June 17th, 2013
The English have word for churches that no longer function as worship sites; they call them, “disused.”
In the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, where I vacationed recently, there are many such buildings in little hamlets and towns that have suffered population decline over the years. Near my cottage, churches have become, respectively, an art school, a law office, a town office, and a residence.
This process can’t help but seem sad to Christians, though it is hardly new. When Incarnation was built in 1864, there were four other Episcopal churches within a couple of blocks. One relocated uptown; the others (including an oddly named Zion Episcopal Church, of which I own an engraving) have all disappeared.
All the more reason to be grateful that our building is still here–and still, day in and day out, used for prayer to our God. –J. Douglas Ousley
June 3rd, 2013
Proposals of names for Suffragan Bishop of New York close this week. The Nominating Committee will spend the summer sifting through the suggestions, interviewing some, checking references and background, and submitting a list of five or so final candidates to be considered at the December 7 election. As the short list should only be out in October, the most intense campaigning won’t begin until then.
It will be interesting to see who is proposed–especially since the current Bishop of New York was not nominated by last year’s committee and had to be proposed from the floor. My guess would be that the nominees will be all over the diversity spectrum but that the strongest candidate will be: female (to balance male bishop),minority in some way (to balance straight white bishop), and older (so as to be retiring relatively soon if she turned out to be a problem!)
More substantially, I would bet that the winner will be someone with a track record of congregational development and church growth. Politics very definitely aside, that is what we need in this diocese. –J. Douglas Ousley
May 21st, 2013
A visit from the new Bishop of Pittsburgh reminded me how full the average bishop’s schedule is. Bishop Dorsey McConnell had received an honorary doctorate the night before coming to Incarnation for an elaborate ordination in our church. Following a reception in our parish house, he rushed to Newark Airport where he was to have dinner with a clergyperson before boarding a plane that would get him into Pittsburgh some time after midnight.
The previous week, the bishop had been in Uganda as part of another ministry he is involved in. And he is stretched even though, because of a split some years ago, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is one of the smallest dioceses in the Episcopal Church.
A salutary reminder to those of us who are prone to criticize our bishops that their public ministries (and their unseen work of sorting out parish and clergy crises) would exhaust most people. If they fail to do some things we might like them to do, they do succeed in doing many things we are glad we don’t have to do. –J. Douglas Ousley
May 14th, 2013
The listserve for priests in the Episcopal Diocese of New York recently discussed all the Sunday morning events that now compete with church services for peoples’ attention. The AIDS Walk this Sunday will attract thousands of participants, including some 900 Episcopalians. The MS Bike Tour May 5 involved many others, besides tying up traffic all over New York City. Add other sporting events and birthday parties, brunches, and other social occasions–not to mention weekend getaways and overtime at the office–and church often finds itself second-best.
If I knew what to do about this, I would do it. Sunday evening worship helps a bit, as do church events during the week. But, as far as I know, the church still needs to find new ways to win the attention of modern people distracted by contemporary alternatives to the formal worship of God. –J. Douglas Ousley
May 7th, 2013
The bar debate last night was about the following resolution: “Resolved: The Anglican Communion is too progressive.” I’ll have more to say about this discussion another time. I’d like to make a rather different comment now.
The liberal-conservative, progressive-traditional split in the Episcopal Church which was the subject of the debate tends not to be present in most parishes, especially in Manhattan. Here, the individual churches tend to one side or the other, and the rectors follow that pattern. So do the assistants appointed by the rectors.
Here at Incarnation, we have almost always had rectors on the conservative side politically and assistants on the liberal side. I’ve been asked more than once why I don’t appoint a fellow conservative as a colleague. This is, I believe, the universal practice in the other Manhattan parishes.
My answer is that I want laypeople of all political persuasions to feel comfortable at Incarnation. One way to insure that comfort is to provide and breadth and inclusiveness to the clergy. I think that’s the best way to go, even if some questions remain unresolved. –J. Douglas Ousley
May 3rd, 2013
While I was in Washington last weekend to officiate at a family wedding, I took a long walk along the Mall. I was particularly interested in the FDR Memorial which I had never seen.
Incarnation has historic connections with both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; Eleanor was confirmed at Incarnation and her marriage to Franklin is recorded in our register. Moreover, the Broad Church mission of our parish in the 19th century heyday of Murray Hill anticipate the noblesse oblige liberalism of both Roosevelts.
Like the neighboring new memorial to Martin Luther King, the FDR memorial is distinctly modern and, to my mind, distinctly odd. A weird statue of sitting Franklin with an even stranger portrait of Eleanor far off–sculptures placed amid random walls of rough stones and quotes from FDR’s speeches.
Perhaps future ages will value this memorial more than I do. They certainly will remember the courage and political grace of Franklin and Eleanor. –J. Douglas Ousley
April 16th, 2013
Incarnation has historic and current links with Trinity Church Boston, the great edifice seen in the background of some of the bombing video. The Rev. Phillips Brooks, the famous rector of Trinity often visited Incarnation, where his brother Arthur was rector in the late 19th century. In our church, we have a huge statue of Phillips, and the memorial to Arthur was designed by H.H. Richardson, the architect of Trinity Church; the stone in the memorial even looks like the exterior of Trinity.
In recent times, two members of Trinity regularly visit Incarnation as they have a pied-a-terre nearby; they were in church last Sunday. A third member of Trinity is active on the Board of Incarnation Center. And a fourth member wrote me only yesterday to get information on some of our programs.
All seven Marathon runners from the parish are safe. Our prayers and thought go out to members of Trinity and all citizens of Boston. –J. Douglas Ousley
April 15th, 2013
I was preaching yesterday about discipleship and the Christian obligation to sacrifice personal gains in order to serve God. I contrasted our congregation’s relative lack of sacrifice with those made by Peter and the first disciples, who were martyred for their faith.
I happened also to mention the Christians in Nigeria and Egypt today who were being persecuted by Muslim extremists. It turned out that there was a group of seven Egyptian Christians in church that morning. They were pleased to be recognized and couldn’t wait to tell me that they were members of the Coptic Church.
Small world, large Church. –J. Douglas Ousley
April 3rd, 2013
The Romans had a saying, Vestis virum facit: “Clothes make the man.”
Clergy have long been known for their distinctive dress, but rarely has so much attention has been devoted to our sartorial choices as in the case of Pope Francis. His disinclination to wear the papal “pallium” and satin shoes is not surprising, given that Francis was disinclined to wear the purple shirt of a bishop. This accords with the Pope’s simplicity that was noted in the previous post.
This practice also contrasts with the specially designed garments worn by the Archbishop of Canterbury at his enthronement, featuring three blue pastel fish biting each other’s tails. I suppose there is a reference to the Holy Trinity here, but one might find another message of clerical self-importance. –J. Douglas Ousley
March 28th, 2013
A clergy friend of mine happened by coincidence to be in Rome this month, attending a conference. An even greater coincidence had him staying at the same clerical residence where the new Pope was residing before he was elected. My friend was able to shake Francis’ hand when he left the residence to assume his new duties.
As the Pope departed, many observers noted that he carried his own bag. Commentators rightly noted that this reflected a humility not always evident in the highest prelates of the Church.
Whatever Francis does or says in the years ahead, we may hope that his gesture won’t be forgotten. And as Easter approaches, may we all carry our own baggage of sin to the Cross, and may we all accept the gift of new life in our Risen Savior. –J. Douglas Ousley