Itinerant no more?

“Itinerant Priest”. That is the name of my blog / website. I switched to this handle as I started Interim work.
Does that mean I have to change again?
Nope. Although I am beyond delighted and excited to accept the call of St. Simon’s on the Sound in Ft. Walton Beach to be their Rector (NOT THE INTERIM RECTOR!), one thing I have said at every stop I have made in 14 years of ordained ministry is this – every priest you have ever had was just passing through. Some for longer than others. But we all arrive and we all go, while you stay – you the glue, the workers, the true center and real strength and spirit led people of God, it’s your church. Of course, more accurately, it’s God’s church, but the body of Christ you are is the real deal, the real thing, the church. I am honored to pass through yet again.
St. Simon’s will be my sixth parish in 14 years, but only 2nd “tenured” Rector position. I served St. Patrick’s Long Beach longer than any priest in their 50+ years of existence. The circumstances are well documented, it was hard work with beautiful people. The three interim positions have been challenging and fun and thrilling. Yet all along, we were hoping for another place to put down some roots, have some time to dream with people and see how God responds. Finally, that time has come.
Jennifer and I have made no secret of our desire to return to Mississippi if at all possible. Through these two Florida interims, I have remained (which is the custom) canonically resident in the Diocese of Mississippi. I have returned for Diocesan council and other meetings, I was privileged to serve again on the General Convention deputation, I got to cast my vote for the new Bishop. And, frankly, I tried my best to return, yet in each case those opportunities did not work out.
So when the reading from Acts on the 6th Sunday of Easter came around, it was high time I listened to the Holy Spirit. Don’t you think?

6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

The first 3 verses above are not part of the Sunday lectionary reading but are important to the story. Paul had decided where he should go next. Yet at every turn, he was blocked.
Paul my friend, I know the feeling. Not that I am anything like St. Paul, but I too had a plan figured out and the end result was a lot of disappointment and resentfulness and questioning, when all along some folks in Macedonia were needing some help.
I am so glad the Holy Spirit didn’t give up on my stubborn self!

So we are off to Macedonia….I mean Ft. Walton Beach! There, just like Paul, I will find some people who are already gathering regularly to pray. May we all be open to the Holy Spirit as we seek to serve Christ and our communities the best we can, with God’s help of course.
I can’t wait to get started!

Home….

Since being ordained I have served 5 churches. Each has been unique, each community quite different. The challenges facing each church were also very different. The 3 interim gigs I have had (including the current one) have each needed quite different things from me as Interim Rector.

Yet all these churches have so much in common. Each has truly amazing, Godly, kind, supportive, prayerful, delightful, unique and loving people. People of all ages, socio-economic class, race, gender. People who, in a culture becoming increasingly more secular, make church a priority, people who have welcomed Jennifer and I (and our children back when they were part of the package) with open arms. Disciples of Jesus with whom I have been deeply honored to walk with through all that life throws at us.

Over the last few months Jennifer and I have had the opportunity to return to my previous three churches. In late December I was back in St. Patrick’s in Long Beach, MS in the church we together rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. It was my first time back in St. Patrick’s since my leave taking in April of 2012. The occasion was bittersweet – the funeral of Deacon Lynne Hough (I wrote about Lynne HERE). But it was wonderful to see so many old friends and to be a part of the congregation which gathered to remember Lynne and celebrate her life and ministry. Being back on that campus was really special. I was flooded with so many memories, particularly watching every bit of that building going up, and the incredible feeling it was on Pentecost of 2009 when we worshipped together there for the first time. In many ways, along with Deacon Lynne, these fine people helped mold and shape me as a Priest and as a Rector and I am grateful and so blessed to have spent 8 years with them.

On January 10th we were back in St. James, Jackson, MS where I was Interim from May 2012 to June of 2013. The occasion was a highlight of my life – the baptism of Juby Taylor, our first grandchild. Again the wonderful feeling of being back amongst such sweet and dear people was only topped by the actual baptism itself. I am grateful to their Rector, The Rev. Jamie McElroy, for his gracious invitation to allow me to offer the sacrament of Holy Baptism to my grandson.

Although I never served St. Paul’s in Meridian, I was born in Meridian and my parents are from there. In March I was again honored with an equal life highlight when I baptized our granddaughter, Eliza Dreyfus, in the same baptismal font her father, John, was baptized in (and wearing his gown too!). Their Interim Rector, The Reverend Arnold Bush, was the Rector of St. Peter’s by the Lake when we joined there (this is my home parish who sent me to seminary). Arnold also was so gracious and helpful in allowing me to baptize Eliza there during Lent!

Then a couple of weeks ago Jennifer and I were at St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, where I was Interim Rector from September 2013 to November of 2015. We were invited down by their new Rector, The Rev. Paul Kane, to participate in a retirement celebration for three fabulous staff members of St. Paul’s. Jennifer and I were surprise guests, as was Bishop Chip Stokes and his wife Susan. Chip was Rector at St. Paul’s for about 15 years before being elected Bishop of New Jersey. Also their Associate Rector, the Rev. Kathleen Gannon, flew in from Ireland where she was on sabbatical, just to be at the event. It was truly electric when we walked in – the surprise element was a big part of that. I loved seeing everyone again, and revisiting Delray Beach, an incredible place to live, was a blast.

They say “home is where the heart is”, and part of our hearts remain in each of these places (I was back in Greenville two years ago where I got to do the wedding of one of my daughter’s best friends when we lived there – it was SO FUN) we have served. I never take for granted the blessings of this crazy ordained ministry life. Most of those blessings have smiling faces attached to them. I thank God for these recent opportunities to “go home” and hangout with all these saints once again.

 

Missing Holy Week…..

It IS the most wonderful time of the year! Holy Week! I have done my usual “begging” email, challenging our parishioners to come and dance every dance. I’ve preached about how traholyweeknsformative that can be, I have reflected on when I first “did” Holy Week and my eyes were opened, my faith deepened, my soul reminded of Jesus’ passion and resurrection in such powerful ways.

In seminary I was named “Holy Week Chair” as a way for our liturgics professor and my classmates to punish me for some horrible sins (which I can’t recall). Why else? Holy Week at seminary is A REALLY BIG DEAL! Each service / event has a chairperson – Maundy Thursday, Agape Meal, Good Friday, The Great Vigil, the brunch after the Vigil. Every seminarian was assigned to one of those teams. And I was tasked with coordinating all of it.

It was so fun! Well….and stressful. Standing at the Kinko’s counter at 3am Good Friday morning, trying to get the Vigil bulletins to print right, was not really my idea of a good time. But my captains pulled it all together and Holy Week was an amazing experience all three years of seminary.

Then I find out upon graduation and ordination, as shocking as it seems, that not ALL priests loved ALL of Holy Week (especially the Easter Vigil)! How can this be? What do  you mean people won’t come to a service that begins before sunrise on Easter Day, or even one that begins after sundown on Saturday? I had to learn to compromise – as a Curate my Rector allowed me to plan and offer an Easter Vigil, but we had to start it at like 5pm or people wouldn’t come (especially baptism families with their infants). So there we were on the steps of the church in the really hot Mississippi Delta blazing sun (it was of course after Daylight Savings Time), lighting the “new fire” in broad daylight and lighting candles whose flames you could not even see before processing into the “darkened” church.

Not quite the effect I wanted.

At St. Patrick’s in Long Beach they had a long standing tradition of doing an Easter Vigil. I arrived two weeks before Holy Week and they had things well in hand – we even did SIX baptisms by candlelight that night. It was awesome! And even though Katrina destroyed our church the next year, we still DID HOLY WEEK in the gymnasium we called home, along with a couple of hundred disaster relief volunteers, every year for four years before moving into our new church building. The worst, though, was probably when Bishop Marble, retired of Mississippi, came to preach and help with our Good Friday service in the Camp Coast Care building. We always setup church in the dining area for the volunteers, which presented some challenges. This Good Friday, as we were saying the Solemn Collects, a group of volunteers who were in their sleeping quarters (basically separated from us by a curtain) got into a….um….high volume discussion. And while they did use the word “holy” a lot, most of the rest of it was way beyond PG 13. I suspect similar language was used by the thieves on the cross.

But none of that is the point of this blog post (for those still reading). I do love Holy Week – every aspect of it. I grow weary of priests talking about how weary they are from it all – SO MANY SERMONS – so many bulletins, so much planning. Friends – nobody feels sorry for you! We get to do this thing, this amazing thing, help guide people on this journey, help prepare meaningful liturgies and preach wonderful sermons and I wish it lasted more than a week!

In fact, I miss doing most of the preaching for Holy Week. At St. Patrick’s, my beloved Deacon, the Rev. Lynne Hough (see my previous post) would help with the early in the week homilies, but I would preach at least one of those and all the rest – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil, Easter Day. It was fun to try to weave them together, link these amazing services with the incredible story we were trying our best to connect people to. Challenging, of course. But really so FUN!

Did I mention I love Holy Week?

Now that I have served much larger churches as an Interim Rector for my last 4 (including this year) Holy Weeks, my experience is a lot different. Of course there are many more people who attend, but having other clergy to divide up the preaching and celebrating is quite different than the experience of solo priests. I think it’s great, don’t get me wrong. People need to hear these other voices, be inspired by their sermons and led by their sacerdotal presence. I don’t begrudge that at all. I just kind of miss the intense sermon prep as deadlines approach and all manner of things have to be handled (and again, at St. Patrick’s I had so many great people helping, my deacon, my vergers, choir masters, acolytes, readers, story tellers for the vigil, the works!) and when the time comes you get to lead day after day and night after night of what is the most awesome week of the year.

So….Easter Day sermon is done. And Palm Sunday brief homily mostly done. And I can’t wait to hear Christie (Maundy Thursday) and Jessica (Good Friday) inspire and move and remind me by their words as they preach – but goodness I miss preaching on those days.

Christ Church – I love Holy Week! We will be doing some new things (nothing earth shattering, don’t worry) this year, a “fresh take on Holy Week that honors your traditions” is what I like to call it. I hope you will be there. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Remembering Deacon Lynne

A reminder popped up on my calendar Sunday –  Feb 28th was Lynne HoughIMG_9075‘s birthday.

Lynne was the Deacon at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach for many years. I was privileged to serve with her for 8 years as the Rector of St. Pat’s. Lynne died on December 22nd. I was blessed to be able to attend her funeral service at St. Patrick’s on December 28th.

The Reverend Canon David Johnson preached a beautiful sermon at Lynne’s funeral. David was the Vicar of St. Patrick’s at one time, and Lynne was a dear friend to David, his wife Nora, and their children. David, like myself and Kyle Bennett and others, had the awesome blessing of being trained by Lynne. For Lynne Hough knew what it meant to be a deacon. All Episcopal priests are ordained as deacons first and as priests later. We sometimes tend to forget our roots. Lynne was a living reminder to me and so many others what the ministry of a deacon was all about. And while I can never live up to her shining example, I hope some of Lynne’s deacon heart and soul rubbed off on me over those 8 years and afterwards.

Lynne knew how to tell it like it is! I appreciated that so much. She was fiercely loyal yet knew she could speak her mind and I loved that I always knew she would do so. Priests sometimes struggle with ego issues and Lynne knew part of her deacon role with us was to make sure our opinions of ourselves didn’t get out of hand!

That may sound more harsh than I mean it. Most of all Lynne was a person who exuded the love of Christ to all. She was such a great confidant and someone I could discuss difficult issues (or people!) with and know I would get an honest, thoughtful, and loving response. She was such a great clergy companion for me in what can often be a very lonely profession.

Lynne was beloved in our community as well. From her work at the Sun Herald, to her chaplain duties at Memorial Hospital, and her tender care of the poor in our area, she was a blessing to so many. She also was very involved at the diocesan level, she was the last living member of the Diocese of Mississippi’s first vocational deacon class and as a long time leader on our Commission on Ministry, she was extremely helpful for many who were in discernment processes, whether for diaconate or priesthood.

Lynne’s health had deteriorated the last few years but her death was still a shock to us all. With the health challenges she faced, I am glad she didn’t suffer too terribly. But that is only a small consolation for us whom she touched so deeply. Selfishly I wish she was still here, that I could pick up the phone and call her, see her at diocesan functions, laugh with her one more time, hear her wonderful stories and catch some more of her contagious love of Jesus and of all the children of God.

Lynne Hough, Deacon extraordinaire, was one of a kind. I will miss her deeply. My prayers continue for all her family and friends.

Blessed

 

For those who haven’t heard, I have accepted the vestry’s call to serve as Interim Rector of Christ Church Parish in downtown Pensacola. I started on December 15th. Jennifer and I had moved our belongings (clothes, etc. – furniture and much else went to storage) when we left Delray just before Thanksgiving. Thanks to the incredible generosity and hospitality of my in-laws, we were invited to stay in their condo in Perdido Key until we figured out where we would go next. As we were driving our uHaul our of Delary, , the interim search committee called to setup an interview, and the rest is history. I am about a 30 minute drive from the church. What a blessing! This has been a real palpable way of living into God’s ways and trusting God will provide for us. It could not have worked out any better!
Jennifer is now certified in Florida so she has started interviews for Pediatric Nurse Practitioner positions. Things are really coming together.

Arriving at a church ten days before Christmas is a different kind of experience. And doing so at a church like Christ Church Parish in Pensacola is even more exciting.
Fortunately CCP is served by two wonderful associate priests and a staff that had things well in hand before I arrived. Which allowed me to just enter into the flow and enjoy a wonderful Christmas experience. My associates handled all the “deacon” and “celebrant” roles until the midnight mass, giving me time to see how things are done around the altar.
I preached 4th Advent, Christmas Eve (with help from Christie, one of the associates, at the family service) and 1st Sunday after Christmas. They are probably sick of me already!

The biggest Christmas blessing for us was having our family with us at the condo. Our son, Joseph, came down Christmas Eve afternoon. Mackenzie and Wynne and 7 month old Juby arrived Christmas Eve, surprising Jennifer by making it to midnight mass just as it began! Juby’s first Christmas was with us and it was wonderful. Then the next day, Chelsea and John and 9 week old Eliza joined us! What a glorious time! Jen and I were on cloud nine having them all together, and I loved having my whole family at church on Sunday.

On Monday I was able to make it to the funeral of the Reverend Deacon Lynne Hough at St. Patrick’s in Long Beach. Lynne and I served that church together for 8 years, Lynne was there far longer and she was the bedrock clergy person for that parish. She was a wonderful deacon and fantastic person. She knew her calling so well, and was a foundation of love and grace and truth for us all. Lynne you are really missed.
From there we made it to Hattiesburg for the gathering of all the Knights at my parents house. All four of my brothers and all of their wives, children, and grand children were there. My parents now have 7 great-grands and all were present, including 3 born this year!

All of the above says one thing – we are truly, truly blessed. Many of you have held us in your prayers and I cannot thank you enough. I will have more “profound” posts coming up soon, but wanted to catch up on all our news. God bless and Merry Christmas (we have 8 more days of Christmas ya know!).

Itinerant: noun. a person who alternates between working and wandering.