Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seeing a Great Light -- A Sermon

My dad used to tell us the story about when he was a poor college student who had gone out with his friends one night in a beat up old Studebaker that had only one headlight.  This is out in the country roads of Indiana in the 1950’s.

While they were out, the other headlight blew, and there they were in the pitch dark, absolutely no way to see the gravel road.  They pulled over to the side of the road and waited until another car drove by, then they followed it until it turned off their road.  They pulled over again and waited for another car -- and another and another all the way home.  Dad said it was much more scary at the time than it sounds now.

Matthew’s Gospel says, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

But Matthew also talks about fishing for people today.  Certainly, there are enough people in the world who don’t believe in Christ.  As Jesus said later on:  “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.”

But the question for us isn’t so much whether or not there are people who need Christ.  The question is why?

Because if we don’t understand the reason for bringing the Gospel to people, we could do incredible harm.  

During the crusades and the later missionary periods of our church’s history, people wanted to “fishers of men.”  They thought the best way was to go out with a net and haul them in by force -- exactly as the fishermen of the day did.  (But -- and you may not know this -- most fish don’t actually want to be caught).  

The missionaries thought they were bringing people to Christ -- and they certainly did teach about who Christ was even as many of them(but by all means not all) ripped children from their parents to take them to their own schools and in extreme cases killed those who refused to convert.

So, rather than running off with our nets and poles, let’s ask what it is about people that makes this entire fishing business necessary?

The reason we take the good news of Jesus Christ out in to the world is the same reason Jesus came -- to bring light to those who sit in darkness.

What kind of darkness?  Anguish, Isaiah says.  “The region and shadow of death.”     

Darkness is the state of not knowing God’s love.   

God’s love is that which gives us hope that our lives have meaning -- that we have a place in this world -- that we matter both in this life and the next.

Darkness is looking around the world and saying, “What’s the use?  Nothing matters.  Even if there is a God, he’s got no use for me.”

Jesus came to bring light.  Not the kind of light that discovers all our flaws we’ve been trying to hide from everyone including ourselves, the kind that says, “Ha!  I knew you were up to no good.”

Jesus came to be the light that shines in the darkness in order to guide the lost home.  Like a bunch of college kids in a beat up old Studebaker.

There are many in this world who are looking for a light to follow out of their fear or despair.  That light is called hope.  And hope in God’s love for us all is what we have to offer.

Be the light that shines in the darkness -- and the fish will take care of themselves.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Vicar of Dibley

I’ve had parishioners after me to watch this TV show for years now.  Funny thing, but I talked with other clergy in town and none of them had seen it either.

If you’ve never hear of “The Vicar of Dibley” it’s one of those wickedly funny BBC sticoms that can make you blush but also fall out of your seat laughing.  How do I know?  I finally watched a few episodes thanks to the miracle of DVD.

In fact, just last night I watched my first episode ... and my second and my third and my fourth.  Over lunch today I watched number five.  

Last night, we started laughing so loud that our son came in and said, “What’s all that noise?”  We decided it wasn’t quite family fare, so we sent him back to bed and giggled as quietly as we could.

Although I have to tell you, as an Episcopal (Anglican) priest, I was at first offended by the show.  I mean, I had parishioners telling me that the show reminded them of our congregation, and if ever there was a country church that did not remind me of us, it was this.  The vicar (played by Dawn French) reminds me more of Rosanne Bahr than anything else.  She thinks her parishioners are idiots, and seems to think of her pastoral role as a bit of a joke.

For the record, I want everyone to know I don’t think my parishioners are idiots, and I take my pastoral role seriously.

On the other hand, I’ve never had parishioners like the Vicar’s.  One of her parish council members is a stuck up prig, another is his adult son with the personality of a pine cone.  The council’s clerk records every breath of the minutes with agonizing fastidiousness while one of the members can’t say “Yes” without first saying, “No,no, no, no, no.” Tthen there is the council member who has a fascination with animals.  ‘Nuff said.

Did I mention her verger?  The new (at least in the old episodes I’ve been watching) wife of the pine cone councilman, she thinks the capital of France is “F”.  

So, I guess you can forgive the vicar for a little frustration, not to mention an addiction to chocolate and a fascination with men who are not from Dibley.  I realize I’ve come late to the show, and I’ll probably never be a watch-it-every-week kind of fan, but I can appreciate the uniquely British humor.  Yes, I’ll watch more DVD’s of it, no doubt.  Yes, I’ll laugh until juice squirts out my nose.  No, I won’t be moving to Dibley any time soon.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Smart Cars and Phillips Brooks

Today is our church's feast day for the late bishop of Massachusetts, Phillips Brooks.  He was known for his preaching and his moral standing.  You might have also heard of him as the composer of "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

Little is the word.  The quote for the day is from him and speaks to smallness again: "Greatness, in spite of its name, appears not to be so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives. It may be present in lives whose range is very small."

So, I'm on a small kick.  That's why on Monday, I took a Smart Car for a test drive.  No kidding.  Never see one before?  Well, here's a picture.  We saw them in Germany this summer and fell in love with the tiny little vehicles.  As I read the Brooks quote, I thought about that little car.  Greatness isn't so much about size as it is about the quality.  This vehicle does something I think Brooks would appreciate -- it makes the world a little bit better.

What's so great about them?  Well, first of all, they're really cool looking.  At about 8' 8" feet long, they're the shortest street legal car going.  Three feet shorter than the Mini Cooper.  You can park anywhere, too.  More importantly, you can't get better mileage without going to a hybrid -- and it gets better mileage than some of those, too.  

You'd be surprised how comfortable they are, too.  I'm not a tall guy, so it doesn't matter to me -- any car works, though some actually feel too big.  But even tall folks -- I mean really tall -- have found the smart to be comfortable inside.  When you drive, you completely forget that there's practically nothing behind you.  I've pretty much settled on this being my next car even after comparing it with all other comparably priced cars.  

Obviously, they're not for everyone, but 90% of my driving is alone, so why would I want an inefficient beast?  For me, it's an attractive, fun and responsible choice.  To paraphrase Brooks, greatness may be present in cars whose footprint is very small.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

40 tips for a great new year

This is from my wife.  Don't know where she got it.   It's pretty good -- most of it is stuff preachers have been saying (in different ways) for a long time.  Most all of it is bound to make you a healthier person and the world a little better.

1. Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile.  It is the ultimate anti-depressant. 
2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day. Buy a lock if you have to. 
3. Buy a Tivo (DVR), tape your late night shows and get more sleep. (better yet, get rid of the TV)
4. When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, "My purpose is to ___________ today."
5. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy. 
6. Watch more movies, play more games and read more books than you did in 2007.  
7. Make time to practice meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong and prayer.
They provide us with daily fuel for our busy lives. 
8. Spend more time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6. 
9. Dream more while you are awake. 
10. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less  foods that are manufactured in plants. 
11. Drink green tea and plenty of water. Eat blueberries, wild Alaskan salmon, broccoli, almonds & walnuts. 
12. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
13. Clear your clutter from your house, your car, your desk and let new flowing energy into your life. 
14. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment. 
15. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime. 
16. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card. 
17. Smile and laugh more. It will keep the energy vampires away. 
18. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.  
20. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. 
21. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. 
22. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.  
23. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about. 
24. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, and wear the fancy lingerie.  Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. 
25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you. 
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?" 
27. Forgive everyone everything. ( like this one -- sound familiar?)
28. What other people think of you is none of your business. (I like this one a lot)
29. Time heals almost everything. Give time time. 
30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. 
31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch. 
32. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. 
33. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. 
34. The best is yet to come. 
35. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. 
36. Do the right thing! 
37. Call your mother and father often. 
38. Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements:  "I am thankful for __________." Today I accomplished _________. 
39. Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed. 
40. Enjoy the ride. Remember that this is not Disney World and you certainly don't want a fast pass. You only have one ride through life so make the most of it and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Come and See

Mark Twain once told an aspiring writer:  Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” 

That’s the standard advice to all writers:  Show, don't tell.  If you want to show disappointment, you don’t say, “She opened the birthday present but felt disappointed at what she found.”  You write, “She ripped open the paper, her breath quick with anticipation.  But when she pried the box open and looked inside, she let out a scream. ‘You said you’d get me diamonds, not a CD by Neil Diamond!”

Something like that. 

The idea is that you can tell people things, and they’ll slowing nod off, but if you show them, they’ll follow you.  Which is why preachers throughout the ages have used visual props and illustrations.  Only I don’t have any, so I’ll just stand here and talk.....

But Jesus had the right idea.  

When he walked past John the Baptist who was still out there baptizing, John said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  And then two of John’s disciples went off to follow Jesus.  When they got to Jesus, however, and asked, “Rabbi, where are you staying,” he did not answer, “Oh, I’m staying over at the Hyatt Regency.  What’s it to ya?”

Jesus said, “Come and see.”

Come and see.  Come -- that is physical activity.  See -- use your eyes and take in what is before you.  Don’t just believe my words -- see for yourself.

I have been meaning to use that line ever since I got ordained.  You’d be surprised how many times people say to me, “Where’s your church?”  And I usually say, “Oh, it’s St. James’ in Hyde Park. You know, on Route 9 across from the Vanderbilt Estate.”  Then, about five minutes later, I usually slap my head and say, “That would have been a perfect time to say, ‘Come and See!’”

And it would.  Or how about when people come up to you and say, “What do you Episcopalians believe anyway?”  Or “What’s your church like?”  Or any question about your faith.  Sure, you can go into a half-hour long theological treatise about atonement but -- I don’t know -- doesn’t work too well for me.

OR, you could answer, “Come and See.”

Which, of course, is a risk.  They might not come, OR they might not see what you want them to see.  

I remember doing an Easter Vigil with a baptism many years ago.  It was in a church with incense and bells and the whole works.  The church was darkened for much of the service.  When we got to the baptism, I got a chance finally to look in the eyes of the grandparents, who were Baptists.  Instead of pride and love, I saw horror as they gaped at the acolytes with their candles and the thurifer.  At the end of the service, one of them said, “I was waiting for them to bring out the animal sacrifices!”

More importantly, you could tell people that we Christians are all about loving our neighbors, but if what they see when they come is people fighting about what color the pew cushions should be and being cruel to each other, they’re going to believe something else about us.  

Scripture doesn’t really say what those would-be disciples saw when they went with Jesus that day, but it must’ve been good since they stayed with him the rest of the day.   And then Andrew, ran out and brought his brother Simon. 

“We’ve found the Messiah!” he yells -- but better yet, he brings Simon to Jesus.  And Simon, of course, becomes Peter, the Rock.

So, what will people see when they come to St. James’?  That is the question.  Love?  Care for others?  Bickering?  A little bit of everything?  Maybe we can’t be the judges of that.  Maybe the best we can do is love those whom God has given us and say to the rest, “Come and See.”

Saturday, January 19, 2008


A while ago I asked you to pray for me because I was doing a Youth Group Overnight.  That went very well, and I spent the next day feeling fine.

Last night, my son had a sleepover to celebrate his birthday.  This was worse.  Fewer kids but younger and all boys.  Ugh.

Parents who dropped their sons off pulled us aside and whispered, “Are you crazy?”  

Our response: “We’ve done this a few times.”  Which is true.  But when I compare a church youth group -- slightly older, mixed group and accompanied by four adults -- I can tell you which was less stressful.  Give me the youth group any time!

Oh well, just one more hour before the parents arrive to take their darlings away.  And sadly, they don’t seem to have burned off any energy!  So pray for me today, too, that I can make it until 10:00!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mr. Deity

I heard about this at an ecumenical clergy bible study, which means that we were having a hard time paying attention to our work.

"Mr. Deity" is a YouTube series of independently produced 3-4 minute shows involving “Mr. Deity,” (ie., God), his assistant Larry, Lucifer (Lucy), and occassionally Jesus.  

It’s also extremely irreverent and hilarious -- despite the fact that it paints God and believers as petty and vindictive.  On the other hand, sometimes it shows Mr. Deity as very aware of that very pettiness, and you get the impression that the writer Brian Keith Dalton, who also plays Mr. Deity, is trying to tell us that God is much bigger, much better than the stereotypical cpa in the sky.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems like he’s saying there is no God at all, good or bad.  

You don’t get any help from the viewers either.  Since you can find it on YouTube (though now it appears on, each episode has viewer comments.  The comments run the gambit from “This is proof that all believers are idiots,” to “I’m a Christian, and this is great,” to angry reproofs from Christians who can’t take a joke.

For my part, I think it touches on something universal.  We all want to be closer to God, and we all want to understand how God allows some things to happen.  Though nobody believes for a second that this show represents actuality, it’s fun to see God the Father and Jesus playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to settle which commandments will go in. 

If you look at the first season, my favorite is episode 3:  “Mr. Deity and the Light.”  If you’re touchy, be prepared to be offended.  Otherwise, let me know how you like it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why Get Baptized? - A Sermon

Today is the Baptism of Christ, the day we remember how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John.  It’s also one of the four official days for baptism in the church.  

But that leads to two questions.  If baptism is what John said -- a cleansing from sin -- and if Jesus was perfect, why did he have to get baptized? And really, if God loves everyone, why do WE get baptized either?

Start off with what John was doing.  Baptism of the sort he did was common.  Priests of the temple had to ritually wash before offering sacrifice.  Faithful worshipers had to was their hands and feet before entering the temple as a sign of spiritual cleansing.

There was also the cleansing of sin type of baptism, a form of ritual washing for anyone who wished to seek God’s forgiveness.  How often it was practiced isn’t certain, but many households kept large vessels of water on hand for the purpose.  Some form of baptism was performed on the Day of Atonement.

Then there was baptism of proselytes.  Those Gentiles who wanted to become Jews underwent a ritual washing of sin before they could enter the fellowship.

So baptism was understood by the people who listened to John as a preparation for sacrifice, cleansing of sin, and acceptance into the People of God.

Jesus’ motivation for being baptized:  “seems to be the deep, sympathetic interest which Jesus felt in the work of John and the fitting character of such baptism as a public profession of moral integrity.”

In part, it’s so nobody can say to him he didn’t follow the rules before going about the holy work.  After all, if priests had to do it, why wouldn’t he? Jesus, in all things, seemed to fulfill the law before changing our perception of it.  


And change it he did.  With his baptism, he forever changes our understanding of it.  Because from that moment when he emerges from the water, it’s never the same.  A dove descends upon him (depending on the version you read, either he saw it, John saw it, or everyone saw it) and says “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

This baptism changed from one of purification to one of self-revealing and commissioning.  Jesus is revealed for who he is -- and is commissioned for the great work of reconciling the world to God. 

The reason why Jesus got baptized is the same as the reason he did so much -- to change us.  Later, when he tells his disciples to baptize everyone in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he is not sending them out to perform John’s baptism of mere forgiveness of sins.

That’s not the primary reason WE get baptized, even if many think so.  

Yes, we do so as a sign that Christ forgives us once and for all.  Yes, we renounce wickedness and seek God’s forgiveness.

But since Christ emerged from the water, Christian baptism is changed. Now, as it was for him, so it is for us -- a self-revealing and a commissioning.

Because now we reveal ourselves to the world as belonging to Christ.  We say “my path is to follow Jesus.”  Then we are commissioned:  Did you notice the words at the end of the baptismal rite?  “We receive you into the household of God.  Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”

This is a commissioning, and like Jesus, ours is to be a life of work -- in baptism we dedicate our lives to loving and serving God by loving and serving our neighbors.

The funny thing about Jesus’ baptism is that he took all the old practices -- preparation for worship, atonement, entering into the holy fellowship -- and combined them into one moment that shapes all our lives.

The Question for us is, what are we going to do with those lives....?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Youth Group Overnight

Pray for me.  I’m doing an overnight with the youth group tonight.  

Actually, it’s a very good group of kids, so things should be okay, right?  Right.

I’m not worried about them.  I’m worried about me.  

It’s a long time to keep a group of smart, energetic youth (one of whom is my son) engaged in the work of sorting out what kind of group they want to be.  I’m not worried about entertaining them -- they’re mostly teenagers and can entertain themselves.  They’re pretty responsible, so they will entertain themselves fairly responsibly as well.

But there’s this blend of fun and work -- and getting them to agree on how much work and what sort of work, and how to tie that in with our faith.  We are not, after all, a simple social service organization.  Everything we do must come from our faith or it rings hollow.

And then there’s the fatigue factor.  I played a hockey game last night and didn’t get to bed till midnight.  Now I’m exhausted.  With another sleepless night -- followed by a First Communion Class early in the afternoon -- I’m feeling sorry for myself.  On the other hand, I set it all up, so who’s to blame?

Besides, this is good stuff.  I’m going to whine, but would I change it?  No!  Would you?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My Christmas Presents

So, it’s a little late, but I wanted to share a couple of Christmas presents I got this year that were out of the ordinary for me.  Three to be precise.

The first was a gorgeous chalice, paten and ciborium that my brother made from the wood of a tree that fell in his backyard.  They were tremendous, and I’ve been showing them off to anyone I could ever since.  When I was ordained nearly eighteen years ago, my sister made me two beautiful ceramic chalices and patens as a gift.  What a blessing to have such talented siblings.

By the way, if you don't know what they are, a chalice is an ornate cup for the wine in communion.  The picture to the left is his chalice.  A paten is a matching plate for the communion host.  A ciborium looks much like a chalice but has a lid and is used to hold consecrated host in reserve.  

The next two are books.

One came from Peg Finch, a former parishioner down in Peekskill, NY.  She’s 92 now but has written poetry since childhood.  They’re sweet poems, the type you might find in Inspirations.  I was tickled that she got her poems in print -- regardless of her age -- and that she thought of me after all these years.  I left Peekskill nearly fourteen years ago.

The second book came from my parents and is about Bill Requarth a friend of the family’s, a member of our congregation back home.  He died recently after a life most of us would be too exhausted to even consider.  I knew him as an older man even when I was at home in high school and college.  In those days he was in his seventies and had just started his second family.  That’s right, after his first wife died he remarried a much younger woman and had two more children.  In his late seventies, he retired from medicine so he could spend more time with the kids.

The book is based mostly on Bill’s diaries which focus on his medical school, residency and World War II experiences.  He was the country’s youngest Eagle Scout, earning it at 13 (you can’t do that anymore), he learned to fly as a kid, was present to see John Dillinger’s and Baby Face Nelson’s bodies at the hospital, suffered a terrible hand injury then had to track down a surgeon and convince him to operate on it.  He got drafted in 1940 and ended up in the Navy on Pearl Harbor when it was attacked -- he was given the job of extracting the dead Japanese sailor from the mini-sub that was sunk.

Bill went on to not only serve as a flight surgeon but also as a pilot.  He was checked out on fighter planes, making aircraft carrier landings.  Although he wasn’t supposed to, he occasionally went on missions with the other pilots.  

You get the idea.

The thing about these gifts is, they are all homemade.  My brother literally made his chalice by hand.  Both of the books are self-published.  Yet they help me know the givers more intimately.  And they bring joy while helping me remember that the best gifts are those that don’t come from a store but from the heart.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Using The Gifts -- An Annual Report

Happy Epiphany.

This is the day that the Magi -- the Wise Men from the East -- came to worship Christ.  It’s the day they brought gifts from outside Jesus’ own people to recognize God’s hand at work.

In some cultures, this is the day when children get their gifts because it commemorates the gifts of the Wise Men -- Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  

As we celebrate this parish of St. James’ -- as we look back at what we have done AND forward to our plans, it is perhaps most important of all that we look at our gifts.

One thing you should know about the gifts of the Wise Men.  They are not merely for fun.  Each one of them is a sign -- a symbol of the work that lay ahead of Jesus -- a sign for what he would mean to the world and what he would give to us.

Gold - a sign of wealth and royalty.  Jesus brought to us God’s great richness and also promised to lead us as our Lord.  Not a lord we cower before but one we follow with joy because we know he leads us to joy.

Frankincense is a sign of prayers ascending to God.  It is a sign of holiness because Jesus brought a sense of the holy to us and fills us with his presence.

Myrrh.  The toughest of the gifts because it was not only used in anointing kings but also in anointing the dead.  You’ll notice that when Isaiah envisions a day when foreignors would honor Israel, they brought Gold and Frankincense but not myrrh.  Too somber an offering.  But Jesus did not shy away from the somber reality that faced him -- he would die -- for us -- and ultimately defeat death. 

Jesus took his gifts and used them.  He didn’t have to, of course.  He could have ignored his gifts, tossed them in a corner or used them as mere amusements.  Praise God, he did not.  He used them for the spread of the Kingdom of God.

Which is what we are called to as well.  So -- have we allowed ourselves to ignore our gifts -- to merely use them for ourselves while ignoring the giver of the gifts.  Have we ignored the purpose for those gifts, to make Christ known?  Or have we been using our gifts well?  This year I think we can say the answer is YES.  There have been setbacks, as there are every year, but this has been a good year for us.

First, let’s get the setbacks out of the way.  We had neither a Vacation Bible School nor a pageant last year, and our planned Towel Camp was cancelled unexpectedly.  We also had to cancel a dinner last month, which I deeply regret.

On the other hand, when you plan things, there is always the chance you will not do them.  But if you never plan to do anything, you will never do them.  What we have done this year, on many fronts, is encouraging.

I’ll start with our Stewardship Campaign recently completed under the leadership of Russell Urban-Mead.  We had a large increase in pledging this year, and for that, I thank you.  Many of you increased your pledges, and many at St. James’ pledged for the first time.  What a joy.

Our budget is still extremely tight thanks to rapidly increasing costs, but we are moving in the right direction.  Part of that is increased giving but another -- and huge -- part is due to the fiscal and physical stewardship give by our Vestry and our Buildings and Grounds Committee.  I would like to thank our  Treasurer Diana Magel for helping us get a reign on our finances.

And I would especially like to thank Jack Kinne, Seth Sheraden and Kristin Cotton of the Buildings and Grounds Committee for saving this church many thousands of dollars by keeping a tight watch on what we spend and by doing much of the actual work themselves.  We have a new cable internet system and cable telephones (at a savings to the church over the old system), a new, simplified internal telephone system, and of course new boilers in the parish house and -- as of last week -- the church.  All in all, we have a better physical plant than we did a year ago, and a more stable financial picture.

As Diana will let you know, that does not mean we are in the black -- we aren’t -- but we are moving in the right direction.

We continue to be a beacon in the world of Outreach, taking stock of what we do and what we might want to let go of.  The funning thing is, when Outreach considered what it might want to let go of, I believe the committee chose to continue everything it does now.

We are also beginning to move in the right direction in other areas.  At a Mutual Study of Ministry the Vestry had last September, one things we realized is that we have spent so much time in recent years on physical facilities that we have neglected our purpose for existing -- Spiritual Life.  As a result, we have decided to put more focus on it.  Not only do our Vestry meetings now begin with a time for what we call “checking in” where we find out how each other is doing, but we’ve begun ending our meetings with compline, a beautiful prayerful end to the day.  

But Spiritual Life itself is finding new legs.  In Advent, we had a wonderful quiet evening with Brother Daniel of Holy Cross, and we are in the process of planning at least one or two more events this Spring.  One I’m hoping to plan is a workshop on Centering Prayer.  I hope it will attract you.

Our youth group -- another area where we plan to grow -- will have an overnight retreat next weekend in which its members will plot out what sort of group it wants to be in the future.  

We also had a Bicentennial Committee kick off to remind us that our Bicentennial is just three years away now.  How will we celebrate?  That remains to be seen, but I ask all those who care about the history of this church to step up and begin the planning.  It would be a shame for our 200th anniversary to come and go unnoticed.

I am happy to report that St. James’ is stepping forward in the larger church -- at least a little.  In October, we hosted the Regional Council’s annual meeting.  More than a hundred delegates from around the region came here, and it was declared one of the best councils yet.  I want to thank the entire Vestry for its hard work preparing, and for their gracious hosting of the event.  We have another opportunity to shine in our region when St. James’ hosts a clergy quiet day with Bishop Sisk in March.  

I continue to serve on the Regional Council’s executive committee, and for the first time in many years, another parishioner, Diana Magel, was elected to the same committee.  

On a personal level, I celebrated ten years at St. James’ in 2007 and look forward to many more.  I attended a CREDO conference for Clergy in May -- an opportunity for Episcopal priests from around the country to gather and review our ministries together.  One result of that meeting is that I began writing a Blog -- a Web log -- that I update a couple of times a week.  If you ever miss a sermon, you can always find it there.  This year, I plan on learning how to Podcast sermons -- that is record them and maybe even video tape them and then put them on the internet.  If that works, I may try to star recording classes and or meditations -- isn’t technology wonderful?

Speaking of classes, we begin two series of classes this month.  The Communion Class for second and third graders begin next Saturday and run for six weeks.  The Inquirers Classes for those to be confirmed next November begins on the 17th.   If you are interested in Inquirers classes -- or just one or two of them -- please let me know.

When I started writing this report, all I thought I would say is, “Things have been good, and God has blessed us.”  Indeed, from impressive buildings and grounds to a rich history, to wonderful people, God has given us wonderful gifts.

But like the gifts the Magi gave to Jesus, these gifts are not merely for us to play with. They are meant to be used -- used for us to grow closer to God, and used for us to bring Christ’s Good News to those around us.  God has given us these gifts.  Let’s use them.