Archive for December, 2010

Longtime and beloved Saint Alban’s parishioner Kathryn Ann (Woodson) Batte entered the Larger Life in Christ this morning at 8:35 a.m. having received Holy Unction last evening. A requiem Mass is scheduled for 11:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at Saint Alban’s. “Kitty” Batte will be remembered for her deep and abiding faith and generous spirit.

May her soul, with the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace. And may Light Perpetual shine upon her.

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“Evangelism-A Discussion and Exposition of Basic Issues.”
A Conference Given on July 31, 2010
Saint Alban’s Pro-Cathedral (ACC), Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States
Conference Director: The Very Reverend Canon Charles H. Nalls

On July 31, 2010, St. Alban’s, the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic States, held a conference “Evangelism-A Discussion and Exposition of Basic Issues.” The conference provided a mixed media presentation including apologetics videos and, most importantly, interactive sessions and question and answers designed to involve the all members of the parish communities present. In addition to a number of diocesan clergy, some fifty laity from around the diocese repesenting at least half of the parishes provided the most telling commentary.  Any errors or omissions are solely the responsibility of the Conference Director.  If there is something missing, incorrect or incomplete, please e-mail your comments to cnalls@canonlaw.org
The problem: Our parishes face the practical problems of ordinary evangelism such as introducing the Anglo-Catholic expression to practicing Christians yearning to lead a fuller faith life. More importantly, though, is the question of reaching increasing numbers of un-churched, particularly young people, in a world in which there is a rejection of any and all truth claims.  How do we speak to those for whom even basic truth is a wholly individual matter, dependent upon personal feeling for validation? How does an incarnational faith reach those who have been taught to “question reality”, yet are yearning for that which is larger than themselves?
Recent discussions on American Family Radio and in other venues have admitted that Anglicanism, even in its currently fragmented form (as well as the Orthodoxy and the Roman Church), offer  concrete notions of truth to a generation weary of doubt and flux. The overarching question is how, then, do we speak to such a generation? What is the basic message we need to convey to convince the un-churched to come in the door and learn more?
Our Goals: To identify the large issues and questions for the non-Christian or “post-Christian”, and to set out what has worked and what has not in reaching this increasingly large demographic. The focus was on the practical, rather than the academic, and participants are encouraged to present concrete examples of experiences and efforts in evangelism and outreach including those which have failed. The goal of this first session was to provide attendees ideas to further discuss and develop at the parish level, and for further development in subsequent sessions.
A second goal aimed at the formation of a broad group of individuals throughout the diocese who will regularly focus on evangelism and engage in ongoing sharing of new ideas and innovations for showing forth the light of Christ in a darkened world.
As a third goal, we agreed to attempt two more sessions in the coming year-one at mid-year with a national speaker/leader involved in evangelism and apologetics, and a third next summer to wrap-up of the year and kick-off the next year of evangelism.
Results: The results were at once convicting and, yet, hopeful.  The bottom line: the future of traditional Anglicanism is the stake.
I. First Session-Defining the Issues
A. Session Task: To identify some of the major issues, general and specific, that confront the Church both from a “mere Christianity” perspective and from the Anglican-Catholic standpoint
B.Goal: To develop a list of specific barriers to effective evangelism at the personal (individual) level and at the parish level
C.Results: The participants distinguished between outreach and evangelism.  Both are important to church growth, but they are very different in aim and goal.
Outreach-We defined this effort as advertising and presence in the community.  The goal is to reach those who already are Christian believers in an effort to offer them a parish home.  Our concern is essentially one of advertising and program.  The target demographic likely will be attracted to and willing to come to a church that appeals to them or offers something different.  Also, this group may include those who already are traditional Anglicans or separating from the Episcopal Church (this latter pool is decreasing).  Typical tools include door hangers, mailers, advertisements, holding special events (movie nights, participation in community festivals and other activities), a strong Sunday school, and a current appealing website.  The task is to explain to believing Christians why they should be Christians of the Anglican Catholic variety.
Unless at least a strong core group within the parish can explain the faith catholic, then outreach, no matter how glossy, will fail.   This puts a premium on catechesis and adult education.  Some frank discussion must also be had concerning “gate keepers”, proper levels of friendliness to newcomers and “cloying.” The task is to convey an open image that bespeaks genuine Christian hospitality, without over-pitching newcomers. Greeters and/or ushers should be at the ready to guide and welcome newcomers and introduce them to the other members of the parish.  Do not attempt to immediately recruit newcomers into parish activities—they likely will need to learn basic faith and practice questions, or to decompress from the shock of having had to leave their former parish in the case of ECUSA refugees.
Gatekeepers are poisonous, and must be educated about toxic behaviors.  These include: those who feel the need to address levels of churchmanship (when there may, in fact be no churchmanship), those who favor negative outreach by disparaging other churches or denominations especially other continuing churches, or those who like to ask probing personal questions to see whether an individual is “right” for the parish. Listening and openness win more new parish members than a recitation of what happened in the “former church” or rehashing animosities with other bodies.  Finally, parish members need to avoid false distinctions between “protestant” and “catholic”—the Baptist, Presbyterian or independent Bible Christian seeking the sacramental life will never get past such comments.
EvangelismThe participants defined this in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20.  There was a sense that many Christians have a wrong understanding of what the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is. They conflate this essentially woth outreach and believe that tools like radio, television, publications, and the internet, we will be on track.  Assume that a commission is (1) an authorization to perform certain duties or tasks, or to take on certain powers, (2) authority to act in behalf of another, (3) an entrusting, as of power, authority, etc., to a person or body. There then needs to be an appraisal of who is doing the work, how well they can engage in a Christian apologetic, and how these “evangelists” view their work.
The target demographic is much broader in the case of evangelism.  We are looking toward a wide variety of non-believers, secular folk, disillusioned Christians (usually young people) who think they have lost faith, skeptics and, increasingly, people who have not been exposed to the faith.  Among these groups, we cannot begin with ceremonial (i.e. how many liturgical turns are in the Mass, how to genuflect, or how much incense to use).  Here, we need to be operating at a mere Christianity level.  The participants viewed some video of live evangelism—base line questions to engage and interest the unbeliever or seeker.
There was some difference of opinion among several participants. There was a distinct minority notion that we “are who we are” as Anglican-Catholics and that people need to either immediately accept that standard of worship and belief.  It seems that this hard-line approach was tempered by the real life examples and the idea that we do not have to compromise faith and practice to get the unchurched in the gate of the churchyard if not the parish doors.
Several concrete ideas emerged from the session:
Outreach Method: Use your resources, people with talent to sponsor an event.  Use special events.
– Animal Blessings
– Healing Services
– Offer house blessings
– Music
– Start and end with prayer
– Build your church building or make the existing facility presentable
– Include the basic message of the salvation via worship (here)
– Petition the Lord for guidance
Evangelism: How do we equip our people to be evangelists?
– Scripture awareness
– Bible study
– Courses to explain the Anglican Ethos
– Know God is behind you / supports you
– Examine yourself
– Confront fears
– Accept flaws
– Awareness of your sins before you forgive others
– Take initiative
– Watch for opportunities
Who do we approach?
– Everyone in your sphere
1. Young
2. Older
3. Family
-A fundamental consideration: Are we merely looking for members or spreading the Word of God?  The first approach may put people in the pews-temporarily.  Numbers are an elusive game.  Absent a desire to teach people about the Incarnate Christ and boldness to do so, we are doomed to failure.
-We need to tailor message – 5 minutes in person or through an electronic medium such as YouTube.
The 4 Questions: Engaging the Unbeliever
1. What do you mean?
2. How do you know?
3. So what?
4. What if you’re wrong?
Obviously there is overlap between outreach and evangelism.  However, a grasp of the fundamental differences is key to the approach and work needed.
II.Session Two-Successes and Failures
  1. Session Task: To list what has worked at the individual and parish levels in the past and to list what has failed.  Parishes are invited to briefly share their experiences for inclusion in our post-conference notes.  Of particular interest is the experience of younger  parishioners who are encouraged to share their thoughts on why they are Christians and
    Anglican-Catholics despite secular pressures.
  2. Goal: To develop  and share approaches, tactics and materials that have positively impacted evangelism, and to frankly discuss those approaches and behaviors that constitute “negative” or “toxic” evangelism and should be avoided.
  3. Results: This portion of the discussion was both lively and very frank.  The consensus of the group was that continuing Anglicans had generally done a poor job of outreach or evangelism.  While there are many obvious bright spots, a number of “parishes” have not grown over the last thirty-five years.  More pointedly, participants believed that some long-established parishes may well be closed and disappear within a few years absent a concerted effort at evangelism and outreach.
The participants had a keen notion of approaches and methods that are pre-destined for failure.
1.         What does not work?
– Defining ourselves as what we are not.  This is a key point.  Remember the lesson of the Pharisee and publican:  yes, we are like that person “over there”.  Pronouncements about catholic “purity” in dogma and doctrine over and against other Anglican bodies make us seem like angry, sectarians.
– High Church/Low Church. Churchmanship is an important matter but not a “deal breaker”.  The ACC has a wide range of liturgical expressions, but it is Christian and cathlic to its core.  We must recognize that certain liturgical expressions will frighten away any mumber of people.  One must grow into an appreciation of Anglican practice: beware of jumping into a “Spanish madrigal” show lest you want to empty a parish.
– Our basic Christian witness-For many, there are fundamental gaps in how we teach even the rudaments of the faith.  Adult inquirers classes need to focus on the elements of Christianity and Biblical literacy.
Did we mention Biblical literacy? This ties squarely to clergy training and formation, as well as lay leader study and formation.
– Impersonal conversation. While we do not wish to counsel effusiveness, surely we wish to engage newcomers and inquirers in some form of conversation.  Speaking only to the in-crowd is offputting.
– Are we present to the world?  To often we do not get out of our cofortable little parishes.  St. Paul took great chances, appearing in many different venues and cultural melieus.  So the faith catholic spread.  We do not use the opportunities such as new media, community events and face to face encounter to evangelize.  We often are worried about reaction, manners or have a fear of talking about Christianty and Anglicanism.
– Irrelevance.  We have to face the fact that we have, in some cases, evangelism materials that are decades old.  Young people do not identify with the image of that dad in a fedora and driving a Hudson
sedan.  Are we even familiar with the issues of the day, much less addressing them? This is not a plea to give in to the spirit of the age, or introduce pull down screens and liturgical dance. However, we must have a clear definition of who we are as part of the ancient church in the modern world.
– Teaching office-We have failed in many ways to teach basic faith.  Anxiousness for membership has caused a lapse in catechesis.  The need to work has hindered clergy from staying up on their studies, and the failure of some parishes to support clergy education-initial and continuing-impairs the teaching office.  We must “teach the teachers” so they may in turn teach others in the faith catholic.
– GATEKEEPING, GATEKEEPING, GATEKEEPING-A number of participants indicated a need to give up “Anrgicanism”.  Few people wish to hear of the sleights and wounds of the past, even if they were even aware of them.  Remember: the Anglican-Catholic Church was founded over 35 years ago, and the grave events of things like Deerfiend Beach (Do you know what that is?) are nearly 20 years gone by.  This is not a cry to forget history, but to keep it in perspective.  As well, those who would impose a personal standard on others who approach Christ’s Church do little to check the log in their own eye.
2.         What does work?
– A willingness to engage-Where we go out and engage people with our faith, there is interest.  This ties in to the nest point…
– Direct invitation-“Come taste and see how good it is” is effective.  Christianity Today surveys indicate that the single most effective method of outreach or evangelism is the personal invitation.
– Counter-cultural-We are counter-cultural as Anglican Catholics.  We stand in stark relief to the cheap and easy of post-modern culture and morality.  “I want something better in my life,” is the opening to tell people that there is that something.  We know that it works, but it involves a process of growing accustomed to that counter-cultural melieu in which the newcomer has entered.
– Symbolism => Sacraments, true reality-There is a reality to the Sacraments that is profound and deep.  The symbolism of our worship draws people toward that reality until they finally confront it.  We need to keep this tied to Scripture.
– Meeting people where they are (loving people).  This speaks for itself.
– Presenting a win-win-This point emphasizes that we need to keep the negative at bay.
– Involvement-Again, our involvement in and engagement with the community around us makes Christ present to the world.  People are drawn to that.
Bible Study-This is the most emphasized point by the participants.  A Biblically literate, thinking individual-properly guided by orthodox teaching-is the single most effective member of the parish.  Whether it is apologetic, or teaching or daily life, a parishioner well-armed with the Word is an effective force for evangelism.
– Living with Faith-Here is a straightforward point: where our parishes have taught the faith and have lived it, they have grown.  Where we have concentrated on mere appearance of faith, we have withered and died.
III. Third Session-Small Groups
A.Session Task: : To address in small groups the issues identified in the first and second sessions, identifying specific apologetic answers, approaches and un-complex answers to the issues.
B. Goal: Small groups will develop “bullet points” to include in parish literature, websites and apologetic guides to offer concrete answers to questions as well as “dos” and “donts” for evangelism.  An additional goal is for the post-conference materials to include summaries of these notes for use by participants, as well as pocket “reminder” cards and materials for use by individuals.
C. Results: This practicum put the groups in the position of a parish evangelism committee of Saint Swithun’s Parish (ACC).  The question posed was:
1. Why should people come to or stay at St Swithun’s?
The groups reached a consensus on the following points:
– Contact with God-This is a personalist appeal to physical contact through the Real Presence of Christ and to the intellectual contact in Word.
– Prayer life-Parishes must seek to foster a regular prayer life among the members. This, in turn, draws others into that circle of prayer.
– Community/Communion-In an impersonal world, our parish offers a real community, one not founded on contract or rule, but bound together in a mystical body.  We are all parts of that body and the unique
roles for each makes this wholly unlike any any other group to which one might attach oneself seeking community.
2. Education/Retention:
– Teach the faith
– User friendly:
– Worship bulletins/booklets
– Greeter/Mentor
– Classes to be Greeter/Mentor
Guestbook sign in
– Follow up to sign in
– Priest
– lay person
Consistent Worship Services
– Be positive
– Warm welcome (not smothering)
– Create opportunities for all kinds of service
– Instructive Service
– Youth Service
IV.       Fourth Session: Summary of the Group Sessions
A. Session Task:  Continue to address in small groups the issues identified in the first and second sessions, identifying specific apologetic answers, approaches and un-complex answers to the issues.
B. Goal: Consolidation of the groups’ bullet points in a “keep the best” effort for materials to include in parish literature, websites and apologetic guides to offer concrete answers to questions as well as “dos” and “donts” for evangelism.  An additional goal is for the post-conference materials to include summaries of these notes for use by participants, as well as pocket “reminder” cards and materials for use by individuals.
C. Results: As is the case with all good discussion, the third and fourth sessions merged together.  The bullet point reminders are listed above.  There was a remarkable agreement among the participants by the end of the day on these points and methods.  The reader is welcome to “lift” those points for teaching within the parish, to place on reminder cards or to use in a Power Point presentation. (All we ask is that users of the materials ask their readers to pray for St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral and her people!)
V. Fifth Session: Ideas for Specific Settings
A. Session Task: To examine evangelism in specific settings, particularly the workplace, school and in social gatherings and propose potential approaches for each. The workplace and school account for the bulk of our time depending on our age group.
B. Goal:  To develop approaches and written materials for evangelism in each setting.
C.  Results: As the time grew short, the group looked at only one setting for evangelism: the workplace.  It is there that we spend most of our waking hours, and there we maintain major relationships with others.  Work is a rich field, but must be worked with caution. Here are some methods and some potential hazards in today’s climate:
1.   Ways of workplace Evangelism:
– The way you treat your co-workers
– How you do your job tells much about how you live out Christian values.
-Bible Studies-You may want to organize one on luch hour or after work off-site.  The study may have to initially take a literary, rather than overtly religious, perspective.
Opus Dei: Make all that you do a work of and for God
2.         Dangers:
– Reprimanded
– They might say no
– Dismissal
– It could affect your work relationships
VI.       Wrap-Up
The results of this first conference were at once convicting and, yet, hopeful.  It is clear that we are entering a new stage in the life of the church, one that calls us from the effort to preserve to the work of growing and prospering.  Many of the old methods will no longer will suffice, and certainly, it is now time to lay aside old wounds and live in the joy of Christian orthodoxy, the faith catholic, and all of the great storehouse of liturgy and music that is distinctly our own. The future of traditional Anglicanism is at stake.
ALMIGHTY God, whose compassions fail not, and whose loving-kindness reacheth unto the world’s end; We give thee humble thanks for opening heathen lands to the light of thy truth; for making paths in the deep waters and highways in the desert; and for planting thy Church in all the earth. Grant, we beseech thee, unto us thy servants, that with lively faith we may labour abundantly to make known to all men thy blessed gift of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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A Cross for Christmas

Oberammergau Cross

The Oberammergau Cross and Saint Alban's Altar

The Oberammergau Cross

In 2007, Mr. William Howe of Saint Alban’s Anglican Church in Pennsylvania learned that his boyhood church in the tiny mining town of Karthaus, PA would be permanently closed. The parent church, Saint Mary’s, Frenchville, asked Bill if his company would use its heavy equipment to remove the bell from the mission and transport it to the main parish. Concerned over the potential loss of other church items, particularly the mission’s unique carved Cross, Bill arranged for their transfer to The Very Reverend Canon Charles H. Nalls in the hope that one day they could be put to use in an Anglo-Catholic setting. Subsequently, the pews have been given to Saint Columba’s (ACC) in Warrenton, VA and the altar has been at the center of St. Cyprian’s Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland.

During a snowstorm in the winter of 2007, Canon Nalls traveled to Karthaus to retrieve the Oberammergau Cross from the shuttered church. The Cross had been commissioned by a group of men from Karthaus who had made a pilgrimage to Oberammergau just after the Second World War. They returned home to Karthaus carrying the Cross, which is hand carved from local wood around Oberammergau and installed it in the mission church where it remained for a half-century. In turn, Canon Nalls presented the Cross to the Vestry of Saint Alban’s following his institution as Rector and Dean.
We express our deep thanks to those who had this unique work commissioned to the honor and glory of God, to Mr. Bill Howe for his preservation of a treasure of the Church, and to Messrs. Chuck Robinson and Michael Mazza for their care and work in installing the Oberammergau Cross over the high altar of Saint Alban’s Pro-Cathedral.

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A Christmas Meditation

“For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

In due time the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ was sublimely announced. It has been heralded since. Never before or since have celestial beings assembled on earth as bearers of good news. And the devout and godly people have rejoiced in the good tidings in all subsequent ages.

The silence of the centuries is broken.. As the glory of God covered the lowly shepherds with supernatural splendor, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed “good news of Great joy.” The angel promptly calmed the fear of the shepherds by declaring: “Today, in the town of David, a Saviour is born to you, Who is Christ the Lord.” Indeed this was great news. The Word was made flesh. The promised Messiah is here. God’s ancient and repeated promise is at long last fulfilled. All human hopes and expectations find their greatest blessings.

Now that Emmanuel (God with us) is among men, no less than a multitude of the heavenly host can lead in the sublime praises of God’s glory and acclaimed peace among men of good will. The seraphic choir proclaims that the Nativity of Christ brings great glory to God Who in His wisdom, holiness, mercy and justice so loved the world “as to give His only begotten Son.” And in accepting Him and in obeying Him, peace and good will among men will everywhere prevail.

This was the Christmas message then. It is the Christmas message today. Hearts of devout men, women and children everywhere, like those of the humble shepherds, will respond to the message of God. No one is out of the range of the angelic chant, unless one chooses not to hear. The message, full of music for mankind, is for the ears of all who desire to hear it. Angels come with good tidings to the truly devout—to those whose hearts are open to love.

By Fr. J. Kiembara, Orthodox Christmas Lent (Advent) Meditations, (1978)

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Warmth of the Season


You know that I rarely send out an appeal for funds for any cause, but there has been another church furnace disappearance.  Unlike the theft of St. Athanasius’ furnace several years back (in which your generosity saved that parish property), the heating plant at the Angllican Church of the Resurrection (ACC) in Ansonia Connecticut was carried off by time and age.  The heating plant failed last week, and the church is struggling with besetting cold this Christmas.  There is a need to keep the pipes from freezing, as well as the parishioners.  There is a need for funds for portable heaters to carry the folks through Christmas, as well as to rplace the plant itself.  I know that these times have strained the limits of giving for many, but I ask you to pray and send whatever amount God puts on your heart to: Church of the Recurrection (ACC), 6 Church Street, Ansonia, CT 06401.  Please mark the memo on the check: “Furnace Fund”.

You can genuinely support the “warmth of the season” by giving generously to this most worthy cause.

Advent blessings,

Canon Nalls



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Running to Prayer

It was not light yet when I set out this morning.  The temperature stood at about 27 degrees at 6:45 am when I pulled on my watch cap and wind jacket.  A snow storm was on the way and the sun seemed very far off when I hit the pavement on my prayer walk/jog.  Somewhere out there some others were setting out in the same direction for the same purpose-sung Morning Prayer at Saint Alban’s during Advent. You see it is the custom of this parish to share the morining offices weekdays during penitential seasons, and this Advent we have begun to chant the first prayerbook service of the day.

I find myself hurrying to the church each day.  It’s not because of the cold, although I’ll admit that mornings like today make for a faster pace.  I hurry because there is something so very good about prayer said in community.  In the quiet of the church up in choir, one can take a deep breath before the whirl of the day.  In the warmth and darkness near the tabernacle His Presence is very close to His people and His people spiritually close to one another as the prayers begin.  Even those who are just rising or who are already at the work of the day know that they are ro be prayed for, to be joined in this most ancient practice of the Church.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles that from the very beginning those who were baptized “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the community, to the breaking of the bread, and to
prayer.”    Christ personally teaches the lesson of his own prayer throughout the Gospels. For example,

when his mission is revealed by the Father; before he calls the apostles; when he blesses God at the multiplication of the loaves; when he is transfigured on the mountain; when he heals the deaf-mute; when he raises Lazarus; before he asks for Peter’s confession of faith; when he teaches the disciples how to pray; when the disciples return from their mission; when he blesses the little children; when he prays for Peter.The prayers of Christ were closely bound up with the work of each day.

Indeed, we hear that he would retire into the desert or into the hills to pray, rise very early or spend the night up to the fourth watch in prayer to God. Our Lord’s prayers were both public and private, and ranged from the traditional blessings of God at meals, as was the case in the multiplication of the loaves which foretold the  last supper and the meal at Emmaus. In the agony in Gethsemane and on the Cross, prayer was at the center of Christ’s ministry and precious death. “In the days of his life on earth he offered up prayers and entreaties with loud cries and tears to the one who could deliver him from death and because of his reverence his prayer was heard.”

Christ-like prayer seems to elude us more and more The pace of modem life is a tremendous force that impacts on basic understandings of self, family, work, faith, and religious practice. There is a growing divorce between the life of faith and life “in the world.” Indeed, such is the pace of life that people need to be reminded to do what ought to come naturally, that is, to “take time” for themselves, for God, and for family and friends. Our daily offices and their attention to the consecration of time is one way to counter this prevailing trend and to restore a sense of balance to daily life. By consecrating time to God, the human person acts as a subject, cooperating with God in the unfolding of redeemed time, rather than being reduced to a mere object, suffering under the burden of a lived time that seems to go nowhere.

Being swept away by the rush of time will inevitably lead to dissatisfaction, alienation, and loneliness. Christians need not resign themselves to becoming so swept away, however. The integration of prayer into one’s daily schedule is key. Without this integration, the Christian risks losing a sense of identity in God and the realization of one’s need to be drawn into life-giving relationships with others. Consecrating the moments of one’s day means turning the day over to the transforming power of the Resurrection. The vehicle of the daily offices prompts the believer to encounter God in the concrete moment so that the love of God in Christ becomes the cord that holds the day together. “Do time or time will do you,” is the wisdom which speaks eloquently of the situation of the modem world.

And so this Advent we are paying special attention to the consecration of the day to Christ in daily prayer, beginning each of those days with the “voice of the Church”, the canticles and collects, the affirmation of faith, and the offering of our petitions and thanksgivings. This is reason to run hurry to Church even in the dark and cold of the year’s shortest days-to claim those days for our Incarnate Christ from their very first hours.

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Barbecue and Legislation

On Wednesday evening last, the Saint Alban’s Men’s Club enjoyed a great evening of fellowship and food at its monthly meeting. The monthly dinner, which included both beef and pork barbecue, was followed by the customary brief business meeting and a speaker. This month’s program featured Mr. Paul Nardo, Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the Virginia House of Representatives. Paul gave an insightful presentation entitled “Understanding Virginia’s Budget & Finances-the 2011 Legislative Session”. The program afforded the group an experienced insider’s perspective on the budget process and some of the key issues for the upcoming session of our Commonwealth’s General Assembly, a truly-part time body which must accomplish its work in a 45-60 day period. As always, the meeting began and ended with prayer.
The next meeting of the Saint Alban’s Men’s Club is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 19, 2011. Watch The Cathedral Close and our Facebook page for an announcement of the speaker.

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Saint Alban’s Advent Quiet Day Retreat of prayer and meditation has been moved to Saturday, December 18th beginning at 9:00 a.m. The three meditations will focus on the nature of prayer, proper ways of praying and the thoughts on maintaining a good prayer life. Meditations will be loosely based on the short book Prayer: A Field Guide by Canon Nalls, but no prior readings are necessary for the retreat. Copies of book, will, however, be available for purchase after the retreat with all profit going to the ACC’s Society of Saint Paul to support mission work. The retreat schedule is as follows:

0945-First Meditation-Why pray?
1100-Second Meditation-Problems of prayer: what if God says, “No”?
1200-Benedictine Lunch (Soup and Bread) with a Reading
1300-Third Meditation-Prayers to redeem the time.

Silence will be kept throughout the day, including break times, except for the readers and during Matins and Evensong.
Please e-mail the church office at stalbansacc@gmail.com or ring 804-262-6100.

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(Given at Saint Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia)

“Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”-St. Matthew 11:11

Here we are at last on Rose Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent.  This Sunday used to be called “Gaudete Sunday,” Gaudete being the Latin word that means “rejoice,” but with the ending that makes it a command. So we are really being commanded to rejoice.

So why should we rejoice? Certainly, Advent is a time for rejoicing because it is a season that revives our expectation of the most joyful event in history: the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Most High God, born of the Virgin Mary. As both the Prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul proclaim, the Lord is in our midst, He is near to us, and with Him the kingdom of Heaven is near.

Today, even these very different liturgical colors call to mind the third last thing-Heaven. We could engage in some rose-colored thinking about Heaven. After all, there are so many popular notions about Heaven—you know, the angels, harps, fluffy clouds, chubby cherubs floating about. The sentimentality of it even struck a curmudgeon like writer Ambrose Bierce who defined Heaven as,

A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.

Certainly each time I think of Heaven, I always come back to one a favorite quote, “If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.”

There is much to think on, when we think about Heaven. How many times do we ever hear convincing homilies about heaven (or for that matter the other last things, death, judgment, and hell)?  Rather than being an affirmation of the realities of eternity, most homilies and sermons tend to be vague.  This is particularly the case with funeral homilies which usually end up in a humanistic celebration of the person who has died.

In our modern day culture we are continually bombarded by secularism, and Fr. Romano Guardini, writing in his book Eternal Life, What you need to know about Death, Judgment and Life Everlasting, calls the deprecation of the eternal, of the heavenly, by modern society an evil. He is right: it is evil. As Christians,  we need to be continually reminded of the most basic fundamentals of our Faith, especially the reality of heaven and of the eternal.

Our Gospel lesson at first blush doesn’t seem to have much to do with Heaven. It is an interchange between two emissaries from St. John Baptist who ask Christ, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Essentially, they are posing the question as to whether Christ is the Messiah of Hebrew prophecy. And look at the response, Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Christ is telling them about his authority. There is talk of Our Lord’s upcoming earthly ministry, present reality, and the miracles that He will perform. But with these miracles Christ gives them and us a glimpse of Heaven where all things are made new.

You see, beloved in Christ, Heaven is far beyond what we now experience. We do not have adequate words or images to describe it. And our culture unfortunately has developed stereotyped ways of talking about heaven. Some of them are “cute”, you know,“Good old Joe is now up in that big golf course in the sky.” And, maybe a little better are images of heaven as reunion. You’ve heard this before, you know “She is finally back with her husband (mother, son, sister) whom she loved so much.” I suppose this at least expresses something about the “communion of saints.” Nevertheless it leaves out what makes the communion possible: seeing God himself. I don’t know about you, but the thought of heaven as a giant “sharing” session sounds to me…well… more like the other place.

An image of heaven that I personally love is from the Chronicles of Narnia,. by C.S. Lewis. Narnia is a kind of heaven and it is ruled by a magnificent lion called Aslan, Aslan represents Jesus. After the children who are the protagonists have spent some time in Narnia, Aslan tells them they must return to their own world. The children become very sad and bury themselves in Aslan’s mane. Aslan reassures them that one day they will be able to return to Narnia. The children say, “it is not Narnia. It is you, Aslan.”

It is about Christ, it is about our Lord.  For you see,  God is the fullness of being. Things here can only dimly reflect him. When we stand before him any other joy, or pleasure, or beauty, or goodness will seem as pale. This joy which excels everything else is called the “Beatific Vision,” that is seeing God face to face. (I Jn 3:2, I Cor 13:12, Rev. 22:4). In the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 22:26-27):

The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live forever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” Heaven will fulfill those deep longings of your heart. But this is not a yearning for place. It is not about clouds and harps, cotton-candy clouds and cherubim.  Our deepest longing is really for a person, for Jesus himself. To be with him is the kingdom of heaven.  Perhaps someday you and I can come to the point of saying, “It is not heaven I desire. It is you, Jesus.”

You see, the proper focus should ever be on Christ, this hunger for Him brings Heaven into focus for us in the here and now. Listen to the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians:

Blessed [be] the God and Father ofour Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ: (Eph 1:3) According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Eph 2:4-6)

That’s the work that has been done for us—heaven awaits. And, so we have two visions, one for the people of Christ in the here and now and one for the future, and both are visions of heaven of life with and in God. But we are called to know him now, to experience His grace and his love right now, to be part of His people right now. And in the life to come, we shall see Him, not as through a glass darkly, but in those heavenly places.

Shouldn’t this  fill us with humility, gratitude, and a desire to greater service? Shouldn’t we love Christ, to desire Him? And isn’t it a call that we ought to be more dedicated in our service to Christ? Let us ask, this Rose Sunday whether we have cause to rejoice. Is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven among us? We’ve got just a few days of Advent to think about this, to reflect on this. Do we truly believe the word Emmanuel, God-with-us? If we believe it, then we must show it.

Heaven will fulfill those deep longings of your hearts. It is the pearl of great price. It is Jesus himself. Amen.


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(Given at Saint Alban’s Pro-Cathedral, Richmond, Virginia)

“AND there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars…” –Luke 21:25

This morning we have come to the Second Sunday in Advent-a season of expectation. But when we hear the Scripture, we likely wonder if there is “anything new under the sun”, or the moon and the stars. We have heard it all before; we know the songs by heart. We can anticipate what John the Baptist, Paul, Luke, Jeremiah, Isaiah and the others are going to say even before we hear them.

And there is the bustle of the season. We will also make our way to the stores and malls, and spend hours shopping on the internet. We will make lists and wrap presents and put up decorations. There are cards to write and cookies to bake, and endless school functions and parties to attend. And, so, when the Christmas story is read, don’t we find it all so very familiar?

The challenge to us, beloved in Christ, is to shake off the routine. Each Advent is a return to the beginning…but it is always a new beginning. There is a new message, in a new way, in a new year. A priest told a story about being on an Advent retreat. The leader of the retreat asked them to consider what they were waiting for, what did they expect? He said, “The most disastrous answer you can give is nothing!” The priest was surprised at how strongly he said it and, worse, suspected that the most disastrous answer of the season was his. He expected nothing. So, I am asking you the same question: What are you waiting for this Advent? What do you expect? (story by Fr. Gerald Mullally, St. Patrick’s Church in Milford, Pennsylvania)

I think the answer for many is, frankly, nothing. We do not expect miracles or judgment. We really only expect gifts, cards, visitors, and long lines in stores. Very often we get exactly and only what we expect.

Advent is not just about preparing our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We live in the now, but not yet…between the first coming of Jesus when he was born at Bethlehem and his second coming at the end of time when he will come as Judge of all. Here’s that second Last Thing-judgment.

More than four out of every five Americans agree that “we all will be called before God at judgment day to answer for our sins”. In the Creed which we recite every Mass we proclaim: “He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” But that judgment thing, that Last Thing, we like to pass that right by, don’t we? To put it in secular Christmas terms, we concentrate on the presents, but don’t like to think about the fact that there might be coal or, worse, nothing in the stocking.  Author and theologian Peter Kreeft notes that the great project of the prince of the world is to convince us that God is so-judgmental in this life, and all merciful in the next, rather than the opposite which it the reality. This draws us to think about the presents and goodies that await and to forget about amending our lives, because one day we may be judged.

Why did the early Church long for the Second Coming of Jesus and with it judgment? Why was it the Church expectant? Why are we invited now to reflect on that Second Coming and judgment and long for them during Advent? Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem, his death and resurrection are not yet the final victory of evil. The final victory overevil will take place when Jesus comes again the second time as judge. The Second Coming of Jesus will complete what Jesus began with his birth in Bethlehem, his death and resurrection. It will bring the fullness of salvation to the world.  God is present with us throughout all of history but at the Second Coming of Jesus all of history will be seen as leading to God’s final purpose and goal. Advent is a time for that “great expectation.” It is time to refresh and renew what we expect from God.  In the words of the Psalmist, we ask,

Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD. (Psalm 25)

This should be our Advent expectation, really our plea for the time of judgment, as we wait for Him “who shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32)

Ok, well and good, that’s just great for the future, but what about the here and now, our daily lives?  It is the same thing, the same question, or questions.  “What do you expect from God, and how do you let your expectations influence your life?”

“There is story about a Midwestern town that was having a bad drought. Crops were dying and the life of the farm town itself was in danger. A local pastor decided to hold a prayer service to ask for rain and asked all the people to come and bring with them symbols of their faith that God would deliver them. People showed up with rosaries, statues of the Blessed Mother, crosses, prayer books, Bibles and even some holy oil. All came forward and prayed for God to send rain. Finally, there was only one young girl left. Without any hesitation she came to the front and slowly opened her symbol of faith: a brightly colored umbrella. She knew what it meant to expect something from God!” [from Msgr. Gerald Mullally]

As Christians, we should have the greatest expectations of all. We expect peace with God. We expect peace of soul. We expect to never walk alone. We expect God to be closer to us than our breath itself. We expect Christ to return and bring the fullness of the Kingdom or God. None of that is expecting too much. It is only expecting what God has promised.

When we say we are expecting something, we cannot continue to live as if we expect nothing. Do you expect eternal life? Then choose it by protecting life wherever it is threatened: before birth, in the poor and the sick. Do you expect God’s mercy on the day of judgment? Then, beloved in Christ, show mercy now. Show it to those who have wronged you, to those who seem like enemies, to strangers in need.

Do you expect to be made new, to be perfected? Well, then keep your eyes turned toward the Lord, and let none that wait on thee be ashamed by sin. Hear the call of that truly expectant prophet  Isaiah who called Israel to, “Shake thyself from the dust; arise…” The expectant life, the Advent life calls us to rise from the dust of the old life, the dust of sin, in confession and penance, in humility.

Do you expect to “rest in peace?” Then be a peacemaker here in the now: don’t use violent language, don’t respond to the first hint of aggression with retaliation in anger, don’t take offense too easily, stop complaining.

In the words of the Epistle, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a call to the community, those who want to live in the body of Christ, Jesus was not just talking when He said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It is at hand, right here, with us. If we don’t expect to see it, don’t feel it, it’s likely that is because we are not actively choosing to live in it.

Archbishop Wulfstan of York, writing just after the turn of the last millennium, offers us the Advent invitation, the truly expectant way of living, “…, beloved people, let us do what is needful for us, protect rselves earnestly against that [day] and help ourselves while we may and might, lest we die when we least expect to. But let us love God above all other things and work his will as earnestly as we can: then he will repay us as will be most pleasing to us when we have the best need.”

And so, on this Second Sunday in Advent, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve [us]; for [we] wait on thee.  (Psalm 25:21)  To Him be praise and glory in all the world,
world without end, Amen.

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