Rector’s Ramblings

(Click on the Rambling title to view a video version on Youtube.)

19 November 2017: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”

In my home church growing up, there was a scripture verse inscribed in fancy gold lettering over the main entrance door from Habakkuk 2:20, which reads: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” It was a little reminder that in entering a sacred space, we should behave appropriately.

Here at S. Francis, we have an orange laminated print-out on the bulletin board, which reads: “Silence! ‘Be still and know that I am God’ Psalm 46:10. Please talk to God before Mass and to each other after Mass.”

I couldn’t help but compare the two and think that we could do a little better. I’m grateful that a parishioner has offered a memorial gift to make that possible. This week, the vestry approved the design from our signage committee (and haven’t the new campus directional signs been wonderful, by the way!) for scripture verses to be inscribed with calligraphy at three thresholds to the church building. Much like the three sections of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, these passages greet the worshiper at the entrance to the narthex, the entrance to the nave, and the entrance to the sanctuary. The first two will be written above the doors, and the last on the final cross-beam that goes over the altar rail.

The outer entrance has Psalm 42:1, often used at baptisteries, which is where one enters the Catholic Church. The entrance to the nave has Psalm 43:4, which is used by the ministers to prepare their hearts for worship as they enter the church. The crossbeam at the sanctuary has 1 Peter 2:24, which is a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which makes our peace with God.

The design has been worked up in Photoshop so we can see it before it goes into place. I posted the images on the narthex bulletin board next to the orange sign I mentioned earlier. Have a look. We anticipate them to be in place in the next several months.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

29 October 2017: “Trick or Treat?”

Many Christians have an understandable concern about Halloween, pointing to its pagan origins and emphasis on evil. However, what many do not realize is that the pagan origin of Halloween is a myth. Many claim that it was an attempt by early Christians to “baptize” the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain. But this is simply not the case. In fact, the reverse is true: Halloween (that is, “Hallow’s Even”) has always been a Christian celebration that neo-pagans attempted to “baptize” and claim as their own a few decades ago.

Evening vigils lave long been held on the day before a feast and so Halloween falls on October 31 because it is the vigil of All Saints’ Day, and not because the Church wanted to co-opt a pagan celebration. In fact, Samhain was not a pagan “Festival of the Dead.” It was a harvest festival that marked the beginning of winter in Ireland, and historical evidence does not support the idea that it involved jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts, or religious ceremonies.

Of course, whatever the origins, we should avoid the temptation to give too much attention to dark things at this or any other time of year. It is a time to honor the saints, to remember the departed, to pray for their souls, to be mindful of our own mortality, and to celebrate the life we have been given. Halloween is spooky (and rightly so) because death scares us (and rightly so). But our joy as Christian people is that Jesus has overcome death, hell, and the grave. He doesn’t enable us to avoid it, but to come through it to something better and more wonderful.

These evening vigil parties have always had wide secular appeal (think Halloween, Christmas, and Mardi Gras). The original Puritan attack on Halloween was also accompanied by a similar effort to suppress Christmas and Ash Wednesday. Ironically, one of the most popular modern Christian alternatives to celebrating Halloween is a secular “Harvest Festival,” which actually has more in common with the Celtic Samhain than it does with All Saints’ Day. We have to remember that these popular customs and celebrations give us an inroad into the broader secular culture. So let’s make the most of it.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

22 October 2017: “Dying suddenly and unprepared”

Just a few days ago, I received word that one of my old seminary professors, Fr Daniel Westberg, died very unexpectedly. He went sailing on upper Nashotah lake and did not return. Father Westberg started teaching at the seminary 17 years ago while I was a student. He was just about to retire.

Last summer, I was able to return to the seminary for the first time for a sabbatical. When I was filming the “Saint Francis and the Winged Christ” video by the dean’s chapel, Father Westberg was up in his office organizing for the Fall semester. I visited with him and got caught up on old times. I think if there was one professor I would have wanted to see again, it would be him. He was a good man, great teacher, and a dear priest.

One of the lines in the Great Litany that has always caught my attention is the petition that concludes: “. . . and from dying suddenly and unprepared, good Lord deliver us.” Death certainly comes for each one of us. For some, it may be sudden and unexpected; while for others it will be clearly seen in advance. For the most part, that reality lies beyond our control. But we do have a role to play in being prepared for death whenever it comes.

The ancients had a saying—memento mori (“remember that you must die”). To be mindful of our own mortality is to be preparing for our own death. One of the greatest graces of life is a holy death. So how do you prepare for death? Put these on your bucket list:

  1. Make a will—to provide for your family and for your church.
  2. Practice virtue day by day. Jesus called this heavenly treasure.
  3. Examine your conscience regularly. Go to confession.
  4. Do not let words of forgiveness and love go unspoken.
  5. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).
  6. Ask for God’s grace—for the grace of final perseverance for yourself and for grace for others. Don’t enter heaven alone!

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

15 October 2017: “A love letter from a Father”

A friend of mine once showed me a love letter he wrote to his children. He wanted to make sure that such an important message did not go unshared. So he sat down and composed exactly what he wanted them to know about his feelings for them, his hopes and dreams for them. What a gift! As I looked the letter over, it occurred to me that this is essentially what we have in the Bible.

Could we not characterize the holy Scriptures as the love letter of our heavenly Father for his children? Even those passages not written directly to us are still written for us. The Apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Church of Rome, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We have been given a precious gift indeed. So we must ask ourselves the question: “Is it precious to me?”

That love letter can sit on the shelf collecting dust, an honorable memento that has nostalgic value but does nothing to shape our lives. Or that love letter can be read, pondered, and remembered. If it is, the love letter will shape the way we see the world. It will change the way we see our Father and our brothers and sisters. The love of the Father toward us can nurture love returned to the Father and love shared with others. His love letter gives us insights into the Father’s heart and mind, teaching us gradually to think the way he thinks, to feel the way he feels, and to will what he wills.

You have a love letter from our heavenly Father in the pages of holy Scripture. Don’t just let it collect dust on the shelf. Don’t let the gift be given in vain. The best gifts are put to good use. Take a moment each day to read and ponder a little more of the love letter from our heavenly Father.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

8 October 2017: “Nine choirs of angels”

Last Sunday, I talked with our children about guardian angels. In the hymn “Ye watchers and ye holy ones,” Athelstan Riley gives us an exposition of the hierarchy of heaven with the traditional arrangement of “nine choirs” of angels in addition to the faithful departed.

In theology, these hosts of heaven were determined to be ordered in three triads (that is, three groups of three). The first angelic triad continually worships God in his immediate presence. These spirits consist of the exalted love of the fiery Seraphim (seraph literally means “fire”), the complete intuition of the Cherubim, and the perfect power of the Ophanim, or “Thrones.” The primary function of their being is to be present in the heavenly court and to attend to the perpetual adoration and praise of the divine Substance.

The second triad extends this divine praise and love to his creation. The spiritual Dominions, Princedoms, and Powers execute the love, knowledge, and power of God relative to the general structure, order, and governance of the cosmos.

The last triad serves the divine love towards humans when the Virtues, the Angels, and the ruling Archangels, come to serve and care for people on earth.  Angels then truly become “messengers” of divine favor. These are the angels we find making appearances on the pages of the old and new testaments.

Overall, the God-centered hierarchy moves from the freedom and might of contemplative adoration (by the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones) through principled order and sovereignty  of creation (ruled by the Dominions, Princedoms, and Powers) to active service toward others in a spirit of compassion and care (by the Virtues, Archangels, and Angel choirs).

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

1 October 2017: “Unity in the Anglican Continuum”

This week, four continuing Anglican jurisdictions will be having their provincial synods in Atlanta. At the conclusion of those individual meetings, they will meet together and sign an historic statement recognizing full communion among them.

The specific jurisdictions involved are: the Anglican Church in America (ACA), the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), the Anglican Province of America (APA), and the Diocese of the Holy Cross (DHC). The latter two are “ministry partners” of the ACNA. These four Churches represent 300 congregations in the United States as well as larger memberships in countries around the world. It has been a long journey to reach this agreement.

Why is this significant? “Continuing” Anglican churches are those who left the Episcopal Church in the 1970s in protest over changes in theology, the Prayer Book, and the ordination of women. One jurisdiction (the APA) traces its history back to the 1960s when some parishes left over the lack of discipline for the heresy of Bishop Pike. When these parishes left, they organized into dioceses, but their attempt to organize as a province (ironically intended to be called “The Anglican Church in North America”) failed because of disagreements over canon law and over personality conflicts. Their statement of principles can be found in the “Affirmation of St. Louis,” named for a congress of Anglicans that met there in 1977.

Petty differences and hurt feelings kept them apart and created even more splits. It is a sad lesson in how our personal faults keep the church from fulfilling her calling. Many of those involved in those disagreements have passed on. These churches have grown and attracted new generations and have now determined to get their own house in order. Let us pray that such an endeavor may be successful and that the call to unity may bear fruit among them and among all traditional Anglicans. Our bishop has been invited to participate as a guest and observer. Perhaps we are seeing our future.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

24 September 2017: “The new iconoclasm”

Back in Comanche, people seemed to take great pleasure in referring to the Historical Society as the Hysterical Society. And of course, each of the country churches I pastored was built in the 1800s and had its own hysterical marker, I mean, historical marker. . . . Or do I?

When history turns into real-life hysteria, it’s no joke. I know that many have been distraught over the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park and similar occurrences around the country. Lee’s story is a great irony. He was against slavery, against secession, and against the war. Yet he prolonged all of them by fighting for what he called “my country.” And we sometimes forget that his memory, as well as that of other Confederate dead, have been used by evil men to intimidate and oppress our neighbors in the past.

It is no wonder that such a reaction as we have recently seen would come along, rightly or wrongly. It feels more like the latter the more that history is replaced with hysteria. We see such hysteria at work in the ignorant attacks upon statues of Abraham Lincoln, and Joan of Arc in New Orleans, and Junipero Serra in California.

What many do not realize is that the history is not really the driving force. Rather, we have entered into a new iconoclastic era. The word comes from “image smashers” and was made famous by the destruction of icons and church statuary in the Byzantine Empire of the 8th Century and again during the Reformation and the French Revolution. All were spawned by a cultural movement to divorce the culture from the past and refashion it. That’s what we see in our society today. Remaking the future involves changing the past, and our memorials are crushed by that revisionism.

Human nature is that we tend to destroy those things we refuse to look at—things that make us afraid or ashamed or stand in the way of our agendas. But when making such important decisions, we need to keep our eyes wide open.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

17 September 2017: “Family Sundays”

Last month, I met with some of the men of the parish to talk about getting men’s ministry started again. We’re blessed to have men and to have women; we just need to be organized and active as male and female groups, which has been a staple of strong societies in history.

Since many of our members are spread out (and generally, the younger we are, the more spread out we are) it occurred to me that getting together during the week could be difficult and discouraging. What if we set aside a Sunday to meet as groups of men and women? I presented the idea at my meeting, and everyone agreed. I think we should give it a try and see how it goes. It could be something we do temporarily, just to give us an opportunity to organize and plan when everyone can get together. Or it could be an ongoing feature of our common life.

So this is how it will work: since we already have the first Sunday of the month as the occasion when I give a children’s sermon, let’s make that our “Family Sunday.” Instead of adult Sunday school on that first Sunday, I’m asking all of our men to get together and all our women to get together for a fireside chat. We have two fireplaces in our Parish Hall. The men can gather at the far one and the women can gather at the near one (with the Last Supper over it).

Our initial goal will be to organize ourselves and plan for our common life. If we wish to continue the pattern, they can be regular times of planning, study, and fellowship. I’m asking each of you to participate. Pray for leadership and direction and encouragement. Our first gathering will be on October 1st at 9 a.m. See you then.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

10 September 2017: “ACNA and the ordination of women”

This week, our provincial college of bishops met to consult about the issue of the ordination of women. At the formation of the Anglican Church in North America in 2009, many diverse groups came together to form one province. Some dioceses ordain women as deacons and priests; others do not. It was decided at the time that the province would have no female bishops and that the issue of women’s orders would be theologically studied and prayerfully discerned by the bishops.

That five year study was recently completed. It did not present a conclusion or recommendation, but only a report on the issues and arguments involved. One significant thing it did acknowledge was that the two positions on the matter are incompatible. The bishops released a statement after this week’s consultation acknowledging that the ordination of women is a theological innovation and that there is no scriptural warrant for expanding the practice throughout the province. They also noted that individual dioceses continue to have the right under the constitution and canons to ordain women as deacons and priests.

As far as I can discern, the reality behind the bishop’s brief statement (copies in the narthex) is that the traditional view has the majority among the bishops (including the archbishop) and it appears to be the emerging consensus if trends continue. There is a strong commitment to provincial unity among the bishops and there is not the desire to force a purge of the practice of ordaining women, especially when it seems that the issue will resolve itself over the course of a generation or so. That will require patience.

It appears to me that the orthodox bishops, who had the numbers to force the issue and the likely schism that would result, would rather let the innovation die a natural death. One thing that is certain is that whatever decision came forth would be met with hurt and outrage and disappointment. Let us pray that they have chosen the wise path and that the Lord’s will may be done.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

16 July 2017: “Back to ringing the church bell”

Since we recently replaced the solenoid cell in the bell tower, we’ve begun to use the large church bell in the cross-shaped tower on our lovely church campus. I’ve heard many of you remark what a joy it is to hear it again. It’s been a number of years since we heard it, and it may be new for others, so a review of its main use in the Angelus may be helpful.

The Angelus is a devotion to mark the day (morning, noon, and evening) with a reminder of the incarnation of Jesus. It is three Hail Mary’s, introduced with words from the gospel, and ending the collect for the Annunciation:

V. The Angel of the Lord announced unto Mary;

R. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord;

R. Be it unto me according to thy word.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. And the Word was made flesh;

R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God;

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts: that as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion, we may be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same, Christ our Lord. Amen.

We ring the Angelus before the daily offices during the week and before the 8am Mass and at noon on Sunday. When you hear the bell sound, the customary response is to stop, stand, and bow your head in prayer (men remove hats) even if not in church. You may say the prayers along with the bell either silently or aloud.

Perhaps you have seen the beautiful work by French painter Jean-François Millet called L’Angelus. It shows a woman and man out in the field with heads bowed. Off in the distance, you can see the church steeple, sounding out its bell across the land. The next time the bell sounds, please join us in this precious devotion.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

4 June 2017: “What does the Holy Ghost do?”

On Pentecost, we celebrate Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to his Church. So what does that mean? What does he do? This space is far too limited for a full treatment of that question, but here is a rundown on the basics.

The Holy Spirit is the third divine Person of the Holy Trinity. He first works in our hearts and minds and lives to bring about repentance, faith, and conversion. But then he really comes into our lives sacramentally through baptism. On that occasion, the Holy Spirit descends to wash our sins away, join us to Christ, and make us his holy Temple.

Confirmation is the sacramental strengthening of the baptismal vows and graces for Christian living. So the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit (according to Isaiah) are poured out on the baptized—the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, courage, piety, and the fear of the Lord.

The gift of wisdom helps us discern the ways of the Lord, and follow his desires. Understanding helps us grasp the truths of the Church and grow in our faith. Knowledge is the gift that helps us see the truth and know God’s will. Counsel is a gift which gives us godly judgment in following holiness and serving the Lord. The gift of courage enables us to stand bold in our faith and to serve God with vigor. Piety, or “loving devotion” is the gift which brings compassion to all of God’s creatures and a pure adoration of the Creator himself. Finally, the gift of the fear of the Lord preserves our reverence for God who is almighty and is perfectly just and holy.

S. Paul talks about other gifts of the Holy Spirit that are not necessarily given to all (like the ones above), but rather assigned individually according to the Father’s will (see 1 Corinthians 12). These are not so much given for our own benefit as they are for the benefit of others within the Church. The resulting fruit of the Holy Spirit is Christ-likeness. He works to make us more like Jesus.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

28 May 2017: “Is it really a tragedy?”

Sometimes when you are searching for the right word, you may not know what it is yet, but you do recognize when one contender is not the right word. That’s been my experience in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, most especially the recent one in Manchester, England. The word I hear again and again on the news is the word “tragedy,” but something about that didn’t sit well with me. Was it really a tragedy?

What is a tragedy? The word means a “goat song” and comes from ancient Greek plays. It is a form of drama best known for having a sad ending, so we can see why it would be invoked about terrorist attacks. But there is more. A tragic end often is the unfolding result of bad choices made by the main character. Aristotle called this flaw in the protagonist hamartia. The tragedy, wherein we see the dramatic result of bad choices (and not just fate), is a vivid reminder to choose wisely. The prototypical tragic story in the Bible is the fall from innocence of our first parents in Eden. We also see the tragedy motif in the stories of Samson, King Saul, and King David. We see the tragic results of their poor choices. We see tragedy in many of the parables of Jesus.

Another literary feature of tragedy is that the fear and pity evoked from the audience gives it a catharsis—an emotional release, and thus some emotional relief. We understandably want that relief. Calling it a “tragedy” is, perhaps unconsciously, an attempt to help ourselves feel better about it. But it is also a shield blocking our full appreciation of the facts. The Islamic State has been zealously murdering the most innocent people it can get its hands on, including children. ISIS makes no secret of its ultimate ambition—a global caliphate secured through a global war.

Let us mourn with those who have lost their loved ones to this horrible ambition. And let us also be clear in our words. Murdering children is not a tragedy; it’s an outrage.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

21 May 2017: “Two views on the meaning of Easter”

One of my favorite books is The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, written together by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. They are both critical scholars, but take opposing views on various doctrines about Jesus. Borg represents the revisionist view and Wright the traditional view. Their dialogue of perspectives serves as a good primer on the field of critical study on Jesus and Christianity. I heartily recommend it.

Both are friends, both are believers, and both are sincere. Yet one cannot help but wonder how they can both be said to share the same faith and say such contrasting things about Jesus. For Borg, the doctrines about Jesus are true because they are emotionally meaningful. For Wright, they are meaningful because they are true (i.e., factual). Here are representative quotes from Chapter 4: “God Raised Jesus from the Dead.”

N.T. WRIGHT: “What then did the earliest Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? They cannot have meant that, though his body remained in the tomb, his spirit or soul was now safe in the hands of God, perhaps even given a place of honor. . . . What the early church insisted about Jesus was that he had been well and truly physically dead and was now well and truly physically alive. . . . In addition, had Jesus’ resurrection been simply a matter of people being aware of his presence, there would not have been a sense, as there clearly is in all our evidence, of a sequence of ‘resurrection appearances’ that then stopped” (pg 116).

MARCUS BORG: “Easter means that Jesus was experienced after his death, and that he is both Lord and Christ” (pg 130). “For me, the historical ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus, both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death. In the early Christian community, these experiences included visions or apparitions of Jesus” (pg 135).

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

14 May 2017: “Thanks, Mom”

Mothers have been celebrated in diverse cultures each spring since ancient times. The church has her own “Mothering Sunday” each year in Lent. Today, mothers are honored on different days in different countries. Our own American Mother’s Day goes back to 1870.

Julia Ward Howe issued a Mother’s Day proclamation as a pacifist response to the carnage of the War between the States and Franco-Prussian War. She called on mothers around the world no longer allow their husbands and sons to slaughter each other. She asked women to rise up and come together to make the world a better place. (Just like Mom, always thinking of others.)

The international congress Howe called for did not take place. But it goes without saying that mothers do make a difference in the world. Their role is irreplaceable. I feel that reality constantly.

In the early 1990s, there was a delightful sitcom called Dinosaurs produced by Jim Henson’s company and Walt Disney studios. They live the typical life of a working-class American family, except that they are a family of dinosaurs in 60,000,000 BC. The family was a grandma, a mom and dad, a teenage girl and boy and a baby. The baby dinosaur said a few words here and there like “baby” and “Momma.” But a running gag in the show was that the baby would never said, “Daddy,” no matter how often prompted to do so. He would just point to his father and say, “Not the Momma.” Dads know what I’m talking about. Truer words were never spoken.

Whether we had great moms or suffered because we had a terrible mom (or didn’t even know the one who bore us), we all instinctively know the value of motherhood. Let’s do our best to support moms in their difficult role and help them feel appreciated today (and every day). Happy Mother’s Day.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

30 April 2017: “The importance of our church website”

Just as it is for businesses these days, a good website is indispensable for a parish church in the modern world. Our internet presence is the most visible presence to our neighbors. Hardly any visitor will attend a church for the first time without first checking out the website. I’m the same way. It should have vital information like location and times, and give some feel for the congregation before the actual visit takes place. A good website also keeps our old parish friends who are spread far and wide in touch with our congregation. It can also be an important center of connection and information for parishioners between Sundays.

Our website has been somewhat static for awhile. We are working to bring it up to date, give it a good look, and make sure it is full of useful and current content. You have a role to play in that process. What do you want your church website to include? What information and resources would be helpful to you? What would you go there to find? Your answers to these questions can help us make our online presence all it can be. Let me know your input (texts and emails are best so I’ll have a written list of what we need to work on). We may not be able to do everything, but we should try to make it as best as we can.

So far, I’ve added some new slides to our home page, put all of the Rector’s Ramblings online (yes, this one too), and updated information for visitors. The next thing will be to bring our sermons and teaching resources up to date.

I want to thank our webmaster, Jonathan Rogers for helping me learn how to update our website with new content. I’m still learning. And I want to thank Debbie Blocker for taking some new pictures to use on the site. By the way, if you don’t ever want a picture of you or of your children to be used online, please let me know so I can make sure we honor that request.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

23 April 2017: “The Mysteries of Jesus’ tomb”

In preparation for this Easter, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem underwent a long-needed multi-million dollar restoration. Excavations and cleanings were performed. The structure was also reinforced and made to last many centuries to come. Part of the work involved uncovering the original stone slab on which it is believed that Jesus lay in the tomb. The stone slab you can see before and after is actually a covering for the original. And some intriguing things were discovered in the process.

One of the first things the workers noticed was a sweet smell. This is not too surprising for believers, who often report the same at shrines and holy places around the world. During the last partial opening of the tomb in 1809 by the architect Nikolaos Komnenos, the chronicle also mentioned a “sweet aroma” at that time.

What scientists working with the construction teams noticed right away was that their instruments to take measurements on the tomb and original slab were affected by a very strong field of electromagnetic disturbance. When their instruments were placed on or around the original stone slab of Christ’s tomb, they either malfunctioned or ceased to work at all.

Some who study the shroud of Jesus at Turin see this as relating to a recently developed hypothesis about the origin of the image on the burial cloth. Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development [ENEA] concluded during a five-year-long study that the Shroud of Turin could not be a medieval forgery. The findings of ENEA study hypothesized that the image may have been created by an intense source of light, stronger than could be created by any technology currently available to man. Orthodox Christians see this light source as the same which ignites the candle of the Patriarch of Jerusalem at the tomb every Easter.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

26 March 2017: “Bringing the gospel to the nones”

This Lent, we’ve been turning our attention outward, toward those in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lenten study on Fridays has been about our mission to the Muslims. But in the western world, one of the largest groups in need of the gospel (and one of the fastest growing) is the one that follows no religion. They are the religiously unaffiliated, dubbed by their survey response, the “nones.”

In 2014, “nones” (pronounced like “nuns,” which makes it a bit confusing) made up roughly 23% of the adult population in our country. This up sharply from 16% in 2007, the last time a similar Pew Research study was conducted. During this same time period, Christians have fallen from 78% to 71% of the adult population. Religiously unaffiliated people are more concentrated among young adults than other age groups—35% of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) are “nones.” This is a major section of our mission field in the America of today and tomorrow.

Despite what you might think, they are not mostly atheists or agnostics. Those only make up a third of the religiously unaffiliated. The “nones” are the “spiritual, but not religious.” They are those who have been turned off from organized religion. They are those who discount exclusive claims to religious truth or moral teachings. Some claim Baby-Boomer divorce has increased their number. They were typically raised in at least nominally Christian homes.

The cause of this trend is complex, to be sure. If there is a key to reversing this trend, it is to reverse the failings that fed this trend. Knowing your faith, being clear about it and willing to talk about it, living the gospel, not letting religion become an isolated part of life, and building strong families are central to this endeavor. We know the nones are open to spiritual experiences. Let’s help them find something even greater than what they’ve been searching for.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

19 March 2017: “Surveying global trends in Christianity”

The International Bulletin of Missionary Research publishes an annual survey called the “Status of Global Christianity.” Using figures from 1900 as a baseline, it charts the changes over the 20th Century and half-way through the 21st Century. Some of these are encouraging and some are calls for concern.

A major story over the century has been the decline of the faith in the first world and its explosion in the third. The most extraordinary Christian growth has come in Africa. There were 8.7 million Christians on that continent in 1900, growing to 542 million today, and perhaps 1.2 billion by 2050. By then, there will be as many Christians in African as in Latin American and Europe combined. In fact, the European share of the world Christian population has shrunk from 66% in 1900 to 23% today.

The most astonishing numbers in the survey involve Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, which represent the fastest growing movement in world religious history. In 1900, there were 981,000 Charismatics, today there are 643.6 million, and there are projected to be over one billion Charismatics in 2050. Of course, some in this category are non-Charismatic Christians who became Charismatic, often of the Word/Faith variety, which could be described as a pseudo-Christian prosperity cult.

Rural churches have struggled with the gradual urbanization of the church. In 1900, 29% of the world’s Christian population lived in cities; today it’s up to 65%. But this is a trend that appears not to continue, with to decline to 59% being projected by 2050.

The last major trend is the rise of Islam. The global Muslim population grew from 571 million to 1.7 billion in just the last 45 years, surpassing even today’s Catholic population of 1.2 billion. At best, Christians have held fairly steady overall with 34.5% of global population in 1900, 33.4% today, and a projected 36% in 2050.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

12 March 2017: “What God is doing in Dar al-Islam”

David Garrison has written a book called A Wind in the House of Islam. The “House of Islam” (Dar al-Islam in Arabic) is the invisible religious empire that stretches from West Africa to Indonesia, encompassing 49 nations and over 1.6 billion Muslims. Dwarfing the size of any previous earthly kingdom, Islam directs the spiritual affairs of nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Garrison explains that something amazing is happening today that is challenging the hold that Islam exercises over its adherents.

Today, in more than 60 separate locations in at least 17 of the 49 Islamic countries, new communities of Muslim-background followers of Jesus are emerging. Each of these movements has seen at least 1,000 baptized believers and at least 100 member groups, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries the communities number tens of thousands.

The price these converts pay for their conversion has not diminished with the arrival of modern times. Qur’anic prescriptions remain unflinching: “…if they desert you, seize them and slay them wherever you find them” (Qur’an, An-Nisa 4:89). And these religious renegades are paying a high price for their spiritual migration to Christ. Yet they continue to come. What began as a few scattered expressions of dissent is now emerging as substantial and historically unprecedented numbers of Muslim men and women wading against the current of their societies to follow Jesus Christ. And Garrison explains that this is only the beginning.

In Islam’s first 13 centuries you will find a handful of coerced conversions to the Christian religion, but only two voluntary movements of at least 1,000 Muslim conversions to faith in Christ. Yet, in the first dozen years of our century, we have already been able to identify 70 movements of Muslims to Christ. Which is to say, that 86% of all the Muslim movement to Christ in history has happened in just the last few years. This is what God is doing.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

5 March 2017: “Engaging our Global Mission”

There are over 7,000 unreached people groups across the world. What that means is that these are ethnic/cultural/national groups that lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelize their own people. They are dependent upon us to bring them the resources needed to plant and nurture an indigenous mission to spread the gospel.

The Apostle Paul put it best in his Letter to the Romans: “How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15).

Roughly two-thirds of the world’s population lives in what is called the 10/40 window of latitude. But sadly, most Christian missionary resources are not directed toward people in the 10/40 window. About 90% of missionaries are sent to places and people that have already been reached with the gospel. That has started to change. Where to begin? Here are some helpful next steps to help you engage with the work of our global mission:

Learn about Missions and Unreached Peoples

Joshua Project – www.joshuaproject.net

Mission Frontiers – www.missionfrontiers.org

Traveling Team – www.travelingteam.org

10/40 Window – www.win1040.org

Caleb Project – www.calebresources.org

Praying for Unreached Peoples and Countries

Unreached People of the Day – www.unreachedoftheday.org

Global Prayer Digest – www.globalprayerdigest.org

Ethne-to-Ethne Prayer initiative – www.ethne.net

Prayer Guard – www.prayerguard.net

Operation World – www.operationworld.org

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

26 February 2017: “Resources for your Lenten rule”

The church has a long history of seasonal traditions to help us develop a personal plan or “Rule” for spiritual growth. These are:

Fasting and Abstinence. Above all, Lent is a time for doing penance by fasting. There are two strict fasts on the Christian calendar—Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And the Prayer Book also says that the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week “are to be observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

Traditionally, that means the days of Lent are observed with fasting (i.e., one full meal with meat and up to two snacks) and on Fridays in Lent (as on other Fridays) we add the total abstinence from flesh meat. Fish has not been considered meat in this sense, hence the tradition of fish on Fridays.

Most people also like to give up something else for Lent. It can be abstinence from any food that is a treat, such as coffee, sodas, chips, or desserts. Or it can be some indulgence we give up, such as tobacco or alcohol.

Almsgiving. Many families collect the money they would have spent on meals they fasted from and give that money to charity. On Palm Sunday, we will collect those funds to send to our companion Diocese of Northern Malawi, located in one of the poorest regions on earth. Your alms will greatly benefit our brethren.

Worship. Another Lenten tradition is to increase our acts of piety and devotion. Consider committing to praying one or more of the Daily Offices from the Prayer Book at home with your family. Consider adding one (or one more) daily Mass during the week. We are also adding a Holy Hour before Mass on Wednesdays this year.

Spiritual Reading. Disciplined reading from the Bible or from a Christian spiritual writer is a perfect devotion for Lent. Books are available for this purpose on a table in the Parish Hall. Take one.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

19 February 2017: “That most excellent gift of charity”

Perhaps my favorite collect from the Prayer Book is the one we use today. Part of it is that I’m captivated by the archaic turns of phrase. There’s something beautiful about the language alone. But beyond that is the subject. It is a kind of ode to love that is altogether lovely for its own sake.

The Prayer Book and the King James Bible often use the word “charity” where we would often use the word “love” today (compare 1 Corinthians 13). Nowadays, we tend to think of charity as only about helping the poor and others who are in need. But the word was originally a strong version of the word love. It comes from the Latin caritas, as in today’s communion motet. It could be explained as conveying the sense of “costly affection” or “sacrificial love.” Although I can’t find any evidence to support my theory, I’m convinced that the English charity must be related to the Greek word for “grace,” which is charis.

This week, countless men and women went in search of true love on Valentine’s Day. What many of them did not know (and we must tell them) is that true love is the charity of God. John the Apostle wrote, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). And the Apostle Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Saint Valentine loved the Lord and his flock even above his own life, and became a martyr for it. In order to love someone else in the truest sense, we must first come to know the love of God. His love can strengthen us to love others completely. His love can empower us to treat others charitably.

Archbishop Cranmer was right, the things that we do only have real value when done in love.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

12 February 2017: “Getting ready to get ready?”

A few years ago, Father Allen re-instituted the parish observance of the pre-Lenten season, or what is sometimes called Shrovetide. It was abolished in the revision of the calendar with the new lectionary. Epiphany became the green Sundays of “ordinary time” lasting until Ash Wednesday. But Shrovetide has had a little revival of sorts. A pre-Lent scheme was put back into the calendar of Common Worship (the modern Prayer Book used in the Church of England) as well the calendar used by the Anglican Ordinariates.

Pre-Lent begins with three “gesima” Sundays. Of these, only Quinquagesima is literally named—“fifty days” before Easter. In fact, in Latin, Lent is not called “Lent;” it is called Quadragesima—the “forty days.” As in Lent, so in pre-Lent, the vestments are purple, the Gloria and Alleluias are dropped, and the dismissal is “Let us bless the Lord.” But Shrovetide is not quite Lent. Pre-Lent is actually the carnival season (or Mardi-Gras as they say in New Orleans). There is a certain festivity that attends to using up all the things to be abstained from during Lent.

However, when pre-Lent was removed, the character of Lent was altered. You might associate Lent with repentance above all, but that’s not how it was supposed to work. In the old arrangement, Shrovetide was the time to repent, the time to be “shriven” of your sins (to make your confession and be absolved), while Lent was the time to “do penance.” As Lent was the desert experience, pre-Lent was said to be the Babylonian captivity when you prayed to return to the Promised Land.

In searching for a fitting bulletin graphic, I found a set of shields for each season. The pictures and words on the shields are telling. For pre-Lent, they are tools for discerning and rejecting sin: “Law, Scripture, Prayer, Repentance.” For Lent, they are tools for making amends for our faults: “Alms, Fasting, Abstinence, Scourging.”

Pre-Lent is not redundant (just “getting ready to get ready for Easter”), but a unique time of transition to holy ground.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

5 February 2017: “Finding some sacred space”

This week, we celebrated Candlemas, or the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple. Ordinarily, the male child who opens the womb would be “redeemed” under the Law of Moses, yet this child is the Redeemer himself. Interestingly, the Torah didn’t say to dedicate the baby at home, but to bring the child to God’s house. The temple sanctified the baby redeemed there, yet in this case, the temple itself is sanctified by the arrival of Christ who is the true Light of the World.

Throughout the scriptures we find God calling on his people to come to some meeting-place for worship. First it was at sacred trees or groves or hilltops in the time of the patriarchs. Then at the Exodus it was the tabernacle in the wilderness. And then from the time of Solomon, it was a stone temple in Jerusalem. We can even find a hint of the idea of sacred space at the beginning of Genesis when Cain and Abel “brought” their offerings to the Lord. There was a special place designated for worship.

What can we do in our own lives to make sacred space, or to put it another way, to make space sacred? The model is the church building. It is a place dedicated to praising the Lord rather than casual conversation. It is a place hallowed by prayer. It is a place with sacred furnishing and ornaments and images. And it is a place visited at sacred times.

In developing a spiritual rule of life, one important element that can easily be overlooked is sacred space. And making that space sacred can facilitate great spiritual progress. Most of us will not have an extra room to turn into an oratory. But is there a place you can set apart just for the Lord and for your quiet time with him? A corner of a room? A shelf? A special chair? Or perhaps lighting a candle to set apart an otherwise ordinary spot? As Lent approaches this spring, let us be in search of some sacred space to be with God.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

29 January 2017: “A call to prayer for women’s ministry”

In January, I issued a call to the women of the parish to a vigil of prayer for our men and for a men’s ministry in our parish. And I talked about some of the importance of men’s ministry in the typical parish. Now, I’m calling upon our men to pray this February for our women and their ministry.

I certainly don’t think a parish should have a men or women’s ministry (or any other kind of group) “just because we have always had one.” But I do think that it would be good to be intentional about our spiritual lives and groups are an effective way to do that. We have men in our parish. We have women. How do they live out the Christian faith?

Women’s ministry has been the backbone of parish churches since the days of the apostles, and for good reason. The Mother’s Union has been a staple of Anglican congregations world-wide and enabled the church to function especially well in missionary lands. We are accustomed to things like the ECW, diocesan women, and groups like the Daughters of the King, and now the Daughters of the Holy Cross. What shape would a women’s ministry take here? That’s up to them and the Lord. Men, let’s pray for their guidance.

What we see when there is a strong group of women in the church is that it blesses the whole congregation. They show us what faithfulness looks like. And their life and witness helps us all raise up and nurture a new generation of disciples.

I want to encourage the men of the parish to pray for our women. Pray for your wives and daughters, for your friends and neighbors. Give them some special encouragement this February. Show them some love this Valentine’s Day. Pray that God would bring insights and inspiration to our women, bring them together, raise up leaders, and get new women and girls involved in the life of being Christian women in our parish.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

22 January 2017: “Is it not time to end the schism?”

In the epistle at Mass today, the Apostle Paul poses a rhetorical question to the deeply divided Corinthian congregation: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13).

This Sunday falls within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which runs from the feast of the Confession of S. Peter (January 18) to the Conversion of S. Paul (January 25). The octave of prayer began in the early 1900s with Franciscans in the Episcopal Church, the Society of the Atonement, who were searching for reconciliation with the See of Peter. They were reconciled in 1909.

One time as I was preparing a sermon, a sad thought came to me. If I were to one day become an Orthodox priest or a Roman Catholic priest and want to pull my sermon out of my old files and deliver them again, I don’t believe I would need to change a word (at least as far as statements of doctrine go). And yet, we are divided.

I only mention it to point out how close we have come to Christian unity and yet how far away it still seems to be. We have overcome so many obstacles, and yet come up with new ones at the same time. God help his foolish people!

Is Christ divided? No. The truth is rather more bleak—we are divided from Christ. The timing of the octave of prayer reminds that unity is to be found when we return to the confession of Jesus as Lord and pursue unity with the continual conversion that knocked S. Paul off his horse. It is time for us in the West to labor diligently to end our 450 year schism and for our Eastern brethren to end their 1,000 year schism. We cannot do it on our own, but God will not bring it about if we harden our hearts to his will. Let us continue to pray for God’s grace to accomplish his will.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn” (Isaiah 51:1).

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

15 January 2017: “Sanctity of Life Sunday”

Sanctity of Life Sunday is usually the Sunday closest to January 22nd, the day in 1973 that the US Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in all nine months of pregnancy. This year it is on the actual anniversary and this place holds special significance because Jane Roe (Norma McCorvey) and District Attorney Henry Wade were from Dallas. The landmark case that changed America originated right here.

Abortion is still the leading cause of death in the United States. We have things to give thanks for (declining numbers of abortions and an increasingly pro-life outlook among young people), but there is still much work to be done. And our concern is not just for the unborn and for their mothers, but also for the forgotten and marginalized members of our society—the poor, the elderly and disabled, prisoners on death row, and those wrestling with suicide.

Your parish has participated for years in the local March for Life, in offerings for Pro-Life ministries, and in training and equipping young women who make the choice to keep and raise the child to make positive life choices and improve their life skills. I am humbled to be a part of a parish with this commitment.

As a church, we are committed to standing for and with those who are most vulnerable in our society. This commitment is reflected in the founding documents of the province: “God, and not man, is the creator of human life. The unjustified taking of life is sinful.  Therefore, all members and clergy are called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death.” (ACNA Constitution and Canons, Title II, Canon 8, Section 3).

Let us pray especially for changed hearts, for healing for all who have been involved in abortion or other end of life situations, and for a renewed appreciation of the value and respect for human life that is fitting for human beings created in the image of God.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

8 January 2017: “Shifting Tones of Voice”

“Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

I remember when I first started attending an Episcopal church regularly in college. The priest stood before the altar facing East for the canon, or Eucharistic prayer (as it should be). It was an older building with carpet and a dossal curtain that lent challenging acoustics. There was a microphone at the pulpit, but not at the altar.

For the first few times, something struck me as strange when he was up there praying. Something seemed out of place, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then finally it dawned on me that what was so strange was that he was literally shouting at the most sacred moment of the liturgy. The canon seemed to call for a more hushed tone, or at least something less than shouting to the back row in the absence of a microphone. Some moments call for loud proclamation and others for quite reverence. And it awakened me to the concept of using different tones of voice to match the mood and atmosphere at different times in the liturgy. One ancient Eastern rite heralds such a shift in the tone of voice with the statement, “In silence and fear be ye standing: peace be with us. Let all the people be in fear at this moment in which the adorable Mysteries are being accomplished by the descent of the Spirit.”

In contrast to the shouting consecrator mentioned above, another priest penned an article titled, “The Silence of the Canon Speaks More Loudly Than Words.” His title is a little misleading. There are really no “silent” prayers in the liturgy; they are all offered with the voice and not just the mind. But there are different tones of voice employed in offering them. Basically, things evolved so that all the parts that were normally chanted would be said with a full-throated voice when spoken. Other parts which might only need to be heard by those close by would be said with a mystical or subdued voice, or as the designation goes in rhetoric and music, “sotto voce.” Those which are more or less reckoned as the private prayers of the celebrant would be said in a whisper only loud enough for the priest himself (and God) to hear them.

And so things like the collect, readings, creed, dismissal, and blessing are spoken loudly enough for the person on the back row to hear clearly. The canon and the words of administration are spoken loud enough for the bell ringer or the communicant to hear them. And of course, God needs not even a whisper to hear each of our prayers.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

1 January 2017: “A call to prayer for men’s ministry”

This month, I’m calling on the women of the parish to a vigil of prayer for our men and for a men’s ministry in our parish. (And in February I’ll call for our men to pray for our women.)

It is difficult to overstate the importance of such a ministry in a parish. According to Barna Research, the typical congregation will be about 39% male and 61% female. It’s probably not surprising then that only about 10% of congregations have an effective men’s ministry. And it’s getting worse, not better. We’re losing our men in the churches of America.

But I don’t expect S. Francis to be a typical congregation (Lord knows we are not—and that’s often a good thing!), but this is an aspect of parish life that we are lacking and would be blessed in having. We are blessed with a share of men above the average, but we need to be organized (they do call it “organized religion” after all) and active. That can take different forms in different places. What form would God have in store for us?

I want to encourage the women of the parish to pray for our men. Pray for your husbands and sons, your friends and neighbors. Encourage them to attend the diocesan men’s conference this year on February 10 and 11. I’d love to see the event swarmed with men from our parish. Pray that God would bring insights and inspiration to our men, bring them together, raise up leaders, and get new men and boys involved.

Pray especially for our fathers. Maybe we should call them our “faithers” because research shows that when only mothers practice their faith, the children follow her example about 17% of the time. But when fathers practice their faith, the family follows his example about 93% of the time.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

18 December 2016: “Your Vestry officers for 2017”

At the annual meeting, we elected some new members to the vestry. Now I want to share with you what responsibilities have been assigned to each member.

I have asked Bob Davis to serve again as the senior warden as we continue to transition to a new era in the life of our parish with me as your rector. Allie Goetz was elected junior warden and so her job will be to oversee the maintenance and improvement of the physical plant.

Mike Salas was elected as the treasurer and Catherine Rogers was elected as the clerk. Kevin McNevins will again serve as the financial secretary. His job is to receive and record donations to the parish. Bob Lea will be the chancellor, which is the official legal advisor to the congregation and its leadership.

Mitch Bramlett will be the almoner, who coordinates our involvement in various charitable activities and ministries. The almoner also manages the memorial fund. The in-parish services manager will be Rick Giles. This position oversees internal ministries like altar guild, acolytes, choir, ushers, nursery, coffee hour, lay readers, and carpools. Ray Pearce will be the events and facilities manager.

Megan Pearce will be the education officer. This position involves overseeing Christian formation offerings like Sunday School and confirmation classes as well as being a liaison for such offerings outside the parish, like St. Michael’s Conference and Happening. Stephen Chamblee will be the communications officer—monitoring our informational and advertising efforts. Now you know who to go to regarding different areas of parish life. My thanks to all these good people who have chosen to serve.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

11 December 2016: “The Anglican origin of the Christmas tree”

Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, introduced Christmas trees to England in 1841. It is often assumed that this was a pagan custom appropriated by Christians in Germany, but that is not actually the case. The tradition began in Germany, but it started with a Catholic saint (an Anglican, in fact).

It was the 8th Century Benedictine monk St. Boniface from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex who first took the Gospel to the pagan Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. There, they worshiped Odin and Thor—fierce and ancient Norse gods. One of the savage aspects of Germanic Norse religious culture was human sacrifice.

Boniface knew that Christianity had subdued the wilder, more violent aspects of Anglo-Saxon warrior culture in England and believed the same could happen in Germany. So Boniface let spread word among the tribes that when the next sacrifice was planned, he would personally prevent it. He gathered his monks at an ancient oak tree, a place of sacred blood-letting.

The pagans bound a young girl to the oak tree in preparation, but before the fatal blow could be struck, Boniface grabbed the axe out of the executioner’s hands. He swung at the girl’s chains, breaking her free, and then turned his axe on the sacred oak. The pagans knelt in silence, expecting their gods to avenge this blasphemy.

Boniface broke the silence, calling them to look at the base of the oak. There, springing out of the ground from between the roots was a tender young fir tree. Boniface explained that their other gods had fallen with the oak but that Boniface’s God had given them this little tree which remains green and full of life even in the depths of winter. The fir tree’s evergreen leaves pointed upwards to heaven, reminding them that the love of the Holy Trinity for them was everlasting.

At the first Christmas after this event, Boniface brought a fir tree indoors into the church as a symbol of Christ’s everlasting love. It has been used as a Christmas reminder of God’s love ever since.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

4 December 2016: “S. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker”

Tuesday, December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas of Myra (yes, good ole Saint Nick). Myra is a diocese in Turkey.

Little is known for certain about the life of Nicholas, except that he suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. Nicholas was also one of the bishops attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325. His argument there with the heretic Arius became so heated that Nicholas slapped him across the face. He was honored as a saint in Constantinople in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian.

Many legends became popular about St. Nicholas. The most common is that the bishop saved three sisters from poverty and prostitution when he tossed three bags of gold through the window of their poor father’s house to fund their dowries. The saint is depicted holding these three bags (or sometimes three gold balls). He was also renowned as a giver of gifts to children. Many miracles have been attributed to his intercession. One is that he was aboard a ship of pilgrims travelling to the holy land. The sailors appealed to the bishop to pray to God for safety amid a fierce storm and the sea became calm again.

His veneration became immensely popular in the West after the translation of his relics to Bari, Italy, in the late eleventh century. In England almost 400 churches were dedicated to him. Nicholas is famed as the traditional patron of seafarers and sailors, and, more especially, of children. As a bearer of gifts to children, his name was brought to America by the Dutch colonists in New York whom they called Sinterklaas. According to an old European custom, Nicholas visits the homes of good children on the night of his feast, leaving candies and gifts in the shoes of children left at the door. Let us honor the Christ-like character of this beloved saint and bid his prayers this Advent.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

27 November 2016: “Stewards of God’s mysteries”

The Apostle Paul described those in ordained ministries as “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Chief among the holy Mysteries are the holy Sacraments of the Church. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the stewards or custodians of the chalice and paten are the deacon and subdeacon respectively.

At the offertory, the deacon assists the celebrant in offering the chalice and holds the base firm during censing (so it isn’t knocked over by the thurible) and removes and replaces the pall over the chalice. At the communion of the people, the chalice is properly administered by the deacon.

And what of the subdeacon? In a similar way, he is the custodian of the paten—the metal plate that the offering of bread lays upon. In traditional ceremonial, after it is offered up by the celebrant, the bread is put onto the linen corporal while the subdeacon holds the paten until it is needed again after the Lord’s Prayer. He holds it in a humeral veil, like a chalice veil that is big enough to wear.

When the first Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549, the ceremonial directions were minimal at best and it was not clear how to adapt the ceremonial that had been employed for a millennium to a new rite. This was complicated by the fact that minor orders (of which the subdiaconate is one) effectively began to be done away with in the Church of England when they were not included in the Ordinal of 1550. This meant that the ceremonies of Low Mass (in which the celebrant assumes everyone else’s liturgical role) became the standard for a few hundred years. When High Mass was restored in Anglican practice, the role of subdeacon was most often assumed by laymen. Different parishes modified the ceremonial to different degrees in order to reflect that reality of a layman fulfilling the role of subdeacon.

In my view, as long as it is generally accepted for a layman to serve as a subdeacon in the liturgy, I see no reason to restrict him from doing so fully. Therefore, in this parish, I have removed the restrictions and modifications to the traditional liturgical ceremonial (as detailed by experts like Fortescue and in Ritual Notes). To me, it is a part of living out the fullness of our faith and our tradition and letting it flourish. If there is a need to modify something out of practical concern, that is one thing (like bowing rather than genuflecting for those with weak knees). But if there is really no need to modify such ceremonies, then why modify? This Advent, those serving as subdeacons will begin fulfilling their full ceremonial role at the High Mass.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

20 November 2016: “The first (ecumenical) Thanksgiving”

Most of us learned all about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving in school growing up. They were Puritans who had left England because they deemed the (Anglican) Church of England to be too Catholic and wanted to live where they would be free to practice a pure Protestant faith (hence the term “puritan”). But did you know there was also a Catholic at that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth?

The Pilgrims struggled when they first arrived in the New World. A tribe of Native Americans called the Wampanoag helped them get through that first harsh winter when their tribal leader Massasoit discovered that their supplies from England would not be enough food to sustain the colony through the first winter. Imagine their surprise when one of those Indians, called Squanto, not only spoke English, but turned out to be a Catholic as well.

In 1614, Squanto was captured by a lieutenant of John Smith who attempted to sell him and other Indians into slavery via Spain. However, some Franciscan friars discovered the plot and acquired the captured Native Americans. During this time, Squanto received instruction in the Christian faith and was baptized. As a free man, he traveled to London where he became a laborer in the shipyards. There he also became fluent in English. Squanto was able to return to his homeland five years after his kidnapping. Since he was fluent in English, Squanto became a valuable interpreter and teacher to the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth.

During that first winter, half of the Pilgrims died of starvation, of sickness, or of exposure. Squanto eventually contracted one of the diseases from Europe that were decimating his people. As he lay dying, he asked for prayers from Governor Bradford and bequeathed his belongings to his new friends in Plymouth. In God’s providence, a Catholic and a colony of Protestants had been brought together in the New World to help each other find God’s mercy.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin

 

13 November 2016: “A Book of Remembrance”

The prophet Malachi described the Bible as “a book of remembrance.” This is perhaps as apt a definition of Scripture itself as we shall find. Each time we read Scripture, we recall the wondrous things that the Lord has done among us. The remembrance of these things brings promise and reassurance to that which we are today, translating our own ordinary experience into an astonishing story of God’s providence and grace. The Bible has the power to transform us in the here and now as well as to change who we are to become. Scripture lays claim to us.

Heraclites, an ancient Greek philosopher, declared that you cannot step into the same river twice. Each reading of God’s word is new. No one reads Scripture the same way twice. But Scripture, this book of remembrance, is paradoxically not just about the past. What we “remember” most as we read it are the promises to come. The Bible is the Word of God being written upon our hearts. It has the power to become our spiritual biography.

In today’s collect we call upon the Lord “who caused all Scriptures to be written for our learning,” praying that we might “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” Note that the first four don’t mean a whole lot without the last part. The great skeptic and philosopher Voltaire studied the scriptures, but did not inwardly digest them. Only after much study and prayer can we hope to inwardly digest Scripture’s message and be nourished and transformed by it.

The Bible is not unlike the manna of the Exodus. It is food for the journey. Each day, it is there for us once again. Every day it is just enough and never exhausted. If not gathered, consumed, and inwardly digested, its words become stale and useless to us—words in a dusty old book on a shelf, incapable of satisfying any hunger in the soul. But if we hear Scripture, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest its message each day, you shall never go hungry. Charles Spurgeon said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Let us read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. This book of remembrance is our food for the journey.

Your pastor and friend, Father Matkin