Monday, September 20, 2010

My Blog is Moving

I have decided to move my blog to my own server and domain and use WordPress to give me better moderation tools. Setting up this move has taken several days and because of that and some other tasks, I have not been able to post lately because of it. I apologize for the inconvenience that this may cause but I hope that you will create a new bookmark and follow over there.

The new site is at:

Thank you for your patience and I'll see you over there!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

All is Quiet on the Western Front

Things seem to have become quiet on many of the blogs that I follow (mine included). There has not been a private word with directions that has been passed along to those of us who blog. But it is interesting to see this collective quiet.

There is an American fear of quiet. We tend to get worried when people seem to suddenly stop speaking. We fear that anger, or perhaps something worse, is brewing under the surface. As parents we can often get quite concerned when our children's usual flamboyant character becomes retrospective and mute. As a group we tend to prefer people to stay engaged in conversation, expressing every nuance of their feelings and thoughts. It makes us feel safer I think. But it doesn't need to be so. One of my greatest joys in life is sitting beside my wife. We don't necessarily have to talk or be engaged in the same activity (we usually read different sorts of books). The simple experience of being in her presence is, to me who am quite biased in this regard, peaceful joy. We see this among those who have been married for many, many years as they sit together on a park bench, talk walks or just sit in the front parlor together.

I think we have come to a moment of what perhaps ought to be peaceful quiet. We have been living something like the Mass in our lives of late. The first part of the Mass is not even at the church. As Fr. Schmemann correctly points out our hurried little activities at home are the beginnings of a procession into the mystery of Christ. We rise, say some prayers, clean ourselves, get dressed into nice clothes, round up our children (which is ofttimes a struggle to convince them to move beyond a snails pace), and finally get into the car. We arrive at church, greeting the ushers at the door and make our way to our familiar pew to quietly say some more prayers. The bell sounds out from the sacristy and we stand as the moment begins with the wind rushing into the pipes of the organ. The entire Mass of the catechumen we enter a conversation between God and those who have begun a pilgrimage into the inner sanctum.

I have in mind that we have been living in this sort of busy activity and conversation for about a year now. Speculations, hurts, anxieties, dreams, hopes and fears have all been expressed. We have heard of the burdens that others carry and have prayed for them, carrying those people in our hearts. We have found some new members of our family and rejoiced in so doing. And yet, I think that perhaps we have exhausted the first steam of our "worldly cares" and are now ready to lay it aside.

We have come to the offertory. We have entered the beginning of the magnificent silent period wherein it is no longer we who are the narrators, but Christ who is acting and so our voices begin to fall quiet as we strain through that silence to hear the muted whispers of Christ. The traditional silent Canon of the Mass teaches us--should we care to see it--that silence after conversation is the moment in which Christ works. The offertory is upon us, but not yet the Sacrifice, the "institution". And even after the moment which many have been waiting for finally arrives, quiet will remain for a little longer until that time as we are called to receive the great Mystery.

I think we live in a pregnant pause wherein Christ is pulling all things together that we might finally and completely receive all that he has been offering for us. This will be the answer to all of our prayers and concerns, our hurts and anxieties which we have been making known to him through each other. This quiet is a profoundly active and creative one. It is not a void, but an expectation and hope.

It ought to be no surprise of course. We are all Christians and this is how our blessed Lord has ever acted with us. He calls and waits. He listens. He stoops to us and hears our cry, and lifts our feet out of the mire and the clay and set them high upon the rock. What a blessed time we have finally reached, and I can almost hear the simple ringing of the singular small altar bell telling us that we are entering the moment of mystery, the moment of the Church, the Body of Christ, wherein all things are fulfilled.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It's been a While...

since I last posted something up on my blog. I thought I'd let everyone know that I'm in the midst of a major project that requires a great deal of attention. I've finally reached the most labor intensive section, but I hope to be past it in the next week or so. I'll be posting again soon and I'm sure that there will be a lot to say and to talk about.

Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What’s the Ideal Parish Size?

Photo of Skelton, North Riding of Yorkshire
Taken by Allen Barton at Vitrearum's Church Art Blog 
For years I’ve been interested in planting parishes and growing them. My deepest desire when I was in seminary was to plant a mission parish and grow it into a parish, staying there my entire ministry. Several parishes later and I still am attracted to that work. Consequently it ought not to surprise anyone that I’ve read several books about church growth and such. There is a lot of information in these studies that is helpful but I think they carry a peculiar cultural bias that I find  repugnant. All of these books have as their desire to turn every community into a mega-church. They often call these communities “Corporate churches,” which is part of what I find repulsive. Others call them “big box churches.”
What is the ideal size? We can certainly answer the question on several levels. First, let us approach it on a simply practical level. There are certain things that we want our parishes to have and that requires a certain number of parishioners to secure these things. For example, I think everyone wants to have a decent musical program. This will require the hiring of a part-time organist/choirmaster at the least. One will need to have at least 12 solid voices and sometimes this might require supplementing the choir with choral scholars (which are paid) for special feasts. A full-time priest is necessary for minimal parish life. A church building is pretty necessary if there is going to be a developed life with parish education and such. Practically, it is impossible to support even a simple parish with less than 150 or so active parishioners. This would mean the parish would have roughly 50 families and probably an annual budget of $100,000 to $120,000. I would call this the minimum size required to establish a relatively stable community.
Others like the huge churches because they can have large exciting programs. The youth programs are peopled with full-time staff, the church office may have two or three staff members. The music program may be larger with a full-time choir director and a full-time organist. A parochial school may be on site adding many more people who work at the church. As these sorts of programs and ministries increase, so must the size and income of the parish. These parishes can consist of 1,200 or more families.
There is a sense in which the size one prefers is not simply due to programs and such, but is cultural and I would suggest pastoral. Is it necessary for the priest to know all of his people on a first name basis? Is the priest to be primarily an administrator or pastor and teacher? If the parish truly wants the priest to be a pastor and a teacher in their midst, then there is an outside limit as to how many he can adequately care for personally. Most studies suggest that the outside limit to that is about 250 to 300 active parishioners. I personally prefer a parish around 250 or so. Otherwise the priest is little more than a combination administrator/sacramental pez dispenser.
I will whole heartedly admit to this being conditioned by my experience growing up in the Episcopal Church and in the Orthodox Church as a priest. But I think it extends further back too. And it is this distant past that I think may need to be brought forward to our consciences because I have an intuition that the loss of this is part of the fundamental loss of our cultural inheritance and has had disastrous consequences on our moral attitudes and beliefs.
All but a few of us are descendants of immigrants. Some have families who immigrated more recently, and some much further back. (The Winfrey’s came to the colonies from England to Jamestown in 1624.) Most of our ancestors came from a world that was primarily agricultural. The list of changes in our culture caused by the Industrial Revolution is long and tragic. The darkness of Charles Dickens’ works come to mind which describe the injustices of the Industrial age in Victorian England. There is a certain grittiness and sense of alienation that is part of the age. Industrialism has gave way to commercialism--which was equally depersonalizing, and this in turn has given way to a relativism that seeks to find personal meaning as individuals apart from community. It’s bound to fail, because individuals cannot exist apart from a community any more than communities can exist without a gathering of a collection of persons.
There was in the late 19th century a romantic notion of the agrarian society as being the noble society (I might suggest that the current green movement is no less a romanticized notion of civilization. It too is a utopian ideal, which as St. Thomas More who coined the word used, it means, “no where.” It’s a fantasy and illusion.) Yet behind even misguided movements there is often a little truth. The truth of this notion was not that society which is agricultural is more noble, but rather that communities that are fully integrated with each other are healthier and therefore have the capacity to act in noble ways.
Parish churches originally were geographically defined. Several hamlets may be joined together as one parish, or they may be joined to a villages parish. This parish was both sacred and secular in terms of governing and binding the people. Towns would have been divided into several parishes, with cities (properly called) having a cathedral as well as several parishes.
The loss of organic community through industrialization, of the division of Christendom into vying groups, and exaltation of one’s own individuality over community has been catastrophic. Christianity has not learned to function well as though it is a large corporation, because it is ultimately a real community of people joined in life before the Altar of Christ. The entire concerns of the parish (geographical area) are the concerns of the parish church. The essence of community is why I suggest that parishes ought to have something of a membership cap. Once parishes grow to over 500, they lose the character of communities and become corporate administrative units instead.
I would hope that we might look back to the source of our religious cultural experience and embrace what I would think of as a more vibrant and interconnected parochial life. Let our visions be directed more by the English parish church, than by the great French cathedrals as grand as they are. We need intimacy in our society now. We need to have the full experience of a healthy Christian community. The notions of Christianity as entertainment that are unspokenly advocated by the church growth movement will lead to bankruptcy and so many people will leave not just those communities, but Christianity altogether because they will not understand what it truly is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Resources We Need to Create

I've served in two missions and part of what is needed for mission priests is resources. Having the right books is important--and hopefully these can be printed soon and quickly. And they should be beautiful books and not simply functional. Everything that we offer to God should be our finest in all respects. Yes, good liturgical books are necessary.

But I really have in mind other resources that are needed beyond liturgical books, which I work on a great deal personally. Mission priests need so much more. Here are a couple of items that come to my mind which would greatly help flesh out mission parishes:

Music CDs
I would love it if a choir master would take a small select choir of no more than 6 voices and record simple Mass settings that mission parishes could learn to sing. Most people learn to sing by ear because they don't read music, and yet finding recordings to help them is impossible. When things get recorded it is by larger choirs who really want to do more "interesting" pieces of music which small communities can't hope to do as lovely and as moving as the music is.

What I have in mind would be a CD that includes a recording of the Asperges me, the Vidi aquam (from the Burgess English Gradual), and four different Mass settings: the Missa de Angelis, Missa Marialis (Cum jubilo), the Missa Orbis Factor, and the Missa Pentitentialis. All of these can be found in English translations. The English Gradual is a great source except the organist/choir master would need to write a simple accompaniment for each piece (a possible publication?). The Missa Marialis can be found, with accompaniment, in the 1940 Hymnal and parts of the Missal de Angelis can be found there as well. The traditional Credos associated with each setting should be recorded with the settings to make this a very helpful CD.

I would also like to see a complete CD that includes the entire Requiem Mass in plainsong with a minimum of choristers. This should include the Sub venite, the Mass itself, the In Paradisum, the Absolutions and even the music used at the graveside. This CD would help train a chanter to be able to sing a Requiem solo if needed during the week. What an important resource!

Finally, in regards to music, a CD with the basic music of Vespers would be helpful. A sample psalm of each of the eight modes, the Magnificat and each of the Marian Antiphons (in the simplest of authentic settings) would round this out very nicely. Were these CDs to be created by a nice little choir, it would definitely be an incredible help to many, many missions and small churches. I would also think that the CD set could be sold for a nice little profit as well. I'd buy a set!

A Loan Chest
Missions are expensive to get going, and traditional Western worship requires all sorts of gizmos and whatchamacallits. Often more established parishes have older ones that have been replaced and could give the older piece to a common loan chest. This includes vestments of course. Even donations of new pieces would be great for a loan chest.

A loan chest might actually help some parishes get started. Then they could slowly begin purchasing their own pieces and return the loaners. In addition to providing a living stipend and package for a priest, renting a space and so forth, the material items to begin a parish (new) run about $35,000 or so. It might be able to be done for less with imagination and used items, but it nevertheless is quite an investment. A loan chest would be a magnificent ministry and a great ancillary to evangelism.

Popular Religious Books
Most converts that I have met love to read. It is part of where they are at spiritually. They are trying to learn about their church for their soul's growth and sanctification. It would be helpful to have some books written that would help people learn to participate better in the Mass, to understand what is happening before their eyes. These books certainly should be written on a popular level. There are some out now, but were they written to the particular audience, patrimony, or rite, they would be so much more powerful for the faithful.

Christian Education
The area of Christian education in mission parishes is a daunting topic. Because there are usually too few children to make classes for each age group, more flexible programs are needed. Those with experience in this area would do a great service to the Church if they were to make some of their materials available to the rest of us.

Handbook of Ideas
This may be a particularly American item, but I think it would be helpful to have a handbook of ideas for parish evangelism, parish ministries and so forth. Not all of the ideas would be tried every where, and not all would be even desired. But they might spark other ideas that could be used locally.

One handbook that I've been considering putting together myself deals with building the items needed for a mission that has to set up and take down after each service. This is a not too uncommon experience of mission parishes that borrow space, be it in a school cafeteria or elsewhere. I have in mind to make drawings of how to build a portable altar (which might be modified to become an Altar of Repose), gradines, tabernacle and so forth. I would have suggestions about how to set up the altar so it looked traditional and complete without breaking the bank. Having worked as a draftsman out of high school and later a technical writer and illustrator this would be right up my alley.

Other handbooks would be equally helpful I'm sure.

There is so much that can be done beginning right now. There is no reason that work can't be started even today. Waiting on what may or may not happen in the future is paralyzing and numbing spiritually. Let us all work towards tasks that are helpful to each other and so help to build up the Body of Christ.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why in Texas?

Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas
One of the readers of this blog asked some questions in the comments section that I thought would be fun to answer. He asked:
"Speaking of Texas, why are there more Western Rite Orthodox parishes and missions there than anywhere else? Why are there more Anglican Use Catholic parishes and missions there than anywhere else?"
I have often thought about this and I have a few intuitions. These are certainly not any thing near to being dogmatic, but they are at least intuitions based on experience and some reflections about the Great Republic of Texas. The common image of Texas is of hot-headed cowboys on horses, of guns in pick truck windows and a particular twang in their speech (if they're from West Texas, it's a drawl in East Texas--I'm from where the West begins, Fort Worth, so it's a light twang unless I'm tired and then it can be heavy). Every one also thinks that the Baptists run every thing there and that there is no real room for anything else.

[Have you ever heard how you keep a baptist from drinking all of your beer on a fishing trip? Invite two baptists, they'll watch each other to make sure they don't drink and you can drink all of your own beer!]

The truth is that there really is something to this. About half of the Anglican Use parishes are in Texas, and a large proportion of the Western Rite Orthodox are also in Texas. These parishes are spread out throughout the state, so it's not a narrowly defined demographic. Those who constitute these parishes are mixed in ethnicity as well, although most of them do tend to be of Anglo extraction. The parishes vary in size a good deal too (the Anglican Use parishes are certainly larger than the WRO parishes though--more on that later). But comparing each of the two groups to themselves, their sizes still vary amongst themselves. The level of giving in these parishes also tends to be very steady and usually self-sacrificing.

So what is it in the water there that makes this possible? The first thing that comes to mind is that Texans are very traditionally minded people, except for Austin perhaps which is known to be the most liberal city in the state. But even in Austin the can be found a goodly number of traditional folks. Texans value the past and there is no place in the US that is more keenly aware and in love with its history than Texas. When I was a kid we had to take a year of Texas history in the 7th grade and I'm told that they now have to take two years of Texas history before graduating from High School. To get an Associate's Degree in Texas one has to take a semester of Texas government. If one wants to be certified to teach in Texas, he has to take a semester of Texas history (in addition to Texas government). Texans know who they are and are proud of it. This translates to the Church. Texans respect that which is established and can point back through time to the beginnings. Traditions and a long history are something that's highly valued.

Now there are a lot of baptists in Texas, but there are a whole lot of them that are looking for something more. But that baptist foundation has been very helpful to the state. They believe in a genuine right and wrong, and they believe there is such a thing as sin and hell. Consequently, Texans believe that there is a morality that is right and that folks should follow it. When churches begin to vier off from the center mark, folks get restless in their pews and they'll take off for somewhere that is perceived to be more solid. This has been one of the great contributing factors to the growth of the AU parishes and the WRO parishes in Texas. They want something that is permanent and not subject to current trends (remember, Texans are traditional folks).

Texans also like something that challenges them. We all think that somewhere deep down inside of us we're really all John Wayne. I even knew a guy in college that tried to walk like the Duke. It was amusing. Liturgical worship with fasting rules and obligations clicks with us--after we get over the initial shock of it if one comes from the baptist church.

Related to challenges is the desire to set out a conquer. Texans think BIG and they aren't afraid to take risks. They keep in their hearts something of the pioneering spirit of going out and making something new. This means in churches, they are perfectly willing to pour themselves into building a parish against all odds if they believe in what it teaches and believes. In too many places elsewhere folks are more like settlers than pioneers. They want to come in a settle once all of the work has been done and the indians have been pushed back. Texans don't mind the work or the fight. And part of that will go into their own pockets. They will support their church, open the pocket books and give. And they'll work too. Often times folks with either work or give. Texans do both.

Texans have that sort of John Wayne go get 'em mindset, but they are taught to be "Southern Gentlemen and Ladies". Now I've lived in North Central Florida and I can say without a doubt Texans are not southerners. We're Texans. But we were all taught--very strictly--to be gentlemen, to know our manners, to open doors for women, to say thank you and greet folks with a smile. Texans are polite and friendly. This helps in growing parishes and making people feel welcome.

And we'll go toe to toe with someone who crosses us. And we won't respect ya if you aren't willing to stand up for what you believe in. We don't want you to be mealy-mouthed and shifty in your thoughts. If you believe something, stand up and say so. We respect men for being men. That is not such a little thing in growing an AU or WRO parish. When men are serving the altar, men will come to the parish. Where things have been feminized, men don't come.

Another element, which is exceptionally important, is that Texans are generally religious people. People will talk about their faith openly and not get offended. It's common conversation. The general attitude is that one is part of a church of some sort. This helps to freely speak about what we believe and bring people into the Church.

Finally, I think the stronger economy that Texas has helps. Things have slowed down there, but it's still moving along. Money certainly helps to build churches. You can't do it without it.

The potential in Texas is enormous. It is truly a ripe field that I think has been prepared by God for this time. If it sounds attractive, then get your gun into your pick-up and head to the promised land, just remember it's a big place that needs big people with big ideas.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Romophobia in the WRV

I've been pondering this topic for some time now and I only recently decided that it needed to be brought up publicly. One of the worst things that any of us can do is to pretend that things are what they really are, and writing openly (and using our names rather than shooting like a sniper in hiding, being called "Anonymous"--are we adults who let their yea, be yea, and their nay, nay?) is the only antidote that I know of. I write openly, with my name and I welcome queries and discussions.

So, as the title of this post suggests, I would like to make a couple of observations--based upon my intuition--about the sickness of Romophobia in the Western Rite. I have seen this for some time and I honestly cannot understand it. My incredulity comes from a couple of places: (1) from the mind of the Western Rite itself, and (2) from Orthodoxy. There will be some who will question my Orthodoxy I know, but of those who are serving in our Western Rite parishes, how many studied in an Orthodox seminary? How many were formed by living within an Orthodox (in this case Eastern Rite) community where Orthodox was taken for granted? How many of them checked their assumptions at the door as they came into Orthodoxy, rather than becoming simply "propositional Orthodox" (they just change conclusive propositions from their former way of life and don't let go of their primary assumptions)? I'm not aware of any. I did this myself, preferring to leave a good paying job behind and sacrifice through seminary work. I don't make light of any of the sacrifices that our clergy in the Western Rite have made--they have made very deep sacrifices. I'm simply giving my pedigree as an Orthodox.

Romophobia is an absurdity within the Western Rite because the Rite itself finds its historic character in, um… well… uh… Rome. I rather suspect that there are some who want to make certain that they look as un-Catholic as possible. On the surface several of these folks have tried to put an "English vernier" on their statements, for example, "The Sarum Use" does this or that or the other. If one is honest, one would have to come to the realization that, through Alcuin, the Roman Rite was powerfully effected by the English. But it was digested and developed within the Diocese of Rome. The Western music of the Church, Gregorian Chant, comes from (here comes that awful place again) Rome. It was codified by (oh horrors!) a Pope, Gregory the Great by name. The Canon of the Mass, called the Liturgy of St. Gregory by our WRV, was set in its normative form by the same Pope Gregory I, in his Sacramentary.

But I know that the concerns flow from certain "devotions" that are thought of a Roman: Sacred Heart (a parallel to the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus); Stations of the Cross (St. Tikhon of Moscow even led meditations on the Stations when he was in Poland before the US--with both Orthodox and Roman Catholics joining in!). The list goes on to include Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi, and so on. It is almost as if the Romophobes are looking to the 39 Articles of Religion for a guide to their theology, certainly they are held hostage to the 16th century!

This phobia, and even deep hostility, causes them to desire to recreate the WR according to their lights. They desire "to purify" the texts and make them compatible with their assumptions. One has even gone so far as to change the text of the Exsultet, written by St. Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century. I had no idea that we had a theologian and saint that is so exalted in his powers that he can correct a Saint universally beloved in the Church. How fortunate we must be. But the truth is that it is simply a habit of a former Anglican to create his own liturgy. (I am a former Anglican to be sure, but I want to use what is authorized and not to create something from my own prejudice.)

Some of these folks believe that this will make Protestants feel more welcome in their midst and that their churches will thrive and grow. Well, point out to me one of them that has done so with this mindset. Nada, goose-egg, there aren't any. And yet the (gosh I hate to bring it up again) Roman Catholic Church is bringing in Evangelicals and Protestants in great numbers! Romophobia doesn't seem to be at the heart of those who would look at from where they are. It simply doesn't wash.

Romophobia is also a very un-Orthodox illness. Saying that, I have to admit that I've seen Romophobes in Orthodoxy but they aren't particularly healthy. It is impossible to define oneself by saying what one is not. Such negative definitions ought not to be thought of as yet another form of apophaticism. I have been told that back in the 1940s and 1950s Orthodox clergy were very often good friends with their Roman Catholic counterparts. There was no sense of fear of them, rather most of them saw an historic kinship which needed correction, but which still existed in some sense. With the increase of converts, Romophobia has been imported into Orthodoxy from the outside. There have always been tensions and sometimes there have been martyrdoms on both sides of this fence, but it was never from a phobia.

I find that if one holds to this sort of phobia, then there are many things that one will not be able to embrace that are absolutely part of the Orthodox treasury. Another Orthodox priest and I were speaking about the Romophobic content in our WRV and he asked, why didn't they just become Eastern Rite is they are so fearful of things Roman? As we discussed it further, we agreed that those with such an attitude would have problems with things done in Eastern Rite parishes too. [Veneration of the Belt of the Virgin (yes, I've venerated a fragment of it myself)?] Patriarch Cyril Lukaris found that ultimately Protestantism (which is little else but Romophobia made ecclesial) is incompatible with Orthodoxy. No wonder that there have been so very few genuine Anglo-Catholics who came into our WRV, most were "prayer book Catholics" of some sort or another.

It is not my job to correct these things of course. But I will say that unless they are dealt with decisively, then the WRV will implode from the inside because of several visions vying for predominance. The authentic vision must given and enforced, or it will truly be over. The job falls to the Vicar General and we'll all wait to see what he does. The longer he waits to act, the deeper the disease infects and the less likely will there be a cure. I hope that he recognizes that his experience with Eastern Rite parishes does not help him here because he is not dealing with Middle-Easterners but Westerners who want and need a firm direction and clarity. There is something to letting the Holy Spirit do his work, but that should not be relied upon when the same Spirit has given authority to act. Failure to act, is failure to let the Holy Spirit do his work through us--which he is ever wont to do.

As I said at the beginning, I write openly with my name being known because this must be discussed and resolved once and for all, and no one seems to be doing so. Because I am not in a WR parish currently I needn't fear any reprisals for my comments (except perhaps being forbidden to serve in the WR in some future and unknown case and date). So, my question is this, what is your vision of the WR in Orthodoxy? Is it a reintegration of the Western Church's life into Orthodoxy? or is it a new thing created on the biases of the 16th century Reformation and Romophobia?