Tag Archives: Episcopal Church

Mrs. Barfield

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and the waiting room is packed. The pink ribbons the staff wear scream at us – this might be for you today. The irony is neither lost on us nor humorous. For every person in this room knows that on the other side of this wait there is joy or despair, relief or shock, release or fear.

The waiting room is decorated to calm, with faux wood floors and somebody-said-this-was-soothing paint colors. There are only a couple of other men here with their wives. People are fidgeting, tired, cranky, sick of waiting while also wishing this day would go away. There are quite a few older folk who have joined the ranks of the “I must yell into my cell phone in public” tribe, leading me to know far too much about their public lives. However, the entertainment value is pretty high.

My heart rate keeps climbing. You try to quell that inner voice of panic with “we’ve been down this road before and it was fine”, but the voice does not agree, reminding me “this is taking a lot longer than before” and “they asked for extra images” and “the doctor sent her over here IMMEDIATELY for scans”. So you wonder, because you know for almost every scary diagnosis people had sat in these chairs thinking it was nothing, it’s not ME, it’s not US.

She is still back there. They won’t let me go back. The news from the back has been delivered to me in more and more panic filled text messages. “They sent me back in for more images”. I know her so well, I can hear her voice crack and her eyes fill.

It is of course not all about me, unlike it is for the fellow in the chair next to me. Tom so far has chewed his wife out twice because “this is taking too long”. He grumbles and sighs, she is pleasant and reassuring, this appears to be a dance they both know well. Finally, in a sweet voice she tells him to just go on back to work if he needs to so bad. Tom snaps back, “what I NEED is a nap!” In my mind I promptly awarded him Mr. Compassion 2014. Maybe his sash should be pink.

They call Mrs. Barfield, loud talker supreme. Her moans just for the effort to stand are on an equal decibel level with her phone conversations. She is alone. I feel sorry for her as she finally rises and begins to shuffle her way to the back. THE BACK. Her cell rings again, evidently Joe is somewhere, parking, and can just wait in the car.

So I pray, fervently, for good news. Not just for my wife but for Mrs. Barfield and for Mrs. Married the Wrong Guy and for women everywhere who this day hear the words they never thought they would hear.

Not too long after she ambled to the back, Mrs. Barfield returns, walking a bit more spry. She announces to the few of us still in the waiting room in our chairs of impending doom, “well glad that’s over!” She shuffles slowly to the door, smiling broadly. I am happy for her. I hope Joe is nearby.

Our news, at last, is delivered in person by the radiologist. Everything is ok. Prayers are offered in thanksgiving and for all those whom the pink ribbons mean so much.


Taking my talents to south Beach….or near there…(and yes this is tongue-in-cheek)

One week. In one week I hit the road for beautiful Delray Beach, Florida where I begin my time as Interim Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The last few weeks have been wild. We accepted the call and then had to let some other folks know we would not continue to discern with them. That was really hard. Jen and I spent a week at the beach with Brayden, what a great time. It is very hard to know we won’t see him as often but he will always be part of our lives and we will see him as much as we can.

I will remain canonically resident in the Diocese of Mississippi, which makes me happy. My first week in Delray coincides with Clergy Conference in the Diocese of SE Florida, and it’s in Delray, so I look forward to meeting new clergy friends right off the bat. As President of the Standing Committee, I’ve been wrapping things up in that arena and especially dealing with the Bishop Search progress while preparing to hand all that off to the S.C. soon. On August 15th the clergy of the Diocese met to discuss our hopes and dreams for our next Bishop, and I was very glad to attend and say some goodbyes. I love this Diocese and feel so supported and loved by my fellow clergy. It’s a special place for sure. Missing THAT Clergy Conference is not something I want to talk about!

Last week Jen and I traveled to Delray and looked at lots of potential places to rent, but have not decided yet. It’s difficult. We thankfully have been offered a place to stay until mid-October, so we have a little time to make a decision. Pray for us!

We returned Wednesday night and then on Thursday went to our daughter, Mackenzie’s house that she and husband Wynne had bought a few months ago. Kenzie had asked me to bless the house before we left, so I dutifully printed off some house blessing handouts, and with stole in hand, we walked in her door only to find a surprise going away party with many of our long-time Jackson friends from the old neighborhood we lived in before leaving for seminary in 1999. It was a great surprise and really wonderful.

I spent yesterday at what will most likely be my final in-person Standing Committee meeting and tomorrow we go to Hattiesburg where my family (3 of my brothers and their families and my parents) will gather for another goodbye. This is HARD and exciting.

So the plan is for me to drive down on Friday so I can be at services over the weekend (the church has one on Saturday and four on Sunday). Jennifer will join me once we have a place to live and are ready to move our stuff, I will come back for the move of course.

Delray is lovely and the church is awesome. It’s a long way but we hope and expect lots of visitors! Your prayers are always welcome. And many of my St. James’ friends asked me to keep this blog up to date so expect more frequent posts over the next year or so. Speaking of St. James’ – I really miss all of you guys!

And Mississippi folks – I will be at Annual Council and have another gig (that I cannot announce yet) in January that is a real honor to participate in. More when I can say more!

Come on down to sunny South Florida! We would love to see you. Until then – Peace and God Bless.



It’s Camp…one last time

Well another fabulous week at Camp Bratton-Green is wrapping up. It’s been very special with my daughter, Chelsea, as my co-director. We’ve had a blast! Of course my LW is my camp nurse, our special buddy Brayden is a staff brat. Really, really missed having son Joseph on staff (he is in summer school) and daughter Mackenzie (just started a new job). Camp for us is usually a family affair and they were definitely missed.
With my next job outside of the Diocese of MS (no, I don’t have one yet, just know it will be out of state), this is my last year as a camp director. It’s truly one of my most favorite things I get the honor of doing every year. Hopefully I can still come back to CBG in some capacity over the years. It’s such a special place.
What makes it special, for me, is the staff. I have 22 volunteer counselors, from 10th grade to college age. 8 adult cabin parents. And a very talented permanent staff. Every year they amaze me and challenge me and teach me and inspire me.
Camp is instant community with all that entails. 110 kids plus staff come together, many not knowing each other. Cabins figure it out, some better than others. We have the usual assortment of kids trying to figure out their place, those who are ultra comfortable here, those who miss home (at first) and then don’t want to leave. It’s a microcosm of life and it’s beautiful and fun and a struggle and a joy.
It’s camp. We get messy (I got thrown in the mud pit yesterday where the kids piled on and then dunked with ice and water twice at lunch, for starters), we play some great games, the permies run fantastic activity periods in the lake, the pool, arts and crafts, rope course, music and nature. It’s God and creation, it’s hot and tiring, it’s ghost stories and singing, it’s prayer and it’s camp.
It’s camp. And I will miss it.

And so comes the Triduum….

I am so proud of the St. James’ folks who have been turning out in high numbers for the first part of Holy Week. Tonight, of course, begins the Triduum – Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Great Vigil of Easter. One continuous liturgy that places us in the heart of the story – there are all the elements – feet washed by God, new commandments that are simple yet so hard even now (just love, y’all), betrayal in the garden, solemnly the altar stripped bare we leave in stunned silence. The stark contrast of the church on Good Friday, no flowers, no pretty vestments, no organ music, just us and prayer and God on a cross. We must hold back the urge to scamper too quickly past the brutality, the denials, the fear, the sweat-like-blood, the anguish and pain. Don’t hide your eyes, look straight on, come and hear and say and feel. Leave in that strange silence, how awkward and different and powerful to walk quietly to our cars and exit, not dismissed, no “Thanks be to God”, it’s not yet over, for the tomb is not yet empty.

Come to the wonder of the Great Vigil, candlelight, baptisms, salvation history by story tellers, we all wait in the darkness, anticipating – we know the story but yet we come to live it out again, waiting for that blaze of light, new fire, singing, bell ringing moment when Alleluia rings out and we offer up to God our grateful hearts, changed again by remembering and gathering and sharing and proclaiming. This IS the night!

As I said in my sermon a couple of weeks ago – go for it! Carve out the time. Make it your priority. Teach your friends and your family members something this Holy Week, that we can make room for it all, for the story, for the grace. We can put our lives on hold – or more accurately we can envelope our lives within this story so that we become the gospel for others.

It is a real privilege to walk this path with the people of St. James’. If you are in the Jackson area and need a place to come and live into our Lord’s journey, we would love to have you. Come as you are, just show up and let the story wash over you, change you, inspire you, remind you. For this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

See you in church!


Acts 6?

There is a group of us in the Episcopal church who gathered at General Convention, proclaiming an “Acts 8” moment for the church. Click HERE to learn more about it – some really awesome writers contribute to that site. A recent post asked what questions GOEs (General Ordination Exams) SHOULD pose to show whether seminarians are ready for parish ministry. A good question.

It lead me to thinking more about the role of the Priest. I currently am serving as Interim Rector at the largest church in our Diocese. It’s an amazing place, incredibly busy with a great staff and some of the best people I’ve ever known in the congregation.

As their Interim I have learned a lot about the difference in being the Rector of a large church vs. a pastoral size one. Rector as CEO is the model it seems we’ve adopted for resource size parishes. We have 10 full time staff (including 3 Priests) and several other part timers. Managing staff, working on budget and finance, making daily decisions about use of facilites (ours are really nice and used constantly, 7 days a week), running meetings – this is the stuff of the CEO Rector.

And I wonder about the model….

Oft times clergy will make the comment, “well I didn’t learn that in seminary”. I certainly said that myself post-Hurricane Katrina. And the same is certainly true for the administrative skills asked of Rectors of large parishes. Fortunately I have had a lot of experience in the secular world managing staffs and other admin duties – but that’s not why I became a Priest! It’s part of the job, though, part of the expectations placed on Episcopal clergy (and other denominations certainly). And even though we have many, many Priests who are quite good at it, very competent in those areas, the question is not “can” they do it, but “should” they do it.

And please hear me clearly – this is not a whine! I love (LOVE) where I am right now and enjoy going to work every day, even with the headaches that are sure to come. I really mean that. However, that still does not mean we have this right. Do we just expect our clergy to have all those gifts – preaching, pastoral care, teaching, sacramental presence, and killer admin skills?

One thing I had promised myself 10 years ago when I was ordained, is that I would not be one of those preachers who waits until Saturday to write a sermon. And recognizing that only I can control my own calendar (in most cases) I am here to confess that is exactly the situation I find myself in most weeks. And I hate it. Now it’s true that I read the lectionary lessons early in the week, that I jot down ideas when they come to me, that I spend some reflection time on what to say, but it is now my typical week to write the sermon on Friday (my day off) or Saturday. This is unfair to my family and to me and really to my church. They need more than that from me, yet the administrative demands of a place like this, with Rector-as-CEO as the norm, has put me right where I swore I would never be. And I mean to change that. I love preaching. I love teaching. I don’t love not being able to give the amount of time required to do both well.

And to be brutally honest what has been pushed further on the back burner in my life than anything else has been the time I spend in prayer! That is obviously a recipe for disaster! Recognizing that, I began last week scheduling prayer time on my calendar (sad to think it takes such steps). Of course I pray at other times and pray often for and with parishioners and folks in need,  and that has not stopped. But dedicated time in prayer, alone with God, well frankly I have let other duties and obligations overshadow that time, and that MUST CHANGE.

In the 6th chapter of the book of Acts, the 12 disciples are faced with some administrative problems. There was a complaint that some groups of people in need were receiving more help than others. Instead of putting this on the vestry agenda or hiring a consultant or building a consensus for a best approach or even just making an administrative decision on how to correct the problem, the disciples call the whole congregation together and tell them, basically, this is not part of our job description. They say, “We should not give up preaching God’s message in order to serve at tables. My friends, choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God’s Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things. We can spend our time praying and serving God by preaching.”

Now this may sound like the disciples felt those duties were beneath them. That’s not the case when you see the type of people they wanted to step up to the task. Instead, the disciples recognize what their true role was, what their gifts were, and what God had called them to spend their time on – praying and preaching.

There’s a model for ya!

Some of this is economic in nature. Rectors of most of our largest churches are paid quite well. With that salary comes the expectation, of course, that they will be the chief administrator, the CEO of the parish. I wonder if some of them have managed to move the admin stuff to someone else on staff? I would love to hear about that.

And please hear this – this is in no way saying that Rectors / Vicars of smaller churches don’t get strapped with tons of “non-seminary-trained” stuff. The priests in those places have to wear a LOT of hats, from plumber to pastor and everything in between, including “waiting on tables”. This question applies equally to them.

I am blessed to be at a big church that not only has a great staff, but we also have dedicated lay folks who work very hard with me on budget and finance and other administrative matters. Even so, the Acts 6 message keeps whispering in my ear. Is there a better way? A way that makes more sense to the call and gifts we each have? This is not about being “good at” something. It’s mostly about roles and expectations and how to best allocate the most precious resource we all have – time.

I don’t know. I hope so. Meanwhile, St. James’ folks – here is my promise to you. For the remainder of my time with you, dedicated prayer time, work on sermons and Bible studies and Inquirer’s classes will not be last on my agenda, they will be first (along with pastoral care and the like). You deserve that from me. And I know and understand the current expectations regarding the administrative tasks and they will not be neglected. Most of all, from time to time you will be unable to reach me because I will be praying – in the chapel, in my office, on a walk. I believe I will be a better priest for it.