Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I got the joy, joy, joy, joy....

...down in my heart!

"O Lord now lettest thou thy servant start her CAR, and her mouth shall show forth thy praise..."

and it's only twenty-eight below, folks! I shall have to remove some garments! Have already cast off the long johns! With a glad cry and a great burst of static electricity!

I was awake early, about 5:30, and did some serious thinking about transportation issues, and what I have to do over the next few days, and finally got "outside the box" in, "WHY do I not sally forth and...RENT A CAR with a working block heater?" And answer came there none. So at 7:30 I went out and whispered into the steering wheel, "Hey! Avis tries harder!" and after a minimum amount of ROWROWROWROWR, ignition!!!

Oh this makes everything over the next half-week SO MUCH EASIER.

Last evening a wedding couple came to see me. They had dropped in the week before,"just to see the church," just after I got back from lunch with my Old Guys Fixin' the Kitchen. And at that point I was (too) full of coffee, as I realized after I heard myself motor-mouthing at these kids about the church, and their wedding... but for some reason they were charmed, I guess, because back they came all fired up, and the groom hasn't been baptized but wants to be (Low Sunday, March 30), and probably his brother will want to be baptized as well. And they kept looking at me last night and saying "we are so excited about this." They had a 5:30 appointment and INSISTED on keeping it in spite of the barbaric weather and the fact that the boy had been working outdoors on frozen-up natural-gas installations all day...and at seven o'clock I finally, lovingly, threw them out. I think they'd have sat and beamed at me for another hour.

That is such balm on all the "gnawed" spots! Verily, verily, God is good.

I am putting in a half day today and then skedaddling for home. I have company for supper tonight; daughter, son-in-law, and former-parishioner-now-Lutheran-seminarian in one of those states with a vowel on each end. We are going to talk shop. Big time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

long johns

My dining-room-window thermometer is the dial kind. The lowest number is -40 (which can be either Celsius or Fahrenheit). This morning the needle was pointing about where -45 F. would have been. It can't move any further. I have no idea how cold it really was. Harriet the Echo declined to participate, and I saw no point in running the battery down "trying"; I was just glad to be able to get the driver's door closed, latched, and locked again. The latches get very stiff in this weather. And sitting on the normally comfortable, nicely cushioned driver's seat feels just like sitting down on a plank.

Sooooo. I came to work on the bus. Wearing the winter outfit as described yesterday plus one spiffy set of silk long underwear (the bottom half, I can always add fluffy sweaters to the top half). They make an astonishing difference.

I learned an endearing thing about Prairie Metropolis this morning, reading the paper. At these temperatures there are NO express bus routes. All buses stop for all passengers. NOBODY stands in the cold. I was scrabbling for my cash fare when I got on this morning -- "just take a seat, Ma'am, that's all right"...

Also at these temperatures locksmiths operate on a different set of protocols..."My two-year-old locked me out of the house in my dressing-gown" brings a locksmith just as fast as his wheels will turn, no matter what he's doing.

Because we are out of "uncomfortable" now and into "life-threatening." I had to change buses at the University terminus, hearing the driver's parting words -- "Everybody stay wrapped up and warm, I want to see all those noses and ears still attached tonight!" Fortunately there is no wind at all, and the sun, now well up, should dissipate the ice-fog (which was greatly intensified by the morning rush-hour, diminished though that was).

Time to call the Bible study participants and cancel tonight's session, I think. My secretary left a message -- car won't start and pipes frozen in her house (actually, where the main line enters the house, so she's at home "waiting for the county..."). But my kitchen-renovation crew have appeared! bless their hearts!

Monday, January 28, 2008


All right, somebody ask me TODAY about the temperatures in these parts!

It was five degrees above zero F. when I set off for the church yesterday morning. The temperature dropped steadily all day and overnight, and twenty-four hours later the thermometer outside my dining-room window registered thirty-three below F. Making no allowances for wind-chill (the wind is blowing).

The block-heater in the car (no garage) was plugged in overnight but I have deep doubts about its functioning. Finally I went out just before ten a.m. and tried starting it. I got "leavemealoneleavemealoneleavemealone" in a VERY bass register before, mirabile dictu it popped once, twice, and then started. Not quite with a roar -- kind of a combination of an asthma attack and falling downstairs, but IT STARTED. Banzai Toyota, I say. And it didn't stall.

Despite all the uproar about idling vehicles, I did let it warm itself a bit; left the driveway at ten and got here to Most Holy and Undivided twenty minutes later. Most of the way it felt like driving a vehicle hand-carved out of some kind of tough wood, with blunt tools, by hemp-crazed artisans.

The snow stopped sometime overnight and it is clear with a little sunshine. The wind is still whipping the loose snow back and forth into drifts...polishing the roads in the meantime.

I have to preside at the cathedral's noon Eucharist...I had a communion call scheduled to make directly afterward, to one of our senior ladies living downtown. But she's left a long and voluble message here forbidding me to try to visit her until the weather moderates. Now it is very tempting to disregard that and "get the serum to Nome" anyway (anybody else out there old enough to remember the intrepid Balto-the-lead-dog?) but I think I'll phone her and thank her winsomely for her kind consideration, and betake myself home early.

This weather, although fierce, is highly desirable. If we don't have at least one spell of these temperatures per winter, the filthy stinkin' pine-beetles' life-cycle isn't disrupted, and they hit the ground chomping in the spring, and decimating even more of the boreal forest, and leaving it fire-prone. There's always something.

And in defiance of my PETA-attached parishioners this morning, I am wearing my mother's mink coat. When I put it on, I just remember that my father loved my mother, very much, and my mother explicitly didn't want me to be cold when I got to be an old lady. So there it is.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Friday Five -- Winter Questions

1. What is the thermometer reading at your house this morning?

Well, hum, it was about five degrees above zero Fahrenheit. General rejoicing. It will be below zero again by Monday.

2. Snow—love it or hate it?

Love to look at it, even, at times, walk in it; but driving...makes it a real cuss.

3. What is winter like where you are?

We have two seasons, winter and road, that's just our brag. There is often permanent snow on the ground by Hallowe'en. "If your children's costumes are made to fit over snowsuits, you may be a Canadian." We often have at least one serious cold snap before Christmas, although often the worst cold comes in January or even February. I have actually seen snow falling here all 12 months of the year, but not in the same year, thanks be to God. By Christmas it is DARK -- dark when we go to work, dark again by 5 p.m. It is unwise to plant out anything but the hardiest specimens before at least the 24th of May and prudent gardeners await June 1st. Our snowfall varies wildly from winter to winter; some years the ground remains bare most of the season, other years we have had "snowbanks" higher than my head. What snow does fall is most typically light and powdery. Rarely we have a heavy "wet" snowfall of a foot or more.

4. Do you like winter sports? Any good stories?

Winter sports? you mean like cribbage and scrabble? Hey, if God had meant me to go outdoors in the winter, he would never have created the forced-air furnace. All winter sports involve falling down. And that means falling down in the snow, which is cold and wet, or falling down on the ice, which is cold and wet and HARD.

5. What is your favorite season, and why?

I do love summer. HEAT. And sun...and long, long, LONG daylight in this part of the world. And colour! Our winter is very monochromatic, although we get a lot of winter sunshine (in a near-horizontal form mostly).

Bonus: Share a favorite winter pick-me-up. A recipe, an activity, or whatever.

Well, I've often thought that HIBERNATION was an idea whose time was about due. Margaret Atwood says winter is when Canadians watch hockey and eat fat. What I like, though, is tea; or hot chocolate; or ginger tea from James Barber's book (cures early death, believe me) bring to the boil a cup of water or a bit more, add to it about an inch of fresh unpeeled ginger root, chopped up, a heaping tablespoonful of brown sugar, and the juice of a lemon. Throw the lemon halves in as well. Simmer it for a while. Strain and drink as hot as you can stand it...

OH and a P.S. -- sometimes we have forty below, with the aurora borealis; but sometimes we have a Chinook (pronounced sh'nook)...which is basically a Santa Ana type strong, strong, wind from the west, coming over the Rockies, warm and dry, which can raise the temperature 20 degrees in no time, erase snow, and generally make it all bearable again!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cold Sweat Dep't.

I need to share with you the upshot of the situation I described, somewhat lightheartedly, on January 5th -- the blowing of fuses during the concert? And subsequent restoration of power? (pause to mop brow at the thought).

Well. While all this was going on, the catering friends of the musicians were getting the reception ready in the Upper Hall (socializing area) in the south wing, which abuts the little kitchen. They were boiling kettles for tea and so forth -- but in the excitement, nobody noticed at the time that the electric range had abruptly stopped working.

When this was noticed, some days later, we assumed that it was an internal fuse problem, until we realized that no PART of the range was working. At all. Soooo. As is our wont, we notified the Man Who Understands Fixing Things. And he (who had been summoned to get power back into the church during the concert) looked Extremely Thoughtful, and went away with his flashlight to trace the dedicated circuit that powers the range.

What he found...was a place where the heavy-duty wire in this circuit passed from rigid conduit into flex conduit (negotiating a bend around one of the beams under the floor). When it was installed, by a qualified tradesman mind you, no one bothered to instal the proper connector between the flex and the rigid conduit, they just jammed in the end of the flex and left it to hold together by friction or surface tension or God's infinite patience or something.

When you cut that flexible conduit, however, you get sharp edges. And over the last 20 years, with the warming and the cooling and the expanding and the contracting, the sharp edges had worked on the insulation (are you sick to your stomach yet?)...until, on the night of the concert, that circuit shorted, MELTED the wires, MELTED the one connector that was in position, and blew the big 100 amp. circuit breaker that ALSO cut off power to the church proper. They did notice that every time they turned that breaker back on it blew again...until, as we now know, the "shorted" place finally burned out altogether, the wires burned apart completely.

Surrounded as they were by pink fibreglass insulation, paper backed, with loose wood shavings lying all about where they had dropped when the hole for wire was drilled through the floor above.

And yet we're still here. Not a pile of ashes. Thanks be to God. Without ceasing.

Soooo. We're doing a big mapping of where all the doggone wires come and go in this 95 year old building...and what kind of wires they are...and what state the insulation is in...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the dreaded Annual Report...

One of the pleasures of being in ministry at Most Holy and Undivided is the location of the Rector’s office. (All right, there are moments when it is also one of the challenges of being in ministry at Most Holy and Undivided!) But most of the time it is a joy to be in this so-permeable space, where I have no choice but to hear so much going on, upstairs and down, in the nave and chancel, in Upper Hall and Lower Hall and often in the Green Room and the corridor spaces as well: at times even in the “lonely East Wing.” This ever-unfolding, ongoing “sound portrait” of life in Most Holy and Undivided offers plenty of material for reflection on who we are and what we do, and ultimately on the goodness of God to us and through us.

As I turn to writing this report, finally (one of the things I sometimes hear is Dreamsecretary sighing, next door…), the sound portrait is especially rich and inspiring. To the left of me, more or less, the sounds of renovation: hand tools and power tools of all kinds, and much masculine conversation (yesterday afternoon this sound was further enriched with feminine conversation, as the kitchen renovators and the Knit-Wits worked and socialized in the Upper Hall). There is even the occasional enlivening crash of demolition, to keep us all alert.

At the same time, to the right of me, more or less, the sound of organ practice. What at first sounds unfamiliar, random, resolves itself into a familiar hymn tune (the words of the hymn hovering just on the verge of awareness), and the tune works its way through countless variations of harmony, register, tempo, volume. (In the meantime, kitchen renovations continue to provide accents of percussion.)

And it seems to me that once again this odd combination of sounds, sometimes jarring, sometimes wonderfully harmonious, is a kind of capsule summary of our life together at MH&U during the past year. If there are special emphases, they might include things like the ongoing work on our church building—with all its special challenges. The beauty of an old building is balanced by its fragility; the joy of worshipping in it, in balance with the chagrin of discovering yet another imperfection in its infrastructure.

Another emphasis in the last twelve months has been our work with families; with children of nursery and Sunday School age, with the appointment of a Co-ordinator for our young people; in another way, also, our work with couples approaching marriage, and our outings for seniors. If we were to balance those accomplishments with the not-yet-done, I would think of our unmet need for a Parents’n’Babies program, and the hope that we might this year provide a helpful and nourishing ministry to singles as well.

There is satisfaction too in contemplating the ways we strengthen our community internally and externally with social occasions, work bees of all sorts, including that hardy perennial, the semi-annual Rummage Sale, and with music in so many different forms. The opportunity to sing together, so easily taken for granted in our experience of worship, grows ever rarer in the world around us—even in the churches around us.

Considering our music, in turn, reminds me of all the ways, musical and other, in which we support and interact with our neighbours in this community and in the wider world – all the kinds of outreach that are empowered by this congregation’s understanding of God’s goodness.

Part of strengthening our community life is marking personal milestones for the members of our own congregation – birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, promotions and so forth. I look back at a year with baptisms, weddings, birthday and anniversary parties, and, of course, memorials too. In 2007 we bade farewell to a number of long-time, indeed lifelong parishioners: ... We give thanks for their lives and for the assurance that we need not mourn as must those without our hope, rooted in Christ’s resurrection.

Exploring and growing into “the reasons for the hope that is in us” is part of the function of our Christian Education programme for adults as well as for our children. During the past year we have explored a number of Christian thinkers; this year we continue an end-to-end study of Matthew’s Gospel (feel free to drop in, any Tuesday evening), interrupted by special book study session during Lent and Advent. We look forward to more early-Sunday-afternoon presentations by parishioners and guests, on the model of the “Epiphanies all over the place” that we have enjoyed in the last month. Christian Education in this season of our lives has to have in view the ever more pervasive attacks not just upon churches but on Christianity itself, and, in fact, any form of religious faith. We can no longer count on, or coast on, a residue of even low-level respect for religious belief and practice in our society; it behooves us to know what we are about, and why, and also to know how to make that clear to onlookers who may be not only uninformed but actively hostile.

No small part of the gratitude we feel as members of a parish (and this brings me back to the impromptu symphonies I hear in my office) is that our thankfulness to God for the many blessings we enjoy cannot be expressed or even experienced without a parallel recognition of how God’s goodness is ministered to us through the dedication and spontaneity and uniqueness of the human beings with whom we work and worship. As I give thanks to God, then, for another year as Rector in this place, I am also thinking with gratitude of a great many human beings. Some of them have written reports for this meeting. More of them are named in the reports for this meeting. Many whose names may not appear here or elsewhere are still essential to the fullness of our life together. I am grateful to you all, each and severally, more than I can say.

But I would like to thank specifically, first, our invaluable Office Administrator – not least for her unfailing positivity and good humour. As one of my Internet clergy-friends commented, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” And my own work has been made, in various ways, very much easier and vastly more pleasant this year by the collegial presence and activity of the Reverend Curate and Mrs. Curate, to whom we wish all good things in their new posting, and of the Reverend Honorary Assistant and Mrs. HA, whom it is a joy to welcome into our midst.

As we embark, this next week, upon our Lenten discipline, I hope that thankfulness for the past year will empower us to attend with diligence to our thoughts, our habits, our speech and our action, to examine our lives and open ourselves to God’s transforming power wherever changes need to be made, and will strengthen our willingness to take time to prepare properly for the great celebration of Easter.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

All this productivity is getting me down...

A Poster for Procrastinators

Vestry met last night, primarily to consider the Financial Forecast for the year of the Lord 2008. In the (very) long run, it was approved for presentation to the congregation in two weeks at the AGM. This is all good.

There are wonderful people on our Vestry...intelligent and shrewd and careful and imaginative and courteous and incisive and dedicated. And there are the others. Fortunately, in the minority. They have absorbed a few scraps and phrases of Holy Chat, and broadcast them as justification for their unmediated and unexamined un-, sub-, and semi-conscious impulses to power, self-aggrandizement and harm-to-others. Last night I decided to let them wear themselves out. Two and three-quarter hours.

Nevertheless they passed the Financial Forecast. It's a budget, folks -- but about 15 years ago, Most Holy and Undivided was visited (or visitated) by one of the current "I Can Fix Your Parish" gurus that infest the church at the moment, and from his visit one of the Great Truths absorbed and retained was that the term "budget" is too negative, or unwelcoming, or something. Along with prayer-books...

This morning's paper has a story about a recent experiment with rats -- mothers and young -- in which it was ascertained that young rats who were licked LESS by their mothers suffered higher levels of stress than those who were licked MORE. It was also implied that "low licker" mothers had themselves not been licked sufficiently in their youth. I think, on this evidence, I have some "low-licked" parishioners...but I don't think I can make this insight the central metaphor of my Annual Report, alas.

I have to say -- that the RevGals are a powerful consolation and encouragement and I thank God for y'all, daily.

Monday, January 21, 2008

That Was the Weekend that Was...

At the moment high-intensity "fixin'" continues in the kitchen just down the corridor from my office. Vestry meets tonight and I have yet to amend the agenda and write up the Rector's Report. Main agenda item will be the budget for this year. It's a good one, I think; I'm hoping that it will be approved without too much acrimony.

Saturday somehow evaporated on me...a meeting in the morning of about a half-dozen people trying to form a book group, some in the parish and some not...various proposals revealing what I hope is NOT a fatal incongruency of expectations and agendas...maybe because I was the only gurrrrrl at the table, I was very much aware of territoriality ploys...or thought I was. Anyhow in the upshot we gently declined to take on the 900 page theo-socio-philosophical masterwork. And opted for Rupert Shortt's anthology, God's Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. Somehow in the process I became the person-in-charge of getting the books. Also the person-in-charge of making coffee. Words fail me...

Then I had a very happy interview with a delightful couple planning to be married in August. The groom's my-uncle-the-priest will be asked to participate in the service. FINE by me.

And so, eventually, home. Yesterday was a marathon, though; two communion services in the morning; there was "time for healing prayer" at the second one, but no takers, good! I take it that that means everyone feels hale and hearty. Then a parishioner made a presentation on ecclesiological understandings arising out of the South African experience of the last hundred years, with reflections from St. Augustine on the "two cities." Then it was time to run, with communion kit and all, to a seniors' residence for the monthly service there with the usual half-dozen faithful ladies.

Trying to be efficient, I had packed "gear" for the final stop of the day, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity city-wide service (of course, at a church on the opposite edge of the city!) at seven o'clock. Being "The Anglican" on the committee, and in the program, I went the High-and-Lifted-Up Evensong route: cassock, surplice, academic hood, tippet. The Protestant clergy all were in dark suits, fair enough (though a Geneva gown would not have been out of place); but to my dismay the Roman Catholic and the Ukrainian Catholic, who can usually be counted on for suitably flashy haberdashery, also opted for plain dark suits. So there we were. A long row of undertakers, and one old woman apparently channeling Archbishop Laud. Sigh.

Never mind, the service went well, the readers read audibly and with understanding, a working projector was pressed into service at the last minute, the turnout was gratifying, the praise band "didn't suck" (apologies for that highly technical musicological jargon), and the coffee afterward was just excellent. As might have been foreseen; when over half the congregants' names begin with "Van," somehow, good coffee is one of the givens, right? Or am I just profiling, here?

Back to the writing of reports...and some office-cleaning by way of R and R.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Five: Read Any Good Books Lately?

The website promoting this piece of art says, "For the first time, the worlds most influential religious texts are brought together and presented on the same level, their coexistence acknowledged and celebrated”. The shelf is made of reclaimed wood that contains seven religious books. The designers have put them – literally – on the same level.

Well, pish posh! I think that some books ARE better than others! How about you?

1. What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why? I was pretty taken with God's Advocates, an anthology of interviews edited by Rupert Shortt, religion editor of TLS. Shortt is a first-rate interviewer and his interviewees are spectacularly articulate. It was just a great way to see, quickly, something of "what's going on" in theology at the moment. Or Jaroslav Pelikan, either The Melody of Theology or Christianity and Classical Culture. I love Pelikan because he is the master, or the collaborator, of his sources; he as all the horses in his team, and he drives them to perfection.

2. What is one of your favorite childhood books? I can think of a couple. One was Rainbow Valley. I was quite a lot older before I realized that the "Anne" in it was the famous "Anne of Green Gables"!!! And years afterward I lent my precious copy to a friend, for her daughter to read...and never got it back...heartbreak! A second one was The Secret Garden. I borrowed it from a school-friend, got caught reading it surreptitiously after bedtime, and was made to take it back the next day, UNFINISHED... this is getting too sad, it's time to move on to the next question obviously!

3. Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell! UM...Genesis for the stories, which are much funnier in Hebrew (how do they do that?); First and Second Kings, again, for the plots...; among the Gospels Luke, perhaps, or John...I'd be hard pressed to choose one over the other. And Hebrews.

4. What is one book you could read again and again? Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice or any of the Austen Six. And at the moment I've embarked on re-reading all of Charles Dickens for a year-long project.

5. Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why? Oh my. In the parish we're going to read Sam Wells, Power & Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection. But me personally? I have so many books piled up here with bookmarks in them, about page 19...maybe my Lenten discipline will be to FINISH the top 2 or 3 in the heap!

And because we all love bonus questions, if you were going to publish a book what would it be? Who would you want to write the jacket cover blurb expounding on your talent? The temptation is to say, "the TOTALLY ACCURATE novel that would BLOW THE LID OFF the church/this diocese/this parish"....and who would write the blurb? Come now, Rowan Williams, obviously!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tomorrow's FRIDAY, all day long

Well today I actually got a few nagging tasks OFF my plate, hurray. Not all of them, but enough that I don't feel totally futile this evening.

Holy communion at ten this morning with the "usual suspects" and reading the Luke account of Jesus in the temple among "the doctors," we got to telling stories about losing track of our children in shopping malls, etc., and what that feels like, and then talked about the whole business of "tacit bargaining" -- how do you reach a consensus with people you can't see or hear or communicate with, e.g. on where you'll gather in hopes of meeting up. And why did it take them THREE WHOLE DAYS to think of looking in the temple, anyhow?

I answered or forwarded or filed -- AND THEN DELETED -- something over 50 messages from my inbox.

I sent two invitation messages to other Christian groups, reminding them about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

And with the help of a STERLING parishioner, who also sits on the same Board, I managed to reconstruct the minutes for the November meeting which I had ENTIRELY LOST. What a sick sensation. Especially as this is all but the very last go-round of this job that I'll do...I'm coming OFF the Board as of Wednesday next. And to have "lost the minutes," right at the end, did feel most ignominious.

Our unequalled secretary-bookkeeper finished up the 2007 accounts, and decided we could invest ten dollars in a courier to take them to the accounts-examining firm. We had freezing rain overnight, followed all day, more or less, by snow. It is Not Good out there on the roads, so for that trifling sum we got somebody else to drive downtown on our behalf.

And I went and found myself a nutritious and inexpensive lunch, topped off with a little bag of nuts. Going to try the MUFA route to weight-loss. Stay tuned!!!

One more tiny photocopying job, and away I go home with some hope of accomplishing more than the daily collapse in front of the television.

...and a DAY OFF. Well, at least until 3 pm when I have a Budget Meeting with my Wardens.

In the background all day yesterday and today there has been "fixin'" going on. The good ol'boys who do the "fixin'" here at Most Holy and Undivided, have just taken it into their heads that the small, apartment-sized, upstairs kitchen adjacent to our offices, needs renovations. This is not the Monster Institutional Kitchen DOWNstairs, with the 10-burner gas range, you understand. This is just the little kitchen where the rector and her secretary make tea, refrigerate their sandwiches, nuke their mac'n'cheese, etc.

The process of the "fixin'" entailed finding out why the (quite modern) electric range was deader than King Tut...despite its dedicated electrical circuit. We've had some electrical adventures here the last wee while, and yesterday the Fixer-in-Chief found out (at least in part) -- WHY. He appeared triumphantly in my office, brandishing the most appalling fistful of charred wiring and half-melted connectors... This will now all be put to rights. I try not to think about what else may be lurking in the walls, unrevealed.

In my last parish I was told that every church goes through at least one "One Big Nail" period in maintenance and upkeep: "what we need here, to mend this, is just...One Big Nail..." I think this ideology has cycled several times in this parish...with analogies in the electrical department: "just jam'er in, and make'er fit."

subjects for midnight reflection! not to mention prayer!

You Belong in 1951

You're fun loving, romantic, and more than a little innocent. See you at the drive in!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oh be joyful...

Lo! in the rectorial inbox this morning...links to the complete text of Mike Higton's book, online; look for it here.

and, most delightfully, a Litany of Mercy based on the passage I quoted yesterday! You can find the Litany right here.

Try to ignore the twitchiness of the presentation and the continuous fall of little artificial leaves -- reminds me of the final scene of Cyrano de Bergerac as it was staged in Stratford (Ontario)...45 years ago!

And this is all from a parishioner in the aftermath of last Sunday's sermon and reading and conversation!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Little Towns of Bethlehem

I don't yet have the skills to reproduce this WITH the typographical spacing, which is quite important to the total effect, so I'll just post a link instead.

This was the poem that I read in lieu of sermon at the late service Christmas Eve. You can read it here.

As asked for...

Here is the Mike Higton quotation, from Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams. Church Publishing: New York, 2004, p. 1.

"Last month, I found myself sitting in an airport departure lounge littered with people in transit: people from more backgrounds than I could guess, speakers of more languages than I was able to recognize, all accidentally thrown together in a cluttered public space in which few of us ever spoke more than a handful of words to any of those around us. I was on my way to what was for me an important meeting, finishing some university business I had been negotiating for months; I was nervous, defensive, concerned to make a good impression when I arrived at my destination. with some dull time to fill before my flight was called, I tried to decide how to begin this description of Rowan Williams' theology. In particular, I tried to think of a way to convey the claim that in the two or more million words of his published writings he is constantly concerned to press one simple question -- and I realized that I could not think about that question without asking how it caught up with me exactly there, exactly then.

Sitting there, I was aware of the work-stale glances of the airport staff, of the quickly averted eyes of my fellow travellers, of the anticipated scrutiny of those I was going to meet, of the assessing gaze of my employers carried around in my head, and of my own anxious self-regard. What difference would it have made if I had let myself believe that, beyond all these, I was held in a wholly loving gaze? What difference would it have made if I believed myself subject to a gaze which saw all my surface accidents and arrangements, all my inner habits and inheritances, all my anxieties and arrogances, all my history -- and yet a gaze which nevertheless loved that whole tangled bundle which makes/2/ me the self I am, with an utterly free, utterly selfless love? What difference would it have made if I let myself believe that I was held in a loving gaze that saw all the twists and distortions of my messy self, all the harm that it can do and has done, but also saw all that it could become, all that it could give to others, and all that it could receive?

And what difference would it have made if I had seen each face around me in that departure lounge -- cleaners, businessmen, emigrants and immigrants, waitresses, tourists, even academics on university business -- as individually held in the same overwhelming, loving gaze? What difference would it have made if I believed each person around me to be loved with the same focus, by a love which saw each person's unique history, unique problems, unique capacity, unique gift? And what difference would it have made if I believed that this love nevertheless made no distinctions between people more worthy and people less worthy of love, no distinctions of race, religion, age, innocence, strength, or beauty: a lavish and indiscriminate love?

It was easy to jot these simple questions down, easy to think about them -- but to believe in such a loving regard, and to let belief in it percolate down through all the sedimented layers of my awareness, would have been shattering. such unfettered acceptance would have been utterly disarming; to believe such good news, such a Gospel, would have been very, very difficult."

-- I excerpted it, as you can imagine. The children's talk went really well. I had just four boys, three of them in the pre-teen hooligan stage. We talked about the possibility of remembering that we are beloved whenever we contact water, and I used a little water in the Lavabo bowl, thumbed a cross on each of their foreheads and said, "Remember you are beloved." They took that well without too much grimacing -- the next phase was to say, "Hmmmm, everybody seems to have a cross except ME..." So they applied their little thumbs to the task and then went off to Sunday School, very happily.

One of them is a theologian in the making. He pointed out, "It's a lot easier to remember about being beloved when the water's in a nice silver bowl like that." So we had a very brief chat about the need to educate our imaginations so that ALL water speaks to us of being beloved. "Right," he said.

Our writer's presentation on the book-in-progress went well--between those who came because they were interested, and those who came just in case something might be happening behind their backs...he writes well, and he reads well, and there was much to think about in what he said.

Then home and dinner preparation.'s too long since I baked a cake. Some of it was beaten too much and some not enough and it rose up amazingly in the pan and fell down just as amazingly once it was out of the oven, and altogether looked wretched. The kids chomped it down, uttering protesting cries, "It's fine, Mom, it's really chocolatey, and ... ummm... dense!" Fondue was good, though, and we had two kinds of nice salad and lots of wine and good coffee. When dinner was through I started the first dishwasher load, and then betook myself and the aches and pains to the sofa with a knitted throw and Pickwick Papers and listened with great contentment to the young ones playing some game or other --Apples to Apples perhaps? at the dining-room table. Tremendous glee and conversation and laughter.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Dear all,
I'll post the Mike Higton quote, as requested, tomorrow morning FIRSTEST the moment I have to run home, pausing by the bakery to get 3-4 baguettes, and bake the Killer Chocolate Cake (corrected version) and then grate 2 lb. of Swiss cheese, the family are going to "have fon-duing it" tonight, big time.
Sermon went OK this morning and so did our after-church session, details tomorrow, love you much!


Oh wow -- take warning by me, a person should never try to transcribe a recipe from memory without the Authorized Version at hand for reference.
In re: the Killer Chocolate Bundt Cake, then:
1 pkg dark chocolate or devils' food cake mix (18.5 oz)
1 pkg. instant chocolate pudding (3.75 oz.)
1 cup sour cream (I've used plain yogurt w/o perceived loss of quality)
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup cooking oil (I forgot the oil...I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry)
4 eggs
1.5 cups dark chocolate chips.

Combine everything but the chocolate chips and beat hard for 4 minutes. Fold in the Chocolate chips. Bake in your greased and floured* (12 cup) Bundt pan at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until it tests done. Cool IN the pan, right side up, for 10-15 minutes before you turn it out on a rack to complete cooling.
*Instead of flour sometimes I dust the greased pan with cocoa powder -- v. nice!
Sprinkle with icing sugar (if you sprinkle it through a paper doily...very snazzy pattern too!)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Things I like very much and give thanks for...

Just reflecting on reasons for gratitude, and I have one little one and one big one.

Little one first: coatmakers (or shirtmakers, or whoever) that add a couple of spare buttons somewhere unobtrusive inside the garment. My winter coat and I got involved with a grocery cart the other night while I was stretching and straining to get heavy groceries into the trunk of Harriet. I realized after I'd driven away that I was now short one coat button. MOST UNHAPPY about it too: it makes me feel "derelict." So I was grumbling about having to go and buy a cardful of substitutes and LO! there was a spare!!! All respectable again.

And the big one: the moment when we are confronting a major (five-figure) semi-emergency capital outlay at Most Holy and Undivided (can you say "boilers"?), and I am beginning to hyperventilate, and one of the medium-elderly men of substance in the parish sidles up to me and mutters out of the corner of his mouth, "Don't you worry about this, eh"--they never quite get to the point of saying, "Gotcha covered, babe" -- but the comfort is equivalent. Thank God, Thank God, who puts it into the hearts of his faithful people to give gifts for his service and worship.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Five: Las Mananitas

1. When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous or in your own life) share it? August 9th...I'm not sure anybody famous shares it. I do have a cousin with an August 1st birthday, and throughout our childhood we often had joint celebrations and a joint cake. She reminds me that our mothers (who were sisters) would hold a plate on edge between the two clusters of candles to prevent battles over who blew out which ones!

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few? Intimate celebrations are what we've mostly had, although my daughter threw me a wonderful GREAT BIG PARTY for number five-oh.

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both. The fiftieth was pretty special! But on my birthday in '06 I was all by myself on the road in Ontario; spent the afternoon on the beach at Agawa Bay, and treated myself to a steak dinner that night in Sault Ste. Marie. Nice in its own way too!

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream? (Bonus points if you share the cake recipe). Or would you rather have a different treat altogether? I am very fond of Black Forest Cake; or my Killer Chocolate Bundt Cake recipe (chocolate cake mix, instant chocolate pudding mix, 4 eggs, 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup hot water, a slug of almond or peppermint extract, and a cup of nice big dark chocolate chips folded in just before it's baked)...with mint chocolate-chip ice-cream.

5. Surprise parties: love 'em or hate 'em? Never had one--not that I remember--I dislike the IDEA, I'd probably love the party once I was over the shock!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Over the Stile

Well, I did get home last night, resisted all the fast-food drive-thru's en route, fried myself 7 great big mushrooms, all sliced up, and put them on toast and ate them, and went to bed quite exhausted.

The staff evaluation went very smoothly; great appreciation expressed for the work of our Music Director, and approval for his salary request for next year, not just on the basis that he's a nice guy (which he is), but "because it's the right thing to do, and this is how we treat Our People."

I confess I'm relieved. Budget goes to the full Vestry (session, parish council, whatever you call it in your polity) on the 21st, and now there are three respected members OF Vestry prepared to speak cogently on behalf of this line in the budget, without my having to utter a word.

This is particularly pleasing and calming because Director of Music is also (ahem) son-in-law of six months' standing...
It sure is a help when there is a chart, or a grid, or some kind of authoritative table of numbers, such as the one published by the national College of Organists, that can be cited in these discussions.

Another meeting, extra-parochial, this afternoon. Most Holy and Undivided has two seats on the board of an agency that manages three residences for able-bodied seniors on fixed incomes (we built one of the three, back in the day). I've been a member now for six-seven years, including two as Vice Chair, two as Chair, two as Past Chair -- and this year I've been Secretary, with the help of my laptop, as there was no one else in a position to take minutes. Today the Executive Committee met, in part to set agenda for the full Board meeting in two weeks. And that meeting will be my last.

It's been quite a ride...a forensic audit; criminal prosecution of a former manager (for fraud); a whacking big lawsuit; two formal mediation procedures (one of which settled the lawsuit, advantageously); constant dickering with staff, residents, families, and the provincial government, which owns the buildings and oversees operations. I've learned an immense amount...and if anybody had told me in advance what was going to happen, I'd have run the other way squealing in terror rather than join the Board at all. I've dealt with some really, really good folks -- and some of the other kind too! And I've had the good feeling that what I brought to the table was of value, and even sometimes "just what we needed." Bliss!

I'll miss these folks...but I'm looking forward to two freed-up afternoons per month! Also bliss!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Meetings R Us, or at least R Me

COLD again here in Prairie Metropolis, even in full sun midafternoon the temperature never got above zero Fahrenheit; and it's RAW. Frost on the cars, enough frost on the roads to make them greasy in the intersections. Always fun.

I had a 10 a.m. meeting scheduled with an ecumenical group in my end of the city -- opposite direction from Most Holy and Undivided. To complicate matters -- I had a NOON meeting with an overlapping ecumenical group in the same venue -- and a bundle of information to share, awaiting pickup at the Big Boss Church downtown. One of those mornings when one makes a whole series of bad judgement calls. Decided to drive downtown before the first meeting. Left too late. Got caught up in conversation en route. Resoundingly late for the first meeting, but provided with my handouts for the second one.

Our host at the meetings provided Real Coffee, thereby honouring his cultural and theological background: Real Coffee rather than Pale Ecclesiastical Dishwater as usually served in most places including, alas, this one.

Maybe it was the caffeine; but by the time the second meeting got going, at least two of us at the table (both women, which was interesting) were on a complete tear. Somewhere in the novel David Harum, one of the characters is described as "a harmless kind of putterin' old foozle," a phrase that fits more than one of the folks I was meeting with, all too painfully well. In fact Putterin' Old Foozle-tude has just about brought this group to extinction over the last few years.

Today, we refused to let it take over. We made suggestions, we made decisions, we cut to the chase, we ran away with the meeting in fact...the other participants looked either delighted or stunned... and we were adjourned and OUT in time that I didn't have to break the speed limit to get to Commitment #3, a nursing-home service on the far side of town.

Thanks be to God, the world's BEST volunteers had conveyed the Big Communion Kit to the nursing home for me (it was complicated)...we had 18 people present and 3 fine Christmas hymns (hey, we're still in the Octave of Epiphany, we can do this)...the coffee was still working, I think, too--"preaching" on these occasions is always a challenge, but I'm learning. Tell'em a story, tell'em about children in church, make'em laugh. So I told 3 kids-in-Christmas-pageant stories: the little boy who summed up Christmas as "In spite of everything, Jesus got borned"; the little girl who couldn't see the manger and shouted out, "Let Jesus show! You have to let Jesus show!" (thank you, Frederick Buechner). And in the middle I told the story of the little boy who said the wise men brought "gold, commonsense, and beer."

This all went down well, and nobody wandered off in the middle, and the two elderly sisters who generally fight each other were not present this afternoon, so we didn't have to stop and separate them... and I even found a parking slot close to the entrance, enough to make one's day all by itself.

ONE MORE MEETING ... THERE'S ONE MORE MEETING TO CROSS, no, sorry, that was "rivers."

We have staff review here in an hour and a half for our Music Director; combined with budget approval for our music ministry (he needs and would like an Organist-Assistant); some other pre-Vestry and pre-Annual General Meeting matters to nail down, and the old woman may get home tonight after all (cf. the old nursery rhyme, do you remember? "Pig won't get over the stile, and I sha'n't get home tonight"...STORY OF MY LIFE!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ever-lovin' Tuesday

Bright and cold today again. I am excavating the top of my desk, with no more than moderate success. Too much to do, too little time, and setting priorities, oy vey.

We DO have power in the church again, though, thank goodness...and we've had yet another concert without tripping the circuit-breakers, hurray. I skipped the latter one, having invited parishioners for supper Sunday night, I went home and cooked instead. All went well: good food, good drink, good talk; and guests and resident cat took to each other rapturously at first sight.

I didn't make formal New Year's Resolutions but one of my "intentions" or "fond hopes" or something like that is to entertain once a week. SMALL groups. Next Sunday will be family...cheese honour of late-December and mid-January birthdays. Married offspring will furnish salad. And I'll concoct a Bundt cake, I think, to cover the "festive dessert" component.

When we celebrate birthdays, the cake etc. is always referred to as "the cold gruel"..."Get ready to sing, Mom's about to bring in The Cold Gruel" -- this puzzles non-family guests extremely.

Just ordered Samuel Wells, Power & Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection for a Lenten study book. The regular Tuesday night session on Matthew's Gospel will resume this evening also (it'll go "into suspension" again while we read Wells). I'm hoping and praying it will appeal -- and not turn out to be "TOO HARD." It has that great allure of being a specifically Lenten book, i.e., SIX we have some hope of finishing it in Holy Week at least.

I have 3 parishioners signed up to provide short (45 minute) presentations after coffee the next 3 Sundays -- we're calling this, "Epiphanies all over the place"! One will be on St. Augustine, one on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and one a reading from a book being written by a parishioner, on the experience of a year of liturgy here at Most Holy. He's a good writer and keenly interested in theology and liturgy. I'm very interested to see what his fellow-congregants make of this!

And I have to get on the phone and round up discernment committee members for a parishioner who is resuming candidacy for ordination to the priesthood after a lengthy hiatus in his process.

Tomorrow is meetings, all day long, the first two at the other end of the city, so I won't come into the office at all until late afternoon.

And so it goes...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The fun never ends, hardly...

We are in the middle of a recital of extremely contemporary music for brass and strings, with accompaniments of a DVD-ish nature...something in the battery of imported electrical gear for lights, sound, etc., has riled the electrical system in the sanctuary, and it is now DARK.
The concert is proceeding with the aid of the five candles on the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany wreath, and a little bit of light filtering through from the office wing, where the power is still on.
The man-who-understands-the-breakers has been phoned.
My horrid fear whenever this happens is that it's a prelude to the whole she-bang burning down...the wiring being quite elderly and eccentric.
The latest bulletin from "T" is "so far, so good." Thank you, thank you, for all your prayers and good wishes.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Dear "pastor ladies on the Internet"

Please pray this morning for T, who is scheduled for the ECT procedure IF she has been given a CAT scan already; if not, she will have the ECT on Monday. Postpartum woes, amounting to psychosis. Please remember her husband, their infant daughter, and T's toddler son...and the grandparents.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Year-End Meme Thingie

This is fun...

September: "Midway through, allegedly, the most productive day of the work week, but not this work week, I can tell."

October: "Back at my Tuesday desk after adventures in the last week."

November:"I had my third appointment this morning early..."

December: "I spent morning and early afternoon at a Quiet Day at a small parish in the outer 'burbs; about a dozen people, which meant everybody could find a hidey-hole of his/her own for the quiet times."

And now it's JANUARY -- Happy New Year, one and all.

We have a wedding this afternoon -- rehearsal yesterday... the bride is a church-person, the groom not so much so; we had a brief informal Communion after the rehearsal yesterday for those so-minded; three readings chosen for this afternoon, ending off triumphantly with John 2 (best story EVER)... and one of the bride's dear friends is one of our new deacons in the diocese, so she is coming to "process" and read the Gospel and generally adorn the chancel.

For a sermon they are getting a precis of the Queen's 60th Anniversary sermon by the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Canter-Bear, his own self. I filch only from the best. (It's worth looking up on his website if you haven't seen it. Very very simple. Well, he WAS preaching to the Royal Family, God love them).

Here is the link.

By the way, the New Year's Eve concert was every bit as fantabulous as expected!