Never a Deacon…never a Deacon.

We often hear this statement from Priests. “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon.”

I suggest that it is time that we politely, or impolitely if necessary, call this what it is. Bunk. A mistake. A mistake that needs to be corrected. Why? Here are my views, and my questions for my Priestly friends.

  • Did you ever really consider yourself a Deacon? In all that time of discernment and process, did you actually say, “I want to be a Deacon for a while, maybe six months or so, and then be a Priest….but after that I want to remain a Deacon.” Did you ever even for a moment think in that way?
  • Do you work as a Deacon or work as a Priest? It’s a simple question.
  • Do you recognize Deacons as a full and equal order, or some sort of stop along the way to your true call to ordination as a Priest?

It seems to me that if we got a room full of reasonable Priests and Bishops together to ask if their really is a point to this double-ordination, two-steps to a Priest idea, that they would soon conclude something that sounds like…”It’s always been that way”, Actually, it hasn’t. Skim over Acts 6, and study Church history for the first three hundred years or so.

Here is a question…what is a Transitional Deacon? Here is my answer. It’s really not a Deacon of any kind. Following ordination to this shaky title, are you working as a Deacon, or as a soon to be Priest? Also, do you think of yourself as “only a deacon,” for those few months? Betcha don’t

Speaking of transition. When people are in transition, we are generally transitioning toward something, not from something. If you have to use the transitional title at all ( and I don’t see why you do) then call them Transitional Priests. Now here is an interesting point that I learned about very recently from Deacon Susanne WatsonEpting., From 1972 through 2003, this issue was raised at every General Convention. Obviously, it was not supported by the Bishops, and since then there has been only silence on the topic. Her further comment was that if this transition was important, then it should be lengthened from six months to five years! Perhaps such a proposal would shine a little light on the subject.

So then, how did this tradition begin? I’m guessing that there is a simple explanation. It’s a trial period. A time when somebody gets to see if this is someone that we want to set loose on the church. Perhaps that time is necessary, it is at least arguable. But if that is what it’s all about then get it out there. Call them Priests-In-Training, or J. V. Priests or Junior Priests or Maybe Priests; call them anything close to what they really are, and stop calling them what they are not and never intended themselves to be. And if God Almighty has set it on their hearts to be Priests, then they know it, and the Church should recognize it.

It’s not a matter of degrees. We never say, “Sorry, youre not Priest material, but you seem like a nice person so we’ll let you be a Deacon.” Anyone that would offer that doesn’t understand the Order of Deacons and anyone that would accept is….ummmm….unclear about their call.

Why is this important? To those called to the Diaconate, there is no such thing as a Transitional Deacon or a Vocational Deacon. It’s just Deacon. By adding this Transitional Deacon phase to the journey toward Priesthood adds to the confusion of just exactly what a Deacon does in the world.

As an order that has found itself too often validated by the whim of a Bishop, we find it critical and necessary to speak prophetically on this issue. A more full understanding herein can help to identify the differing roles of all four segments of ministry and ministers; Lay, Bishop, Priest and Deacon.

So, to those who say “Once a Deacon, always a Deacon,” we ask you to consider if you are truly living into Diaconal work, or carrying out the baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”

If you are a Bishop or Priest or preparing for Priesthood, and think that this is just a trifling matter and not worthy of discussion, then I suggest you let us have our way, It is important to us, it is not a trifle. We are a full and equal order.

A Beautiful Guy

Just a few months ago, I met a beautiful guy. He showed up at church one Sunday and began asking around if there was some way that he could be of some help to the hungry or homeless.

What struck me immediately is that this fellow felt as though he had a duty to help those in need.

We talked for a bit, I will tell you that I liked him right away.

Within a few days he was helping out at The Good Samaritan Shelter, providing rides to various services for people that he had just met. Before long he was helping out at St. Peter’s Church, preparing lunch for folks in need.

This didn’t seem like enough for him.

So, he made a seemingly preposterous suggestion. After giving the background that he lived alone in a four bedroom house following the passing of his parents, he suggested that he give me a key to his house, and I could drop off people there that were in need of a place to stay.

The explanation was this. “It’s not my house, I gave it to Christ.”

I recoiled in surprise and a bit of terror. “You can’t just do that,” I explained.

His expression forced me to explain that people might take advantage of the situation and that furthermore, everyone has to pay something for housing.

He just shrugged.

My work at The Good Samaritan Shelter informs me that I know people that have just such a need, but I felt that a program laden with rules and precautions would have to be put into place.

I met with Nate Hoffer, the Executive Director, and later with Tim Barr, Resident Manager, both from Good Samaritan Shelter. I was a bit relieved when both of these guys had the same look of wonder that I had, and responded with something like my own…”You can’t just do that.”

It was Nate who finally said “Why not?”


Together we met with this kind gentleman, to explain all of the precautions and rules necessary. He discarded them all. When we suggested that, at the very least, a modest rent should be paid, and taking part in household chores should be required, he vetoed both.

We settled on this. Participants should go to church and Bible study weekly, at the place of their own choosing.

When he left we were all still shaking our heads, torn between “You can’t do that,” and “Why can’t you”?

Within a few days we had tracked down a former resident of the shelter and made the offer to him. He never said “What’s the catch?” but you could measure it’s presence.

It’s early in this ministry, but I can report that… so far/so good.

I think about the words of my Bishop, Bishop Daniels and his call for us all of us to be about “crazy ministry.”

Now I wonder who the crazy people really are. Is it the man that offers heat and warmth and safety and friendship within his own home to strangers, or is it the rest of us that rationalize all of the reasons why this is unsafe, or not helpful, or enabling or…just plain crazy.

I think about the guest rooms, in houses like my own, with the perfectly made bed and the pretty pillows, and how they goes unused for very long stretches.

Empty warm comfortable rooms, while others have no place to rest their head.

Yep, it’s crazy alright. Crazy in a Jesus sort of way.

A Lectionary Homily, John 8:47

I find that I read the Bible in two distinct ways. They are different in intent, and in result..

The way that I read the Bible most often, is the way that I prepare for weekly Bible studies. In these cases, I read all three readings, each one in it’s entirety. After that, I begin to read it line-by-line, thinking about what I already know about the selected reading.

I think about the people mentioned, and their backgrounds. The towns mentioned and where they are, relative to Jerusalem. I reflect on the social, and economic, and cultural backgrounds of that place and time. I wonder about correct translations, and do the words fit right as they go from Aramaic or Greek or Hebrew to English. In all of this effort, I am thinking about what I already know, what I believe, and have learned, so that I can explain it.

As I consider all of this now, it occurs to me that one can be a reasonable philosopher, a wise theologian, or a pretty good Bible teacher by holding forth on all that they know, while leaving out any hope for continued learning, inspiration, or illumination.

The other way that I read the Bible is quite different. It is the way I read when I am preparing a brief homily, or a sermon.  In those times, I am not thinking about what I know, I am hoping for revelation. Some new and enlightened thought, some clarity.

As I begin to review the reading from John for today. I am reading it in “Bible study” form. The reading begins with:

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

It continues with:

The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

And so I think…what a bunch of knuckleheads those Jews and Pharisees are. There they are, sitting a few feet away from The King of Kings, the true Son of God, and because they don’t like what He says, they call him a half-breed and a mad man. Because what Jesus is trying to teach them doesn’t match up to what they already know, they reject it, and Him. What arrogance! What fools!

That’s the way I see it, in Bible study mode. I can identify the Jews, and their words, and Jesus, and his words.

But when I look at the same scripture, hoping for revelation, there is a far different effect. Now I read the words of Jesus, and when he says “the reason you do not hear is that you don’t belong to God.”  When Jesus says “you”, he means me. Jesus speaks to everyone when he says “you” and that includes me. What? Me?  I don’t belong to God?

In an effort to be unlike those Jews that reject Jesus words of indictment, I begin to ponder…When is it that I don’t belong to God? When? After a while I can see it. There it is…I can see it, right in the same sentence..”the reason you don’t hear…”

The reason I don’t hear is because I think I already know, just like the Jews that insulted Him. By not being open to truly hear Him, I have chosen to listen to myself, and therefore I belong to me, not to Him.

I don’t think this way intentionally, or foolishly. Still as I consider the potential for deeper meaning, I must keep in mind that Jesus words are timeless and all-encompassing. His words begin where time begins.

What do I do about this? First, I know that I must think and pray deeper. I have to be sure that what I am doing and planning is what He wants, not me.

Where do I begin? Well it seems to me that if I want to be open to learning new things, I have to admit that in my own way, I can miss hearing the words of the Saviour, even in the moments when I try my best to be in His presence.

It finally occurs to me that it is entirely me and my best intentions that are in the way. Just like those devout Jews that were unable to accept His message, because it didn’t fit what they already knew. Regardless of how pure my intentions are, how sincerely I seek to serve Him, I cannot be bound by what I know “up to this point”. I cannot only seek to continue things that I have started.

To “belong to Him,” isn’t it just a bit obvious that I need to empty myself out? To put away, at least for a while, my own agenda, my own grand plans, my own hopes for meaningful achievement.

To empty myself by seeking to stay there in His presence. To empty myself until all of me that I can subdue melts behind His presence in my mind and being. To empty myself until it is Him thinking, not me. I am trying to become so empty of myself that my own tired thoughts and plans make way for something new to be revealed.

How else can I be open and accepting of whatever other wild ideas He might have for me?

Crazy stuff like…

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”


Does Jesus Know The Ten Commandments?

So the man came up to Jesus and asked “Teacher. what is the greatest commandment?

The man was a Pharisee and a lawyer. Scripture tell us that he asked this to test Jesus.

I wonder why. Was it because he wanted to know the facts? Certainly Pharisees and lawyers love the “facts.” Perhaps it was to check the facts.

Or perhaps he wanted to know what the greatest commandment was for another reason. Perhaps he wanted to know what  the one thing was that he should really focus on because he felt like he will have trouble keeping all of the commandments, so he should just focus on the greatest one.

Or perhaps it was like a situation that I once found myself in, in a group of like-minded people.I was talking to a fella and we heard a woman in the group next to us say that in her church they had communion the “right way”. They used grape juice.I commented to the man that I was talking to that to make wine you need a barrel or a sheepskin or a goatskin. Making wine is a fairly organic process. But to make grape juice, you need a factory. There just weren’t that many factories in Palestine at that time. And so when she came to me and asked “How do they have communion in your church?” I knew it was a test.

Or perhaps the Pharisee wanted to know how we could use Jesus. Certainly he was aware of when the Sadducee asked Jesus that silly riddle about the woman with seven dead husbands, and which one would she be married to in heaven. He would have been aware of how Jesus  kind of mowed down the Sadducees in debate,  until they “dared not ask any more questions”.

With the Pharisees and Sadducees being in opposition in the Jewish ruling party, perhaps he wondered if Jesus might be of some use to him politically. If He was against the Sadducees, perhaps he was for the Pharisees.

Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?

Jesus answer seems to go directly to the mans heart.

Jesus answers that the first and great commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”  Actually, Jesus is quoting the Shema, which begins, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

At this point, the Pharisee might have unrolled a scroll to say to Jesus, “Actually Jesus, it says here that the first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.’”

But he didn’t…

Jesus continues, “And the second is like unto it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, this is the commandment that Jesus left behind for us, when he basically said…until I get back, love each other.

The Pharisee might have rolled his eyes and said, “Actually Jesus, that is incorrect. It says here that the second commandment tell us not to worship any graven images.”

But he didn’t…

Does Jesus even know the Ten Commandments? Is He changing them?

He continues with, “On these two commandments, hang all the law and The Prophets.”

Suspended from these two “greatest” commandments are all of the laws on one side, and The Prophets on the other.

All the laws. all six-hundred some of them and I’ll bet the Pharisee knew them all. The laws, static and timeless, hang from these two commandments. And on the other side, the words of The Prophets. Jesus knew that he was speaking to a Pharisee. The Sadducees, you see, believe only in The Torah, the first five books. But the Pharisees also accept the wisdom books and the books of The Prophets. And who are The Prophets? They are men, chosen vessels of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, to speak with Gods own words about what is happening now. It is The Prophets that cry over Jerusalem and warn us that if we continue down the road we’re on, that danger looms. It is The Prophets that tell us how we are doing right now in keeping His static and timeless laws.

I don’t want to be too hard on the Pharisees. My hunch is that they devoted themselves to the law because that believed that it was righteous to do so. But I don’t have to worry about being too hard on them, because Jesus sure was.

It was Jesus parable about the Pharisee that kind of sounds like. “Did you hear the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?”

Recall how the Pharisee was standing outside the temple, praying in a loud voice about how great he was at keeping laws and over-fasting and over-tithing. How he thanked God that he wasn’t like some other groups of crummy people, and how he even got personal and pointed a finger at the tax collector, giving thanks that he wasn’t like that guy. By elevating himself above others, he had actually broken both of Jesus two great commandments.

By loving only the law, we are able to walk past a bleeding, half-naked man in a ditch on the Jericho road.

Certainly Paul understood Jesus greatest commandments. Consider this, from Romans 13:8

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Jesus told us that he didn’t come to change the law, but to fulfill it.

How do we fulfill it? We show our love for God by loving each other. All of us and always.

I will leave it to you to work out who your neighbor is. but it seems to me that my neighbor is everyone that I will in some way be connected to today. That’s who I am to love.

In the Catechism that we learned as children, when we learned the ten commandments, the word love is absent. We are taught that the first four are about our relationship with God, and the last six are about our relationship with each other. But for the most part, the word love does not appear.Even if love is inferred, or imbued, or implied, we are too stubborn, or self-absorbed, or foolish, or perhaps just too dense to see it.

How did Jesus fulfill the law? He added what we couldn’t see in our quest to keep the rules.

Love. Jesus added love.

So, Mr. Pharisee. you want to know what the greatest commandment is?


Forgive and Remember…A Christmas Message.


Sometimes I wonder what we would do without Christmas. I don’t mean this in the ‘What if Jesus never came into our world,” sense, but in the way in which Christmas is a time of forgiving and forgetting. Feuds, both silly and serious will be forgotten and relationships patched up by people that simply cannot resist a softened heart at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Without these wonderful Christmas miracles, the feuds would fester and burn year after year.

People will swear that they won’t attend a Christmas event because of so-and-so, and then they give in, and peace is made, or the feud and hurt are simply forgotten.

I myself have had this experience, swearing to avoid a situation where I feared being ridiculed again, and at the last minute letting loose of a stubborn grudge. In doing so, I found myself surrounded by those warm feelings that we seem to save up for Christmas.

Still, not all people will participate in “Good will toward all men,” this Christmas. Some feuds will continue, some grudges held. In every case, it will be because we will find it impossible to forgive, and the reason will be the conclusion that the other person(s) doesn’t deserve forgiveness. At the very worst of it, people will either believe that they don’t deserve the bad feelings directed at them (or refuse to accept their part) or that one believes that the other needs to come to them to beg forgiveness.

It is difficult to forgive and forget. Difficult indeed.

Recently, I had the good fortune of listening to a sermon on this matter by Bishop Clifton Daniel of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The Bishop provided me with a new way to look at things. I have thought about it quite a lot since then, and I am grateful to him; and so I wrap his thoughts and mine together, and offer them to you.

Basically, the Bishop says that we are not always able to forgive and forget. Although we have some terrific models for this, we generally are not able to get all the way there.

One example was Pearl Harbor. The hatred for Japan seems to have dissipated and now the U.S. and Japan are friendly. Nelson Mandela seemingly forgave his jailers to the point that he could provide leadership to exercise “truth and reconciliation,” to a once divided country.

The Bishop also uses the Bea Arthur character in the TV show Maude, and her constant pronouncement “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

What is the stumbling block? Why is it that for some, that they can never get past the hurt?

This is the help that the Bishop offers, and it is so obvious that it is brilliant.

First, consider that this always occurs in a broken relationship. Imagine any relationship between two people and you can identify what is at the center of it. It may be two friends that simply find humor in the same things, or two people that share a common spirituality. It might be the family connection of siblings, or parent to child. It could be husband to wife, or between co-workers. It doesn’t take much thought or imagination to see and name what was once at the center of that relationship.

And then something violent occurs. Someone steps out of a relationship, or tells a lie, or insults or steals or is just plain thoughtless. A wound is made. A deep cut that is undeserved. Isn’t the sense of undeserved pain always the cause of the wound? Can’t we always say “I didn’t deserve that!”

And so where we once had placed love or admiration in the center of a relationship we now place the wound. It’s like a rock the Bishop says. Perhaps it’s like a burning coal. A burning coal that burns on because we provide it with plenty of oxygen. The bellows of “I didn’t deserve that,” keep it a red hot and searing wound. It continues for as long as we wait for the guilty party on the other side to make things right, while we stand in our own righteousness with our arms folded across our chest.

This is what the Bishop tells me what I must do. Not them, me.

Take the wound and move it out of the center of our broken relationship. It is still there, you can’t forget it. But you can move it out of the center, and by doing so we can see what truly belongs in the center. It is the love or admiration that we once had for our friend, daughter, co-worker, girlfriend, mother, brother, neighbor, pastor, father…whoever. It’s up us me to do that, with the hope, but not the expectation, that they will do the same.

It’s about our own act of forgiving, with the knowledge that we won’t completely and entirely forget. Still, you have created a pathway to remembering the wound less. With the wound removed from being between you, all of the good stuff that was once there can become visible, can resurface, once again.

The Bishop seems to know that for me, I can accept a change only if the new thought or idea has a spiritual component.

He reminded me that when the resurrected Jesus came back to see His friends, he had already forgiven them.

Had Jesus forgotten the pain? When he reappeared in His resurrected body, it was complete with wounds at his hands and feet and side.

But He had removed them from the center of the relationship.


Thanks Bishop.



Imagine that you are a father. Imagine further that on a certain day, your son comes to you with the happy news that he has found love, and he plans to marry. I have had that situation in my life, I don’t have to imagine it . It is a great day for a father.

As the story continues, imagine that your son bestows a great honor on you. He asks his father, a Methodist pastor, to perform the wedding ceremony.

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine this double measure of joy.

Is there any way in which you would not quickly begin making plans for this doubly big day?

Now imagine that it is nearly seven years into the future. Somewhere, a person, doing what he believes is right in the eyes of God and His Church, decides to alert the church authorities that a rule has been broken. A person with no personal stake in the matter decides that it is warranted to report that the young man in love, is in love with another man.

For the father, this was apparently of no import at all. I can see it that way, easily. If God is love, then the Creator creates and bestows love as He wills it. Note that it is as He wills it, not us. It is beyond my imagining that the young man  is confused in thinking that what he feels is love. We know love in ways that we can only feel, and have difficulty in describing. But we know it.

By that love the young man chooses to share his life with another. The father blesses the union.

The issue now becomes a church legal matter. The church has made rules, the pastor has broken one. It is no longer about love. No one interviews the couple to see if they love each other. Love suddenly fails to matter. The commandment of Jesus to “love one another,” stands in the shadow of the rule.

That rule is the same in many churches, or at least it was until reason entered.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” they say. A church rule undoubtedly supported by Fundamentalist Heterosexuals, with no stake in the matter.

I can understand that the Methodist church has to make a ruling, now that the “concerned Methodist” has brought it up. I further understand that the church must conclude that indeed their rule was broken. The Pastor should admit to it, because he did it, and willingly. It also provides the opportunity for folks to speak to the rule.

Before you trot out the Bible verses that we all know that can back up the “one man to one woman” mantra, I will ask you to use your imagination.

What do you imagine the church fathers should do now? What do we do when the presence of love in our world seems to fly in the face of our church rules?

Rev. Frank Schaeffer doesn’t have to imagine any of this. It is his present reality. Here are some of his words.

“I didn’t do this to make a rebellious statement against the church,” Rev. Frank Schaefer said on Friday, reflecting on the action taken by a United Methodist Church jury of fellow pastors that last week sentenced him to a 30-day suspension after convicting him of violating church law for having officiated over his son’s same-sex wedding in 2007. At the end of the 30-day period, the Lebanon, Penn., pastor will be defrocked unless he renounces same-sex marriage, including his own son’s marriage.

In a few weeks, the church will have to make a decision. I feel confident that this decision will have to be made in light of the fact that Rev. Schaeffer will continue to chose love and reason… over the rules.

Can you imagine what the world becomes if the church decides that by this one act, Frank is no longer called to serve God and His Church and His people?

I can’t imagine being silent about this. I will find my way to say as a Christian father that I can only admire the reverend for this act of love and bravery. I will be heard, even if it is in some small way.

I can imagine that the church will have a difficult time looking at the rule and listening to the voices of those that want “justice”.

None of us sinners should be asking God to reign justice on us. We live in,and by, His mercy. That is the demonstration of His love for us.

Imagine that.

Many Mansions.


Somewhere in the Bible, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions”.

I visited such a mansion last night. To some, it may not seem like a mansion at all. In point of fact, it is a row house in Phoenixville that is a bit ramshackle. By name, it is the Good Samaritan Shelter…

It is a mansion nonetheless. Sitting in the warm and comfortable living room with some friends that are current residents, we share and discuss the Bible. As it is Thanksgiving Eve, we begin to discuss all that we have to be thankful for me. My own list is pretty long, I am a lucky and blessed guy.

For the others, they offer thanks for one single thing. This shelter, their home.

One by one, they talk about where they have been, and how this place where we now sit and talk is testimony to God’s love for all. They smile, and look toward the kitchen as they talk about the huge pile of Thanksgiving food provided for them, all from the generosity of strangers.

There is some talk about previous Thanksgivings, including one tale where a fellow describes himself as being like George Washington, having spent a winter in Valley Forge. Unlike George, he spent his winter under a bridge.

In the midst of this genuine expression of gratitude, we all are mindful that we have it better than many do, and need to care for them, as we are able.

One gentlemen remarks that in this place, he doesn’t always see himself as “less than”.

As I count my blessings today, I am thankful for the providence of being led here, and being accepted by these new friends. I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded that what may seem like a “homeless shelter for men” to some, is, in fact a mansion, which I am humbled to welcomed in.

I am doing my best to share this story,so that you can feel what I feel, but I don’t know how to write the words that describe the genuine smiles of gratitude.

There is a website above, in case you want to know more about this mansion.