new bishop, and would likely need to meet the expectations of that diocese for abuse prevention training. It would be appropriate at that point to renew endorsement. The process would be the same: either to resubmit the application through the Endorsing Office or to work directly with the bishop.

So, that is the process. Again, check the flowchart below. I have tried in it to concisely describe the steps of the process. Margaret Rose has also reviewed it, and approved it. We hope, then, that this description and the attached flowchart make the endorsement process clear. And, always feel free to reach out to AEHC colleagues for help.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Some Important History of Episcopal Endorsement

As I work on my post about how endorsement happens these days in the Episcopal Church, I rediscovered this paper. This was written in 2009, after the General Convention in Anaheim. Written in preparation for Bishop George Packard's retirement as Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies, it described how we came to work with Bishop Packard and his predecessors in the endorsement process. I thought it could be helpful to have some sense where we've  been when we talk about where we are now. Note that this post is also available at Chaplair, the blog of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains.

A Concise History: The Relationship of AEHC and the Office of the Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies
The roots of this relationship are in issues of endorsement for certification in our various professional organizations.  In our polity in the Episcopal Church, endorsement came from our diocesan bishops.  A bishop might delegate that to a canon or archdeacon.  He (and at this point by and large it was always “he”) might choose to apply the same standards for endorsement for health ministries that he applied to military chaplains, and so only endorsing priests.  He might have specific standards for endorsement, or none at all.  To paraphrase Scripture, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
This was a difficulty for the endorsing bodies, such as ACPE or the College of Chaplains (now incorporated into APC).  There was no standardization of what “endorsement” might mean in the Episcopal Church, nor how it was obtained.  They hoped for what they had in other endorsing faith communities: a single process overseen by a single office with authority from the community’s official structures.
In the late 1980’s under the leadership of Linda Smith-Criddle, AEHC approached Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning  and asked for assistance in this difficulty.  Linda was able to speak to a meeting of the House of Bishops and raise the problem.  Bishop Browning subsequently asked Bishop Hopkins, then his Assistant for Pastoral Care, to become our contact with the House of Bishops.  Linda also offered on behalf of AEHC that AEHC serve as the “office of record” for endorsements.  They would still be obtained from individual diocesan bishops, but AEHC developed a process and provided a contact point.  It offered a single process and a single point.  However, it still had no real authority from 815.
After several years, Bishop Hopkins asked to have the role as our advocate transferred. Bishop Browning asked the Bishop of the Armed Forces, Bishop Charlie Keyser to take this over.  Bishop Keyser was very willing and very hospitable to health care chaplains and health care issues.   At that point (I believe Razz Waff was President of AEHC), AEHC also asked Bishop Keyser to make his office the office of record for endorsements.  The decision was logical: the office was already familiar with administering the process of endorsement for military chaplains, and in most religious endorsing bodies it was already the case that both endorsements were coming from the same office.  Indeed, the list of military endorsement officers was the list that the College and ACPE were using to verify endorsing officers for health care.  It was also the case that, when a bishop was having difficulty or being difficult about health care endorsement, a call from another bishop was often more effective than a call from AEHC’s endorsing officer. Finally, in those days there was a good deal of concern about clergy misconduct and clergy liability. AEHC’s officers were concerned that as the endorsing agency, AEHC would incur liability if an endorsed chaplain were to be guilty of misconduct – liability that the national Church would be able to bear better than a membership organization within it.
So, the relationship was established.  For military and federal chaplains, the Bishop of the Armed Forces (known now, after several changes, as the Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies) had certain defined canonical responsibilities, and the chaplains had clear accountability. For others, including health care, corrections, and first-responder chaplains, the Bishop was an advocate and support, and the endorsing officer (although that title was usually with an Assistant for Health Care), while canonical accountabilities and responsibilties were between the chaplain and his or her diocesan bishop (and thus a reference to us as “diocesan chaplains” as opposed to “federal chaplains”).
When Bishop Packard became Bishop of the Armed Forces, he was happy to have the opportunity to advocate for health care chaplains in the House of Bishops and to oversee our endorsement process.  At the same time, he hadn’t been long in his position when the United States was attacked in 9/11.  Bishop Griswold gave Bishop Packard responsibility for disaster preparedness, in addition to his other duties.  With the help of our own Mike Stewart, who worked in the Office for a while, he helped dioceses make their preparations.  In addition, the responsibilities for military chaplains grew as the nation entered into war.  First there was Afghanistan, and then Iraq.  Then hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma added to his responsibilities in disaster response.  Since these were for him canonical responsibilities and responsibilities directed to Bishop Packard by the Presiding Bishop, he gave them the time necessary.  He could do so, even if it meant less time for health care issues, because we as chaplains were really responsible to our diocesan bishops.  He was bishop for military and federal chaplains, with disaster responsibilities added.  Our bishops were our respective diocesan bishops.  He did continue to maintain the endorsement process, but was not available for much else, however willing he might be.
Now Bishop Packard is preparing to retire, even as Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is reorganizing the offices of the national Church.  One of those changes has been to distribute offices and leadership out of New York, including an expanded office in Washington.  In that light, it makes sense for the Office of the Bishop of Federal Chaplaincies to move to Washington, closer to the center of those ministries.   She also decided that health care issues would remain with the Mission Center in New York, with a new person in staff support.  The person most likely to have those responsibilities when decisions are finalized after General Convention, is the Rev. Margaret Rose.  Some AEHC officers met her last fall.  The Rev. Bill Scrivener, President of ACPE and member of AEHC, and I had the opportunity to sit with her here in Anaheim for more than an hour.  I feel comfortable that she sees the importance in maintaining the endorsement process with as little change as is necessary.  It helps that Terry Foster, who handles that paperwork, is not moving to Washington.  We will still have a single endorsement process, overseen by a single office; and if a phone call to a bishop is necessary it will come from a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff, if not from another bishop.
It has been good working with Bishop Packard.  While he has only been “our” bishop in a very limited sense, he has given us as much time and support as he could in light of his other responsibilities; and has always shown us clear enthusiasm and encouragement.  We will miss him, even as we trust we will still have clear and strong support from officers at 815.

So, since this was written some things have changed, but the process largely has not. That said, there are some comments to be made, and they will be in the next post.