Vocation: God’s relentless invitation

by Demi Prentiss

“We are all one in mission; we are all one in call….”

Yellow and Black Butterfly – Photo by Miriam Fischer from Pexels

Rusty Edwards’ lyrics remind us that, at bottom, all vocations are essentially the same – to be Christ’s ambassadors in, to, and for the world. For many, discerning how to enact that call in their own life can become a challenging, confusing puzzle.

As one way to engage with that puzzle, SSJE brother Geoffrey Tristram extends an invitation to every Christian to “Choose life!” by paying attention to what lies “at the very core of [our] identity”:

If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation!  So what is a vocation?  Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get.  You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation!  I don’t think that’s quite right.  I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity.   It is discovering who it is that you most truly are…..

You can say “no” to your vocation. You can choose a life more in keeping with your parents’ wishes, social convention, or simply greater security and wealth. God never forces us to say “yes.” But God, who knows the secrets of our hearts, will never stop calling us, inviting us, enticing us, to live the life for which we have been made.

Such relentless invitation may cause us to tremble. God invites us to lay down our fear and step into engagement. The Lord of Life is here – within us and without us, in every particle of the universe. God invites us to fully become all that we truly are. And accepting that invitation is experienced more as a loving embrace than a command performance, more as a companioned journey than a desperate solo marathon.  More like an invitation to the Eucharist: “Behold who you are.  Become what you receive.”

And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” T.S.Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Remember your baptism

by Demi Prentiss

Photo by Jose Vasquez from Pexels

Originally posted in the July 10, 2022 edition of ISSUES, the daily newsletter of The Consultation published during General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Baltimore, July 8-11, 2022

The Diocese of Northern California offered a resolution (C028) to this year’s General Convention which proposed to open communion to unbaptized persons, by repealing Canon I.17.7: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”  The proposal generated much conversation, but will not result in any legislative action, at least this year. The resolution did not emerge from committee.

Just a few weeks ago, an experimental, unofficial, and informal survey  (Survey 19: Open Communion) of a test group assembled by FaithX and TryTank indicates that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the Episcopalians polled answered “yes” to the question, “Does your congregation practice open communion?”  In many places, apparently, the canons and local practice don’t align.

As a denomination, we’ve spent nearly 50 years proclaiming the empowerment of all the baptized through the Baptismal Covenant. During those same 50 years, we’ve labored mightily to open “all the sacraments for all the people.”  And while our hearts seem to be generally in the right place, we still fail to embody those aspirations in our lives together as communities of faith.  Incorporating God’s people well and lovingly into the Body of Christ is hard.  Where we gather around an open table, can the Baptismal Covenant continue to be our touchstone? Why, really, is baptism important?

Liturgy forms us, because we are “people of the book” (the BCP) and our practices are shaped by the words we pray. (Lex orandi, lex credendi.) We Partners for Baptismal Living want to see us Episcopalians, in all our liturgies, give voice to our commitment to the centrality and solemnity of baptism.  We believe that the congregation’s proclamation of baptism’s role in our lives – throughout the BCP, not only in the Baptismal Covenant – can more deeply ingrain that covenant in us and help us claim the meaning of baptism.

What might happen if, instead of “I do” or “I will,” those being baptized (or renewing their vows) actually voiced what they were promising to do:

  • “How will you continue to build your faith?” People: “I will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
  • What will you proclaim?”  People: “With God’s help, I will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”

What might happen if, in other liturgical moments – the Dismissal, the Prayers of the People, marriage vows, ordination rites – we actually mentioned “baptism” and “the baptized”:

  • At the Dismissal: “As the baptized, let us go forth into our worlds of home and community and work, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
  • At the marriage of two Christians: “May you, reborn in the waters of Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, receive grace to keep the vows you have made.”
  • In Prayers of the People Form 1: “For all the Baptized in their daily life and ministries.”
  • At an ordination: “As a Baptized Child of God, I believe that I am truly called by God and this Church to this priesthood.”

As we work to give life to the work of General Convention in our congregations and dioceses, Partners for Baptismal Living calls on Episcopalians to be intentional about expressing the ongoing role our baptisms play in our everyday life of faith.

Walk wet in the world

by Pam Tinsley

“Walk Wet,” Photo by James Frid, Pexels.com

Last month, as six new priests were ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, the Bishop reminded the congregation and the ordinands that the foundation of all ministry is in baptism. Whereas priests have a particular ministerial role in the church, the baptized – as lay ministers in the world – are the foundation of all ministry in the church. In daily life lay people bear witness to Christ wherever they may be, whether in the home, in the workplace, in the community, in leisure, or the wider world. In their book, Radical Sending, Demi Prentiss and the late Fletcher Lowe describe being baptized as walking wet in the world.

As we were renewing our baptismal promises, I was given a bowl of water filled from the baptismal font and a cedar branch to cast the holy water on members of the congregation. We all were reminded to remember our baptism – and to remember the baptismal promises that we either make or which are made on our behalf: “Remember your baptism” with all of its solemnity.

And then I realized that the bowl of baptismal water I was carrying had spilled down the front of my alb. I was soaking wet! Soaking wet in the waters of baptism! What a profound reminder that when I was sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever so many years ago, my baptism became the foundation of all of my ministry. It’s a reminder that I will always savor.

Ordinary time: no more

by Demi Prentiss

Pocket watch by Pixabay; Sundial by Jonathan Meyer; Digital watch by energepic.com  – all from Pexels

I am so done with “ordinary time.”  When I was a child, before the “new” Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was adopted nearly 50 years ago, the long, green “learning” seasons had names: “Epiphany” and “Trinity.” Just like for Christmas and Easter, the time after the feast day was considered a season, an extended time to absorb the mystery and the learning signified by the preceding high holy day, so we might live them every day.

Increasingly, in recent years, we Episcopalians have adopted the Roman Catholic nomenclature of “ordinary time” for the period between the Feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and between the Feast of Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent.  The collects for those Sundays are named for “the [ordinal number] Sunday after the Epiphany [or Pentecost].” And those ordinal numbers (first, second, etc.) are the source of the term “ordinary time.”  In this case, “ordinary” isn’t supposed to imply “not special.”

Back in the old, pre-1978 days, we called those green seasons “the season of Epiphany” and “Whitsuntide / Trinity season.” The green seasons were an important part of both the Incarnation cycle and the Resurrection cycle: the purple season of reflection and preparation (Advent / Lent); the white season of celebration (Christmas / Easter); and the green season of growth and incorporation (Epiphany / Trinity). And for me, most important, the green seasons were all about the laity – seasons where practical theology, ministry, outreach, and formation took the lead over contemplation, self-examination, and specialized clergy-focused liturgies.

For me, calling it “ordinary time” seems to minimize those “lay” seasons. It’s easy to lose the idea that in those seasons, we look to manifest Christ’s presence (Epiphany), and recognize the Trinitarian perichoretic dance that draws all of creation into relationship with the Living God.  “Ordinary time” is an “insider term” – it’s focused on what lectionary readings we’re using, rather than what we’re living into. I’m partial to the idea that every day – even in ordinary time – can bring an epiphany, if we’re willing to see God at work everywhere in the world.  I’m convinced that we’re empowered every day – even in ordinary time – by God’s Pentecostal power, so that we can partner with the Holy Spirit’s work in our daily lives. Everyday faith, for people who live in relationship with an extraordinary God. No more “ordinary time.”

Living in liminal time

In Memoriam: A Wayne Schwab, 1928-2022

by Demi Prentiss

Here we are, caught in the liminal time between Ascension Day and Pentecost. Suspended in the “not yet,” unclear and unaware of the power in the “already.”  Jesus’ departure from the disciples opens the door for the work of the Spirit, already living and active among them.

We’ve moved to our new town, and haven’t yet made new friends. We have the diploma, and have not yet landed the job. We know we’re pregnant, and have not yet become a parent. We have the diagnosis, and have not yet heard a plan of treatment. We have the facts, and we don’t yet know what to do with them. As Rachel Hosmer and Alan Jones remind us in Living in the Spirit,  “God, the Holy Spirit, is always beyond us, on the move, creating and sustaining all things. The Holy Spirit is the Go-Between-God, a God who works anonymously and on the inside, as the beyond in our midst.”

The Rev. Anthony Wayne Schwab

In many ways, my friend Wayne Schwab lived his ministry standing on the threshold of “already” and “not yet.” Passionate about evangelism and passionate about the power from on high bestowed in baptism, Wayne worked to liberate the people of God to accept the “already” – the gift of “God with us.” And at the same time, he labored to persuade God’s people to live intentionally into the “not yet” – the fullness of God’s reign, being born in the world about us.

“The members are the missionaries,” he declared, inviting all to embark on the mission of living God’s Good News in every aspect of daily life. He sometimes seemed bewildered that good Episcopalians often seemed unable to grasp the idea, that we are all participating in God’s plan – and there is no Plan B. No matter where we find ourselves, we are salt and light and leaven – even if we’re unaware of our power.

My friend Wayne died May 19, having served nearly 67 years as an Episcopal priest. His passion for peace and justice, especially as realized through the ministry of all the baptized, was the unifying cord that wove through his entire life. Just this year his beloved Virginia Theological Seminary published his latest book How to Live Your Faith – Missional Members Work for a More Loving and More Just World With God’s Help. His many accomplishments are hinted at in his online obituary. His family will celebrate his life and remember his legacy on Aug. 13, 2022 in Hinesburg, VT. Partners for Baptismal Living (PBL) – the source of this ongoing blog – is one of Wayne’s contributions to the church. As we stand in this liminal, uncertain time – in the church and in the wider world – may we live into the role Wayne urged us all to play – bearers of God’s Good News, committed to increase love and justice in the world.

Where can you see Christ Risen?

by Demi Prentiss

Pexels – Anton Antonasov

Lent, Holy Week, Easter Day – the journey through the Resurrection cycle of the Christian year has brought us to the Great 50 Days. We walk through the time between Easter and Pentecost remembering the stories of the Risen Christ appearing to disciples who were shocked and amazed by his presence.

Nearly 2000 years after those appearances, many of us are still shocked and amazed to recognize the Christ present in our world. Just like the disciples on the Emmaus road, just like Peter and his friends eating breakfast on the beach, we can miss the true identity of that compelling presence, until we suddenly see it. The moments when we become aware that Christ is among us point us directly to the calling Christ has placed on our lives.

Aaric Eisenstein, who calls himself “The Avian Rebbe,” describes his work as “teach[ing] Jewish wisdom seen in the beauty of birds.” Recognizing that the value of everyday work is not always immediately apparent, the Rebbe commented:

The Hebrew word Avodah is an enormously rich tool with multiple meanings. This word is used in the Bible to describe the Hebrew slaves toiling in Egypt. Avodah can mean prayer or worship. Its meaning can be as simple as “work” or “vocation.” And there is a sublime interpretation, which reclaims the “servitude” in Egypt and instead speaks of devotion to HaShem and our community. All of these are valid interpretations, each one – though wildly different in detail – sharing the commonality of “service.” Avodah means to labor on behalf of another, sometimes horrifically – think the slaves in Egypt – sometimes beautifully – think the joyful way we serve God and those around us.

Evaluating work, our own or others’, how do we think of it? …. Avodah, a single word which incorporates meanings from slavery to most worshipful service, is no coincidence. The work we do – the service we offer – is defined by us, not others. It is ennobled by the way we do it and the underlying intention.

Living into our calling often begins with the surprising awareness of what God is up to, and then contributing our own avodah. The work of living into the fullness of a life patterned after Christ may begin with the surprise of Easter; as we learn to perceive Christ’s immediate presence, it can become a lifelong path of daily steps along the Way of Love

Living the Last Words

by Demi Prentiss

We’re about to enter Holy Week, an opportunity to feel the power and the poignancy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We can choose to walk through those eight days as a memorial, a tradition, a liturgical banquet, a personal sacrifice. For me, this Lent, I’m drawn to reflect deeply on how each day’s drama is challenging me to live differently, starting now. How might my daily life be transformed?

My prayer is for God to change my heart. This song, “Last Words” by Karl Kohlhase has offered me a framework to press into opening my heart more fully. It calls me to see the habits I must let go to allow my heart to be – every day – more tender, trusting, thankful, holy, loving, perfect, and faithful.

May you listen and be challenged as I have been:

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,”
I hear you pray for those who torture you.
These are the words that tear my grudges all apart.
Create in me a tender heart.
 
You turn your head to address a dying thief.
“Today you’ll be in paradise with me.”
These are the words where every hopeless soul must start.
Create in me a trusting heart.
 
Your darkest hour you cried out from the tree,
“My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
These words of anguish pierce me through just like a dart.
Create in me a thankful heart.
 
Then unto Mary, “Woman behold your son,
Behold your mother,” your dying words to John.
These words begin a family of which I’m part.
Create in me a holy heart.
 
You said, “I thirst,” yet it was not for wine.
You thirst for love from desert souls like mine.
And with these words a flowing river you impart.
Create in me a loving heart.
 
Then “It is finished!” Your work on earth was done.
For in three days your battle would be won.
These are the words with which you crown your works of art.
Create in me a perfect heart.
 
“Into your hands, Father, I commend my breath.”
Your final prayer as you close your eyes in death.
And with these words one day I’ll fly to where you are.
Create in me, create in me, create in me a faithful heart.
                                                   “Last Words” by Karl Kohlhase

Blessing the work

by Demi Prentiss

The Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., president of Rockhurst University, blessing workers at a campus construction site. (Photo by Rockhurst University)

John O’Donohue was an Irishman – a poet, a philosopher, and a former Roman Catholic priest. He died in his sleep just days after his 52nd birthday in 2008.

His book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace carries the subtitle Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope. He explores our intimate human relationship with beauty, calling it “a homecoming of the human spirit.”

In the midst of pandemic and war, our souls are parched for the strength, integrity, and imaginative connections that beauty calls forth. O’Donohue summons us to open ourselves to the beauty we can discover in the dailiness of our lives. As we do that, we find ourselves strengthened by the blessings of our daily work.

Blessing of your work

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

 – by John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Stitch by stitch

by Pam Tinsley

Nathalie Bajinya, owner of Undeniable Bajinya. Photo courtesy of King TV

Nathalie is a young business owner, entrepreneur, and mother of a toddler, expecting her second child. She was taught to sew by nuns in a Kenyan orphanage and now designs and makes beautiful clothes that combine African colors with French and American styles. During Nathalie’s early childhood, war raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she and her siblings were forced to flee after their parents were murdered. The nuns recognized her gift and encouraged her to pursue her passion.

Faith and resilience led Nathalie to apply for refugee status in the US as a 14-year-old. She continued to sew; found community with both a local Refugee Choir and an Episcopal congregation; completed a business development program; started her own business at age 21; and then saved enough money to locate and bring her younger sister and brother to the US.

Yet, despite the trauma and hardship that she has experienced in her young life, Nathalie strives to encourage and support others in the name of Christ. She recognized that, although fellow refugees could speak English fluently, their inability to read and write limited their job prospects. So she began to hold reading and writing classes. And because of her own difficulties moving out of the foster care system at age 18, she began advocating for refugees – and others. When her shop was vandalized and a GoFundMe account was established on her behalf, she pledged to give any excess money to neighboring business owners whose shops were also vandalized.

Stitch by stitch, Nathalie sows and sews God’s love as she transforms the colorful fabric into clothing. Each choice of fabric and each stitch reflect the merciful and saving love that Nathalie has received from God and that she shares with others – through her encouragement of others, her Christlike actions, and her vibrant and unique fashion creations.

‘Marked as Christ’s own’

by Demi Prentiss

Flickr – Ivan Radic

Baptism is about belonging and identity. When we know whose we are, we know who we are. We are “Christ’s own forever”! That is our truest, fundamental identity, which has the power to set us free. We already belong to God. Our struggle now is to become what we already are.

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

When I worked as a community newspaper editor and publisher, I often stood with parents and families sending their high school athletes and band members off to an away game or tournament. In Central Texas, along with admonitions to “be safe,” “play hard,” and “be a good sport,” always part of the send-off was the shout from at least one adult: “Remember who you are and where you’re from!”  Part “do us proud” and part “don’t shame us,” those words also carried the message: “Be the amazing people we know you to be.” They were reminding teenagers that their behavior testified to their character, witnessed to their values, and proclaimed their true identity.

Teenagers aren’t the only folks who need reminding. As Br. Geoffrey offers in our lead-in, “our truest, fundamental identity … has the power to set us free.” Every time we renew our baptismal vows, or stand as witness to a baptism, we have an opportunity to remember the identity and behavior that makes us most truly who we are.  Br. Geoffrey affirms, “As we promise to serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace for all people, to respect the dignity of every human being, we are proclaiming before God, before ourselves, and before all the world, ‘This is who we are!’” Each of us lays claim to our true identity: Child of God, beloved and called.

Through scripture and our faith community, as well as the day-to-day world we encounter, God reminds us again and again both who we are and whose we are.  As we daily practice walking the Way of Love, our life-long task – our ministry in our daily lives – is to become what we already are.