Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mid-sabbatical Reflections

Two days ago this blog turned one year old. In that time I’ve put up 52 posts (counting this one) totaling over 61,000 words. Its readers—or at least browsers, since I’m not sure how many actually read this blog—have come from 63 countries, some of which I’ve never heard of. I have posted on several themes, such as what it’s like holding orthodox beliefs in the Episcopal Church, musing on issues connected with being a priest and pastor, essays on personal spirituality, theological reflections, and miscellaneous personal matters. Whenever I posted something that had to do with confronting the course of the Episcopal Church in its headlong flight into wherever its going, the number of hits shot up into the hundreds for a few days, and then dropped off again. Usually this blog muddles along with a couple of dozen hits a day, many of them the same few.

For most of the past month I’ve been out of state on matters connected with my sabbatical. The sabbatical was severely derailed last May when I entered hospital through the emergency room. That was followed by an unexpected consuming pastoral matter that took up a lot of time and energy. By midsummer I was back on track, and plans that had had to be put off from the spring were rescheduled for the fall. After ten weeks back in the parish, I restarted the sabbatical September 17 and won’t be back until mid-November. A number of amazing lay leaders and staff, three assisting priests, and seven vocationers to Holy Orders are keeping the parish running admirably.

September 17-24 I spend in Loranger, Louisiana at a CREDO II conference. This course for priests is offered through the auspices of the Church Pension Fund, with a strong emphasis on “clergy wellness”. This is an intense program with plenary sessions for presentations by experts, small groups, optional individual appointments, and time for personal reflection and writing. CREDO (Clergy Reflection Education Discernment Opportunity) addresses clergy issues in four major categories of personal and professional life. I attended the first CREDO in October 2001. Being naturally suspicious of programs offered by Episcopal officialdom, I had to be urged to go the first time. A good recommendation by a priest of noted traditional credentials convinced me to give it a try. It was very good. I went without reservations to CREDO II, which was more in-depth.

The conference was held at the Solomon Conference Center, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. The center is located on a paw of land surrounded by a lake shaped like a horseshoe. One side of the property is thick forest through which there are several paths. I spent much time there.

In the abundance of material that was presented and in the overall experience, there were many worthwhile nuggets, and I am glad that I went.

At the end of the program, I flew to Milwaukee. While in the air, I noticed that we were flying between two cloud layers. I'd never seen that before, so I snapped a photo with my cell phone.

Once in Milwaukee, I rented a car and drove 30 miles to Nashotah House Seminary, the Anglo-Catholic seminary of the Episcopal Church. I had been invited to conduct the fall retreat for the student body and faculty. It was supremely heartening to see that, after alarmingly lean times in the past twenty or thirty years, the seminary was now packed with students, most of them young, most of them holding traditional views. The community life is solid, built around the daily offices and the Mass. Here's the chapel:

It was a rich and complete delight to have frequent visits with Micah and Jenn Snell and three-year old Elisabeth. Micah is the farthest along of the ten vocations to Holy Orders that Blessed Sacrament is nurturing at present. Micah is in his final year at Nashotah House, and is scheduled for ordination to both diaconate and priesthood in 2008. The Snells and I had dinner together at least three times, and visited other times just to “hang out”. Standing out in my memory are watching the ballet “Swan Lake” on DVD with the spellbound Elisabeth, and sailing on Upper Nashotah Lake with Micah and Elisabeth on their own sailboat while Jenn enjoyed some time to herself. Here's a photo of Upper Nashotah Lake through the trees.

The retreat wasn’t scheduled to begin until a week after my arrival, so while I had the chance I spent a few days wandering around the seminary grounds, getting to know its routine and observing the students in community. The seminary was founded in 1842—just 66 years after the Declaration of Independence, in the days when people owned slaves and Wisconsin was the western frontier of the nation. The campus is spread out; the chapel is about a half mile from the married students’ housing where I was given a guest apartment. Making the round trip two or three times a day was good exercise. The cemetery is located directly across from the housing, and contains the mortal remains of several generations of Nashotah faculty, staff, graduates, and students, including Bishop Jackson Kemper and James Lloyd Breck.

One day I drove into Milwaukee where I had been asked to lunch by David Kalvelage, editor of “The Living Church”. I have written a number of articles and many devotions for the magazine during the past ten years or more. Mr. Kalvelage and I had corresponded during all that time but had not met in person until this occasion. The offices of “The Living Church” are located to the left in the gray building in this photo. The cathedral offices are on the right.


The weekend before the retreat was to begin I took three days to travel. I had brought CDs of four of the Chronicles of Narnia as dramatized by Focus on the Family. I had previously listened to the first three, and used the time of my driving now to complete the Chronicles. This is a magnificent production that I highly recommend.

I visited personal friends I had made through email contact, and concluded the journey with a stop at Blessed Sacrament Episcopal Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

That parish and my own are the only two churches out of about 7,000 in the Episcopal Church that bear that name. We have been informally connected for 26 years, but this is the first time I was able to be present on a Sunday. The Rector, Father John Cell, SSC, invited me to celebrate the second Mass on Sunday, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Father Cell has a true pastor’s heart, loves his ministry and his people, and is a gracious host. He’s been Rector for a little more than 25 years and hopes to stay as long as they’ll have him.

Here are the only two Rectors of Blessed Sacrament in the Episcopal Church:

I came back to Nashotah House and began the retreat on Monday evening, October 1. Over the next few days I delivered six addresses of 30-45 minutes each, heard a number of confessions, had a few appointments with students for spiritual direction, and finished up my official presence there by preaching at the matriculation Mass in the evening of October 4. It was a lot of work but extremely enjoyable.

The theme of the retreat was “Our God is a Consuming Fire”, with the six addresses dealing with matters of priestly life and spiritual leadership. I chose topics that can be learned best by experience and cannot be taught well, if at all, in an academic setting. My goal was to provide thought-provoking material for students who are called to the priesthood, and their families. The addresses were all recorded and will be available soon in MP3 format. They should all fit on one CD.

The day after the retreat was finished, I packed up and drove four hours to Peoria for a two-day visit with George and Lettie S. and their charming 20-month-old daughter Orinthia, called “Rinn”. They had moved from Blessed Sacrament to Peoria a little more than a year earlier. While in Peoria, the See City of the Diocese of Quincy, Bishop Keith Ackerman, SSC, gave me two hours of his time on a Saturday morning. Micah Snell had previously described me as being one of Bishop Ackerman’s “five hundred closest friends”.

With George, Lettie, and Rinn I enjoyed two wonderful dinners out, a drive through the gorgeous tree-clad “grand view” area of Peoria with its mansions and view of the river, a visit to Jubilee where Bishop Philander Chase founded a school in the 1830s and in whose cemetery he is buried, and finished with Mass on Sunday afternoon at Zion Episcopal Church in Brimfield where I was permitted to preach.

A long drive to Chicago brought me that evening to Trinity Evangelical Seminary where Adam Johnson is a doctoral student. I stayed that night with him and his wife Kat and their two small boys, Reuben and Nathan. The Johnsons had moved from Blessed Sacrament more than two years before. Having to catch an early flight the next morning, I was up before light and drove to Milwaukee where I turned in my car and began the flight home.

The visits were not over, however, as Matt and Charity Anderson met me during my layover in St. Louis and kindly bought lunch for us all in the airport. Matt and Charity had moved away from Blessed Sacrament just six or eight weeks earlier.

By that evening I was home, arriving just as the red ball of sun lowered to the western horizon. I had been gone 22 days, the longest time I have ever been separated from my wife in over 36 years of marriage. It was a rich and rewarding time away, packed with many different kinds of ministry, but I am glad to be home again.


Stephanie S said...

Good to hear from you. It does sound like a very busy twenty-two days!
Keeping you in prayer,

Anonymous said...

In addition to the pictures with you in them, I love the picture of the reflection of the clouds! How gorgeous. I pray that nature and its beauty continue to keep you company as you head to the beautiful Northwest... Love, Katie