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Contemplative Prayer, or How to Play with a Flying Squirrel

Hi friends, one of my Lenten practices this year has been to spend some time every day in contemplative silence and stillness, ideally a solid twenty minutes each day.  This has never come easily to me, and this Lent has been no different.  If my ‘success’ at this Lenten practice were recorded in a fitness app on my phone, it would probably say, “Personal Best: 18 mostly contemplative minutes.  Longest Daily Prayer Streak: 3 days.”
 
It’s a discipline I resist, actively and passively, but it’s also one of whose importance I am convinced, if for no other reason than because wiser souls than mine have told me it’s important.
 
I think part of why I resist prayerful stillness and silence so relentlessly is that, of all the ways one could pray, this one perhaps renders us the most passive.  It’s rare that anything ever happens in stillnessAt least when I pray the Daily Office, I’m saying words and reading the bible and bowing and doing church things!  But simply to sit (not even kneeling?!) and let my mind wander without attaching myself to any of those wanderings…wait, why am I doing this again?  This is a waste of time.
 
And yet this contemplative practice (or ones like it) has been of fundamental importance to some of the greatest Christian practitioners in history, from the desert mothers and fathers of the early church to Thomas Merton to Sarah Coakley to some of the regular, unsung saints I meet all the time.  Why is that?
 
As I am still very much a beginner with this practice, I don’t really know.  My best guess is that contemplative silence returns us to the most basic ontological truth of being a human person: we are here on God’s terms, not ours.  If nothing ‘happens’ in prayer, well, that’s God’s prerogative.  Besides, because prayer is concerned with the deepest level of our being, the bright core of us where God alone lives, it’s not clear why we should expect to be aware of what change God is working in us, anyway.
 
All this is on my mind as we cross the halfway mark of Lent.  I still don’t like being still; I am still a beginner at all this; and yet I can see it on the faces of so many people whose words and wisdom I trust that twenty’ish minutes of contemplative prayer each day is spiritually good for us in a profound way.
 
A couple weeks ago, I had an experience that has helped me put some words on what might be happening in contemplative prayer.  Lucy and I were in Alabama, visiting our godson, Thompson.  He’s six, and it had been a while since we’d gotten to see him.  As part of our catching up, we heard about all the major life events that have happened since the last time we saw him: lost teeth, flag football games, new dance moves learned or invented, etc.  One major life event since the last time we saw Thompson is that his family has gotten a new pet: her name is Roo, and she’s a Southern Flying Squirrel.
 
This is big news.  Roo was still young when they found her hiding in their church (Thompson’s dad, Corey, is a priest), and it wasn’t clear if her family was still around.  So, they took her to the vet, learned she was healthy but maybe got lost from her squirrel family, and then adopted her. 
 
Now Roo lives in a big cage in their living room, replete with numerous hidey holes and lots of wooden climbing things.  Roo is tiny, and because she is so tiny, Thompson and his older brother explained, there are rules about how you can play with her.  These are the rules:
 
First, you bring Roo’s cage into the small hallway in the middle of the house.
 
Second, you close all the doors leading into and out of the hallway.
 
Third, you grab lots of towels from the closet, and you wedge them under the doors.  Roo is so tiny she could crawl under the doors and get into places that might not be safe for her to go.
 
Fourth, everyone sits very quietly on the floor, and then you open the door to Roo’s cage.  You’re not allowed to reach in and grab Roo. You can’t force her to play with you; you have to sit very quietly in the hallway, and let her come to you.
 
So there we were: Thompson, his brother, their dad, two other friends of ours, Lucy, and me—all sitting in total silence on the floor of the hallway, waiting on this flying squirrel to hop out of her cage and find one of us.
 
For a while, nothing happened.  But eventually, Roo hopped out of her cage, and ran into the corner, between Corey and the wall.  A moment later, she appeared on Corey’s shoulder, and then on top of Corey’s head.   We laughed quietly, at once thrilled with the prospect that Roo might alight on us next, but also trying not to break our shared silence, the spell that makes it safe for Roo to play with us.
 
Roo disappeared from Corey’s head, then reappeared on top of her cage.  Another disappearance and then—ooh!—I felt her tiny claws climbing up the back of my shirt.  From my mouth erupted a sound I will likely never be able to repeat (a mix of surprise, excitement, and anxiety, all suppressed into an awkward kazoo chirp as I tried not to frighten Roo away).  I involuntarily hunched over, my face to the ground.  Roo climbed up my back until she perched on the back of my neck, sniffing the air and looking around at all the laughing faces.
 
We played this game a while longer, Roo vanishing along the baseboards only to reappear on a shoulder or on top of her own cage, and all the while we never spoke in anything but short, expectant whispers.  After maybe twenty minutes, Corey scooped Roo back into her cage, we stood, opened all the doors, and the spell was over.  Of the seven of us crammed into the tiny hallway, Roo had alighted on maybe four of us.
 
This experience with Thompson and his family and their new pet has become a kind of parable for me for what prayerful stillness and silence are like.  The rules are quite simple: go into the innermost corridor of yourself, and close the doors of distraction.  Even wedge towels under the gaps of the doors, so you can’t hear your phone buzz with emails or texts.  Sit very quietly, being very still, and wait for the Holy Spirit to come out.  She’s been with us this whole time, but we tend to be so loud or frantic that we won’t let Her touch us.  When She does come out, we may be aware of Her presence, or we may not.  She moves on Her own terms; She is not a tame squirrel.
 
But when She does land on you—ooh!—it’s a strange sensation, so strange that you’d almost rather see Her land on other people’s heads than feel the wild intimacy of Her claws up your neck. 
 
What a strange but wonderful gift for God to make a home with us here, to build into the architecture of a human life a quiet hallway in which the Divine Wildness might leap and scurry freely about.  It is a brave and necessary thing to enter the quiet hallway of prayer, however much we may resist it, a brave and necessary thing to offer God’s Wildness our fullest and most patient attention.  It is brave because God is wild and does not simply appear when we call; God resists our attempts to force Her out of hiding.  It is necessary because it is natural: we are people of the Incarnation, which is to say that our bodies, sole to crown, are the ecosystem in which the Holy Spirit has chosen to play.
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

The Goal is Good Churching

Hi friends, 2019 is already an exciting time at St. Liz.  A new playground, a new Godly Play group for older kids, our experimental new Campsite service at 8:15am, plans for this summer’s St. Liz Kidz camp, increased clarity around volunteer roles in the form of job descriptions, and a new roof going up…and that’s on top of all the good things that are already part of our life together!
 
Much of this growth is exciting and easy to embrace.  Lots of kids can be a bit chaotic, but it’s a joyful chaos.  A new playground is good news. (It was the site of an intense game of Simon Says after church this week.  Alas, I never got to be Simon….)  A complete set of volunteer job descriptions may not be an obvious cause for celebration, but it’s a big step towards sustainable, long-term health.  Our spring class of newcomers are engaged and getting to know everyone.
 
Something like adding a second service on Sunday mornings, however, is a kind of change that brings a bit more anxiety.  A brief update: as you’ll recall, we are currently in the midst of a temporary experiment with an 8:15am Eucharist that is pared down from our 10:30am service.  Before we settle on a more permanent schedule, however, we need a lot more feedback from the congregation.  Your Bishop’s Committee will focus on this at our next meeting on April 14th, and the plan is to solicit broad congregational feedback during Easter Season (April 28th – June 9th).  As of now, the earliest we would begin a more permanent two-service schedule would be fall of 2019.
 
Today, however, I want to address some of our anxieties about this new, ‘second service’ territory.  Anxiety about adding a second service is natural because let’s face it: right now, Sunday mornings are really good.  Not perfect, certainly, but really, really good.  Why risk that by adding a second service?  What’s our goal in doing this?
 
The first question is more difficult because it’s the one that confronts us with the hardest truth: the Church doesn’t belong to us, and therefore, neither does our Sunday morning schedule.  The Church is the Body of Christ, which means that our life together takes its form and content from Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is the One whom God sent into the world that the world might be saved; His very life was not his own, but an offering from God to the world.
 
If we would be the Body of Christ, we must likewise be an offering from God to the world, the bread of heaven given from the doors of St. Liz.  In simpler terms, we might say that the Church is an organization which exists for the benefit of people who are not (yet) its members.  We are the Church, but our identity as Christ’s Body is given to us, not something we have earned or made for ourselves.  This identity exists in large part in our offering the whole of our common life to those without a community of faith to call home.  This self-offering is our mission, and it includes our worship schedule (which is reaching capacity).
 
As Jesus says of his own mission, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (John 10:17).  If we would be a living testament to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, then we should be prepared to do likewise: for this reason the Father loves us, because we lay down our Sunday schedule in order to take it up again.
 
Right now, some of us are feeling the anxiety of realizing that we may have to lay it down.  Some of us are already excited about what it might look like when we take it back up again, which is to say what its resurrection might look like.  One day soon, Sunday mornings could look different than they do now.  Or, they could be largely the same.  We just don’t know yet.  What we do know is that the Holy Spirit is with us constantly in this.  Because this is the same Holy Spirit who has formed us into the loving community we are, then we can rest assured that whatever a two-service St. Liz will look like, she will still look like us. 
 
So, as you think and pray about this, remember that this is conversation is about our mission, our self-offering to those without a faith community.  Thus, I hope our guiding questions are not primarily ones of what is most convenient, interesting, or comfortable for us.  Rather, I hope they’re questions like, “What gifts has God given St. Liz, and how can we adapt and change and create space in our Sunday schedule to share those with more people?”
 
This brings me to the second question: what’s our goal in all this? 
 
Our goal with a second service is the same goal we’ve always had: being the Church, the community in which Christ reigns as Lord.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Our goal is simply to continue proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins and the hope of life everlasting.  The only reason we’re discerning how best to add a second service is because y’all are good at proclaiming and practicing this Good News.  Folks are catching wind of it, and we need to make room for them. 
 
In other words, growth is not our goal; it’s just the fruit of the goal.  Right now in Buda, growth is also the environment in which we find ourselves.  Growth is not only the fruit of good Churching; it’s also the context in which we must carry out our mission.
 
Here’s what I mean: the population of Buda within a seven-mile radius of St. Liz is projected to grow by 20% by 2023.  That’s the fastest growing area in the Diocese of West Texas.  That’s the environment we’re in, the sheer fact of a growing town.
 
But St. Liz is also bearing fruit.  Because of your good Churching, St. Liz has grown even faster than Buda recently.  I did the math today, and double checked it with the congregational development folks at the diocesan office to make sure I was reading the data correctly.  I wasn’t; we’ve grown faster than I thought we had.  If the city of Buda is projected to grow by 20% by 2023, St. Liz has grown by almost 39% since this time last year.
 
Now, we’re a congregation that tends to have higher attendance in the spring than in summer and fall, so I don’t expect we’ll finish 2019 with an average Sunday attendance we currently have (around 111).  And because that 39% growth rate is so high, and because it’s a fairly recent trend, we shouldn’t expect to continue growing quite that rapidly.  (A measure of relief is appropriate!)  But make no mistake: this is fast, and everything points towards a continued upward trend.
 
You heard it right, folks: it’s probable that St. Liz is growing faster than the fastest growing area of the Diocese of West Texas.  I will say it again: growth is not our goal; our goal is always and only good Churching.  Growth is just a fact of the environment in which we pursue this goal.  Because y’all are who you are, St. Liz is just growing a little faster than the community around us.  I’m grateful to be a part of it.
 
Let’s keep doing what we’re doing.
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

Love Alone is Eternal

Hi friends, our Ash Wednesday sermon began with a poem called “Ozymandias,” which (amongst other things) is about how temporary and fleeting the works of our human egos are: they return to dust.  Today, I want to start with a less well-known but complementary poem, one about what is eternal.  I discovered it a couple years ago, and even though I don’t know anything else by or about the author, this poem has stayed with me. (Published here.)  
 
Into the Fire, by Gail White
 
Every love counts, the puppy you were given
At six, the tadpoles that you tried to raise;
Even your silly parents and the siblings
You couldn’t stand were loved on certain days.

 
The first love of your adolescence, later
Spoken of slightingly as immature,
The love of marriage, even if it ended
In bitterness, the friends that still endure.

 
Into the mix, put in your charity
To those who had no one but you to love them.
All the loves given, even reluctantly,
Are still our loves. Let’s not make little of them.

 
They form the only fire that burns on
When sun and moon and stars have packed and gone.

 
*             *             *
 
I like this poem for a lot of reasons, but mostly I like the idea that the love we share and offer the world—however imperfect and awkward it may be—has a sort of cumulative effect on us over time, and that this accumulation is somehow permanent.  All those loves, little ones and big ones, even the love of a marriage ended in bitterness, all these loves “form the only fire that still burns on” when everything else has passed away.
 
This is on my mind in these first days of Lent, while the ashes are still smudged on my thumb and sleeve.  In Romans, Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).  Death, life, angels, rulers, nor anything else in all creation—this is an exhaustive list of creaturely powers.  All of them, it seems, are fleeting, temporary, of secondary importance when compared to the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Not even death itself has power over this love.
 
It would seem, then, that Love alone is eternal.
 
Like a lot of clergy, the offertory sentence I generally use before communion is from Ephesians 5:2 and goes, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”  I like this verse because it reminds us that, for Christians, when we talk about love, we are talking about Jesus Christ.  We walk in love as Christ loved us.  The love of God in Christ always comes first, so to speak.  It’s the condition which makes our own love-walking possible.
 
Whatever it is we mean when we say that we love, we are referring to the same movement of God’s own life towards the world, the movement whose name is Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Why did God send Jesus?  Love.  What is love?  God’s sending of Jesus.
 
In the Gospels, we see this love play out in specific episodes.  The force behind Gabriel’s message to the Virgin Mary, the force behind that long genealogy leading up to the birth of Jesus in Luke 3, the force behind all the healings and teaching and loaves and fishes and parables—all of that is the manifestation of the infinite love of God moving towards creation through particular words and actions in particular places and times.
 
Jesus, then, is the name of the infinite, eternal love of God moving into a particular human history.  This is good news for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it means that we particular human beings can participate in the eternal, infinite love of God.  Like Jesus, each of us always finds ourselves in a particular situation—the grocery store, tee ball practice—never in some abstract arena called “the world.”  We have kids, coworkers, folks beside us at church whose names we’ve never bothered to learn.  Because of the movement of the infinite love of God into the particular human life of Jesus, our own particularity can now become the site where God’s infinite, eternal love can continue to move.  Jesus has paved the way.
 
To walk in love, then, is to move towards the world around us in the same way as God moves towards the world: as Jesus Christ, whether at tee ball practice or in the grocery store.  “To walk in love as Christ loved us” is to participate in the inner life of the Holy Trinity.

We do this imperfectly, fitfully, and usually with a great deal of awkwardness.  And sometimes our best efforts at love end in bitterness or drama or strained silence.  What I think our poet is getting at, however, is the extent to which we participate in love is the extent to which we become eternal.  It makes sense, if you think about it.  If walking in love (as Christ loved us) is participating in the inner life of the Holy Trinity—well, what could be better than that?  When we love, we become part of God’s Holy Flame, the “only fire that burns on / When sun and moon and stars have packed and gone.”
 
Whatever awkward or embarrassing or failed loves are in our past, and which ever loves we’re making an effort at in the present, “Let’s not make little of them,” as our poet says.  The loves we offer, tarnished and imperfectly motivated as they may be, constitute the shining core of us, the fire that will long outlast the ashes of which we’re made.
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 
 

It’s a Big Week at St. Liz!

Hi friends, this is a big week at St. Liz, marking the start of a season ripe with all kinds of opportunities.  I want to highlight a few extra opportunities coming up just this week.
 
Sunday, March 3rd
 
8:15am, our new ‘Campsite’ Worship Service.  This is our ‘first draft’ towards establishing a
second worship service and will run through April 14th.
 
9am, Godly Play for Kids
               + An Adult Formation Class in the Mission Hall, w/Seminarian Thom Rock.  Our
theme will be forgiveness.
 
10:30am, Our Regular Worship Service
 
6:30pm-8pm, Spring Newcomers’ Class in the Mission Hall
               -Julie Warfield or Lisa Sartorio with questions, jwarfield1971@gmail.com or
lisatrpl@msn.com
 
Tuesday, March 5th
 
6:30pm, our Pancake Supper in the Mission Hall!  Donations accepted for our Youth budget.
               -Bekah and Charlie Welvaert for questions.  Volunteers arrive by 6pm.
Bekah.welvaert@gmail.com or jwchuck@gmail.com
 
Wednesday, March 6th
 
Ash Wednesday Service to mark the beginning of Lent at 7pm.  Ash Wednesday is one of the major fasting days of the Church.
 
Sunday, March 10th, Daylight Savings Time Starts!
 
Bishop’s Committee Meeting after 10:30am service
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

It’s Time for a Second Service: Introducing the Campsite

Hi friends, at our Congregational Meeting this past Sunday I announced that we’re in need of a second worship service on Sundays.  For those who missed the meeting, I want to say again why that is and how you can help our community during this (exciting!) period of growth.
 
Why add a service?  The simple answer is that we’re growing!  Some numbers: right now, if we pack every single seat in our worship space, we can fit 163 people.  And I mean every single seat: we can only get 163 in there if we count the piano bench, full choir and horns, a full altar party, both rocking chairs at the back, all three chairs by the sound cabinet, and the bishop is visiting.  This 163 number is largely theoretical, however, because in the primary congregational seating area there are only 139 seats.  This means that we begin to feel full well before we get to our ‘bishop’s visit max.’ 
 
Along with our consultant, Dr. Whitesel, a host of seasoned pastors will tell you that a church tends to stop growing when its worship services get to about 80% capacity.  The reason is simple: it quite literally feels like there’s no room for anyone else.  For example, if you’re a family of five who is new to St. Liz, and you walk into church at 10:32, you’re just not going to find five empty seats all in a row.  The seats are there, but they’re spread out in ones and twos.  Your best case scenario is that some friendly folks skooch over and make room.  (Skooch is the technical theological term.)
 
Even if the skooching experience is pleasant and friendly, it nevertheless begins to flip a subconscious switch in our minds.  We’re social creatures.  At an instinctive level we only want to join a group (i.e. a church) in which we’re sure there’s room for us.  If we’re already part of that group, we only want to invite new members if the group doesn’t already feel full.  Somewhere around 80% capacity a room begins to feel full; we test the limits of skooching; and growth plateaus into stasis.
 
In a community like Buda whose population is growing so quickly, stasis is not a faithful option, and it’s just not the reality in which St. Liz finds ourselves, anyway.  Over the past six Sundays, for example, our lowest attendance was 115 and our highest was 135.  We’re mighty close to being 80% full every week.  It’s time we create more space by adding a worship service.
 
This is a happy development, and it’s been on the horizon for a while.  St. Liz began conversations about it in 2016, but back-burnered the project during our clergy transition in 2017.  Suddenly, it’s back on the table!  I will admit that I had not anticipated we’d be addressing this exciting possibility quite so soon, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t work on our time table.  So here we go!
 
In the short-term, I’m proposing a temporary solution the primary goal of which is to free up some space in our 10:30am service.  Here’s what we’re going to do:
 
Starting on March 3rd, we’re going to begin holding a second worship service on Sunday mornings at 8:15am, and we will try this for seven weeks (through April 14th).  It will be significantly pared down—45 minutes—compared to our current worship service.  Less music, fewer readings, less pageantry in general.  For example, I intend to wear a stole, my black clergy shirt, and cowboy boots, but not a traditional worship alb.  While the new service will have Holy Communion, we won’t have a procession. 
 
We’re entering into uncharted territory, exploring off the map a bit.  Because of that, what I need, and what we need as a community, is for this trial service to begin with a pioneer spirit.  Instead of trying to simply double our ministry schedule—asking our ushers and acolytes and LEMs to pull double duty each week—we’re going to treat this new service as though we were setting up a campsite in new territory.  Just like setting up a campsite, each of us 8:15’ers will undertake ‘camp chores’ on behalf of the community, only instead of setting up a tent or going for firewood, we’ll be greeting folks, or leading Prayers of the People, or serving a chalice, or brewing coffee after worship.  And we will do this without our necessarily having been scheduled to do it in advance.
 
So here’s my specific ask: if this is going to work, I need 20-25 folks to commit to our 8:15am Campsite for 7 weeks.  I want to be clear: I’m not asking for folks to attend 8:15am and also our current 10:30am service each week, though I imagine we’ll have a couple folks for whom this might be necessary for one reason or another.  Remember: our primary goal is to free up space in our current 10:30am service as it continues to grow.  If 20-25 folks simply come to church twice on Sundays, we’re not allowing that to happen. 
 
Our Bishop’s Warden, Julie Warfield, and her husband Ed have already volunteered to set up camp for 7 weeks, and I’m grateful to them for their leadership and faithfulness in this.  If you’re feeling called to explore this new territory, I hope you’ll let me know—and soon.  Otherwise, I have a feeling the Holy Spirit is going to have me call some of you and say, “You know, I wonder if God is calling you to come to church earlier on Sunday….” J
 
Our Campsite Service has additional benefits other than being easily implemented in the short run.  First, it allow us to try new things as we discern what exactly God is shaping this new service to be in the longer term.  I’ve already had one guitarist offer his musical services, for example.  I’ve also got some ideas on how to involve our many kids in tactile ways in the service.  The beauty of this seven-week trial is that we’re not committed to any of the things we try. If it’s going well at the end of seven weeks, we’ll keep doing it.  If it’s not, we’ll scrap it and go back to the drawing board.
 
Second, adding a second service from 8:15am-9am will allow us an opportunity to continue growing without disrupting our existing Sunday morning momentum in the middle of a semester.  For example, the Campsite will not disrupt Godly Play, choir practice, our 10:30am Eucharist, or our new 9am adult formation class.  Anyone who attends our 8:15am service will still be able to participate fully in Godly Play and Sunday morning adult formation—and you can still hang out and drink coffee with all your friends after!
 
That’s the beauty of the Campsite.  In the long run, before we settle on a more permanent second service structure, we’ll need a lot more feedback from the congregation.  Again, while Campsite could become permanent, I am not committing us to it beyond these seven Sundays.  Its primary goal is to address in the short-term the exciting demands our continued growth is making of us as a community, demands which are upon us sooner than I had anticipated.  Thank you in advance for your willingness to give it a try.
 
Who knows where we could be a year from now?  It could be that on Sundays, we have an 8:30am and an 11am service, or 9am and 11:15am, with formation offerings in between.  Or some totally new idea on a totally new timetable we haven’t dreamed of yet.  Or it could be that Campsite works pretty well and becomes a permanent settlement.
 
We just don’t know.  We don’t have a map yet because we’re only now exploring this terrain.  In Hebrews we read that Christ is the “pioneer of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).  To be a pioneer is to tread new territory.  What a gift God is giving us, that we might follow His Son beyond the reach of what is familiar.  By offering ourselves today as His explorers, we help draw the maps by which future generations can navigate.  If that’s at all an exciting prospect to you, I hope you’ll let me know.
 
Welcome to the frontier.
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

Playgrounds and roofs

Playgrounds and Roofs
 
Hi friends, more exciting news for St. Liz: we’ve got two big home improvements going on this month.
 
First, on Tuesday of this week, two gentlemen from Rainbow Play Systems showed up to begin installing our new playground!  (If you’re at the church on a weekday this week, please be sure to say hi to Alex and Charles and thank them for their work.)  The old playscape served us well and has moved on to its new home.  Our new playground will take several days to install—big holes to dig, concrete to pour and set, etc.—but if weather permits, it’s possible it’ll be ready to go by Sunday!  Thanks to Tina Otto for coordinating our playground search and to Bobby Wilder’s family for making it possible.
 
Second, later on this month, St. Liz will be getting a new roof!  While this is not quite as obviously exciting as a new playground, this is nonetheless an important step in our ongoing stewardship of our facilities.  At the Bishop’s Committee retreat last year, we began brainstorming some ‘beautification’ desires for St. Liz’s properties.  We began talking about smaller projects, but as our conversations continued throughout the year, we realized that we have some bigger ticket items that need addressing.  This fall, we had outside experts take a look at our building foundation, one of the roof trusses on the interior of the church, and the roof itself.  Of all these, the foundation posed no structural problems; the roof truss is not pressing; and replacing the roof emerged as our best next step.
 
So, our 2018 Jr. Warden, DJ Sartorio, did some great work tracking down quotes from three different contractors, did a little Chicago-style haggling on St. Liz’s behalf, and now we’re set for the new roof to go up later this month—again, weather permitting!  We expect the new roof to go up during weekdays and not disrupt any Sunday foot traffic.  If this changes, I’ll be sure to let you know.  I’m grateful to our new Jr. Warden, Dave McCoy, for meeting with our contractors and staying on top of our various projects.
 
Finally, because of your continued faithfulness and generosity, and because you continue to exhibit hospitality as we welcome new folks to St. Liz, we are in a healthy financial position and can absorb the cost of a new roof without undertaking a capital campaign.  Not a bad start to 2019.  Who knows what God could have in store for us just around the bend?
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

The Enneagram: Nine Shapes of Sin, Nine Shapes of Grace

The Enneagram: Nine Shapes of Sin, Nine Shapes of Grace
 
Hi friends, as you may have heard, our Life Groups are reading a book about the Enneagram right now, and on Saturday, March 16th, St. Liz is hosting an Enneagram ‘Know Your Number’ event taught by Lucy Strandlund.  I hope you’ll plan to come.  Today, however, I want to say a little of how the Enneagram has aided me in my own spiritual life. 
 
I am a Seven on the Enneagram.  One of the key drives for Sevens is the desire to avoid pain, in the broadest sense.  Anger, sadness, physical pain, boredom—really anything that isn’t fun, interesting, and as intensely enjoyable as possible.  Sevens crave satisfaction but fear that we won’t ever have it.  So, we come up with a hundred different plans and little pleasures.  (For example, at one point a couple summers ago, I was trying to learn French, Spanish, and Russian at the same time.  Needless to say, it didn’t work!)  Sevens put all our energies into what’s next, hoping that the next thing will satisfy us.  What’s really going on is that we’re trying to stay ahead of unpleasant feelings.  We have all these plans, yet because we flit so quickly from this to that, we don’t pursue any of them to completion or with any great depth.  Why would we?  If we stuck with something, it might get too difficult or boring, and that would be painful!
 
Thus, the ‘original sin’ of Seven personality is gluttony: pursuing an excess of experiences while savoring very little.  Suzanne Stabile, Lucy’s teacher and one of the authors of the book we’re reading, sums up Seven personality like this: “Sevens settle for more.”  More food, more drink, more exercise, more work, more play, more books, more items in a series separated by more commas.
 
As a student of the Enneagram, I’m aware of all this, but awareness is where my work begins.  If the original sin of Sevens is gluttony, then my temptation might be to develop a series of rigorous disciplines to curb my appetites and channel my energies more productively.  “I will not start another book until I finish this one,” or “I will give up eating at restaurants for two weeks,” or “I will say Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline every day for a month,” or whatever.  But look at what’s happening: by flying off into more disciplines, I’m fighting my Seven-ness with more Seven-ness!  I’ve ended up in the ridiculous position of being a glutton for asceticism—which, needless to say, is not satisfying.  St. Paul’s words in Romans 7:15 come to mind: “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  I’ve simply traded one intensity for another.
 
When it comes to the Enneagram, your number is your number is your number.  I’ll never not be a Seven; trying to “fix it” through will power won’t work.  What I can become is a Seven who is more and more transformed by the grace of God.  For Sevens, that means opening to God in the present moment, regardless of whether the present moment is unpleasant or less interesting than I want it to be.  It’s not easy.  As a Seven, I’m practiced at thinking quickly and darting off to the next thing, both physically and mentally, before I’ve actually felt all the little frustrations and griefs life brings my way.  If I’m going to allow the grace of God to transform me into the satisfied, joyful person I want to be, I have to let all those negative feelings catch up and pass through my soul.  That’s the baptism to which I’m called as a Seven: going more slowly, feeling all of the bad along with the good, paying attention to the desires of others rather than only my own plans.  When I allow God to reach me in this very particular way, I find that not only am I a better husband and priest, but I’m happier, more satisfied, more at home in my life as it is.
 
There are nine Enneagram numbers, so it will likely be different for you.  A Five or a Nine, for example, might have to practice identifying priorities and acting on them more often, not less.  But whatever your number is, you can rest assured that your path of transformation will involve something you don’t want.  That’s the power of the Enneagram as a spiritual tool: it takes seriously that original sin isn’t just an abstract doctrine without concrete, discernible content.  Nor does it pretend that God’s transforming grace is simply something that happens in the next life.  We are an incarnate people; therefore, both our sins and our experiences of grace have real-life particularities.
 
Lucy Strandlund is teaching the Enneagram at St. Liz on Saturday, March 16th.  You’ll leave the event knowing your Enneagram number, or at least have made progress in identifying it.  Furthermore, no one will simply tell you what your number is, nor will you be given a test to determine it.  The process of discovery and transformation is yours to undertake.
 
I hope you’ll come.
 
 
God’s Peace,
 
 
Fr. Daniel+
 
 

2019 The Bishop’s Committee + Leadership Team

Hi friends, I’m writing with two updates: first, I’m pleased to announce our 2019 Bishop’s Committee (the “BC”).  The Bishop’s Committee is the governing body of St. Elizabeth.  More about what they do is below.  Without further ado, our BC members for 2019 are as follows:
 
               Julie Warfield, joined March 2015 (Bishop’s Warden since fall 2016)
               Dave McCoy, joined Jan. 2017 (Jr. Warden, starting Jan. 2019)
Sarah Williams, joined Jan. 2017
Tina Otto, joined Nov. 2017
Philip Johnson, joined Dec. 2017
Charlie Welvaert, joined Jan. 2018
               David Jensen, joined Jan. 2019
               Betsy Terrel, joined Jan. 2019
               Krista Piferrer, joined Jan. 2019
Sarah Johnson, (joined Jan. 2019.  Treasurer, non-voting member.)
 
Please commend these folks to your daily prayers!  Our BC members who are rolling off are DJ Sartorio, (joined as Junior Warden Jan. 2016), Terri Thompson (joined fall 2013), and Lisa White (joined July 2015, Treasurer since July 2015).  I’m grateful for their hard work and support, and for their continued work as they help train our newest members.
 
A change to note about our BC.  You’ll notice that we now have ten members rather than nine.  Sarah Johnson will serve as our new Treasurer.  She is in on the Bishop’s Committee by virtue of that office.  However, she will not be a voting member; she will not be expected to do weekly “BC of the Day” duties; and she is not expected to be present for the full duration of every BC meeting.  She’s is expected to fulfill Treasurer-specific duties (weekly deposits, monthly financial reports, ensuring the annual audit is completed, etc.)
 
This is a change from previous years when the Treasurer both fulfilled her duties as our primary financial officer and voted as a BC member.  (Lisa White served faithfully in this capacity for a number of years!)  We are making this change as part of our ongoing work of improving our administrative practices.  The Treasurer, like the Vicar, is one of our primary check-signers.  Therefore, neither the Vicar nor the Treasurer gets to vote on the budget, which is the document that guides how much and for what purpose those checks are written.
 
As a post script below, I’ve included a (lengthy) refresher about Episcopal Church terminology and some Frequently Asked Questions about the BC.
 
Second update: Leadership Team!  Our Leadership Team is composed of, but not limited to, our Bishop’s Committee, hosts/leaders of Life Groups, and ministry leads (Acolyte Master, Lead Usher, Children’s Chapel Coordinator, etc.)  As many of you will remember, for the past couple years St. Liz has been meeting with a consultant named Bob Whitesel to help us set and achieve goals as a community of faith.  Our last meeting with Dr. Whitesel was in October of 2018.
 
One of the benefits of Dr. Whitesel’s work was that it forced us to set dates every few months when various ministry leads gathered together to check in, set goals, and divvy up work.  They were good ‘rally the troops’ opportunities.  Now that our work with Dr. Whitesel is concluded, it’s important that we continue the rhythm of periodically checking in to chart our progress and to plan our way forward.
 
Our first Leadership Team meeting for 2019 will be this Sunday, January 13th.  While I’ve sent specific invites and an agenda to the folks listed above, this meeting is open to the congregation.  You’re welcome to come.  We’ll finish by 2pm.  My hope is for Leadership Team to meet three times a year.
 
God’s Peace
 
Fr. Daniel+
 
P.S. A refresher on Episcopal Church terminology and some FAQs: 
 
St. Elizabeth is not a parish, but a mission of the Diocese of West Texas.  A mission is under the direct supervision of the diocesan bishop.  Because of that, unlike the members of a parish vestry, the members of a bishop’s committee are not elected but appointed directly by the bishop, who consults with the vicar regarding appointments.  Like the bishop’s committee itself, the vicar is also appointed directly by the diocesan bishop.  Thus, while both a parish and a mission are under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the bishop’s authority is more immediate when it comes to a mission.  Clear as mud? 
 
I remind us of all that because I imagine not all of us are clear on how, exactly, someone is selected to serve on the BC.  We do not vote on BC members.  Ultimately, the authority to appoint members resides with the bishop.  In practice, the bishop appoints only after receiving recommendations from me.  The names I offer to the bishop come from conversations with other members of the BC and our observations about who might be able and willing to serve given family commitments, responsibilities at the church, experience, etc.  Maturity, spiritual depth, open-mindedness, an ability to listen to and work with a diverse group of people, and a commitment to the mission of God at St. Liz are all essential.  BC members are expected to contribute financially to St. Liz with the understanding that, like the rest of us, they should be taking healthy steps towards tithing if they are not able currently to do so.  Other factors I consider are maintaining a mix of personalities, stages of life, and balance of women and men on the BC.  As vicar, I work particularly closely with the wardens and treasurer.
 
Three practical questions: first, why do we have nine voting members?  I set this number so as to have a critical mass for conversation at meetings.  We also have an odd number of members so as to avoid a split vote on anything.  While I chair the meetings and do most of our agenda setting, I do not vote.  The BC usually makes decisions by consensus; however, we vote on all financial matters and reflect the outcome of the vote in our minutes.
 
Second, how long does a BC member serve?  We ask for a three year commitment, though a term may be longer or shorter depending on the needs of St. Liz or an individual BC member.  We are working our way towards three-year BC terms as normative.  There’s a number of reasons for this, but three main ones are to involve new folks in governance, to prevent burnout, and to prepare us as a community for becoming a parish when we’ll have set, elected terms for vestry members.  You may remember that this time last year our plan was to have all three of our officers (Bp’s Warden, Jr. Warden, and Treasurer) change for 2019.  However, that’s just too much leadership turnover all at once.  As DJ and Lisa are cycling off as Jr. Warden and Treasurer respectively, I’ve asked Julie to continue serving as our Bishop’s Warden.  I was very glad she agreed J
 
Finally: what does the BC do?  A lot!  We have a full job description.  Here’s a summary: there are weekly tasks like helping count the plate offerings, opening up and locking up on a Sunday, and participating in our monthly meetings.  More ongoing responsibilities include being an ambassador for St. Liz in our communities and on Sunday mornings, serving as a sounding board for me and offering me support, continuing the work we began with Dr. Whitesel, staying involved with St. Liz’s various programs and ministries, and helping to identify and execute opportunities for mission, leadership, and spiritual growth.  BC Meetings are open to the congregation and are noted on all our calendars.  We usually meet on the 2nd Sunday of the month.  February is an exception, when the BC has a Saturday day retreat.
 

Meet our New Neighbors

Hi friends, a Happy New Year to you and yours!
 
Several months ago we got some new neighbors: the residents and staff of Sodalis Assisted Living and Memory Care.  When I say neighbors, I mean it!  The turn for Sodalis is literally just a couple hundred yards down FM 967 from us towards town.  I’d like for you to come and meet them.  There are two easy opportunities coming up soon:
 
First, Sodalis has their grand opening for the public on Thursday, January 10th from 2:30pm-5:30pm.  This is a come and go as you please event.  I plan to be there right at 2:30 for a while.
 
Second, starting in 2019, the Buda Ministerial Alliance has volunteered to do services at Sodalis twice a month.  I volunteered Wanda and me to go first, on behalf of St. Elizabeth.  We had our first service there this week, with six residents!  Wanda and I are leading another service on Wednesday, January 16th at 9:30am.  I’d love for you to join us.  (It’s cool with the staff; I asked!)
 
All through Advent we talked about waves, using the wave as a metaphor for the coming of Jesus.  We’re standing on the shore, waiting on the wave to break at Christmas.  Jesus has come to us in Buda just as surely as he came to Bethlehem all those years ago. 
 
As Christian people, once we have received God’s Word into our own midst, we are called to be a medium through which God’s Word travels to the shores of other communities.  In other words, at baptism, we are signing up to become part of God’s wave to the shores of a broken world.  This is what it means to be Church: we receive God’s bread and are fed, but only so that we can, in turn, become bread for the world, as Christ was.
 
Oftentimes, this begins with something as simple as making new friends.  I’m inviting you to make new friends out of our new neighbors at Sodalis.
 
Finally, if you’re saying to yourself, “But I don’t know anybody at Sodalis,” that’s not true! 
One of St. Liz’s very own, Barbara Goodson, actually moved in just a couple months ago.  She was at our service this morning and would love to show everyone around the new place.  Come visit!
 
Sodalis Assisten Living and Memory Care
645 FM 967
Buda, TX 78610
 
God’s Peace,
 
Fr. Daniel+
 

Lucy is Coming to Teach!

Hi friends, this spring St. Elizabeth is going to begin work with a spiritual tool called the Enneagram. (Pronounced "EN-nee-uh-gram," which is just Greek for "nine points.") Two ways I hope you'll be involved with this work. 

First, I want to get Saturday, March 16th on your calendar. We'll be hosting an all-day Enneagram 'Know Your Number' Workshop led by none other than Lucy Strandlund. From my completely objective and unbiased perspective, she's one of the best out there. Details are still in the works, but I wanted to get the date out there. Plan on 9 am - 3 pm, and we're working on having free childcare on offer all day. There's a good chance folks from outside our St. Liz community will come, too. 

Second, I hope you'll get a copy of a book called The Road Back to You:  An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Suzanne is the master Lucy apprenticed under, and this book is a primer for folks who are new to the Enneagram, as I imagine most of us are. Our Life Groups will be reading it for the first couple months of 2019. My hope is that those of us not in Life Groups will read it as well ... and then bring all of our questions to our March 16th workshop! 

Some of you have heard me talk about the Enneagram. There's a lot I could say, and a lot of questions to be answered. (Why are there nine types? Why are they arranged on that weird nine-pointed diagram? Where did this stuff come from?) I promise, Lucy will address all of that during her workshop; the book answers many of those questions; and I'll be writing and video'ing a bit about it between now and then. 

Today, I just want to say why I think that, among all the spiritual tools out there, this is one worth exploring. To do that, I want to return to a metaphor we're using a lot during Advent:  the wave. 

We've been using the metaphor of a wave to help us understand what our relationship to God is like in this liturgical season. In Advent, we are like beach-goers standing on the shore, watching a wave swell in the distance. We're waiting with anticipation for it to reach us, to break across our feet. The breaking wave is the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Just as the unimaginable, bazillion-square-mile vastness of the sea touches this particular shore with this particular wave, so too does the unimaginable, bazillion-square-mile vastness of God touch the shores of human history in this particular man from Nazareth. When we become Christians -- when the Holy Spirit ripples through this or that particular baptism -- we're becoming one of God's waves, too. 

Here's the important part for the Enneagram:  a wave is visible because it's a disturbance on the ocean's surface, but it's a disturbance caused by something under the surface. A current of seawater hits the continental shelf, for example, or a barrier reef, or has to slide over a sandbar -- any of these underwater phenomena can force the ocean's natural movement to swell upward into the visible surface disturbances we call waves. 
 

Lots of personality-type systems focus on the surface disturbances, or the specific visible behaviors people exhibit. What I find so powerful about the Enneagram is that it focuses on the motivation for behavior, which is to say that it calls our attention to our well-rehearsed shipwrecks and sandbars under the surface. This is helpful for a lot of reasons (not least of which is that folks may exhibit similar behaviors from various motivations). Why do I get so angry inside when things aren't perfect, the way I think they should be? Why do I try compulsively to help others even when they haven't asked for it? Why do I always find that I'm the life of the party, even when I'm tired? Why is it I sometimes like to be as invisible as possible in a room full of people? 

All of these are behaviors, surface disturbances, but each of them has a motivation beneath the surface. The Enneagram helps us explore those depths. 

Just as a wave becomes a wave because of something like the continental shelf working against the ocean's current, so too do our own souls resist, to varying degrees, the natural current of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the action of God within a human community so frequently causes a disturbance3 in the surface of things:  whenever God acts, the current only reaches the shore by becoming a wave and disturbing the surface. Why? Because there's something unresolved underneath. 

In Advent, Jesus Christ is the wave breaking towards us. This wave is God's disturbing the surface of things: "distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves" (Luke 21:25). What could be more confusing and disturbing than our crucifying the Son of Man? But we must remember that the approach of Christ, and the accompanying preaching of the prophets like John the Baptizer, is only a disturbance because we resist God's currents. If there were no barriers to God under the surface of humanity, Christ would not be born into a world that crucifies him. But as it is, in a broken world, we resist the ocean currents of divinity, forcing God's action to be lifted up above the surface and break -- on the cross. 

Part of our work as Christians, part of our work of repentance and compassion towards others, is to take time to do the kind of deep reflective work a tool like the Enneagram allows. What causes the waves you always seem to be experiencing? How are the waves you make rocking someone elses's boat unnecessarily? 

I hope you'll join us on Saturday, March 16th. 

God's Peace, 

Fr. Daniel+
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