Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and Costly Forgiveness

J. Barry Vaughn. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Hoover, AL. Sept. 11, 2011.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “That of which one cannot speak, one must be silent.” I am tempted to think that it might be better for me to be silent about the events of Sept 11, 2001. I am certain that it would safer for me to say nothing about them. But I also believe that it is a pastor or priest’s responsibility to hold up the world to the light of eternity, to try to look at the world from God’s perspective, to see how the Bible might inform our understanding of these events.

Karl Barth said that a pastor should preach with the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other. Depending on your political perspective, you can substitute The Wall Street Journal for the New York Times but the point still stands.

One of the worst things about terror and violence of the magnitude of 9/11 is that the big picture obscures the small picture. The Soviet dictator Stalin believed that he could get away with mass murder because, as he said, “the death of one person is a tragedy but the death of a thousand is a statistic.” But we must not allow the dead of 9/11 to become statistics. In the months after 9/11, the New York Times published a series of obituaries of the victims on the back page of the first section of their paper. Each brief obituary was carefully researched and beautifully written and was usually accompanied by a photo of the victim. I often found myself reading those obituaries compulsively, usually with tears in my eyes. In most cases, the obituaries included facts that turned “statistics” into “tragedies”.

  • For a woman named Anna, the Times noted that she loved to laugh and dance the salsa. Her family had planned a surprise party for her birthday, “but will gather instead at a small Pentecostal church she attended. ''She was so kind and generous,'' a brother, Freddy, said. ''We will pray for her soul.''
  • Of an Indian American named Sankara, the paper said that “he loved company and good conversation, but also studied Hindu scriptures, attended temple and meditated at home.”
  • Or a stockbroker named Sean who loved to travel the world “but no matter where in the world he was, like clockwork, he would call home to check in with mom and dad. On Sept. 11, he never got a chance to.”

One of the questions that was in the forefront of people’s minds then and now was “Where was God when the towers fell?” or “How could God let this happen to us?” For fundamentalist leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell that was a question with an easy and terrible answer. The attacks were God’s judgment on our wickedness.

But at the memorial service at the National Cathedral President Bush showed himself a much more capable and profound theologian than the Reverends Falwell and Robertson: “God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that His purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and understood.”

For some 9/11 was a sign that God was absent, non-existent, a terrible or perhaps comforting lie. A college friend told me that he lost his faith because of 9/11, although I believe he had been drifting away from church for some time. But why, I wonder, should anyone blame God for the actions of evil men, even if they claimed to be acting in the name of God? My friend Rabbi Jonathan Miller called them “theological hoodlums.” I understand why someone would blame God for earthquakes and hurricanes and AIDS and cancer, but not for the 9/11 hijackers.

The most persuasive theological comment about 9/11 was the observation that the only good answer to the question where was God was that God was in the people who were helping others – the fire fighters and police officers and the many other so-called “first responders.”

  • The man who could have saved himself but instead remained behind to help a friend confined to a wheelchair – that was where God was.
  • A security officer helped knocked out the windows in a ground floor day care center in the World Trade Center so that the children could be rescued. That’s where God was.
  • Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who was a chaplain to the New York City fire department, rushed into the midst of the destruction to pray with and give absolution to the victims when he was killed by falling debris. God was there, too.

One of the things that struck me after the terrorist attacks ten years ago was that, in the weeks after, the lectionary readings seemed so appropriate. The readings for weeks seemed to be full of ruined cities, towers falling, and destruction coming from the heavens. But perhaps that was less because of what was actually in the Bible readings and more because of the way my reading had been shaped by 9/11.

Today’s readings also speak to the tragedy of 9/11. From Exodus we hear of the angel that took the form of a pillar of cloud and who stood watch between the Israelites and the Egyptians. One of the most moving tributes to the victims of 9/11 are the twin pillars of light that are projected upward from “ground zero” every year on the anniversary of 9/11. The pillars of light remind me of God’s power to take even the greatest tragedy and redeem it.

But it is today’s gospel reading that speaks to me most eloquently. “Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

I often find it difficult to forgive, and I have to admit that there is a part of me that does not want to forgive the people responsible for 9/11. But I believe that Jesus tells me to forgive them. Notice, however, that Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive “another member of the church” who has sinned against him. Does this let us off the hook? Are we only commanded to forgive other Christians who have sinned against us? I don’t think so. A Christian who sins against another Christian has committed an especially heinous offence, because the Christian who sins has heard the teachings of Jesus, she has been baptized and received God’s forgiveness. But a non-Christian who sins may be guilty of the lesser offence, because he does not know the teachings of Christ and has not been baptized, so I think non-Christians may have an even greater claim to forgiveness.

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer contrasted grace that was “cheap” with grace that was “free but costly”. Similarly, I think there is a difference between forgiveness that is “free but costly” and forgiveness that is “cheap.” Costly forgiveness comes only after the offended party has recognized the full extent to which they have been harmed and has decided to forgive the offender anyway. Costly forgiveness comes only after the offender has made a “serious moral and spiritual inventory” and acknowledged the harm they have done and asked for forgiveness. Needless to say, I think costly forgiveness is quite rare.

We are told to forgive and forget, and that is entirely appropriate when the offense is small and unintentional. But should an abused spouse or abused child forgive and forget? Forgiveness may be therapeutic but to forget what the perpetrator has done may be to invite another attack against yourself or someone else. What may be more difficult is to forgive and remember.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that it is the hard task of a Christian leader to administer justice in a fallen and sinful world. I believe that our task in a post-9/11 world is to seek both justice and forgiveness and that one cannot exist without the other.

Several years ago I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to stand at the podium in the chamber of the United States’ Senate and deliver the invocation. I want to conclude with that prayer and offer it for our country on this solemn day.

God of our fathers and mothers, God of our children and grandchildren, yours alike are the Rockies' proud peaks and Shenandoah's green tranquility; yours are the span of the Golden Gate and the slums of Watts and Harlem.

Hear us as we pray for this land between the shining seas, this home of the pilgrims' pride, these United States of America.

We praise you for America's diverse quilt; for pilgrims from Europe and Africa, from Asia and Latin America, for Creek and Choctaw and Sioux and all our native peoples. Bind our ethnic strands together in a pattern of harmony, peace, and understanding.

Grant the women and men who lead us keenness and openness of mind; where vision is bound to personal gain or partisan good, liberate it. Stay their minds upon justice and their hearts upon compassion; may their ears be open to the voices of the voiceless and their eyes to the problems of the present and the possibilities of the future.

Grant that all the people of the United States may employ their hands and hearts and minds and bodies in work that satisfies and delights.

May peace unfold in freedom and justice, and may conflict issue in creative reconciliation.

And grant that in all things we raise our hearts and voices in gratitude to you, O Judge of nations and peoples, for in your wisdom you have set us upon a strong and high place, given us peace and prosperity, and called us to walk confidently into the future. Amen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 2011 travel posts - July 14

Well, the last post wasn't quite the last. We met this afternoon with His Excellency, Dr. Manuel Diaz, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Dr. Diaz is a Cuban American with a PhD in theology from the University of Notre Dame. He was appointed ambassador to the Holy See (ie, Vatican) because of his strong support for Barack Obama's campaign for president. Dr. Diaz taught at St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, where my friend Columba Stewart also teaches.

Ambassador Diaz spoke of the significance of having an ambassador to the Holy See because of the Vatican's many contacts around the world in places where U.S. influence is negative or negligible. Diaz has convened meetings of religious leaders in Rome to deal with topics such as climate change and conflict resolution. He spoke warmly of the Archbishop of Canterbury's understanding of his favorite theologian, Karl Rahner. I would love to be a fly on the wall listening to a conversation among Diaz, Benedict XVI and Archbishop Williams.

On the other hand, even the ambassador to the Vatican and his wife and four children are heavily protected by the Italian secret service and are taken from place to place in an armored SUV. What a world we live in...

See the photo of Dr. Diaz and my group on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July 2011 travel posts - July 13 addendum

My group went out tonight for dinner at a trattoria just 2 or 3 blocks from our hotel. After dinner, I walked a few blocks further to mail a couple of postcards in St. Peter's Sq. The moon is full, and I have to say that I prefer St. Peter's by moonlight. The conjunction of religion and power that the great church represents troubles me, but moonlight softens the edges and cools the fire a little. By moonlight Roman Catholicism seems more the religion of Italians with an appreciation for and tolerance for human frailty and less the faith of German cardinals who insist on doctrinal exactitude.

On the way back to the hotel I got some gelato (which I ordered in Italian without using a single English word) and after I threw away the cup, I rinsed my hands in a stone fountain bearing the papal arms that was located by the side of the road. Just up the road, in front of another trattoria, a lone accordionist played "Somewhere over the rainbow," and I reflected on how Italians have mastered the art of living.

2011 travel posting - July 13

Sunday morning in Rome begins with a riot of bells from the hundreds of churches in this ancient capital. All of my colleagues except me (including Rabbi Miller) set out for St. Peter's, but I went to St. Paul's Within the Walls, an American Episcopal church built for Americans traveling abroad by J.P. Morgan. It's a beautiful church. In the apse is a mosaic showing Christ in glory seated upon his throne from which flows water. Separating the upper panel from the lower panel is an inscription in Greek and Hebrew of the first sentence of Genesis ("In the beginning, God created..."). In the lower panel are St. Paul surrounded by the saints of the Old Testament on his right and the saints of the New Testament on his left.

The service was not well-attended but afterward I was told that everyone who can leaves Rome in July and August. However, there was a visiting choir from Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr, PA (a Philadelphia suburb) that was wonderful. They sang Bruckner's "Ave Maria" before the service, a Brahms' piece at the offertory, and Elgar's "The Spirit of the Lord" during communion. The choir was large and there were almost as many in the choir as in the congregation.

Late in the afternoon we toured the Jewish quarter, including the stunningly beautiful Great Synagogue. The history of Jews in Europe is a history of suffering. Jews came to Rome about 160 BCE and lived there freely until a pope set up the Jewish ghetto about a thousand years ago. After the establishment of the ghetto, Jewish worship was restricted to a single synagogue which included sections for the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German Jews. Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing that identified them as Jews. In 1870 Victor Emanuel II, the first king of a united Italy, abolished the ghetto, but the Nazis re-established it in 1943. Then in October, 1943, more than 2000 Roman Jews were sent to Auschwitz and only 16 survived. The chief rabbi of Rome appealed to Pope Pius XII to speak out, but even though Pius was from an old Roman family that knew the Jews of Rome, he said and did nothing publicly. The Jews were taken in trucks past the gates of the Vatican, but still the pope was silent. I know that Pius XII's role in the Holocaust is still debated, but he should have done more for the Jews of Rome. He was quite vocal about the church's property during the era of fascism; surely he could have done more for the Jews.

Monday was one of our best days. We started out with a visit to the Very Rev. Canon David Richardson, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal representative to the Holy See. I met David a few weeks ago in Birmingham and thought we would enjoy visiting him, and we did. He was quite frank about the way Anglican\Roman Catholic relations have cooled under the papacy of Benedict XVI. He was particularly critical of the Vatican's efforts to woo disaffected Anglicans with the promise that they can continue to use a version of the Book of Common Prayer (an initiative that was undertaken without any consultation or advance warning given to Anglican leaders).

On Mon afternoon we toured the basilica of St. Clement, a late 1rst century bishop of Rome. Excavations beneath the church have uncovered a first century Roman street that included a temple of Mithras and a Christian church.

After that we visited the Lay Center, a place for Roman Catholic laymen and women, as well as those of other faiths, who are studying at the several pontifical universities in Rome. We had a wonderful time with the director, Dr. Donna Orsuto, an American and the first lay women (not a nun) to receive a degree from a pontifical university. She and the others we met there give me great hope for the Roman Catholic church.

The day ended with evening prayer at the Church of Santa Maria Trastavere where the Community of St. Egidio gathers daily. They are a Roman Catholic lay community somewhat similar to the Taize community in France.

Tue began with a stunning tour of the Vatican museum led by our friend Magdalena (who also led our tour of ancient Rome). I've been through the Vatican museum on two previous occasions but this was by far the best. The art of the museum simply came alive because of her detailed introductions and descriptions.

Other than the Sistine Chapel, my favorite works in the museum are Raphael's two frescoes for the papal apartments - "The school of Athens" and "The dispute of the holy sacrament." To me, they represent earthly and heavenly wisdom. But for sheer drama the Last Judgment that Michelangelo painted for the east wall of the Sistine Chapel cannot be surpassed.

Tuesday evening we met with Richard Donahoo, a former Episcopalian who is now a Roman Catholic priest. Fr Donahoo is studying the problem that Canon Richardson discussed with us, namely, the reception of disaffected Anglicans by the RC Church. I pressed him hard and questioned him assertively and frankly. At dinner, he said, "I imagine that Anglicans are unhappy with this" and gave me a sidelong glance. I said, "You are correct. We are very unhappy." But he took my questions and comments in a gracious and intelligent way. However, I have to say that I regard the setting up of a special effort to bring Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church as a form of religous imperialism.

Tomorrow is our last day in Rome and this will be my last post until I get home and wrap everything up. It's been wonderful but I'm ready to head for home.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 10

Sorry for the long delay since my last post. We've had several very busy days.

We left Jerusalem by van in the wee hours of July 7. Tel Aviv is only 34 mi from Jerusalem and there was no traffic on the road, so it didn't take long. After a short flight we landed in Athens and spent a busy day seeing the Parthenon and agora (ancient market where Socrates taught Plato and other students).

I thought Athens was a beautiful city. There are hills on one side and water on the other. It was clean and had a wonderful, convenient, easy to understand, and reasonably fast subway that took us from the airport to the historical sites and back again. I'd love to go back.

After another short flight in the evening, we landed in Rome. We are staying at the Domus Carmelitana, a guest house for pilgrims run by the Carmelites, a religious order for men and women. It is only a few short blocks from St. Peter's Square. "A guest house for pilgrims" may sounds a little grim. Actually, this is a very nice hotel. The rooms, beds, bathrooms, and especially the showers are on the small side but it's extremely clean and they have a nice breakfast in the morning.

On our first day here we met with Dr. Yann Redalie, the dean of the Waldensian seminary in room. The Waldensians are a small Protestant group that broke away from Rome before the 16th c. Reformation. They spread from Switzerland to America, Britain, eastern Europe, South America, and Italy, but today they are mainly in Italy, and there are only about 30,000 of them left. They have joined with the Methodistl churches of Italy.

The most interesting part of Dr. Redalie's talk was about how they are dealing with the great influx of Protestants from Africa. As I noted, there are only about 30,000 Waldensians in Italy, but Italy is receiving about 30,000 immigrants annually from Africa, and many of these are Methodists or from similar Protestant churches. He said that in some Waldensian churches there will be 9 African children and only one Italian child. Although, as he said, the Waldensians are committed to being "church together" with African Christians, merging the 2 cultures is difficult. Of course, this is exactly the situation that we Anglicans are now dealing with, too.

We went from the Waldensian seminary to the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity and Jewish Relations where we met with Archbishop Brian Farrell, an Irish bishop who is the council's undersecretary. Abp Farrell told us about the council's beginnings in Vatican II and described the upcoming meeting of the world's religions in Assissi on the 25th anniversary of the first such meeting convened by Pope John Paul II. For me the most interesting part of the archbishop's talk was about Anglicans. He cautiously spoke about the frustrations of dealing with my church which has made the decision to ordain women to the offices of priest and bishop and has begun to open all its offices to gay and lesbian Christians, too. After meeting with Abp Farrell I walked down the hall and identified 2 former archbishops of Canterbury photographed in meetings with Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

In the afternoon, a Polish art historian gave us a wonderful tour of ancient Rome. We saw the Colosseum, Forum, and Circus Maximus (an ancient horsetrack that was used in the film "Ben Hur").

Yesterday was Assissi day. We were taken to Assissi in a van and given a great tour by a friend of Archbishop Joseph Marino (who was our host in Bangladesh last summer). I had forgotten how beautiful Assissi is. It is on a high hill overlooking the Umbrian countryside. In the distance you can see another Italian city, Perugia, that was the great enemy of Assissi in the Middle Ages. It was after a war with Perugia that Francesco Bernardone, heard the voice of God speak to him from a crucifix in the church of San Damiano, saying, "Rebuild my church." In response, he abandoned his wealth and founded the group we know as the Franciscans.

There are 2 great churches in Assissi, and the first one we saw was the basilica of St. Clare, a woman who joined Francis and is thought to be as great a saint as he is. We ended the day with a visit to the other great church of Assissi - the basilica of St. Francis. It is unusual in being two churches, one on top of the other. The lower church in particular is remarkable for the great series of frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis painted by Giotto and Cimabue. The frescoes are the greatest early examples of the use of perspective in painting.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 6

We spent most of yesterday in the Palestinian Authority. The last time I was here (1994) the PA had not yet been established, and all of the West Bank was still administered by Israel. It seems to me that the establishment of the PA has had both good and bad consequences.

First, we went to Hebron. Hebron is traditionally where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives are buried. (Gen. 49.31) The irony is that God promised Abraham land but when he died, the only land that he owned was his burial place. In all likelihood, Hebron is not where the patriarchs are buried, but it is where they are remembered. Nevertheless, the patriarchs are holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, so like so much in this holy land, Hebron is a place of conflict.

Until 1948, Jews and Muslims could both come and pray at the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron. After the establishment of Israel, Hebron was in Jordan, and Jews were barred from praying there. Then when Israel took the West Bank in 1967, both Jews and Muslims could again pray there, but there was a great deal of tension. Then in February, 1994, an Israel settler, fired on Muslims praying at the tombs of the patriarchs, killing 29 of them. Since then, the Israeli government has rigidly separated the places where Jews and Muslims pray.

Complicating matters further, a few hundred Israelis have moved into Hebron, forcing the Israeli government to sent in troops to protect them and to build streets on which they alone can travel.

Yesterday, we went to both the Jewish and Muslim sides of the tomb of the patriarchs. I have to say that the Muslim side felt more welcoming. It is open and spacious, covered in beautiful carpets. Out of respect for Muslim tradition, we removed our shoes. A group of Muslim school girls were there, giggling and being silly the way every little girl of that age behaves. They wanted us to take their picture, and we obliged. They tried out their English and we tried out our 2 or 3 Arabic words.

After the tomb of the patriarchs, we walked through the market or suq. Sadly, many shops are closed. One shopkeeper told us that the Palestinian Authority pays them $300 a month just to keep the stores open. We walked up a steep stairway to the roof of a building. The family that lives there told us that Jewish settlers had tried to buy their house, but they refused, and subsequently have been harrassed.

We happily left Hebron and drove to Bethlehem where we met with Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor, who is building an impressive school and social service center. He was very pessimistic about the future but said that he had hope. He cited the famous story about Martin Luther. Luther said that if he knew that the world would end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. That's the kind of hope that Pastor Raheb has. His school teaches music, visual arts, and even filmmaking. He has sports teams for girls on which Muslim and Christian girls play together.

Raheb said that he has an alternative version of the 2 state solution: put Shas (an Israeli right wing party) and Hamas (the Palestinian extremist party) in one state and all the moderate Israelis and Palestinians in the other state. We thought that was a great idea.

Jonathan, however, was critical of the way Raheb described the situation. Raheb said that the Israelis had walked out of negotiations and were establishing a kind of apartheid. Jonathan said that was not true, and I have to agree with him. On the other hand, I do believe that whatever Netanyahu believes in his heart, the ultra conservatives in his coalition will not let allow the Palestinians to establish a state.

Finally, we went to Ramallah, the "capital" of the Palestinian Authority. We saw the tomb of Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian parliament building. Our impression of Ramallah was very positive. It seems reasonably affluent and full of life. The streets were crowded with people and cars. There were many women whose heads were covered, but just as many whose heads were uncovered. So far, Ramallah looks like a modern secular Arab city. May it remain so.

Monday, July 04, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 4

Sunday morning we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (more accurately called the Church of the Resurrection or (in Greek) the Anastasis) around 8 am. There was a little Coptic service going on in the chapel behind the actual sepulchre. I listened to the beautiful chanting for a while and enjoyed the enormous clouds of incense that the thurifer generated. A little later the Greek Orthodox began their service in a much larger chapel on the other side of the sepulchre. It was a little amusing to watch the Greeks. A group of acolytes or priests unrolled a red carpet on which the patriarch (or some lesser bishop) walked into the chapel. Once inside, he began chanting to a virtually empty room. Nearby is the chapel in which it is believed that the actual crucifixion of Jesus took place. It was quiet and prayerful at that hour of the morning and a few people sat or stood in intense meditation.

Afterward we walked to the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College where Reform rabbis from all over the world go for at least part of their education. David Marmur, a British Jew, is their academic dean, and he talked with us for a while about perceiving God. Using texts from Exodus, 1 Corinthians 13 ("through a glass darkly"), the medieval Jewish thinker Maimonides, and the 20th c. scholar Abraham Heschel, he led us in a wonderful discussion about whether and how different religions perceive God. According to the Old Testament, only Moses actually saw God; other prophets (and by extension, other faiths, perhaps) only caught a glimpse of God.

One of my conclusions from Rabbi Marmur's talk (and our other conversations) is that we can only approach God through our own traditions. The more deeply we delve into our own faith, the more points of contact we find with other faiths. But if we try to start with spirituality in general (if there is such a thing), the less likely we are to find God, or at least to have a deep experience of God.

After visiting with Rabbi Marmur, we returned to the Scottish Guest House and talked with an American rabbi, Arye Ben David. After teaching in an Orthodox religious school (yeshiva) for many years, he became troubled by how difficult it is for many Jews to talk about their own experience of God. Consequently, he developed a course that helps Jews go more deeply into their own spiritual lives and experiences of God. I suggested that perhaps he was really giving Jews a way to talk about experiences they were already having but for which they did not yet have the right words.

In the evening, we visited with David and Ariel Morrison. David is an old friend of mine from Birmingham. He was married to my close friend, Jo Ann Hess, who died after they moved to Jerusalem. David is a very fine Jewish historian and Ariel does Jewish education.

Today we began with a visit from Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, a classmate of Jonathan's and the first woman rabbi in Israel. After 3 trips to the Israeli Supreme Court she won the right to be recognized as a rabbi and for her congregation to receive financial support from the Israeli government (as all other synagogues in Israel do). She was absolutely delightful. She talked about how she prays while she swims every morning and how important music is to her spiritual life. She also shared about how she has helped develop Jewish liturgies that incorporate feminine as well as masculine images of God.

After our visit with Kinneret, we had a walk through Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's ultra Orthodox neighborhood.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Friday, July 01, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 2

The UK's border security and passport control officers were going to be on strike from 6 pm on June 29, so Mark hastily took me to the train in Coventry. I figured that I'd better get a hotel near Heathrow in the event that there were delays getting out of the country. However, everything ran smoothly. My plane took off on time and arrived about 20-30 mins late because the plane had to avoid Greek airspace.

The last time I was in Israel was 1994, and I was amazed at how beautiful Ben Gurion airport is now. However, I have to say that I miss the way Israel used to look. There was something more appealing to me about Israel when it looked like a frontier, when it was struggling to grow up and become prosperous.

I met Bob Hurst (a member of my group) just outside the airport and we shared a "sherut" (shared taxi) into Jerusalem. We were the next to last people to make it to our destination, and it deposited us outside the Scottish Church and Guest House about 90 mins later. And, as it turns out, only Jonathan Miller had made it there ahead of us.

Bob went off to eat with friends and I walked down Emek Refa'im into a neighborhood known as the German Colony. There were a number of restaurants offering pizza, hamburgers, and even waffles. I finally found one that seemed a little more Middle Eastern and ate there.

When I returned to the guest house, Jonathan was up and about, and soon after that Steve Jones and Ed Hurley arrived from their side trip to Egypt.

The next morning we were on our way by 8.30 or 9. Our first visit was to a Syrian Orthodox Church where the priest - Fr. Simon - claimed that it was the site of the Last Supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I was there on my first visit to Israel in 1985. During my 1985 trip I heard the priest read an account of the Last Supper in Aramaic on Maundy Thur. It gave me chills to hear the story of the Last Supper read in the language that Jesus would have spoken in a location that was at least somewhat close to where the Last Supper would have taken place.

Excavations beneath the Syrian church show that a 1rst c. house stood on the same location. So perhaps it was where Jesus and the disciples shared bread and wine.

After the Syrian church we visited the Copts. A Coptic Christian told us about the persecution of the Coptic Church in Egypt which has increased since the revolution. The Mubarak regime (in spite of its many faults) protected the Copts, but now they are facing increased violence.

We finished the day with a visit to Tantur Ecumenical Institute between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, just on the Israeli side of the security fence, where we chatted with the directory, Timothy Lowe, an Orthodox priest. Fr Timothy is worth a visit all by himself. He grew up as an evangelical Protestant in Nebraska, then came to this part of the world when he was 19 to convert Jews and Muslims. He stayed on the learn Hebrew and Arabic and got interested in the early church. That interest led him to Eastern Orthodoxy. We talked about whether or not different religions are perceiving the same divine reality or different realities in spite of how wildly different they appear. Fr Timothy emphatically believes that there is only one transcendent reality. He said that it only gets complex when we speak. It's simpler if we just remain silent. True, I think. Reminds me what Wittgenstein said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

It's now Saturday afternoon about 4.45 pm, the waning hours of the Sabbath. Jonathan took us to the morning service at the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem. There appeared to be several different sects of Orthodox Jews there this morning. I tried to read along in Jonathan's Torah during the reading of the Torah and afterward in his prayer book, but I could only catch a few words and phrases here and there. It's been far too long since I studied Hebrew and the readings and prayers went much too quickly.

After the service we went to the Israel Museum for lunch and to see the exhibits.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 travel posting - June 29

Monday, June 27, was another long day of travel. I took the train from Leuchars (near St. Andrews) to Berkswell, Coventry, to visit my friends the Rev. Mark and Emma Bratton and their children, Theo (9) and Katy (12). It involved 3 changes of trains, but it was a lovely day to travel. Although they say they've been having a heat wave in Britain, it feels wonderful after our 30 plus days of temps over 90 F in Alabama. Most of Monday was sunny and mild with just a few clouds in the sky.

Mark and I met at St. George's College and Cathedral in Jerusalem in 1993. My mother and I were visiting there and Mark was studying there while he was a student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, one of the Church of England's theological colleges (i.e., a seminary). The next summer I invited Mark to come to the US and work with me for the summer at St. Stephen's in Eutaw, AL. Mark did a great job and everyone loved him. He was subsequently ordained in the Diocese of London and served a parish there. Then he was the Anglican chaplain at Warwick University and is now the rector of St. John the Baptist in Berkswell.

Mark's parish has 3 services on Sunday - 2 in the morning, plus evening prayer - and about 200 attend his services each week. The church building was built in the 11th and 12th centuries and has both Romanesque and Gothic elements. Beneath the church is a crypt which may have been part of an even older Anglo-Saxon church on the same site.

Mark and Emma live in the rectory which is less than 50 yards from the church. They have about 3 acres and raise sheep, pigs, and chickens for their own consumption. Last night I had some pork that they raised and it was delicious.

Katy is studying flute and ballet and in the fall she will attend what we would call "middle school" in Coventry (about 6 miles away). Theo loves math, football, and piano. In the UK they have a national, graded piano curriculum. Theo is about to take his first year piano exam and should do very well. I worked with him for a while yesterday and was very impressed.

This evening I will take the train down to London because I have to fly to Tel Aviv at 8.30 am tomorrow. I will catch up with the other members of my clergy group in Jerusalem where we will spend 6 days before going on to Rome for the final 6 days of our study tour.

See my Facebook page for pictures of the trip.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 Travel Postings - June 26

Thursday, June 23, I left for a three week trip. Tom Merrill, one of my parishioners, drove me to the Birmingham airport where I got the ground shuttle for a trip to the Atlanta airport. From Atlanta I flew to London Heathrow. From Heathrow I took the British Rail link to Paddington station, and from there I took the Tube to King's Cross. By running I barely made the 1 pm train to Edinburgh which was absolutely packed. I jumped into a first class car and dragged my suitcase 2 or 3 cars forward until I found 2nd class. There were no seats at all in the first 2 or 3 2nd class cars I went through. Finally, I found a seat at one of the tables. Dripping with sweat I sat down next to the windows. I'm sure I was not a pleasant travel companion for the other 3 guys at the table. I got to Edinburgh around 6 pm, just in time to jump on a train for Leuchars. From Leuchars I took a taxi several miles to St. Andrews. All in all, it took about 26 hours of constant travel to get from my home in Birmingham to St. Andrews.

I'm in St. Andrews for a reunion, of sorts. It's the 600th anniversary of the university, but it's not an official reunion year for people who received their degrees in 1990 as I did. But because I could piggy back on my clergy group's trip to Israel and Italy, I decided to go.

Actually, in 1411, Bishop Wardlaw of St. Andrews authorized the formation of the university, but it wasn't official until 1413 when Pope Boniface XIII gave it his imprimatur. But then Boniface was an Avignon pope, so I'm not sure his imprimatur counts! The reason for the foundation of St. Andrews is that the Scots supported the Avignon popes, but the English supported the Roman papacy. So the English prevented the Scots from sending their young men to study for the priesthood in France, and the Scots had to found their own university. "How these Christians love each other..."

They housed those of us going to the reunion in David Russell Hall which is about a 15 minute walk from the center of town. The accommodations are pretty good, though. The first night I thought I'd walk into town, and even took a shower and changed clothes, but by then I was just too tired to move and went to bed.

The next morning I heard the principal of the university, Louise Richardson, chair and address a meeting. She's quite impressive. Interestingly, Dr. Richardson was previously head of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. Her predecessor at the institute was Drew Faust, who is now president of Harvard. That appears to be the route to power for women in academia.

Friday night there was a very nice dinner for returning graduates in Lower College Hall. At the end of the dinner, the Madras College Pipe Band "beat the retreat" on the quad outside. As they played "Scotland the Brave" and the setting sun sent long shafts of light down the lawn, I misted up a little. Then a lone piper led most of the grads to the reunion ball, but I went home to bed.

At dinner I had a nice conversation with Roz who sat next to me. She got a degree in history in 1991, I believe. Then she went to Manchester University to become a dentist. She's an elder in her Church of Scotland parish in Peebles. The reformation in Scotland went in a different direction from the reformation in England. The Church of England retained bishops, but the Church of Scotland got rid of them and became a presbyterian church, that is, a church governed by presbyters.

This morning there was a service in St. Salvator's, the university chapel, to commemorate the university's 600th reunion. I worshiped there when I was here and was glad to be back in the chapel. The chapel was begun in 1450 and consecrated about ten years later. One of the first martyrs of the Scottish Reformation - Patrick Hamilton - was burned at the stake just outside the chapel entrance. See previous comment about Christians loving each other...

St. Salvator's has a marvelous organ and the choir was as good as ever. They sang two 16th-17th century anthems - one in English and one in Latin. The hymns were also first rate - "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven," "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord," "Now thank we all our God," and one that was new to me but I liked a lot - "Loving Spirit."

The preacher was N.T. Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham (Church of England) and one of the world's great New Testament scholars. He joined the faculty at St. Andrews in 2010. I had heard him preach while I was in Oxford (where he taught before becoming a bishop) and was looking forward to hearing him. He was terrific. The title of his sermon was "The Great Story" and he wove the history of the university into the story of Christianity. One of his points was that western civilization seemed to believe that by giving up religious faith we would become happier and better, but it's quite obvious that that has not been the case. So the task of schools of theology is to keep doing what they do to prepare for the day when the West turns back to faith. St. Andrews is much more than a school of theology. I believe the principal said that only about 3% of this year's grads studied divinity. However, St. Mary's College (the official name of the faculty of theology at St. Andrews) is the oldest school of theology in Scotland.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two Baptism Sermons

The Baptism of Sydney and Grayson. May 22, 2011. St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Hoover, AL.

Dear Sydney and Grayson,

This letter is from the priest who baptized you. I look forward to watching you grow up, but I am 55 years older than you, so some of the most interesting parts of your life will happen long after I am gone. That’s OK, though, because what the people of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and I are doing today will help you establish a sturdy foundation on which you can build a strong and healthy spiritual life.

First, I want to congratulate you on your choice of families. Sydney, you were born on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I remember because your dad, Kevin, was supposed to acolyte that day and he didn’t show up. I knew that something important had happened because Kevin is such a faithful acolyte. The first time I saw you, your mother Krystal was holding you and I could see that she loved you a lot. So I know that you will be well cared for.

Grayson, I don’t know your mom and dad, but I do know your great grandparents, Bill and Gerri Blythe, and they are outstanding people. Bill is very smart and thoughtful and reads a lot. Gerri helped start our Daughters of the King chapter at St. Alban’s. The Daughters of the King is an organization for women that encourages prayer and service. Gerri and the Daughters have made blankets for shut ins and prayer beads for me to take to the sick. But the most important thing about your great grandparents is that they are almost always in church. Anyway, both of you are lucky to have such wonderful families.

Second, remember I said that today is the day of your baptism. By the time that you are able to read this I know that you will know what baptism is. I know that because your parents promised me that they would take you to Sunday School and church and help you to become a good Christian. I also said that the people of St. Alban’s and I were baptizing you. That’s kind of a funny way to say it because it sounds like everyone in the church picked you up and held you over the font and poured the water over your head. Actually, I was the one who held you and poured the water. But in the Episcopal Church we almost always baptize people as part of the Sunday service. We do that because baptism makes you part of God’s family and the church is God’s family. In baptism the church says that you are one of us, a part of our family.

Baptism means that you are now a Christian. Right now, you are a baby Christian, just like you are a baby girl or boy. Your responsibility as a baby Christian and as a baby girl or boy is the same: you are supposed to grow. Right now, you don’t have to do anything special to grow; it just happens. But in a few years you will begin to take some responsibility for your growth. You will need to eat healthy and nourishing food, to exercise, and to get enough rest and sleep. You will also have to take responsibility for your spiritual growth. You will have to pray, to read the Bible, to come to church, and to participate in the sacraments. But spiritual growth is just as natural as physical growth. It is God who makes us grow both spiritually and physically. We can choose to work with God in fostering our growth or to work against God. I hope you will choose to work with God.

One of the scripture readings for today talks about our spiritual growth. In 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 2, it says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Infants need milk, both spiritually and physically. It is just as natural for you to desire spiritual milk as it is for you to desire physical milk. However, you are going to grow up in a world that will do everything in its power to make you forget that you are spiritual beings. The world will try to make you believe that you can be fulfilled and complete without seeking God’s spiritual milk. The world will try to make you believe that life is only about professional success and making money and having more and better things. But if you are quiet and look within and listen very carefully, God will remind you that you cannot be truly happy without him. God will remind you that love is more important than success, that forgiveness is better than anger, that hope is stronger than despair.

But I don’t want to mislead you. Another of today’s readings is about St. Stephen, the first martyr, the first of Jesus’ followers who was put to death for his faith in Jesus. Life is difficult. Following Jesus does not mean that life will be easy, but it does mean that God will give you the strength to overcome the difficulties you will encounter.

Finally, in today’s reading from John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” That doesn’t necessarily mean that if you follow Jesus you will multiply loaves and fishes and walk on water, but it does mean that you can do things that are just as miraculous: you can pray for and forgive your enemies, you can return kindness for anger, you can be courageous and cheerful in the face of adversity.

Today we are giving you four gifts: The first is a candle that we will light from the paschal candle. The paschal candle is a large candle marked with a cross that is next to the baptismal font. Burn this candle every year on the anniversary of your baptism to remind yourself that the light of Christ shines inside you. Second, we are giving you a t shirt. In the early church, people who baptized on the night before Easter and for the next fifty days they wore a special white baptismal garment. The t shirt represents that garment. On one said it says “Christian,” “Disciple,” “Child of God,” “Heir of the kingdom of God”, because that is what you are. On the other side, it says “St. Alban’s Episcopal Church” because we never pass up an opportunity for free advertising! The third gift is a small container that holds some of the water from the baptismal font. There’s a story about the great German Reformer, Martin Luther, that says that the devil appeared to him and said, “Luther, who do you think you are? You’re nobody and you’ll never amount to anything!” Luther threw a bottle of ink at the devil, and said, “Be gone, devil! I am baptized!” When you are tempted to believe that you are nobody and will never amount to anything, remember that you, too, are baptized. Finally, we are giving you a cross.

A little girl was lost in a big city, and a policeman saw her crying, and asked why she was crying. She explained that she was lost and couldn’t find her way home, so he took her around the neighborhood in his police car, and suddenly she said, “You can let me out here. I know this is my church because of the cross on top. I can find my way home from here.” When you feel lost and alone, look for the cross because it will help you find your way home.

The Baptism of Victoria and Caleigh. June 5, 2011. St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Hoover, AL.

Victoria and Caleigh, today we are going to baptize you. One of you told me that you don’t want me to get too much water on your head. I don’t blame you. You both look so pretty today, and I don’t want to mess up your outfits, so I will be as careful as I can be.

But baptism is a bath. When you take your bath at night or in the morning, you do it to wash off the dust and dirt that we all encounter during the day. That’s also why we are baptized.

As we go through life all kinds of things stick to us – anger, fear, greed, and so on. We have a name for those things. We call them “sins.” Neither of you have encountered very many sins yet, but you will. When you do, remember that you were baptized. Remember that God wants to wash those things off you.

But baptism has another meaning. Do you like the way the warm water in the bath tub surrounds you and sort of embraces you? I like that feeling a lot. In baptism, God doesn’t just wash away our sins, God also embraces us like the water in the bath. God embraces us completely, embraces all of us. God embraces our hopes and fears, our strengths and weaknesses, and tells us that we are good, that we are his daughters and sons. In baptism God tells us that he loves us and that we are a part of his family.

I imagine that at this point in your life there aren’t that many things that you worry about, but adults worry a lot. We probably worry more than we should. Some day you may worry, too. You may not feel as close to God as you do now. When you do, remember that you were baptized. That God embraced you, hugged you, held you close and said that he loved you and that you belong to him.

Now, I want to say something to the members of St. Alban’s. Remember that baptism is not just something that I do. It’s something that all of us do. We are all taking responsibility for Victoria and Caleigh today. We are taking the responsibility for raising them in the Christian faith. We are taking the responsibility for supporting them and loving them. It’s not something we can do by ourselves. God will help us. But we have to do our part.

We have to make sure that we have a Sunday school program for Victoria and Caleigh and the other young people who come here so that they can learn about the Bible and the Christian faith. We have to make sure that they are included and given ways to participate in the things we do, given responsibilities appropriate to their ages, and so on.

Many years ago a great man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that he wanted his children to live in a world in which they would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That’s what baptism is about. Baptism says that’s what’s on our inside is more important than what’s on our outside.

It doesn’t matter what the color of our skin is or our hair or our eyes. These are good things. Be grateful for them. They are God’s good gifts. But they are not the most important things about it. The most important things are inside us: our faith, our hope, our love, our joy…

Baptism makes us one. Baptism says that whether we are young or old, men or women, black or white, we are one in Christ.

Welcome to St. Alban’s, Caleigh and Victoria. Welcome to God’s family.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Age of Anxiety

J. Barry Vaughn. St. Alban's Episcopal Church. Birmingham, AL. Feb. 28, 2011.

Historian Johan Huizinga in his study of the late Middle Ages wrote, “We, at the present day, can hardly understand the keenness with which a fur coat, a good fire on the hearth, a soft bed, a glass of wine, were formerly enjoyed.” Huizinga’s point is that these are all things that we take for granted: a warm coat, a fire in the fireplace (or for most of us, central heat and air), a glass of wine – in our time these things are the rule, not the exception. We take them for granted. But it was not so for most people throughout most of history, nor is it so for a good two fifths or more of the people in our world today. A warm coat, a warm and dry place to live, enough to eat, much less a glass of wine are the exception, not the rule.

Throughout most of history and in much of the world Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading have a special resonance: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Worrying about having anything to eat and anything to wear is the norm, much less worrying about having a glass of wine or a fur coat.

We enjoy riches and conveniences undreamed of by the richest and most powerful people of human history. On a trip to Israel years ago I wandered through the ruins of one of Herod the Great’s palaces. He had several. The one I was wandering through was just east of the line of hills that divides Israel and Palestine from north to south and just west of Jericho. What was so remarkable about this palace is that it contained several baths. One bath was for hot water; one for lukewarm water; and one for cool or cold water. In first century Palestine, only the smallest handful of the rich and powerful could enjoy such luxury. Today only the smallest handful of people in this country do not enjoy such luxury.

So we would think that the vast expansion of wealth that has taken place over the last few hundred years and especially in the last century would have brought with it a corresponding expansion of happiness and contentment. But we know that it has not.

The poet W.H. Auden called the 20th century the “age of anxiety.” It was supposed to be anything but an age of anxiety. Increasing prosperity was supposed to bring increasing contentment and happiness. We were supposed to be the most contented and least anxious people in the history of the human race. But that has not happened.

We live not only in the age of anxiety but in the age of Prozac and Paxil and psychotherapy. Probably even more than a first century peasant we need to hear the words of Jesus: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear,” because we worry about these and similar things constantly.

Jesus’ words are echoed by other great spiritual teachers throughout history. Five hundred years before the time of Jesus, the great Indian religious leader, Prince Siddhartha, whom we know today as the Buddha, the enlightened or awakened one, told his followers that the central problem of human life is suffering and that suffering is caused by being attached to things that are transitory.

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The odd thing about serving wealth is that it can be very rewarding. Those who throw themselves heart and soul into the acquisition of wealth very often amass great fortunes. But wealth is a harsh mistress. No matter how much people acquire, they rarely seem to have enough. The person who sets her mind to acquire a million dollars in her bank account by the time she is thirty often succeeds, but then she is likely to decide to acquire another million or two by the time she is forty. Furthermore, the service of wealth often leaves very little time for the things that genuinely make life worthwhile: friends and family, work that matters, the enjoyment of art, beauty, and nature, to say nothing of the service of God.

I wonder if you have seen Social Network, the film about the creation of FaceBook that is up for the Academy award for Best Picture. I have no idea how accurate the film is but the story it tells is as old as the human race. The founder of FaceBook is presented as a deeply insecure college student. Rejected by a young woman he has been dating, he throws himself into the creation of an internet-based program that will allow people to connect with each other and so FaceBook is born. The irony of the film, though, is that while the purpose of FaceBook is to connect people with each other, a purpose it fulfills admirably, the founder of FaceBook is presented as a profoundly lonely young man, and by the end of the film he is fabulously wealth but is alienated from every single person in his life. “You cannot serve two masters, for you will hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

Jesus’ words sound hopelessly idealistic: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

OK, Jesus, that’s all very well and good, but you didn’t have a monthly credit card bill or mortgage payment, you didn’t have to pay college tuition or medical bills. If we don’t take some thought for what we eat or what we wear, where we sleep or how we’re going to get to work, then pretty soon we’ll have nothing to do but daydream about the lilies of the field and birds of the air.

But the irony, of course, is that if all we do is think about what we’re going to wear or eat, or where we’re going to live, then that drains life of all its meaning. So how do we do both? How do we take some thought for our food and clothing and at the same time trust God? Is it possibly to be both responsible and idealistic? I think it is.

Another insight from the Buddhist faith helps me. Buddhism teaches its adherents that they must live neither in the past nor the future but in the present. The present is all that is real. Taken to an extreme, that would be ridiculous. Of course, we must take some thought for tomorrow and be cognizant of the lessons of the past. But what we must not do is let the past empty today of its meaning. And we must not be so caught up in what might happen tomorrow, that we let the glory of this moment slip away.

The story is told of an order of monks so strict that they not only did not speak to women, they did not even look at women. Two monks from the community were sent on a mission to another monastic community nearby. They came to the edge of river, but it was in the spring and the rains had swollen the river, making it almost impossible to cross. Trying to cross the river was a woman with a new born child, but the river was too deep and fast for her to cross. However, one of the monks, violating the rule of his community, carried the woman and her child across on his back. For the rest of the day, the other monk was so angry at his brother for having violated their rule about women, that he would not speak to him. Finally, at the end of the day, the monk who had carried the woman across the river said to his brother, “Brother, you are angry at me for having carried that woman and her child across the river, but I only carried them across the river. You have carried them around with you all day.”

We carry things around with us all the time that we need to leave behind: our anxiety about money, about work, about the state of the world. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. …Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? …do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' …your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A short history of the Episcopal Church in Alabama

I don't know who (if anyone) reads my blog anymore, but I thought you might be interested in something I wrote for the profile created by the committee searching for the 11th Bishop of Alabama. This is a VERY short version of the book I hope to complete soon.


In February, 1828, with no apparent coordination, two Episcopal congregations were organized in Alabama. Christ Church, Tuscaloosa, was the first, and then, only two weeks later, Christ Church, Mobile, was launched. (It should be noted, however, that the congregation of the Mobile church had been worshiping as part of a Protestant “union” church with Methodists and Presbyterians since 1822.) The men and women who organized these churches were some of Alabama’s most prominent citizens. Although the Episcopal Church in Alabama has never exceeded 1% of the state’s population, it has consistently been over-represented at the highest levels of the state’s leadership by a factor of 8 to 10 (or even more). Among the prominent early 19th century Alabamians who affiliated with the Episcopal Church were Gov. John Gayle, Congressman William Lowndes Yancey, author Octavia Walton LeVert, and lawyer and newspaper editor John Withers Clay. Although a Baptist, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his Episcopalian wife, Varina, regularly worshiped at St. John’s, Montgomery. In the 20th century, prominent Alabama Episcopalians have included actress Tallulah Bankhead and novelist Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. Just in the 20th century Episcopalian governors served Alabama for 16 years.

The Diocese of Alabama was organized and admitted to the Episcopal Church in January, 1830, when Thomas Brownell, Bishop of Connecticut, presided over the first diocesan convention at Mobile. For the next fourteen years, the diocese would be led by a series of provisional bishops: Brownell, Jackson Kemper (Missionary Bishop of the Northwest), Leonidas Polk (Missionary Bishop of the Southwest), and James H. Otey (Bishop of Tennessee).

Nicholas Hamner Cobbs was elected Alabama’s first bishop at St. Paul’s, Greensboro, in 1844. A Virginian, Cobbs had served several parishes in Virginia before going to serve as rector of St. Paul’s, Cincinnati, Ohio. However, less than a year after going to Ohio, he was elected Bishop of Alabama. Cobbs was industrious to a fault and acquired a reputation for saintliness. At the time of his death in 1861, the diocese had grown to include 39 parishes and almost 1700 communicants. The population of the state increased by 78%, but the communicant strength of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama increased by 164%, a rate of growth never subsequently equaled, much less exceeded.

Cobbs died at a moment of high crisis. On the very day of his death, the state of Alabama voted to secede from the Union. Just a few weeks later the bishops of the Confederate states met in Montgomery to organize the Episcopal Church in the Confederacy. One of the issues before them was the episcopal vacancy in Alabama. In the fall of 1861, Richard Hooker Wilmer, offspring of a family prominent in the evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church (his father had been instrumental in founding Virginia Theological Seminary), was elected the second Bishop of Alabama and led the diocese until his death in 1900. Wilmer was the only bishop elected and consecrated in the Confederate Episcopal Church.

To care for Confederate widows and orphans, Wilmer founded an order of deaconesses that would last until the early 20th century. Wilmer had little sympathy for the North and was an ardent Southern nationalist. When the war ended and Alabama was put under military jurisdiction, Wilmer ordered his clergy not to pray for the President of the United States, and Alabama’s military governor closed all the Episcopal churches in Alabama for a year until President Andrew Johnson rescinded his order.

In the 1870s Wilmer observed that the churches of Alabama’s fertile “black belt” (roughly the region between Tuscaloosa and Montgomery) were declining in membership, and the churches in Alabama’s “mineral region” were growing. This was the beginning of one of Alabama’s most profound socio-economic shifts as the industrial cities of Birmingham and Anniston sprang into being practically over night. When the Elyton Land Company laid out Birmingham, they set aside lots for several churches, including a prime location for an Episcopal Church. On that lot, the Church of the Advent was founded in 1871. In only a year’s time, it went from being a mission to a parish and quickly became the largest parish in the diocese (and today one of the largest in the entire ECUSA).

When Wilmer died in 1900 he was the longest serving bishop in the Episcopal Church. Toward the end of his episcopacy he was briefly assisted by Henry Melville Jackson, another Virginia priest who was elected to serve as what was then known as “assistant bishop.” Jackson, however, did not have the strength of character to be an effective bishop and was asked to step down. After Wilmer’s death, the Diocese of Alabama elected their first “native son” to serve as bishop – Robert Barnwell of St. Paul’s, Selma. Barnwell, however, died of a ruptured appendix after serving only two years as bishop.

Following Barnwell’s death in 1902, the diocese chose as their new bishop Charles Minnigerode Beckwith, the General Missioner of the Diocese of Texas. Beckwith was a “muscular Christian” of the Teddy Roosevelt school and an avid outdoorsman. He built a hunting lodge near Fairhope, which subsequently became Beckwith Lodge, the retreat center of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. Beckwith, however, had an abrasive and high-handed manner and was involved in an escalating series of conflicts from the very beginning that would eventually cost him his episcopacy.

The final straw was his refusal to let a Montgomery rabbi speak at St. John’s. The rector of St. John’s defied Beckwith and let the rabbi speak anyway. Beckwith responded by having the priest tried in ecclesiastical court, but the court found the priest not guilty, and Beckwith rightly saw this as a vote of no confidence. The bishop agreed to turn over all his episcopal authority to the bishop coadjutor who was to be elected at St. Paul’s, Carlowville, in 1922. Beckwith kept his promise and continued as Bishop of Alabama in name only until his death in 1928.

The newly elected bishop coadjutor, William George McDowell, had been rector of Holy Innocents, Auburn (in effect, the campus chaplain at Auburn), and he quickly won the hearts of the people of the Diocese of Alabama. McDowell displayed a new awareness of social and political issues. McDowell and Birmingham Presbyterian pastor Henry Edmonds, worked quietly (although unsuccessfully) behind the scenes to achieve a more humane outcome in the infamous “Scottsboro case” However, like Bishop Cobbs in the early 19th century, McDowell worked himself to a state of exhaustion and finally his body gave out. In 1938, after visiting Mobile’s Trinity Church, McDowell was too ill to return to Birmingham. He was admitted to the Mobile Infirmary, diagnosed with pneumonia, and died within days.

The young rector of the Church of the Advent, Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter was elected Alabama’s sixth bishop in 1938. Still remembered with a mixture of warmth, awe, and respect by older Episcopalians in Alabama, Carpenter was larger than life in many ways. Standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, he had been the Ivy League wrestling champion at Princeton, and he had a large, booming voice, marked by a deep, patrician Southern accent. His enormous hands and his voice made an indelible impression on those he confirmed: “May you daily increase mo-ah and mo-ah in the Holy Spirit…”

In almost every way, Carpenter proved an effective leader for the Diocese of Alabama. He was fortunate in presiding over the diocese during the “baby boom” that followed World War II, a time when almost every religious group in the U.S. was experiencing growth. During Carpenter’s episcopacy St. Luke’s (Mountain Brook), Ascension (Vestavia Hills) and St. Thomas (Huntsville) were founded as missions but quickly became large parishes. Other churches that had long been missions also achieved parish status, such as St. Andrew’s (Tuskegee), and Epiphany (Guntersville); and new missions were founded: Grace (Cullman); St. Alban’s (Birmingham); St. Christopher’s (Huntsville); St. Stephen’s (Huntsville); and St. Matthias (Tuscaloosa).

Among Carpenter’s most significant accomplishments was the founding of a permanent diocesan camp named after his predecessor. A summer camp program for young people had begun under Bishop McDowell, but under Carpenter the diocese took steps to put camping on a firm and permanent foundation by acquiring land in Winston County (near Jasper) and establishing Camp McDowell, sometimes called the “heart of the diocese.” Three generations of young people have attended Camp McDowell and/or worked as counselors. Camp McDowell continues to expand its facilities and program, and it is in constant demand, not only by Episcopalians but also by other groups.

Carpenter’s leadership during the Civil Rights movement is still controversial and disputed, but it seems fair to say that he was more backward-looking than forward-looking during the Civil Rights struggle. On two very significant occasions Carpenter took positions that would paint him and the people he led as reactionaries. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., announced plans to demonstrate in Birmingham during Holy Week, 1963, Carpenter and six other religious leaders urged King to wait. King responded devastatingly in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” pointing out that “to the Negro, ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’.” Two years later when King organized the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights, Carpenter did everything in his power to prevent Episcopal clergy from participating in the march, which he termed “foolishness.” However, it should be noted that Carpenter had good relationships with black clergy in his diocese; he facilitated meetings between Birmingham’s black and white leadership in his office; and it was on his watch that Camp McDowell was integrated.

The deaths of four young girls in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in September, 1963, served as a catalyst for passage of the 1964 civil rights act. But it was the death of Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Daniels in August, 1965, that brought home to many Episcopalians in Alabama and elsewhere the potential for violence in the civil rights struggle. A student at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Daniels was a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. Inspired by King’s summons to clergy of all faiths to come and march in Selma, Daniels’ came to Selma in early 1965. He stayed on to help register black voters and tried to build bridges between the black and white communities. In August, Daniels was arrested for participating in a demonstration in Lowndesboro. After a few days in the county jail in Hayneville, Daniels and his fellow demonstrators were released. Daniels, Catholic priest Richard Morrisroe, and two young black women walked from the jail to a nearby store to buy cold drinks. At the store Tom Coleman, a state highway department employee, confronted them and aimed a shotgun at one of the young women. As Coleman fired, Daniels stepped in front of the young woman, taking the blast and dying almost instantly. Coleman also fired his shotgun at the fleeing Morrisroe, hitting him in the back. In spite of vigorous prosecution by the Alabama Attorney General, Coleman argued that he had acted in self-defense and was found not guilty by a jury made up exclusively of white men.

Carpenter retired at the end of 1968. He had been in poor health for some time and died less than a year after retiring. George Murray, Bishop Coadjutor of Alabama, (and also a signer of the letter urging Dr. King not to demonstrate) became the seventh bishop of Alabama. More liberal than his predecessor, Murray urged Alabama Episcopalians to find ways to participate in President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. However, Murray’s most significant achievement was to successfully divide Alabama into two dioceses, a project that had been discussed in the Diocese of Alabama almost from the very beginning.

After a long period of study, the Diocese of the Central Gulf coast was created in 1970 out of the lower third of Alabama (below Montgomery) and the Florida panhandle. Murray chose to step down as the seventh Bishop of Alabama and become the first Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast. In Murray’s place, the people of Alabama elected native Alabamian Furman Stough, the rector of Trinity Church, Florence, and a former missionary to Okinawa.

Stough proved to be a bishop of energy, vision, and ambition. He established a companion diocese relationship between Alabama and South Africa’s Diocese of Namibia; he gave his blessing to and helped plan and build federally-supported housing for low income elderly persons (Episcopal Place in Birmingham); and he oversaw the Church of the Advent’s re-designation as the cathedral of the diocese. Stough was also nominated for Presiding Bishop in 1986 but lost to his close friend, Edmond Browning, Bishop of Hawaii. Browning invited Stough to join his staff as director of the Presiding Bishop’s Fund (now Episcopal Relief and Development). However, after a short time in New York, Stough returned to Alabama.

Stough served as bishop of Alabama during one of the most tumultuous decades in the history of the Episcopal Church. In 1976 the General Convention voted to replace the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with a new prayer book and authorized the ordination of women as priests and bishops. Stough ordained Alabama’s first woman priest, Marianne Bogel, a hospital chaplain, in 1977.

In 1989, Alabama’s Bishop Suffragan, Robert Oran Miller, a former United Methodist minister, was elected to succeed Stough. Miller’s episcopacy was not much less tumultuous than Stough’s. Gay and lesbian Episcopalians increasingly insisted on full inclusion in the church. An Integrity chapter, the organization of gay and lesbian Episcopalians, was organized in the diocese in 1991, and the diocese established a taskforce to deal with the AIDS pandemic.

In 1997 Miller announced his intention to retire following the election of a bishop coadjutor. The diocese chose Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr., rector of Christ Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, who became the tenth Bishop of Alabama when Miller retired. Parsley’s episcopacy has been characterized by a more intentional and assertive program of church growth by planting new churches in growing communities. In 2006, Parsley became the second bishop of Alabama to be nominated for Presiding Bishop but lost to Nevada bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to hold the highest position in the Episcopal Church. Also in 2006, the Diocese of California elected Marc Andrus, Alabama’s bishop suffragan, as eighth Bishop of California. John McKee Sloan, a native Mississippian serving as rector of St. Thomas’s, Huntsville, was elected to replace Andrus in 2008.

In The Power of Their Glory (1978), a sociological study of the Episcopal Church, Kit and Frederica Konolige observe, “To a large degree, the Episcopal Church produced . . . America.” The same could be said of Alabama. The Episcopal Church in Alabama began as the church of the planter aristocracy and became the church of the industrial barons. Episcopalians have a distinguished record of leading Alabama and its institutions. For the most part, the Diocese of Alabama has been very well served by its bishops and priests. However, the religious landscape of the 21st century will be very different from the recent past. In some ways, it will be more like the situation Bishop Cobbs faced in 1844; Alabama will be more religiously fragmented, and more and more groups will be competing in the religious marketplace. Once again the Episcopal Church in Alabama will have to win the right to be heard, to organize congregations in groups new to the state, and to commend itself by its commitment to gospel. It would be well for Alabama’s Episcopalians to keep in mind what Bishop Carpenter frequently told those he confirmed:“Remember who you are and what you represent.”