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.