Monday, April 1, 2013

Great Easter Vigil at Christ Church, Ottawa, Illinois

Christ Church (Episcopal), Ottawa, Illinois is a member church of the LaSalle County Episcopal Ministry (LCEM).  The LCEM is a shared ministry of St. Paul's, LaSalle; Christ Church, Streator; St. Andrew's-in-the-Field, Farm Ridge and Christ Church, Ottawa.  Many times throughout the year, the congregations come together to celebrate mass and be in community with one another -- the Great Easter Vigil is such a night. 
Below are some pictures from this year's vigil.  Happy Easter! 

Alleluia! The Lord is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia. 
The celebration starts in darkness; then a fire is kindled.  These words are said:  Dear friends in Christ:  On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.  For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death (Book of Common Prayer, 285).  Then a new Paschal Candle is lighted from the fire. 

Members of the congregation light candles from the flame of the Paschal Candle -- the light of one candle is not dimmed by lighting another.

The sacred space of Christ Church, Ottawa.

After renewing our Baptismal vows,
Father Mark blesses those in attendance with Holy Water.
Acolytes are an important part of the ministry team in the LCEM.

Father Bobby reads the Gospel.

We are a community of disciples Sunday through Saturday.  On Sunday's (and other days) we gather together in community to celebrate the Holy Eucharist -- every day we try to live in a way that loves our neighbor and respects the dignity of every person:
EVERY person.


On Saturday, March 30, Christians around the globe gathered to celebrate the Great Easter Vigil.  On this night we celebrate earth and heaven being joined and mankind being reconciled to God (Book of Common Prayer, 287).  The video of my sermon follows -- there were some technical difficulties so it comes in two parts. 

I pray you listen and hear God call you by name.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why I marched: CROSSwalk 2013

On Friday, March 22, my two oldest daughters and I drove into Chicago to attend CROSSwalk – an ecumenical, multi-faith event where we allowed a march across the city to be a living prayer that the epidemic of gun violence, and all its causes, may end.  We marched and prayed with Muslims, Jews, Christians, people of other faith traditions and no faith at all.

Before leaving the hospital where I work, I was asked "why" I was going to Chicago to march for an end to gun violence.  After all, “we” don't live "there."  This essay is my attempt to answer the question.

I went to march with CROSSwalk because I needed to allow my witness to be more than words from my pulpit.  I went to march because my oldest daughter wants to live in Chicago and I don't want her to be shot. 

While it is true that my daughters and I went to Chicago because the life of every child matters, that every person deserves to live in safety and with a sense of security, I went to Chicago because the soul wrenching violence and all its underlying pathologies that plague my favorite American city also exist in LaSalle County, Illinois, where I live; Centralia, Illinois where I grew up; Green Lake County, Wisconsin where I spent eight of my most formative years and places around the globe that I will never visit.

Eight hundred and six children and teens have been murdered in Chicago since 2008.  Millions of guns are sold each year without required background checks.  As I write this, the Chicago Tribune has stories of at least five city residents being shot overnight.  These statistics don't lie.  We are living through a massacre.

This violence that leads to children bleeding in our streets exists; it is real.  It is evil and I needed to walk with others willing to say enough, no more.  I needed to be with others willing to be a living witness to the mercy of a loving God. The loving God that Christians find in the Jesus we proclaim.

I went to march and unintentionally was reawakened to the role violence and guns have played in my life and by extension the lives of those I love and the vocation I embrace.  I had not intended to remember or tell my girls that after one too many beatings my mom left my dad while he pointed a gun at her. 

I live and work in a community that teeters on many edges -- the economy for most remains shaky; the access to mind bending, heart stopping drugs is too easy; the poverty rate in one local grade school system exceeds 80%; we border a major interstate exchange that is known to ferry drugs and humans being trafficked; my hospital emergency room has visits from gang bangers; men that abuse women come in promising to finish the beating they have started.  I've had my life threatened.  This community sets on the edge of being "almost urban" and not really rural. And I am a priest who works in healthcare system leadership and currently serves small, geographically dispersed Episcopal congregations spanning five communities, three rural counties and a sixty mile radius.  My work and community have me witness daily the beauty that exists in creation while having to acknowledge that the evil of violence is too ever present.

I marched with CROSSwalk because I live and minister in the world.  I marched because I live and minister with people who live in the world and the world needs healing.  Healing that I believe comes through a man named Jesus that marched, as Moses marched and as the Prophet Muhammad marched -- they marched because the world of their time, like the world of this time, needs healing.

We began the march at St. James Commons, adjacent to the Episcopal cathedral.  We gathered in the heart of the city at Daley Plaza, moved on to Old St. Patrick's Church and ended at Stroger "Cook County" Hospital.  At each stop we listened to the words of prophets, heard testimony from fathers, mothers, brothers, family and friends who have had their world ripped apart by gun violence.  We sang.  We sang hymns like There is a Balm in Gilead; we called for the healing of our sin sick world.  We proclaimed the words of Amos seeking justice that rolls down like waters and righteous like an ever-flowing stream.

I went to Chicago on the Friday before my faith tradition begins our Holy Week because I know that the Christian experience is formed in pain, confusion, persecution, suffering and death.  But it is founded on Easter; it proclaims resurrection.  We are a people, we can all be a community, that does not have to die.  We do not have to accept the pain and death peddled in our streets.  We can be a resurrected people.  There is a balm.  We can heal this world and be healed.

Margaret Meade said, "Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago says it exists to:  Grow the Church, Form the Faithful and Change the World.

I marched in the footsteps of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Dr. King and nameless millions because I believe in the power of a few committed people.  I believe the world can be changed.  I believe in one that was followed by twelve. 

It is one hundred and two miles from my home to St. James Cathedral.  The day I write these words, a gallon of gas in Peru, Illinois costs $3.59.  My family roadster SUV gets a combined city and highway average of fifteen miles per gallon.  Our trip to pray and march cost about $50.00 in gas and $35.00 to park.  I marched because the lives of the children lost, the parents taken, the families destroyed is worth the time and gas money.  It is worth my being present.  It is worth my showing up.

I marched because it was one thing I could do.

Let justice roll down!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Your deep gladness meeting the world's hunger...

There is a team from St. Paul's Church, LaSalle, that is part of the Diocese of Chicago's new congregational development process we call Thrive.  It is an intentional learning process lasting two years -- but whose results we hope will last much longer.

At our most recent meeting, the concept of vocation was very much front and center and as I prepared my sermon for the first Sunday in Lent I found myself wanting to discuss with the congregation its vocation.  Frederick Buechner called vocation (I'm paraphrasing) that place where one's deep gladness meets the world's hunger.

The Gospel lesson assigned for the first Sunday of Lent is about Jesus' 40 days in the desert; just after Jesus' baptism and before he begins his public ministry.  I think you can find within the context of these events Jesus vocation being made real -- his deep gladness preparing to meet the hunger of the world.

What do you think?

The sermon begins at about the 10 minute, 57 second point on the video with some very brave and thoughtful reflections on the vocation of the community of Christ Church, Ottawa, Illinois just after the 21 minute mark -- these comments about the place of this community in the world are worth listening to -- even if my portion of the sermon is found too long winded and wanting!

In case you weren't able to make it out on Sunday morning to worship with us, or with your community of faith -- or you aren't sure what I'm talking about, I wanted to try something new and have attached videos that provide the entire celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The videos are from the 7:30 AM mass at Christ Church (Episcopal) on Sunday, February 17.  This mass is conducted without music.  I pray you have a blessed Lent.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Seeing the Invisible

Lately, I have preached sermons that spoke to our need to see the invisible among us -- a phrase I borrowed from Mary Hinkle from Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  This idea of seeing those among us that, because of systems, structures, powers and principalities are set aside, discarded -- ignored has been on my mind (again).  Being poor and marginalized is often a guarantee to be ignored -- forgotten, unseen (if you were ever seen at all).

On October 3, a small group of concerned people came to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in LaSalle, Illinois to watch an important movie about a timeless topic -- poverty.  The movie is called The Line; you can watch it at  In its 43 minutes, you will be introduced to people who have been clobbered by the economic collapse in America; the violence of poverty that lives on our streets and the nature of poverty that comes with the exploitation of our neighbors and God's creation.

Here are some facts for you to know and consider:

  • Today, 46 million people live in poverty in the United States; this is the 3rd highest poverty rate among industrialized nations -- just ahead of Turkey and Mexico.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau defines the poverty line as a family of four earning less than $23,050.00.
  • The average food stamp benefit in America is $21 per week.
After we watched the movie we talked about what we could do, in our community (in our neighborhood) that would matter; we talked about how our Christian identity is tied with the poor, the forgotten, the invisible.  That night we decided, that although we are small in number, we would allow our faith to a verb and do something (we didn't say we would eradicate poverty, we said we would do what we could to help others know that they are loved, respected and worthy of dignity).

Here is what we decided:
  • we would pray for our neighbors in poverty and for strength and guidance for how to be effective in helping; humble in service and loving in action.
  • we agreed that we could volunteer and give resources to the LaSalle Food Bank.  This important ministry is celebrating its 30th year of service.  In 2011, 10,927 families received donations.  
  • we would be more intentionally "neighborly" in connecting and inviting the folks that live near St. Paul's into the life of our community.
  • we would build relationship with Illinois Valley PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter).  PADS provides shelter, food and services to people in need.
St. Paul's is a small Episcopal Church.  We may not be able eradicate poverty, but the people that gathered Wednesday night know that they can do something.  I'm proud to be in ministry with them.  In the Diocese of Chicago, we say that we will:  grow the church, form the faithful and change the world. 

Wednesday night a small cadre of faithful believers (in a divine man that through our hands and feet still stands up for the poor and oppressed) took a step in the right direction to change the world, right here in our backyard.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the Line: Poverty in America and LaSalle, Illinois

In my sermon from Sunday, I took time (some in the congregation might have thought too much!) to build upon the idea, the reality, that faith should be a verb; something we do, something we explore, something that transforms us and gives us the ability to help transform the world. 

This is built on the belief that simple acts of faith, that so many are engaged in every day, are powerful -- the act of prayer; the act of being present for those in pain; the acts of faith it takes to care for a parent or children, to stay clean and sober, to get out of bed and battle the oppressive poverty and joblessness that plagues too many.

Where my family and I live, and where one of the churches I serve is located, like many places in America, is wracked by a cycle and culture of poverty that existed long before the economy crashed in 2008.  In LaSalle, Illinois: 
  • 16% of the population lives below the poverty line; including 27% of children under the age of 18.
  • Where, in the school district, up to 80% of students are low income compared to a state average of 45%.  With low income defined as students coming from families receiving public aid; living in institutions for neglected or delinquent children; students supported in foster homes with public funds; or are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
  • Where kids, 22% of white, 60% of black and 52% of Hispanic fourth graders read below basic skill levels.
  • Where the unemployment rate spiked at 16.4% in 2010 and remains stuck near 11.5% in 2012 -- this does not account for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of neighbors who have given up trying to find a job.
  • Where I am told that homeless kids are sheltered at local motels.

In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus in clear in teaching that the way we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner -- the way we serve the poor and vulnerable, all those left out and behind, is the way we treat him.  Sojourners says that, "how much we love him will be demonstrated in how we treat them."

So to demonstrate our faith as a verb, at 7:00 PM on October 3, 2012, St. Paul's Church, LaSalle, is hosting a screening of the movie the Line.  Doors to the parish hall will open by 6:30 PM and discussion regarding the movie, the realities of poverty in LaSalle County, Illinois and an informed response will take place after the movie. 

From the Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Midgett, the Line is a groundbreaking documentary chronicling the new face of poverty in America.  View the movie trailer at

I hope you join us on October 3rd -- our faith is a verb.