Archive for June, 2017

A Day in the Life

Monday, June 26th, 2017

The life of the parish priest is never dull.

In one 24-hour period last week, I joined in the conferring of the Eagle Scout rank to a parishioner, had coffee with the editor of a national church magazine, officiated at the funeral of a retired police officer from the 17th Precinct (which I serve as clergy liaison), and visited a rousing Family Friday party. These activities were in addition to the usual weekday service, meetings, etc.

No wonder that we clergy are so grateful for our vocations–we can’t believe we get paid for what we do!   —J. Douglas Ousley


Socialism Reconsidered

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

I have always been struck by a major difference between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United Sates: the way clergy are paid. In England, all clergy receive basically the same salary or “stipend;” there are minor increases over the base for bishops and for clergy in London.

This wage is not high–equalling around $40,000 a year. A clergy family of four would qualify for public assistance, though they do receive housing in most cases.

Despite the low stipends, I have heard many English clergy claim their system is morally superior to the American scheme, whereby clergy in affluent parishes can make much higher salaries than those in poor areas. But a recent book by Dean Martyn Percy of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford claims that the Church of England would be rejuvenated by the American system, which would reward initiative and encourage church growth.

This is not to deny the moral value of the egalitarian formula. But, practically speaking, giving all clergy a substandard wage buys equality without fairness–and it does little to recruit new young clergy, which the Church of England desperately needs. At a time of increasingly left-of-center politics in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, the “capitalist” proposal by the very prominent liberal, Dean Percy is intriguing. —J. Douglas Ousley


Homeless in Murray Hill–III

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

My first boss in the church would often say, if you complimented him on one of his sermons, “I always preach to myself.”

I certainly do the same. And I find the topics of my sermons regularly hit home in unexpected ways.

As it happens, I preached last Sunday on the problem of the homeless in our neighborhood. Lo and behold, two days later, I found myself arguing with a gentleman who has been sleeping regularly on our property. I suggested as I have many times that he find some other place to sleep, since the neighbors have complained. Although the man is young and apparently healthy, he appears to have significant mental issues. He certainly gets very angry at me.

What should I do? I can’t let the church become a campground. This man needs far more help with his life than I can give him. He is also potentially a danger to passers-by. I have contacted a friend in the local police precinct, but I know the police have little authority over the homeless.

What should I do? Nothing in my sermon answered that question. Suggestions welcome!–J. Douglas Ousley


Homeless in Murray Hill–II

Monday, June 5th, 2017

I’m preaching an old sermon this Sunday; it’s entitled, “Street People.” The sermon is about the Good Samaritan parable and how it might be applied to daily life. This message got a fair amount of feedback at the time, and a version was eventually published in the Christian Century magazine.

I rarely repeat sermons, as the context of sermons changes so rapidly that God’s message to a given moment may not apply to a different moment, even a few years later.

But I am curious to see how my early-90’s thoughts stand the test of time today, when we in Manhattan are facing a new flood of street people. Pope Francis recently had some noble words about always engaging in some way with beggars on the street. Many of us (who spend a lot more time navigating popular thoroughfares than the Pope does) may find his advice inadequate.

That said, I am still thinking about the proper Christian response to people on the street. —J. Douglas Ousley