Tag Archives: discipline

Solemnly engaging to conform

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?

 Answer

 I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. (BCP 526)

Engaging to conform

I have already been living under this vow for 20 years as an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, but I have been invited to reflect on it again as I prepare for ordination to the priesthood.

First and foremost, I believe the center of this particular vow – in response to the bishop’s questions about loyalty and obedience – is the promise to engage to conform.

Doctrine, discipline, and worship may be the legal matter of this vow, but conforming (both willingly and readily) is the spiritual energy of this promise made by bishops, priests, and deacons at their ordination.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We live in a culture that does not value conformity, but rather tries to sell us on the endless allure of newness, entrepreneurialism, start-ups, and fashion.

Being transformed away from that culture, away from conformity to that world, means the “renewing of our minds” toward the good, the acceptable, the perfect. Being transformed toward good requires the paradoxical conformity of humility.

Humility means learning the hard lesson that there are people who know more, and know better, than I do. As I have realized often in my professional career and in 20 years as a deacon (and more recently in three years of recovery), I can learn from the experiences of people who know what I need to know only to the extent that I am willing and ready to conform to “the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery,” or to the experience of my colleagues, or to the practice of the Church’s disciplines.

church-circle-graphic

Discipline

I have been taking an online Canon Law course through Bexley Seabury this fall, so I now happen to know that where clergy discipline is concerned:

Discipline of the Church shall be found in the Constitution, the Canons and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

The church’s disciplines are not random, but have organic beginnings in the early Church and have developed over time as society has changed.

In our particular branch of the Church, we have disciplines that include organizing ourselves in General Convention and dioceses and parishes, agreeing how we will worship (down to the fine print), and setting out requirements for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons.

Engaging to conform to the discipline of the Church means willingly working within the political structures of General Convention, the diocese, and the parish – even if you are working ultimately to change those structures.

It means willingly participating in an ordination process that involves many other people, even if (as my faculty advisor observed a long time ago) it’d be easier just to stand on the street corner and say, “I’m a preacher!”

Napoleon Dynamite Gosh

It means willingly observing the fine print of the prayer book or other services authorized by Convention, whether you agree with the changes or not.

I’ve always worked in large, bureaucratic organizations, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that there are policies and procedures – disciplines – that govern the way we live, and work, and worship together.

Worship

Together or alone, we Episcopalians worship God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

In just the same way as the disciplines of the Church have changed over time, so too has the Church’s worship, whether personal devotions or corporate prayer.

From the very basics – fasting and the Lord’s Prayer – to personal prayers several times a day, to gatherings of Christians morning and evening, to splendid Byzantine liturgies and daily Latin Masses, to monastic offices, to worship in the vernacular and the Reformation focus on the reading of Scripture, the Church’s worship has changed and evolved in myriad ways throughout the 20 centuries since Jesus’ time.

Engaging to conform to the Church’s pattern of worship means, for me, praying “by the book” using the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Though the public offering of the Daily Office has not been required of clergy in the American Episcopal Church as it was in England, it’s the heartbeat of the English prayer book tradition and an unparalleled practice for hearing and responding to the Holy Scriptures. Other forms of personal prayer, like meditation and Centering Prayer, supplement the offices and give me a chance to be silent and receptive, communing with God in that way.

Secondly, even though for a long time Sunday worship in the English and American Church featured Morning Prayer and only occasional Communion, the pattern since 1979 (and in many places even before I was born) has been to celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and on other Major Feasts. The prayer book rubrics are clear on the subject.

I read an article this week in The Living Church by Andrew Pearson, a cathedral dean who says “we are a Morning Prayer parish in the first place, already differentiating ourselves from nearly every other Episcopal church in the United States.”

Engaging to conform, to my mind, means setting aside that kind of idiosyncratic preference in favor of practicing and promoting the Church’s current pattern of corporate worship.

It’s often said (by Episcopalians, at least) that “praying shapes believing.” Practicing the Episcopal Church’s discipline and following the pattern of the Episcopal Church’s worship reveals the Episcopal Church’s doctrine.

Doctrine

According to the canons of the Episcopal Church:

Doctrine shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

In the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church we baptize new members of Christ’s body, making and renewing promises before God as we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

We pray morning and evening, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting that same baptismal creed. We celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting the Nicene Creed in affirmation of the faith we hold.

We confirm lay persons and marry people and ordain ministers in the context of the Holy Eucharist. In other sacramental rites, we reconcile the penitent, pronouncing on them God’s absolution; we minister to the sick, laying hands on them and anointing them with oil for healing; we bury the dead, commending them to God in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Exsultet at Holy Communion

Our doctrine is our common prayer, and it is to be found in its disciplines.

My teaching over the years – in the catechumenate, in abuse prevention training, in Deacons’ School, in Episcopal 101, at retreats, on this blog, in Education for Ministry – has been, and will always be, rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Scriptures, as the Episcopal Church uses them.

I stand willing and ready once more to engage to conform.

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Not “Black” but “Good”

I have said to the LORD, “You are my God; *
listen, O LORD, to my supplication.
O Lord GOD, the strength of my salvation, *
you have covered my head in the day of battle. (Psalm 140:6-7)

Days of Special Devotion

“Good Friday, and all Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons …” are days of special devotion for Christians, according to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 17).

Fridays, which Christians have observed as fast days since about 60 AD, are to be observed with “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

For generations of Roman Catholics this has meant not eating meat on Fridays, for example. Here in Wisconsin, we all enjoy “Fish Fry Fridays” because so many of our neighbors do not eat meat when they go out for dinner.

Fridays for Christians are about doing without, sacrificing even a little something in imitation of our Lord, who sacrificed everything for our sake.

Blessed is the King

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he heads toward his final confrontation with the religious authorities.

We commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life each year during Holy Week, and we often reenact this scene as we process into church on Palm Sunday, carrying palm, branches and singing “All glory, laud, and honor / to thee, redeemer King.”

Three of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — tell the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the courts of the Temple, a deliberately provocative act as the feast of Passover approaches that effectively sets him on “the way of the cross.”

Throughout the rest of Holy Week the tension mounts as Jesus says farewell to his disciples, prays that he be spared from the trial, determines to do God’s will, and faces arrest, beatings, and denunciations from soldiers and from the crowd that was with him just days before.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he replies in response to Pilate’s questioning. The Roman governor can do nothing but send him off to be crucified.

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

Not “Black” but “Good”

The prayers in the Daily Office remind us that every Friday is for us a commemoration of that “Good” Friday, just as every Saturday we rest and remember God’s goodness in creation, and every Sunday we rejoice in the power of the resurrection.

Though that Friday was a dark and terrible day, we call it “Good” because in it we see the first act in a three-day drama of salvation.

Every Friday — this Friday after Thanksgiving Day just like all the rest — the Church invites us to live a cross-shaped life, imitating our Lord, “who stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that the whole world might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace” (BCP 101).

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Daily Office Basics

Daily Office Basics

The Daily Office Anchor Society will be actual, not just virtual, in February.

Join me on Saturday, February 15 from 8:30 to noon at St. Thomas Church, 226 Washington Street, Menasha WI 54952 for a program on Daily Office Basics.

Many Christians choose to observe Lent with “special acts of discipline or self-denial” such as praying Morning or Evening Prayer.

On February 15, you will not only learn how to pray the Church’s daily offices but you will also receive a variety of resources to help you navigate what may be an unfamiliar or confusing practice. We will have plenty of time for questions and sharing with each other.

We will enjoy coffee and light refreshments at 8:30 am and begin with Morning Prayer at 9 am. The program will conclude promptly at noon.

Come to a sober and right mind

A friend spoke to me earlier this week about sobriety. He said, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

I now know that he was quoting from the Big Blue Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but those words spoke volumes to me about the difference between duty and grace.

The duty of “maintaining our spiritual condition” is at the heart of programs like AA — and I’m beginning to understand how hard and serious that work is in every life.

The gift, the grace of a daily reprieve, is what sobriety represents.

I have often thought of my struggles to maintain a regular discipline of prayer — or any discipline of any kind, for that matter.  Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (1 Cor. 7:15).

My friend has me thinking differently today.

What if the daily prayer, the day without drinking, the day without shopping (or whatever else it may be), is not a burdensome duty to fail at yet again — but is actually the gift of rest for a moment?

The work is hard enough without making grace and rest a duty, too.

“Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” says our Lord (Matt. 11:28).

Come to a sober and right mind as you maintain your spiritual condition.

Come to a daily reprieve.

God hates nothing God has made

Pinned Insects

Collect for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 217)

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Since late last year, following a serious lack of judgment at a company event, I have been on a disciplinary plan at work and have been seeing a counselor through our Employee Assistance Program.

Having my failings made visible is really uncomfortable — the first image that comes to my mind is an insect pinned to a board — but the process of dealing with the issues openly and with help from other people has led to some long-overdue changes in my life.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of discipline in the reading appointed for today.

Endure trials for the sake of discipline … [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems unpleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7, 10-11).

On Ash Wednesday, we rehearse the heart of the Christian message about sin and forgiveness.

God hates nothing God has made, even though we fall short of the mark again and again.

When we confess our sins and get them out in the open, when we allow others to help us deal with our failings, we open ourselves up to receive from “the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

Having received forgiveness, having been trained by discipline (not just once, but as often as it takes!), we in turn extend that forgiveness to those around us.

Yes, we are mortal — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — but we are God’s. “He himself has made us, and we are his” (Jubilate, BCP 83).

God hates nothing God has made, and God forgives the sins of all who are penitent.

Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises,
and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.
(Canticle 14, BCP 91)