Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hurricane Florence & Episcopal Relief & Development

Hurricane Florence 2018: How Can I Help?
from Episcopal Relief & Development

As I sit in Charlotte, North Carolina, I understand the roller coaster of emotions felt by people throughout many states bordering the Atlantic - concern, anxiety, relief, renewed concern - as forecasts and models for Hurricane Florence morphed and cast the Cone of Uncertainty in different directions in the days before it made landfall. Like you, I am now deeply saddened to see the devastation experienced in the Carolinas, which will likely grow worse as rivers and waterways continue to rise.

When we see images of people suffering, we want to do something to help. Of course we do. As Christians, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all people and never more so than in times of crisis.

For those impacted by Hurricane Florence, please follow the advice of your local authorities. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Otherwise, you won’t be able to help anyone else later on. As the airlines remind us: “Put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others.”

For those of us observing and praying from lesser impacted areas and from areas untouched by Florence, it’s important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Equally important to remember, as with many things in life: Timing can be everything. Understanding the phases following a disaster can be useful in determining how you can help.

After most disasters there are three distinct, if sometimes overlapping, phases: Rescue, Relief and Recovery.

Phase 1 - Rescue

The Rescue phase focuses on saving lives and securing property. It is most acute in those parts of a region that are directly flooded or damaged. Police, fire departments and other government agencies are best able to do this work. They have training and expertise, and they have equipment that can clear roads and debris and find people. The Rescue phase can take one to two weeks, sometimes longer.

In the case of Hurricane Florence, the rescue phase is just beginning. It can be heartbreaking to watch, I know. However, I urge all of us to be patient. Please pray for those who are suffering and for the professionals who are risking their lives to save others. Fortunately, many people people evacuated from the coastal and low-lying areas in North and South Carolina, and professionals are rescuing many who became trapped by rapidly rising waters.

Phase 2 - Relief

Next is the Relief phase. We and our partners begin preparing for this phase once we understand the magnitude of an event. During this phase, the local church will be one of the first places people go to seek assistance and shelter. Because they are prepared and experienced in disaster response, we know that our partners in the impacted dioceses will be active in the Relief phase. This is where Episcopal Relief & Development can support our partners.

Phase 3 - Recovery

Eventually, we get to the third and final phase: Recovery. During this period, the emphasis shifts to restoring services, repairing houses and buildings, returning individuals to self-sufficiency and rebuilding communities. Hurricane Florence presents two challenges in this regard. First, the double whammy of Rescue on top of Recovery: many communities that are now being inundated with rain and rising water from Hurricane Florence are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew’s impact in 2016.

The second challenge of the Recovery phase is that most of the television cameras and attention have moved on, but the human suffering has grown. It is a chronic state, not a crisis. However, this is the phase in which the Church excels. Our churches are part of the communities that have been impacted and can best identify needs and work with the community to address them efficiently and effectively.

This may still leave you wondering: How can I help?

Financial Support

Now is the time to offer financial support. Contributing to Episcopal Relief & Development will ensure that we have enough resources to support the work of our church partners as they serve the most vulnerable in their communities. They are best positioned to assess needs and timing for response efforts.

One of the immediate ways Episcopal Relief & Development and our partners help individuals is by handing out gift cards to local stores so that people can choose what they need the most. It not only affords people dignity but it also helps stimulate the local economy, which needs to recover post-disaster.


The best approach is to wait until those affected have indicated what kind of support is most needed and whether they are ready to house and utilize volunteers. Inserting ourselves at the appropriate time alleviates additional stress and complications that can actually make things worse. If you think you would like to volunteer please register with Episcopal Relief & Development’s Ready to Serve database. This list of volunteers will be shared with the impacted dioceses once they are ready to use and support volunteers. They will contact you if and when they need help.

Donating Goods

My firm recommendation is don’t do it. Piles of discarded clothing in parking lots after Hurricane Katrina and SuperStorm Sandy teach us not to send clothes or shoes or things. After major disasters, diocesan staff have limited capacity to receive, store or distribute donated goods. Here’s a great article about the challenges of communities receiving donated goods: here.

Getting Prepared

As a reminder, September is National Preparedness Month. If were not impacted directly by Hurricane Florence, now is a great opportunity for you and your loved ones to prepare for disasters. Check out these helpful resources and tips: here. You can select 1 or 2 things to do each week. By the end of the month, you will feel less anxiety and more prepared to face a sudden disaster or event.

An effective response requires us to discern what is most helpful and appropriate at any given time. Let’s continue to hold those directly impacted in our hearts and prayers throughout their recovery, long after the media images fade.

The bishops from impacted dioceses in the Carolinas shared a joint statement on the challenges of sending donated goods and unaffiliated volunteers from outside the region at this time.


Sermon: September 23

O God, I do not know what to ask of you. You alone know my true needs and love me more than I know how to love. I ask neither for cross nor consolation, but only that I may discern and do your will. Teach me to wait in patience with an open heart, knowing that your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Help me to see where I have erected idols of certitude to defend myself from the demands of your ever unfolding truth: truth you have made known to us in the one who is the truth, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (After Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, 1867)

Doing God’s will is hard. Put politics and religion together, sometimes it can be harder still to discern the way.

In the news this week, away from these shores, the Russian Orthodox Church announced it will no longer take part in structures chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. As one Russian Bishop put it, "Essentially this is a breakdown of relations. To take an example from secular life, the decision is roughly equivalent to cutting diplomatic ties…"

Why all the fuss?

Because part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wants to become its own national body, not linked through Moscow, which it has been. The Russian Orthodox Church wants no one meddling in its affairs and it sees the reaching out by the Ecumenical Patriarch to that church as part of that effort.

Discerning God’s will for our lives is not easy. Churches have a hard time with it, just as we do. In fact, we spend most of our lives trying to make sure we are indeed on the right path, following God’s will and truth for our lives.

Which makes me think of the words from Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 Senatorial Speech: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

That is our challenge. To make sure we are on God’s side, and not serving some idol we have erected to our certitude. To see the needs that are before us and to hear God’s call to us…

It was one of the worst industrial disasters in American history. On March 25, 1911, a fire destroyed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC. Crowds watched in horror as the fire raced through the building, killing 146 workers, many of them jumping to their deaths from the eighth, ninth and tenth floors. Triangle was a sweatshop, employing young immigrant women who worked in a cramped space at lines of sewing machines; they worked 12 hours a day for a mere $15 a week.

One of the onlookers that day was Frances Perkins, a 31-year-old wife and mother from an upper-class family, who had been lobbing with vigor for better working hours and conditions for laborers. She was having tea with friends nearby when the fire broke out and Mrs. Perkins and company ran to the scene. The fire and its aftershocks left a deep mark on Frances Perkins and it played a pivotal role in her life, galvanizing her advocacy for workers. Frances Perkins was an active member of her Episcopal church.

As David Brooks writes in his book The Road to Character:

"Up until that point [Frances Perkins] had lobbied for worker rights and on behalf of the poor, but she had been on a conventional trajectory, toward a conventional marriage, perhaps, and a life of genteel good works. After the fire, what had been a career turned into a vocation. Moral indignation set her on a different course. Her own desires and her own self became less central and the cause itself became more central to the structure of her life."

Indeed, Frances would use politics to fulfill the work of faith that she felt we needed to have in our country and that she believed God led her to do.

“Frances Perkins became Labor Secretary from 1933 to 1945 under Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. As Secretary of Labor, she was the prime mover of the New Deal, championing a social safety net to the elderly, minimum wage, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), unemployment insurance, a shorter work week, and worker safety regulations. It is said that she wrote the Social Security Act in the rectory of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

She has been called Roosevelt’s moral conscience. Donn Mitchell, suggests she was the “most overtly religious and theologically articulate member of the New Deal team.” Throughout her 12 years as Secretary she took a monthly retreat with the Episcopal order of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, with whom she was a lay associate member.

“I came to Washington to serve God, FDR, and millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said. Her theology of generosity informed her professional life and, in turn, transformed the lives of millions of Americans.

“When friends once questioned why it was important to help the poor, Frances responded that it was what Jesus would want them to do.” - Heidi Shott

I think Frances Perkins understood what God wanted her to do. She heard the call and she followed it…

Then they came to Capernaum; and when Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

A child was one who was without status in the society of Jesus day, no protections; they were vulnerable, powerless and so often ignored. Jesus makes the point that if we want to be first, then we shall serve, if we want to follow God’s will, then we are to find those vulnerable in our society, widows and orphans, people suffering and separated from one another, and to welcome them, love them, just as Jesus did, for that is following and welcoming God’s will into our lives.

Frances Perkins heard the call of God in the plight of the powerless: the poor and abused workers. She took on her cross in the spirit of Jesus' humble servanthood and used politics to help others. Christ calls us to take up our own crosses in the everyday joys and sorrows we live in our homes, churches, schools and communities.

To put aside our own self-importance to bring dignity, comfort and hope to another, to work to bring forth and affirm the gifts of others, to seek reconciliation before all else is to be the servant leader who welcomes God into their midst by welcoming the most vulnerable.

May we in our own way follow the will of God today and like Frances Perkins who in faithfulness to her baptism sought to build a society in which all may live in health and decency: may we contend tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in our own time, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Remembering Frances Perkins

icon by Tobias Haller
Readings for Her Day:

Her biography:

and story:

her ministry and work (Architect of the Gracious Society):

More details here:

Also here:

Personal Witness (a Prayer by Christina Rossetti)

Lord Jesus Christ, make those who love you, and who love you in return, mirrors of you to those who are unloving; that being drawn to your image they may reproduce it in themselves, light reflecting light, love kindling love, until God is all in all. Amen.

(After Christina Rossetti, 1894 from Frank T. Griswold's: Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion, 2009)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Refugees & the Episcopal Church

Presiding Bishop, church respond to further cuts to the US refugee resettlement program

The United States was a worldwide leader in refugee resettlement just two years ago, when more than 80,000 refugees were welcomed into the country with help from the nine agencies with federal contracts to do that work, including Episcopal Migration Ministries. That number has dwindled under the Trump administration, which announced Sept. 17 it would reduce resettlement further, to just 30,000 a year.

The Episcopal Church has a long history of standing with refugees, people who are fleeing violence, war and political and religious persecution, and on Sept. 18 the church expressed its disappointment at the reduced cap on the number of refugees.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, we are saddened by this decision,” Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry said in a written statement. “Our hearts and our prayers are with those thousands of refugees who, due to this decision, will not be able to find new life in the United States. This decision by the government does not reflect the care and compassion of Americans who welcome refugees in their communities every day. Our faith calls us to love God and love our neighbor, so we stand ready to help all those we can in any way we can.”

Read more here.

To learn more about the church’s involvement in refugee resettlement, click here.

St. Peter's has supported IRIS which is a local partner with Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), you can find out more here.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon: September 16

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. – In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of his role as a teacher, to sustain the weary with the words he uses.

Our second reading from the letter of James reminds us that “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”

Our tongues, the words we use, are to be for the benefit others. Sadly, our words spoken and those we write (mostly through our social media habits) often are not. They represent our partisan or tribal interests, we demonize the other side, we curse those made in God’s image for they do not believe like we believe.

James is right we often get in trouble for the words we say, giving poison instead of healing words.

When Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him… “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

But as Jesus taught them about what was to come, Peter took him aside and rebuked Jesus. But Jesus turned for all to hear and rebuked Peter, reminding him to keep his mind on heavenly things and not earthly.

The words we use matter, especially we can sustain the weary, when we offer a blessing instead of a curse. And as followers of Jesus, that is part of our calling too.

Mister Rogers was once asked to meet a boy with cerebral palsy. The boy was unable to talk or walk - but he not only suffered physically but emotionally. Some of those entrusted with his care made him feel responsible for his illness, that only a very bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with. When the boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother on the computer he used to communicate that he didn't want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn't like what was inside him any more than he did.

The boy had always loved Mister Rogers, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on; the boy's mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive.

On a trip to California, Fred Rogers made time to meet the boy. At first, the boy was very anxious about meeting Mister Rogers. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers arrived, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself. His mother had to take him to another room and calm him down. But Mister Rogers didn't leave. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then made this request: "I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?"

On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, "I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?" The boy was thunderstruck. Nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers. At first he didn't know if he could do it, but he said he would, he said he'd try, and ever since that day he kept Mister Rogers in his prayers and didn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figured Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers liked him, then that must mean God liked him, too.

When a reporter who was there complimented Mister Rogers on how beautifully he boosted the boy's self-esteem, Fred Rogers saw the situation much differently. "Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession." [From "Can You Say . . . Hero?" by Tom Junod, Esquire, November 1998.]

Words matter. Mr. Rogers knows this and in a simple gesture helps a young man in his life, he sustained him in a beautiful way, and likewise was sustained himself. We are called to help each other.

One pastor calls it the “church downstairs.” For years, Alcoholic Anonymous has met in the church hall every day of the week, sometimes twice a day. The supportive pastor started thinking of those meetings as the “church downstairs” after a new parishioner told him how she came to join the parish after first going “downstairs” for several months. The priest occasionally sits in on the meetings and it has helped him understand what it means to be “church.” Three things about AA have struck him:

First, there is a “genuine and low-key sense” of welcoming. But it is not simply a matter of a designated greeter shaking every new hand. In fact, “AA is at its most hospitable after the meeting is over. No one is bolting for the door when the last word is pronounced. Instead, people stay around for another cup of coffee, especially if someone new has joined them.”

The second thing the pastor has noticed is how the “church downstairs” rallies around the weak, the powerless, and the hurting. “Even those some might relegate to the social fringe are met with acceptance in the group, not least because a common denominator — We are all powerless over alcohol — remains central.”

And the third thing that Alcoholics Anonymous groups demonstrate so well, the pastor admires, is “the belief that everyone has a story to tell and a right to be heard. This belief is essential not only to the Twelve Steps, but to the sense of commonality and communion that is generated in the group. Everyone can learn something from another person’s story . . . ”

Welcoming strangers. Lifting the weak and struggling. Listening to what everyone has to say. Maybe that’s why they need more chairs at the “church downstairs.” [From “The Church Downstairs: What Catholics Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous” by Father Nonomen, Commonweal, July 13, 2012.]

Taking up the cross of Jesus, mirrors Jesus' call to us in baptism, to take up his work in the service we give and the respect we afford to others through our words. As Fred Rogers understood by requesting this suffering boy's prayers, only in putting ourselves in the humble service of the poorest and neediest, of the forgotten and the rejected, can we come to know the love of God in our lives. By offering comforting words to the weary, in a community of support, AA becomes the church downstairs.

May we do the same upstairs here and in our own lives. Before you speak, before you post, think about your words, the meme you are about to post. Does it sustain the weary? Is it a blessing or a curse? Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018



The head of the family having called together as many of the family as can conveniently be present, let one of them, or any other whom they shall think proper, say as follows.

OUR Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular we will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which we believe the Holy Spirit has shown us to be right. And as we cannot in our own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, we look to you, O Lord God, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Grant us patience, O Lord, to follow the road you have taken. Let our confidence not rest in our own understanding but in your guiding hand; let our desires not be for our own comfort, but for the joy of your kingdom; for your cross is our hope and our joy now and unto the day of eternity. Amen.

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.