Thursday, August 15, 2013

Digging the Depths of a Blossoming Creation!

Get a good look at these garden beds...

The Cathedral Student Ministry, as a gift to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George for its 160th anniversary, will dig up these garden beds and plant indigenous South African trees, plants, and flowers!

This was an idea that we presented to the clergy, and they quickly informed us that the Parish Counsel made plans at their annual meeting to revitalize the green spaces around the church property, particularly the garden beds. So, they were more than happy to allow us to take up this

We're also excited because we will officially begin planting on September 15th--the first Sunday that the students will be back from their short break between Term 3 and Term 4 (their university system is different). Also on that Sunday we are starting the Cathedral Student Ministry Preaching Series. Three out of the four Sunday's of Term 4 students that are a part of the Cathedral Student Ministry will take the responsibility of preparing and presenting a sermon to their fellow students.

These two projects coming together--planting the gardens, and the Student Preaching Series--will compliment each other well. The gardens will be a gift to the congregation, as well as an opportunity for us to grow a deeper appreciation for God's creation by cultivating and caring for it. September will still be Ordinary Time on the Church calendar, but the the plants and flowers will really begin to show signs of life around Advent and Christmas, the seasons on the church calendar when we celebrating the coming forth and birth of Christ. Our small creations will begin to show forth just as our Creators greatest creation will show forth. And we hope to use the planting, in conjunction with the Preaching Series, as compliments to one another symbolizing us digging into the depths of ourselves as the students prayerfully listen for the voice of God in themselves in preparation for their sermons, with the sermons being a sort of blossoming of what they discovered in the sermon writing process.

Needless to say, these garden beds and the students that will cultivate them will look very different, very soon...


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George...Grahamstown, South Africa

Front Entrance from High Street


Lady Chapel

Ceiling--Resembling the Bowels of a Ship

Organ Loft


Great High Altar and East Window

What the Cathedral Student Ministry Can Teach "Popcorn Millennial's"

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18: 20

I have heard it said that "everyone" in the church thinks Youth and Young Adult Ministry is important, but that "no one" wants to do it. 

With that said: I know precisely why "no one" in the church wants to do Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Would I be putting my foot in my mouth if I said that I agreed with the reason? 

Here goes nothing...

"No one" in the church wants to do Youth and Young Adult Ministry...because it's HARD! Yes, it's hard because youth and young adults--particularly young adults--can be fickle, lazy, disinterested, and have a propensity to want everything and nothing at the same time. I would know :-( . But, more than that, it's hard because youth and young adults challenge pastors to be creative, to be genuine, to be a friend, AND to be a leader. And that balance--friend and leader--is no small order. It is, indeed, a sacred task. 

This past saturday, at the Deanery, Rev. Claire scheduled a "Welcome Social" for me. The students from the Cathedral Student Ministry baked muffins, brownies and cupcakes, and we played "30 Seconds"--the board game version of "Taboo." Also, last week and part of this week, I made the effort to schedule 1-to-1's with the Cathedral Student Ministry Core Team. Both of these things, particularly the 1-to-1's, were designed to facilitate "relational deepening" with the students, to meet them beyond the context of formal worship, to learn of their expectations of me, and to share my expectations with them. 

Before arriving to Grahamstown I wrestled with the question of how I was supposed to, as a young adult, minister to the needs of other young adults. Perhaps for some people that statement begs the question. Those people would say that I am suited to minister to young adults precisely because I AM a young adult. However, it is by my own calculation that the latter assertion is actually the question begging assertion. It does not necessarily follow that I can properly minister to the needs of young adults because I am a young adult. 

I often find myself defending the Christian tradition to Millennial's who have been deeply scarred by the condemnatory character of conservative Christian denominations. Somehow, in the states, the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist's have come to represent what it means to be Christian, and have decidedly owned the conversation about what are Christian values. College students who enjoy alcohol, sex, drugs, and the occasional party see no place for themselves in that conversation. For some reason, the smartest people I know have downed the "pious Christian" kool-aid, and can't seem to wrap their minds around the idea that they can both enjoy their young adult years and deepen their relationship with God, that ordinary men with their own demons *cough* Paul the Apostle *cough* were trying their best to express the inexpressible, trying to convince both themselves and others of the mercy, grace and love of God--speaking out their own need for self-control. 

So, young adults run away from the tradition, or they avoid the tradition, turning away from the possibility of feeling guilt or shame for wanting to live freely. And indeed, they shouldn't be left to feel small for wanting to live their life the way they choose and still love their God; but, it seems to me that one is to suffer harsher consequences living outside of community than they would facing the tension that will inherently exist in ANY community one chooses to join.

Sometimes I struggle to minister to the young adult that has made up his or her mind about the institution of religion. I want to say, "just trust me," but I know that it requires something much more substantial than that. It requires journeying with them, being a living witness to the fierce diversity of and transformative power that exists in God's church. 

Pastors and priests have conceived of ways of drawing young adults back to the church. And the answer has, so often, been to take service out of the cathedral and into the arena or pavilion, to remove the organ and replace it with a band, and to take off the suits and slip on the shorts. And I struggle with this. It strikes me as an unbalanced approach. It caters to a generation and to a time in one's maturation, when trends and desires change faster than we can even keep up with. Millennial's are the inheritors of a consumerist culture whose habits have become requirements for fulfillment. The regularity with which we change phones, or styles is certainly not the same pace of change and transformation that occurs in the spiritual life. In fact, the pace of our consumer culture stands in direct opposition to the rate of change in the spiritual life. Spiritual transformation is a process that is happening over time; a process we sometimes do not realize is happening until it has happened. Spiritual transformation requires that we take stock of our lives carefully, and intimately; paying attention to from whence we have come, who we are, where we are, where we want to go, who we want to become isn't going to be satisfied by just changing the way a space looks. It might be a start, but I don't think that it is the end all and be all. And I think that a worship space that caters to what I call "instant spirit" is a volatile space, a false witness, ironically unbending in its effort to provide theological and spiritual flexibility. I believe that a space that is prime for spiritual transformation is a space that provides the opportunity for young people to be relaxed and safe; and, I think that it should be a space rooted in a story, rooted in a history of having been prayed in and over, and deeply connected to a past that will beckon forward those who have walked our paths before. And the young adult minister is one that has to be comfortable both recognizing the level of discomfort that many Millennial's have with institutional religion, and challenging them to re-engage the spiritual conversation, to seek out the community that is right for them, and to trust that God is working on those that use the Gospel to condemn as much as God is working on them. It is about balancing friendship and leadership--in one word it might be called, "empowerment."

The Cathedral Student Ministry at St. Michael and St. George seeks this sort of balance. A congregation of 40-70 students, each Sunday, enjoy a space where both progressive Christian's and conservative Christian's can be filled and challenged by the Gospel. It is a space where young adults lead worship and liturgy, yet seek guidance, the theological knowledge of elders, and the love of God. It is a space where the past and the present come into intimate conversation with one another. I believe that the tension we experience when past and present come into contact is the very tension that binds life together. It is a still space, and it is a vibrant space. It is an empty space, and it is a full space. I'd love to hear a John Mayer Mass or a Lauryn Hill Mass call upon the Spirit in that place. But, I think that that is the sort of balance that must be struck if Millennial's are to both return to the church, and experience transformation and healing.  Existing in a space where we can safely be on opposite ends of the spectrum puts us in relationship with others we might be prone to judge rather than love. It teaches us how to engage the unique character of others, and it challenges us to sink deeply into prayer about our own convictions. And I think that the tension of old and new safely facilitates a space where liberal and conservative can bring their unique ideas to God. And it is in that bringing forth that a deep similarity and familiarity is initiated.

Millennial's want ministers that empower them to reimagine their worship space, yet help guide them in making that space a meaningful space, a space that has some structure, that links them to the past, and that feels like a sense.

We need the old, we need the tradition to both ground us and invite us into a relationship with others from generations past--this helps us to realize that we are not alone in our journey to know a God that speaks from our depths. And we need the new to keep the Word fresh, familiar, and expressed in a language that we understand. There is tension, but there is harmony. There is, therefore, the very essence of God. 

I am excited about working with this group of young adults that have shown me how culture can converge, how we can stand firmly rooted in tradition while singing God's praises with a new song!

Friday, August 9, 2013

How 'Bout Them Cowboys

..The Water of Life
..Me in Pure Joy
..John Mayer Blasting
..And Jesus


My First Sermon at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George

This is a video of my first sermon given at the Cathedral Student Ministry Service on Sunday August 11th. Below is the prayer I wrote to precede the sermon. I hope that you enjoy!

Most Gracious and Most High, by and through and with your love you made us for yourself. So eager for us to know you deeply you sent us a brother and a friend with whom we could speak, and touch, and through whose eyes we could see you calling us home. Help us to graciously accept the unimaginable truth that you made us for the sake of love and love alone; and, help us to worthily love and worship you by how we love each other rather than how we love the possession of titles, goods, or pride. In your name we pray.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Day 2: Settling In

I arrived in Grahamstown at 11:30pm on Tuesday July 30th. I was wisped away from Port Elizabeth and driven an hour to Grahamstown where I was greeted by the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George, the Rev’d. Andrew Hunter, and his lovely wife the Rev’d. Claire Nye Hunter, at the Deanery. A Deanery—for my friends who might be unfamiliar—is a living quarters attached to a cathedral for the Dean of the Cathedral and her/his family. Some churches that are not cathedral’s also have homes for their pastor/priest/rector; these are called Rectories.

The Hunter’s prepared a cozy room for me on the first floor of their home with heavy blankets, and a blanket warmer. There is no central heating or central cooling in South Africa. This is true, as I understand, because the State cannot afford such. This was also true in Boston, where I lived for a year before moving to Grahamstown—there was no central heating and cooling in many of the buildings there. However, the reason was different. Some of the buildings were just too old to be fitted with central heating and cooling. I make a point to mention that there is no central heating here, and that I was given a blanket warmer, because it is winter here in South Africa. The single narrative that every country on the continent of Africa is ALWAYS scorching is indeed a false narrative. Yet, it is true that the winter weather here is quite beautiful—for the time being. It has reached the low to mid seventies every day since I’ve been here, and the mid to low fifties during the evening. However, I have been told not to get too comfortable. Things will cool down again. It might help if I mention that the degree points I’ve given you are in Fahrenheit. Weather here is measured in Celsius; so, a more accurate account of the temperature during the day would be the mid to high twenties.

Anyhow, the Hunter’s sat with me about an hour more after my arrival and we talked. We sat down in what we might consider in the States to be a family room, and kept warm by the heat of a modest wood fire. The heat of the wood fire was a beautiful accompaniment to the warm coffee and conversation that we shared. Much of our conversation was centered on my flight, as well as the revolution that has defined Egyptian politics for the last two years. Dean Hunter handed me some Time Magazine articles to read that he’d found enlightening, and that he thought might be good reads in case I couldn’t sleep well my first night in the country. Maurice, the other missionary here, as well as the Hunters, warned me that I might not sleep well my first few nights. I was dreading having to head to bed, but I went. I unpacked my first bag and was delighted to realize that my shampoo had spilled while my suitcases were in transit. Thank God that a few pair of my socks absorbed most of the mess, but it was still frustrating to have to clean up. By the time I cleaned everything up I slipped into bed and immediately fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning, enjoyed a glass of fresh orange juice, and walked down to the Cathedral. The Cathedral will receive its own post soon, so I won’t spend much time reflecting on its beauty. However, I will tell you that it is the centerpiece of the town. It towers above all of the other buildings, yet it does not consume them. The Cathedral retains a since of humility although it is sprawling. But…more to come later, no?

I left the Cathedral and almost got hit by a car trying to take a picture of it. If I am being reasonable, I was spinning around in the middle of the street trying to get a good angle, not paying much attention to traffic, and using my periphery to see if traffic was coming. Just a little observation here: using your periphery to see if traffic is coming doesn’t work well if you are standing on the left side of the road expecting traffic to come from the left, when it actually is coming from the right. I’d effectively forgotten that South African’s drive on the left side of the road. I escaped, however, and continued on my way. On the opposite end of High St., where the Cathedral is located, is Rhodes University. I walked down to Rhodes to get a sense of what campus life is like. Colleges and Universities here are in the middle to latter half of their term. I’m still not sure how university terms work here, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon. The campus reminded me, very much so, of U.S. college campuses. The students were dressed similarly, conversing in between classes on benches and near walls where they could sit, collecting loose change and dollars for causes that were dear to them, and holding hands with their boyfriends and girlfriends as they walked out of class. Language was perhaps the most unique quality of the Rhodes University campus. One could hear Afrikaans, and Xhosa being spoken. Sidenote: I’ll also try to write posts about the colonial history of Grahamstown, but more specifically, about the indigenous cultures here. It’s a lot for me to retain, but part of the reason I feel called to mission work is to strengthen my skills as a cultural listener and learner. So, bear with me. I met a gracious young lady who showed me where to find the Anglican chapel on campus. She asked me why I am interested in religion, and I inquired as to what she studies at the University. She studies sociology, and expressed her deep love for Karl Marx, but the frustration she has with the lack of applicability of some revolutionary ideologies as it pertains to African social realities. So, we briefly discussed another one of her favorite thinkers, Frantz Fanon, and the Negritude movement.

After my time at the university I walked back to the Deanery to have lunch with the Rev’d’s. Andrew and Claire, and their daughters. We ate chicken sandwiches in their garden underneath a shade tree amidst the warm stillness of a South African winter’s day. They introduced me to marmite. Marmite is a spread that you put on toast, and is apparently quite popular in Western Europe. It the same color and about the same texture as molasses, but is rather salty. I didn’t use much of it.

Claire and I then headed down to the convent where accommodations had been made on my behalf. A convent is community of nuns. And I know many people will find this interesting, even, perhaps, intimidating. But, the monks and nuns that I have met in the past year and a half of my discernment process have been some of the wisest, sweetest, coolest, and yes, most easygoing people I’ve ever met. When we arrived at the convent—the Community of the Resurrection of our Lord—Sister Nehern greeted Clair and I. I am living on the second floor of an older home that is owned by the sisters. I have my own room, and a second room across the hall for entertaining guests. I have access to the kitchen downstairs as well. The downstairs quarters is occupied by a housemother and three young children that the sisters at the convent have adopted. Two of the young children are also students at the school where Maurice is an Assistant Teacher. After I picked up my keys I headed by the Parish Office for a Parish Council meeting. Parish Council is the equivalent of what we in the states call a vestry. For those unfamiliar with this terminology, a parish council and a vestry are simply a group of congregants elected by other congregants to handle the business of the church and to plan developmental activities for the church. Everyone on the parish council was pleased to meet me. After the meeting Maurice returned to the Parish Office to pick me up, and like a good brother, treated me to welcome dinner at a popular bar here in town called “The Rat and Parrot.” “The Rat and Parrot” seems to be a really popular spot in town. And if I had to guess I would say that many of the patrons were college aged young adults.

Once I made it back home I climbed in bed, slipped on my headphones, and before I knew it was waking up out of fetal position at 5am with my computer and my headphones collected, neatly, beside me. LOL. I’d had a wonderful nights sleep. So, I decided to stay up and begin writing what became my first blog of my time here in Grahamstown.

And this is the end of my second. Lol

I can’t wait to come to you with more. There’s just way too much to write about. So, instead of trying to figure out some system, I’m just gonna write when things comes to me. I’m behind right now, but hopefully I’ll be caught up before Monday.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Concentric Circles of Personhood, Love, and Brotherhood: From Home to Home

After 36 hours of plane and car rides I have finally arrived in Grahamstown, South Africa!

Yes, 36 hours of travel is the physical and mental bear that you might imagine. However, a day and a half of travel can reveal what it means to be held and carried by grace. Such a notion of grace, for me, is the cosmic stuff of God—the Mother Hen energy of God that protects and keeps us safe; and, grace is the deep thankfulness and anticipation I have for the journey in which I am embarking. I am physically and mentally exhausted; yet, the spiritual sustenance of God’s love and my own joy for what lies ahead has kept me whole. It has been my peace lying down, and my spritely rising up.

The morning of my departure, July 29th, began with my sister Dominique waking me up to give me a parting gift. Her gift to me was a black, wooden jewelry box that she made herself. On the outside of the jewelry box she painted a fa├žade of Africa, and a peace sign atop a heart. And on the inside were all of the colors of the rainbow. For me this symbolized that that which has materialized, this relational mission to Africa, is the relational manifestation and essence of my own identity. In other words, the very calling I feel to engage in relational evangelism, mission work—whatever you prefer to call it—is fed by my socio-spiritual identification as a queer man. For, queerness is the coming together of many things into one. For me, her gift is a sacrament. It is a revelation that points to how what is on the inside comes to bear that which is seen on the outside.

Then, it was off to the airport. And anyone who knows my mother, Julia, and my father, Paul, can probably imagine the scene at our good-bye. Julia was bawling and Paul was as cool as a cucumber, holding his face in an ever certain smirk of approval. I can’t imagine, even for a second, what it must mean to send your child away without the potential for immediate access; so, holding my eagerness in tension with my mother’s apprehension was difficult. Yet, my father’s evenness was so important in that moment, and allowed for both my mother and I to live into our opposing anxieties. There was a moment in the airport when the guttural reaction of each of us was held in solidarity and legitimacy, even though they were different, even opposite, perhaps. It was in that moment that we stood in love. Love is the intentional binding of tensions into a single harmony. Sure, I wanted my parents to smile and laugh me off with a hug, a kiss, and a wave. And sure, my mom wanted to pack my bags to ensure I had everything and then run down the checklist again before I left her sight. And sure, my dad wanted us to both to get it together. But, none of our perfect realities were going to unfold as we’d hoped. So, for a single moment we let each other be. We went down into ourselves and came up in each other’s arms. Some might say, “we let go, and we let God.”

My first flight was from Raleigh to Washington D.C. where I would have a six hour layover. I was content with the layover. I just popped on my earphones and proceeded to hold on to my love for North Carolina through J. Cole’s “Born Sinner,” and thoughts of my childhood best friends, Kelly and Kerwin, through John Mayer’s “Born and Raised,” and Asher Roth’s “Pabst and Jazz.” And then I received a phone call from my oldest sister, Michelle. As always, she was calling to make sure I was okay. If I was going to hear one last voice before I left I wanted it to be hers. She was there from the beginning of my application process to join the Young Adult Service Corps, and the first stage of this process came full circle with her call.

After Michelle and I hung up I looked up. And what did I see? I saw a Morehouse Man staring back at me. Yes, folks. A classmate from college was sitting at the same gate waiting for the very same flight to South Africa! And I saw him not too soon after my college President had wished me safe travels on Facebook. Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr. instilled in all of us at Morehouse the importance of being well-traveled, and the high potential that we’d meet another brother along the way. We knew each others presence, but not each others names. And for some reason names didn’t matter at the moment. We pointed at each other, and commenced conversation over a bottle of wine in a restaurant in Dulles. He is from South Africa, and was able to tell me of the people, the richness of the many cultures here, and some thing’s I might enjoy. We praised God together, for bringing us together so unexpectedly. And having flown between the States and South Africa so many times, I recognize him as an angel of sorts—a person that God sends to us in unfamiliar spaces and times to ground us in a sense of calm.

And it was off to South Africa…

To be given a gift that symbolizes how my identity is becoming one with my calling, to have such disjointed emotional reactions to separating from family held in a harmonious expression of love, for my last phone call to be the first one I made when deciding whether or not I wanted to travel abroad to live with God’s people elsewhere, and to unexpectedly board a flight with a Morehouse brother moments after speaking to the man that told his students we’d find each other all over the world, is like the concentric circles that Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of. Indeed, the most elemental truths of life, from the homeostatic character of nature and our bodies, to the unfolding of a persons story over time come meet in a full-orbed song of balance, they come full circle; we are constantly creating a narrative for ourselves with characters and storylines that occur to us as brand new, yet it is the expression of the eternal in time. And in the moment of creation or decision making—embracing ones self fully, applying to Morehouse College, becoming a Missionary for the Episcopal Church—what we create or decide upon may seem like an isolated decision or creation; yet, what I’ve come to realize is that I am both living out a story I write day-by-day, and a story that has been written in the stars. The coming together of so many narratives that seem unrelated—stories of self-love, career, familial love, and fraternity—is an epiphany that places great praise on my tongue. For, these concentric circles of my life’s narrative is like the pulsating and vibrating of the Universe. And to be entrusted with that sort of energy speaks a word of humility and responsibility into my heart of hearts, and reveals to me the degree to which I must be open to receiving the great deal of wisdom and love that the people here in Grahamstown have to give; it is fodder for a greater story. And fixed at the core of my soul is a sense of awe at the unexpected continuity of life when it is lived fully and for the love of God!

There is more to the name of God!