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(Maybe Not So) Radical Thinking: The Lectionary

June 14, 2012

A number of influences converged on me last night while I was leading our Wednesday night Adult Education class at church and, in the midst of speaking I had an apostrophe.  (Don’t you mean an “epiphany?”  Bonus points if you can name the movie reference.)  So I had an epiphany.  But I’ve got to explain the influences first before the epiphany can hope to make sense to you, and even then there’s a chance it won’t, not because you’re not smart but because it may not be all that epiphany-tastic.

Influence 1:  Parishioners who took our Introduction to the Bible course, all the way through, who repeatedly tell me how important that class was for them.  How they understand so much more about the Bible now, and how, particularly on Sunday morning when we only get snippets, they understand the context so much better and how everything fits together.

Influence 2: My listening to the sermon podcasts of an Episcopal priest who serves an unconventional church that doesn’t use the Lectionary.  Rather, they have one reading each week and they read through an entire book of the Bible contiguously.  Each week, the sermon picks right up from where it left off the previous week, highlighting the same themes and retracing ground often.  This provides for this priest’s congregation a deep understanding of and connection to the Biblical narrative.  And the sermons rock.

Influence 3:  By being influenced by #2, experimenting in my own congregation with a sermon series on one book of the Bible – the First Letter of John.  Now, in week 10 of that experiment, I am gratified to hear that people are enjoying it, don’t want to miss the next sermon because they’ll feel like they would if they missed an episode of a show they like, and share a grasp and an understanding of the letter of 1 John unlike any other Biblical text we’ve covered by using the lectionary, with the possible exception of Genesis and the Gospel.  Another interesting thing that’s happened is my sermons have gotten longer (now averaging 14-16 minutes, but some approach 20) and there has been a complete dearth of snarkily unsubtle comments or more direct complaints about sermon length.  I expect them to roll in now that I’ve said something about it.

Influence 4:  While preparing to teach a class on the Prayer Book to the Deacons’ School of our diocese, I’ve been brushing up on my BCP history.  While there has always been appointed texts for each Sunday, the 1928 BCP revision really addressed serious problems with the Lectionary, namely “vain repetitions.” This in turn gets tweaked in the 1979 BCP revision, and reworked for the Revised Common Lectionary.

Notice all the people in the pews…

Disclaimer:  All of these influences have led me to do some wondering.  Before I go any further, I want to make absolutely clear: I like the Lectionary.  I think the RCL in particular is a gift to preachers, individual congregations, but most important to the idea (and a step in that direction) of unifying the Body of Christ.  The Lectionary is a treasure and a gift of some really hard working and brilliant people through the ages.  I thank them and bless them for it.

But I wonder.  Going back to 1928 when the first serious revision of the lectionary was undertaken, we were, by far, a much, much more biblically literate society.  Just ask yourself this question – do your (great) grandparents know more about the narratives in the Bible and the Narrative of the Bible than you do?  Everyone I’ve asked so far who wasn’t a seminary trained clergy person and even a few who were have said yes.  The point is, people back then, by and large, knew it better than we do today.  I don’t think this is nostalgia; I really believe it’s just true.

So, when those people, back then, would have gone to church and heard a particular pericope or reading, selected by the Lectionary, they stood a far better chance than we do today of reacting with, “Oh yes!  This one!”  And they stood a far better chance than we do today of knowing the context of the story both prior to and following the selected reading that was actually heard.

They might have known, for example, that when on the Sunday of Proper 9, Year C, the story of Naaman’s healing is read from 2 Kings that this story follows right on the heels of the major miracles performed by Elisha (they would also have known that Elisha succeeded Elijah) and that right after it is the story of how the King whom Naaman served immediately attacked Israel.  (Some gratitude for getting his chief commander back, right!)  And to prove my point, I had to look all that up!

We are not so biblically literate these days.  Sure there are familiar stories, most likely in the Gospels, but we just don’t know the Bible like our forebears did.  There’s a whole host of reasons for this, but that’s for someone else to write about.

What I am wondering, given that we are not as biblically literate as we once were as a society, given that we’re unlikely to come into church, see what the lectionary has appointed for us on that day and react by saying, “Of course!  I love this story!”, given that our children are even more unlikely to react that way, is the Lectionary still the way to go about the reading of Scripture in the context of worship, knowing that is likely the only time and place most people will hear/read Scripture?

I don’t know.  I pretty traditional and I like the traditions of our church, including the Lectionary.  But is this one tired?  Is there a better way to do it?  Perhaps a more narrative way.  Focusing on one book at a time as we together explore God’s story and our place in it? I’m not sure, but I have been thinking about it.

I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

Fr. Ryan+


Some Pictures from an Incredible St. George’s Weekend

June 11, 2012

Tim Gavin made a Deacon of the Church, Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, June 9, 2012.  St. George’s was well represented to support the man who had been our seminarian intern for the past year!


Some shots from our first BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat) Family Tailgate party of the summer!

The Greatest Unrehearsed Reading of Genesis 3:8-15 in a Church Service

June 11, 2012

When lectors approach a microphone in church to give their reading for the day, they usually do so following one of two schools of thought about how Bible readings should be done in a worship service.  The first is to read the passage without much inflection or emotion, thereby not putting your own spin on the biblical text.  The second is to go ahead and interpret the text with tone, emotion, and inflection.  I’ll let you guess which one this was!

Genesis 3: 8-15


Initial Thoughts on Episcopal Church Proposed Liturgy for Same Gender Blessing

May 17, 2012

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity as a member of the Diocese of Pennsylvania to attend a lecture and discussion given by the Rev. Dr. Patrick Malloy on the topic of the proposed liturgy going to General Convention for Same Gender blessings.  At the time of the lecture, the Blue Book (book of agenda items and resolutions for General Convention) had not yet come out and thus, the liturgy was still shrouded in some secrecy.  Dr. Malloy was unable to break that secrecy but he was able to share with a little bit about their process, as he was on the consultation team that composed the liturgy.  He told us how as they began collecting texts already in use (whether canonically or legally or not didn’t matter) they needed to devise a way, a measuring stick if you will, to judge them all by the same standards.  This tool, he believes, will actually be a lasting work of the commission for revising and composing liturgies in the future and I have to say, it is an excellent tool.  Here they are, quoted from a document he handed us:

Nearly as important is that the proposed liturgical materials embody a classically Anglican liturgical ethos and style. Recognizing the varying notions of what makes public prayer recognizably Anglican, the task group identified these qualities:

• It resonates with Scripture.
• It has high literary value; is it beautiful according to accepted and respected standards.
• It uses the recurring structures, linguistic patterns, and metaphors of the 1979 BCP.
• It is formal, not casual, conversational, or colloquial.
• It is dense enough to bear the weight of the sacred purpose for which it is intended.
• It is metaphoric without being obtuse.
• It is performative., that is, it effects what it says.

I think that is an excellent place to begin and I commend the commission on coming up with a fine tool.  My prayer is that future liturgical compositions use it.

Read more…

In the midst of life, we are in death

May 15, 2012

Completely ignoring the fact that I haven’t posted here in a while…We are embarking, in our Wednesday night Adult Education class, on a study of N.T. Wright’s very good book Surprised by Hope.  As we get into this book we have had several good conversations already about death and dying, hope, afterlife, and resurrection.  It’s been interesting to hear a few stories about how the rituals we enact around death (funerals/burials/etc.) impact the worshipers and influence how they think and believe about these subjects.

I remember when I was in college a very good friend of mine was killed.  At his funeral, which was packed, there was a time for what I will call, for lack of a better phrase, “open mic eulogies.”  It was awful.  Many, many people carried on at great length, which, while it may have been cathartic for them quickly grew to be boring for the worshipers.  And I guess that’s the point of what made me feel awkward:  what should have been a worship service acknowledging God’s care for us in the midst of the grief of a life cut short and celebrating the sure and certain hope of the resurrection was turned into something much more about a few individuals which the rest of us had to endure than about God and our corporate relationship with God.

I am wondering, what have been your experiences at funerals recently?  Was there a particularly “good” one?  What made it so powerful for you?  Was there there one that left you feeling bad?  How come?  What did the service communicate to you about such things as death, heaven, resurrection?  I look forward to hearing your responses in the comments section below.

Fr. Ryan+

Join us for Holy Week! Yes, all four days! (Is there any other way?)

March 28, 2012

Time.  There’s never enough of it and we always want more of it.  And yet God consecrates what we have.  Some time is given to us and we think nothing of it, and some we have to reserve, carve out, store, protect.  Because if we don’t it will be gone before we know it and we will never be able to get it back.

Holy Week.  A whole week of time deserving to be protected, honored, kept holy.  How in the world can we do that?  How can anyone, in this day and age, expect me to keep a whole week as sabbath?  I have enough trouble getting to one church service a week, and now you want me to come to four?!  Are you crazed?

In a word, yes. At least, probably.  But that’s irrelevant to this discussion.

So how can you do it?  It’s both simple and difficult at the same time.  It’s both profound in its ease and mind-bending in what it requires.

You just do it.

You just say: I’m in.  We’re doing this this year.  Everything else takes a back burner.  Do you know what happens if you don’t do it?


Do you know what happens if you do?

Come and see.

Thursday, April 5, 7:30 pm
Maundy Thursday Liturgy with Footwashing and Choral Eucharist

Friday, April 6, 7:30 pm
Good Friday Liturgy with Veneration of the Cross and Choral Eucharist from the Reserve Sacrament

Saturday, April 7, 5:00 pm
The Great Vigil of Easter, the Lamb Dinner, and the First Choral Eucharist of Easter

Sunday, April 8, 8:00 am and 10:00 am
Rite I Spoken Easter Sunday Eucharist
Rite II Choral Easter Sunday Eucharist

Some Thoughts from the Gathering of Leaders

March 13, 2012

I just spent a wonderful week in San Francisco attending a continuing education conference (and doing some touring) which was fantastic.  In part it was fantastic because I had never been to California before and so that was great.  The conference, however, was even better than I had expected.

It was great to meet so many new Episcopal colleagues, who are engaged in exciting ministries and enthusiastic about the work they are doing!  I was enthralled by the depth and breadth of what we as a church are doing in so many places, like in the Diocese of Texas where new church plants are taking root, and the Diocese of Los Angeles where new models of ministry are being developed and practiced.

One of the things I took away from the conference was how paralyzed we can get and be by the fear of failure.  We spent a lot of time talking about how we, as Christians, follow a God who, in the eyes of the world at the time of His incarnation, failed.  We have to live as a resurrection people, a people of hope.  We have to let go of fear.  If we fail, we try again.  If we fail, we do something different.  But we cannot be paralyzed into immobility, especially when it is the Gospel at stake, by our fear of failure.

The Rev. Micah Jackson, Assistant Professor of Preaching at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest (Texas), had this thought for us in a sermon he delivered, which was very powerful.  “My greatest hope is that Jesus will transform my life.  My greatest fear is that Jesus will transform my life.”  How true, how true.

Let us give up fear.  Let us live in hope.  Let us claim and hold accountable the Resurrection.  Ours is a mighty God.

Fr. Ryan+