Rector's Blog

Posted April 7, 2016

Behold I am doing a new thing: do you not perceive it? Now it springs forth. . .
                                                                                       Isaiah 43:19

How does a collaborative process begin? Maybe with a phone call.

Stephanie Nagley, rector of St. Luke’s, Bethesda, decided to call her clergy colleagues in the new regional body of Central Montgomery County to begin a conversation.

"What were you thinking then?" I asked.

"Taking the long view," she said, "I wondered if we could ever get to the point where we could devote more of our energy to the Kingdom of God than salvaging this expression of church as we understand it. Regarding the regional restructuring conversation, I wasn’t sure it would make a difference." She paused. "But I remembered a meeting at which you talked about being the Episcopal Church in Montgomery County, and I was excited about the possibilities."

In those first phone conversations, several clergy expressed skepticism. "I can’t imagine doing things differently," one said. Stephanie responded, "I can’t either, but maybe together we can." So they agreed to meet. "Then I called Joey Rick (Canon for Congregational Vitality)," Stephanie said, "thinking that this kind of conversation was in her wheelhouse."

So the clergy of Central Montgomery met with Joey Rick for two hours to consider the possibilities.

"We focused at first on mostly practical things, and wondered how a new structure might ease our burdens," Stephanie said.

Robert Harvey, rector of Our Saviour, Silver Spring, told me, "I thought I was the only one feeling burdened by endless building maintenance issues, finances at the breaking point, and such limited resources needed to run our churches that much of this work falls on the back of the clergy. But it turns out we all felt that way, overwhelmed by church management and isolated from one another."

"On the Diocesan Mission Team we had been wondering to how engage leaders in a strategic vision for each region of the diocese," Joey told me. "So as this conversation deepened, I asked the group if they would be interested in piloting a new process, starting with a mission focus and from there addressing practical concerns. They agreed, and we committed to spend two days together."

"Why just clergy and not with lay leaders?" I asked. "We debated that," Joey replied, "knowing that we needed the insights and energies of the laity. But for this first venture, we decided that the clergy needed to spend time together."

So they did. For the first day, Joey shared demographic data. "We didn't talk about church," she said. "We focused on the people who live in Central Montgomery County and the issues they face. Where do they work and go to school? What do population trends indicate for their future? What are their main stressors? How would marketing and economic trends define them?"

All this conversation has implicit implications for ministry. For example, if most people in Central Montgomery County commute an hour or more each day to work, issues of life balance and fatigue are real. People feel more stretched for time than for money in a lot of cases, and they spend so little time at home that they don’t feel connected to their neighbors. It’s a busy, lonely lifestyle.

The second day the clergy talked church in a way that connected it to the neighborhood. Were parishes offering the types of programs on the schedules and cycles that would work for the people they’d learned about the day before?

They explored whether parishes were duplicating effort on specialty ministries. Some were already doing non-Sunday services, and they decided one Saturday night service for the region was probably sufficient. Based on prior success with coordination among multicultural congregations, Robert Harvey suggested, "We could share Holy Week services, coordinate small group offerings, and serve our communities together." Then, even bolder, "If we pooled our resources, could we hire a person to care for our buildings and oversee daily operations, or one person to do all our bookkeeping or custodial work?"

They also considered how they could share the load based on their personal interests and strengths. "What if," Meg Ingalls, rector of Transfiguration, Silver Spring, mused, "the one who is gifted in training teachers trained all our teachers? And the ones gifted in stewardship coordinated a common approach?"

The devil, as it turned out, wasn’t in the details. It was in being vulnerable together. Throughout the two days, the group began to talk honestly about competition and their fears of losing members to one another. They wrestled with how much they were willing to trust that God’s preferred future was for all their congregations to thrive. Collectively they decided to believe that such a future was indeed, possible, and to begin living and leading toward its realization.

"I was so inspired to be with my clergy colleagues, to laugh together and to cry together and to share what we love about the ministry together and hear what drains us and what we could do so much better if we just put our egos aside and learned from each other," Robert Harvey said. "The possibilities seemed endless and not hopeless once we started talking to each other. We started to become the Episcopal "branch of the Jesus movement" in Central Montgomery County! I can hardly wait to get together again." And so they plan to meet quarterly, expand the circles of leadership, and, with God’s help, dream new dreams.

So, how does a collaborative process begin? Perhaps with a phone call. Certainly with courage. The Central Montgomery County clergy have begun in earnest, investing in and taking risks with one another. As a result, they have discovered exciting opportunities and a contagious energy and enthusiasm for the future. Theirs is not the only process, not the only way; but so far, it’s been a life-giving one. May we all, with whatever we have to invest and whatever process we choose, be inspired to such possibility.

March 18, 2016
Holy Week and Easter

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church have recently met in retreat and they share the following news release to everyone in our church and beyond as we enter Holy Week and Easter. Please take the time time to read it. I stand united with our Bishops in their concern about the current political rhetoric you and I hear each night in the news. Jesus' journey to the cross is a reminder of how he stood up to those in political power at that time with a power they could not understand. Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he died for us, "Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:12-13) He goes on to call his disciples his friends knowing they would all deny him later that night. Jesus showed us what love can do: love can conquer hate, love can conquer prejudice, love offers hope to those without hope. My brothers and sisters in Jesus, let us love one another as Jesus loved us.

         Yours in Christ, The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church

"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

[March 15, 2016] The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, meeting in retreat, unanimously approved the following Word To The Church.

A Word to the Church
Holy Week 2016

"We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met in retreat March 11 – 15 at Camp Allen Conference Center in Navasota, TX.

February 10, 2016
How to Find Time in the Day for Lent

The fast pace of our life may seem to leave little time and energy for the traditional Lenten practices. But we can weave moments of spiritual awareness and service into even the busiest of schedules. The trick is to see Lenten practice as part of, rather than in addition to, each activity of our ordinary hectic day.

The three foundational practices of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Here’s how to think about them in a new way:

Praying Daily
If you make a habit of saying a little prayer whenever someone irritates you, cuts you off in traffic, or makes life difficult; when someone does you a favor, you experience great and friendly service, or when something joyful happens to you—you will soon find yourself praying your way through the day. Try this simple practice and you will be observing the church’s call for greater prayer during the Lenten season. You will also find that this habit makes your life flow smoother, yourself more centered, and your Spirit more aware of God’s presence.

A Different Type of Fasting
There are many ways to fast. Why not fast from criticism, gossip, judging others, or passing on rumors? Why not abstain from unwarranted fear and anxiety? You can also tell that inner voice inside your head that criticizes you to abstain from eroding your ability to be the confident, blessed person God calls you to be. These are beautiful ways to observe the Lenten call to fasting and abstinence.

Give of Yourself
Daily life also offers countless opportunities to give of yourself to others (alms), and most don’t involve dipping into your wallet. Give encouragement to the doubting, give a word of praise to the insecure, show kindness to someone who could use a friend, and offer a word of thanks to those whose service of others often goes unappreciated. Give the gift of your attention to someone who simply wants to be noticed. Tell your children stories about people whose values you admire when you gather at mealtime. Don’t be stingy with your smiles—give them freely to everyone you meet. And most important, give your love to those close to you. Hug them, hold them, and tell them what they mean to you. In this way you open your heart to God and others.

So no matter how busy your are in life, with some greater awareness and new perspectives you can consciously pray, fast, and give of yourself this Lent—and you will be ready to celebrate when a joyful dawn breaks upon you Easter morning.

         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

January 6, 2016
Epiphany Blessings

On January 6 we enter the season called Epiphany. This year Epiphany lasts until Tuesday, February 9 (Shrove Tuesday). It’s a fun season of the church year filled with wandering Magi, exotic gifts and, in many parts of the world, there’s one party after another called the carnival season all leading up to the start of Lent.

The story of the Magi's journey is well known. Most of us can stand up and say "been there, done that" today. Epiphany, Journey of the Wise Men, Three Kings Day - though most of us have probably heard the sermon that they were likely not kings. Wise-men, sages, astrologers - yes; and didn't we debate the number of Magi in recent years; whether there were three Magi simply because we know there were three gifts?

Ahh - and the gifts themselves - fun topic for preaching, Sunday School classes and Christmas pageants. Three gifts, like belated Christmas gifts that we get to open in January so that we can discuss and analyze them for their symbolism. Why gold? Because Jesus is King? Why frankincense? Because it was used in worship and points to Jesus' divinity? Why myrrh? Because it was used in embalming and it anticipates Jesus' death? Ahh - the wonder of Epiphany - the adventure of the star-gazers from the East - the picturesque snapshot of a bright star leading the way - the image of people bending the knee in worship and homage.

We love to love Epiphany; but perhaps this year we should be careful not to let our familiarity distance us too far from this text's warning. Let's not forget that the journey of the Magi set off a chain of events that led to the horrific massacre of children in and around the town of Bethlehem. Let's not forget that though angels sang, shepherds worshiped, and Magi journeyed - Herod plotted and schemed and all of Jerusalem was frightened and panicked.

If this story teaches us anything, it teaches us that Jesus stirs things up - even as a baby - before he ever muttered an intelligible word, before he had preached his first sermon, before he had broken his first Sabbath observance, before he has challenged social customs, violated Jewish protocol, or turned over tables in the temple. Jesus' presence alone challenged the status quo, stirred up political unrest, caused people to leave their jobs, and prompted others to pack up and things and head to unknown destinations.

That is the Jesus I want to know. That is the Jesus I want to worship today. Not the one who can be reduced to a bumper sticker slogan; not the one who TV preachers promise will pad my pockets if I will pack their pews; not the one who affirms me, conforms to my way of thinking, agrees with my politics, and assures me that everything will be OK if I will just do the right thing. I am not interested in that Jesus. I hope you aren't either. That Jesus never existed.

I want the Jesus' of Matthew' gospel. I want to bow down and worship the God who broke into this world and turned it upside down. I want to journey with the Jesus who is not content to leave me as I am; who challenges the sins I have come to love; who takes issue with my petty prejudices and shortcomings; who illuminates my darkness and reveals me as the fallen sinner that I am. I want to listen to the Jesus who says that following him might be dangerous, it might cost me something - the Jesus who says "follow me and you’re just as likely to end up a refugee in Egypt with little to your name as you are to end up in a home with the ability to make ends meet.”

May the light of Christ illuminate any dark and dangerous places in our world.

         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

Advent 2015
Have you caught the Advent virus?

Be on the alert for symptoms of inner Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of The Advent Virus:

• A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
• An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
• A loss of interest in judging other people.
• A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
• A loss of interest in conflict.
• A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
• Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
• Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
• Frequent attacks of smiling.
• An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
• An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.

         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

Thanksgiving 2015
Saying "thank you" heals body and soul
A retelling of the story of the healing of ten lepers found in Luke 17:11-17

Ten men plagued with leprosy stood at a distance and called out: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."

One of the ten glanced up. We're lepers, he thought. Ragged, pitiable, incurable lepers. Why would Jesus care about us? From the time their skin disease was diagnosed, lepers were cut off from society, forced to live on their own in caves or huts away from towns. A fortunate few had relatives who would leave food for them, but many had no one. They weren't allowed close enough to beg for a living. These ten stayed together for protection, pooling their meager resources.

"Have mercy on us!" All ten shouted again.

The one man cupped his hands now so his voice would carry better, and called across the low valley which lay between the road and the ridge where the lepers stood. His voice rang out sharp and compelling in the stillness of the morning.

Jesus told them all to, "Go! Show yourselves to the priests!"

The lepers looked at each other. You only go to the priests if your leprosy is gone. Only the priests could issue a clean bill of health so you could return to your home.

As they held up their decaying limbs, they asked, "Why go unless we're healed?" They looked over to Jesus again, but he had turned away, conversing with Peter and John. So the lepers began their trek toward the Temple in Jerusalem.

One by one they started to shout, a scream, a cry of exaltation, a loud eerie call that filled the valley and bounced off the hills: "I'm healed! I'm whole. My leprosy is gone! It's really gone!" Each of them looked at their own diseased body, and each realized that the leprosy had left. Fingers were whole. Faces and feet were whole too. They began shouting, "I'm healed! I'm healed!"

But one man looked back at Jesus just in time to catch a smile flirting at the corners of Jesus' mouth. The healing hadn't occurred as the lepers stood looking and wondering. It took place as they obeyed Jesus' words. "As they went" they were healed.

Suddenly this one man broke from the circle of rejoicing ex-lepers. He bounded over the little creek and raced back to Jesus, rags fluttering behind him. He sped toward Jesus and then landed on his knees before the Master in a cloud of fine dust.

He spoke just a phrase -- "Thank you, Master" -- in his broken accent of Samaria. Then he just knelt there sobbing.

Jesus spoke now, not really to this man, but beyond him somehow, as if to the whole world. "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

This man's mind spun. He thought of the countless times God had answered his prayers before his leprosy, provided for his family, given him work, healed his sickly daughter. How often had he really said "Thanks"? So often he had taken all his many blessings for granted, rejoicing in his good fortune, but never racing to the Giver with a word of heartfelt thanks. But this time was different.

The other nine were now heading off towards Jerusalem. They had received physical healing, indeed, but at Jesus' feet, this one man had received something more: an additional healing, of his whole life. As Jesus helped him up, he said, "Rise and go. Your faith has made you whole."

He embraced Jesus. Then they stood there for a moment looking at one another -- smile meeting smile. The gift of healing had sent him the message of God's love, but simply saying “thank you” healed his soul.

Why is it so difficult for us to say these two words? Are we like the nine who receive blessing everyday without a word of thanks? Or are we like the one man who's body was healed and so was his soul?

         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

November 2, 2015 The Widow's Mite - Mark 12:38-44

The story is often called the story of The Widow’s Mite. One day, Jesus was sitting with his disciples near the temple treasury watching people depositing money into the offering receptacles. The court of women held thirteen such receptacles, and people could cast their money in as they walked by. Jesus watched as the rich were contributing large sums of money, but then along came a widow with two small coins in her hand,“two small copper coins, which make a penny.” The King James' Version of the Bible calls the coins “mites.” These were the smallest denomination of coins. The widow put her coins into the box, and Jesus called his disciples to him and pointed out her action: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

There are several things that the story of the widow’s mite teaches us. First, God sees what we humans overlook. The big gifts in the temple were surely noticed by people; that’s probably what the disciples were watching. But Jesus saw what no one else did: he saw the humble gift of a poor widow. This was the gift that Jesus thought worthy of comment; this was the gift that the disciples needed to be aware of. The other gifts in the treasury that day made a lot of noise as they jingled into the receptacles, but the widow’s mites were heard in heaven.

Second, God’s evaluation is different from ours. The widow’s two mites added up to a penny, according to human tabulation. But Jesus said that she had given more than anyone else that day. How could this be, when “many rich people threw in large amounts?" The difference is one of proportion. The rich were giving large sums, but they still retained their fortunes; the widow “put in everything—all she had to live on.” Hers was a true sacrifice; the rich had not begun to give to the level of her sacrifice.

Third, God commends giving in faith. Here was a woman in need of receiving charity, yet she had a heart to give. Even though the amount was negligible—what could a widow’s mite buy?—she gave it in faith that God could use it. The widow’s faith is also evident in the fact that she gave the last of her money. Like the widow of Zaraphath, who gave her last meal to Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:7–16), the widow in the temple gave away her last means of self-support. Does that mean the widow left the temple completely destitute, went home, and died of starvation? I don't think so. The Bible teaches that God provides for our needs (Matthew 6:25–34). We don’t know the details of this particular widow’s future, but we can be certain that she was provided for. Just as God provided for the widow and her son in Elijah’s day (1 Kings 17:15–16), God also provided for the widow in Jesus’ day.

It is interesting that, just before Jesus commented on the widow’s mite, He commented on the scribes “who devour widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). The religious officials of the day, instead of helping the widows in need, were perfectly content to rob them of their livelihood and inheritance. The system was corrupt, and the darkness of the scribes’ greed makes the widow’s sacrifice shine even more brightly. “God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7), and he is faithful to take care of us. It's the attitude of gratitude that God looks for in each of us.
         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey

October 28, 2015
Looking Death in the Face

On Sunday, November 1 the Church celebrates the Christian holiday called All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is the centerpiece of three sacred days. In the carnival celebration of All Hallows' Eve (a.k.a. Halloween) our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal to face their fears, the power of humor to confront what we humans fear most, death. On All Saints' Day we recall those who lived in ages past whose remarkable deeds done in Christ's Name live on to this day. On All Souls' Day (November 2) we remember that great throng of believers who cannot be counted yet live on in our collective memory. They are all dead, yet they live.

I used to think that the trivialization of Halloween with candy, ubiquitous pumpkins and gruesome costumes masked our fear of death. We do live in a strongly death-denying culture that treats death as something that polite society doesn't discuss. These three days make us look death squarely in the face. That's why we need these precious three day of All Hallows Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Because we know how hard it is look death in the face, It's hard to look at death and say, "I know I shall see you one day." It's even harder to look into the eyes of someone else who is dying and say, "I know I shall see you one day."

These precious three days call us to look at the saints of God in ages past. How did they live and how did they face death? Some died by martyrdom, some by disease, some by old age. In the end, the mode of death is not the issue for the saints of God. It's the life lived faithfully loving God and loving our neighbors as our selves.

Don't be afraid to look as death squarely in the face. When we meet our death (and we will) we can say with confident faith, "O when the saints go marching in, O when the saints go marching in, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in!

         —The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Harvey