Category Archives: Catholic Evangelism

#TractSwarm Four: The Heart of 21st Century Anglican Catholicity

“The real development of theology is . . . the process in which the Church, standing firm in her old truths, enters into the apprehension of the new social and intellectual movements of each age . . . and is able to assimilate all new material, to welcome and give its place to all new knowledge, to throw herself into the sanctification of each new social order, bringing forth out of her treasures things new and old, and showing again and again her power of witnessing under changed conditions to the catholic capacity of her faith and life.” ~ Lux Mundi: A series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation (Charles Gore, ed.), Preface to the 1st Edition, 1889.

anglo_catholic_liturgy_2The Society Facebook Page regularly gets messages and posts from people asking if we are “real priests” and, if so, if we can answer a question about something. Several of our members get questions regularly, when people see the name of our Society, about whether they are some kind of ecumenical group for Roman Catholics and Anglicans. We seem to go back and forth in Chapter meetings and other gatherings of the Society, debating the finer points of a well-made cassock and then debating whether we should be debating about wearing cassocks! Many members are clear that they are not interested in a “gin and lace” group… while, at the same time, a good number of our members enjoy good gin and well-made lace.

What does it mean to say we are Catholic Anglicans? When we say that one of the twin aims of the Society is Catholic Evangelism… what does that actually mean? Does it mean being evangelistic within our church for the Catholic tradition? Does it mean using the Catholic tradition as the source of our evangelistic efforts outside of the church?

Most importantly, what is at the heart of catholicity for the 21st century Anglican?

This is the Theme for our 7th Annual Conference, October 7-10, 2015, in Denver. What is at the heart of Catholicity?

For our Fourth #TractSwarm, we are asking for your thoughts on this question. What is at the heart of the theology and practice of Catholic Anglicans today? What is the most important message of the Catholic tradition of our church to the broader body? What, for you, is at the core of why you identify as a Catholic?

Post your essay to your own blog with the hashtag #TractSwarm—and be sure to use the TractSwarm logo below to mark your essay as a part of this project. You can simply cut and paste the following code into the end of your post:

<a href=”http://www.thescp.org/tracts/” target=”_blank”><img border=”0″ src=”http://www.thescp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tractswarm.jpg” width=”100%” /></a>

After you are done posting your essay, then e-mail a link to our Communications Director, Fr. Jared Cramer. As people write posts, he will list them below…

Swarm on!


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Posts on #TractSwarm Four: The Heart of 21st Century Anglican Catholicity
Posted in the order they were written.

#TractSwarm Three: Prayer Book Revision

It is a most invaluable part of that blessed “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people,” according to the various exigency of times and occasions.” ~ Preface to the BCP, page 9

Title Page of the 1662 BCP

Title Page of the 1662 BCP

In many ways, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was a realization of many of the aims of the Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion. Communion was once more located as the central act of worship on Sundays and other Major Feasts. The office was restored and expanded. New pastoral rites were added along with a much fuller traditional observance of Holy Week. And, as the years have gone one, chasubles, candles, and many of the components of Anglo-Catholic worship are now common and uncontroversial.

At the same time, those who lived through the transition to the 1979 BCP remember how controversial it was. It was a difficult time to be a priest—exciting, perhaps—but hard.

As the Episcopal Church prepares for her 78th General Convention, one of the questions being considered is whether or not it is time for a further revision to the prayer book. Everything from gender-inclusive language to a new BCP rite for marriage has been suggested.

What is needed? Does the current Book of Common Prayer remain sufficient for our time? Is there a need for a revision, whether small or large? Or, like in some other parts of the Communion, are the days of one shared book of worship slipping away with supplemental liturgies taking the place? There have been times where the Anglo-Catholic movement has been seen as the home of much inattention to the rubrics and rules of the BCP—is that still the case?

What does Common Prayer need to look like in the Episcopal Church today—and what should General Convention be focusing on to help further that end?

For our third #TractSwarm, we are asking our members to write blog posts about their own thoughts as priests, deacons, bishops, religious, or seminarians on these questions. What do we, as the church in the 21st century believe should happen with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer?

We’d particularly invite our Canadian members to chime in—your experience of a different book can shed some light on these questions for us in the United States.

Post your essay to your own blog with the hashtag #TractSwarm—and be sure to use the TractSwarm logo below to mark your essay as a part of this project. You can simply cut and paste the following code into the end of your post:

<a href=”http://www.thescp.org/tracts/” target=”_blank”><img border=”0″ src=”http://www.thescp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tractswarm.jpg” width=”100%” /></a>

After you are done posting your essay, then e-mail a link to our Communications Director, Fr. Jared Cramer. As people write posts, he will list them below…

Swarm on!


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Posts on #TractSwarm Three: Prayer Book Revision
Posted in the order they were written.

#TractSwarm One: The Sacrament of Reconciliation

the-sacrament-of-reconciliation“All may. Some should. None must.” This aphorism regarding the practice of private confession is one of the most potent and popular in the Episcopal Church. But does it actually represent what we believe as Episcopalians regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

During Lent, many churches hear the Exhortation, including the call to avail yourself of “a discreet and understanding priest” when you are particularly burdened. It urges the faithful to careful preparation for the reception of Holy Eucharist.

For our first #TractSwarm, we are asking our members to write blog posts about their experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Is it a part of your life? Should it be a part of the life of every Episcopalian? Is the aphorism above accurate… or is it time to revisit the way we talk about this Sacrament?

Post your essay to your own blog with the hashtag #TractSwarm—and be sure to use the TractSwarm logo below to mark your essay as a part of this project. You can simply cut and paste the following code into the end of your post:

<a href=”http://www.thescp.org/tracts/” target=”_blank”><img border=”0″ src=”http://www.thescp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tractswarm.jpg” width=”100%” /></a>

After you are done posting your essay, then e-mail a link to our Communications Director, Fr. Jared Cramer. As people write posts, he will list them below…

Swarm on!


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Posts on #TractSwarm One: The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Posted in the order they were written.

Advent 2 & Ferguson

The Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting, Assisting Bishop of Chicago

The Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting, Assisting Bishop of Chicago

Advent 2, Trinity Cathedral, Davenport Iowa

On this Second Sunday of Advent, our Presiding Bishop has asked us to remember the victims of the Ebola virus, especially in West Africa, and to pray for our church’s efforts to combat this dread disease. I had even prepared something on that… but now feel that I cannot avoid addressing a disease affecting us even closer to home.

I speak of the deepening racial divide in this country spotlighted by recent Grand Jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to bring indictments against certain police officers involved in the deaths of two Black men.

Some of us, deeply mindful of the difficult and dangerous job law enforcement officers have, and of the fact that they put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, are content with the fact that provisions are made in the law to give the police permission to use deadly force, even the responsibility to use deadly force though tragedies sometimes occur in the application of such measures…such as the killing of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy in Cleveland who displayed a realistic-looking toy gun.

Some of us, deeply conscious of the sad legacy of slavery and segregation in this country, the effects of which are still with us, are saddened that such incidents remind especially African Americans of the bad old days of lynching and of the more recent heavy handed policing in the years leading up to and including the civil rights demonstrations we all remember so well.

All of us, it seems to me, must admit that there remains a huge chasm between the majority and minority communities in this country which, for all the progress we have made, does not seem to be narrowing or overcome but simply bubbling right below the surface just waiting for an emotionally charged act to occur in order to erupt once again.

From the Rodney King affair in the early 1990s to the O. J. Simpson trial to the more recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, study after study reveal the fact that White and Black Americans view these things in almost completely opposite ways, not so much because of the “facts on the ground” (which in most cases will always be disputed) but because of personal experiences each of us has had and the very different histories we have lived out, even though we are citizens of the same great country.

I wish I had solutions to suggest for healing this great divide. I do not. But as one who grew up in the deep South and drank in the legacies of slavery and segregation with my mother’s milk, I know that the effects of these things are far from over and that we will never be the “one nation under God” we claim to be until they are. I know that “quick fixes” like body cameras on police officers will not solve the problem. And my Faith tells me that only repentance and forgiveness, the building of personal relationships and the hard work of reconciliation will begin the process of healing that we so desperately need.

Hmmm…repentance and forgiveness…relationships and reconciliation. Those sound like Advent themes to me.

I wonder if you would be willing to join me in a couple of minutes of silent reflection about what you could do, in these dark days, to try and become part of the solution instead of part of the problem in our racially divided land. Are there things you need to repent of? Someone you need to forgive (even the stranger…or an “enemy”)?

Is there some way you can build a relationship with someone who is very different (maybe even of a different color) than you? What would reconciliation look like… in your family…in your neighborhood…in THIS neighborhood…and in our country? Let’s think about these things together in silence for a little bit…

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…

Let us pray,
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Right Rev. C. Christopher Epting is Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Chicago. Though not a member of the Society, he has affinities for much that we hold dear and submitted this post in the hope of saying something worthwhile in this troubled time.

Anchor and Visionary: Models for Church Leadership

Fr. Ryan Whitley

Recently I was asked to prepare some remarks for a continuing education conference I attend every year called, “Gathering of Leaders.” One of the very great things about this conference is that while the year’s theme is decided by a governing board, the content of each “Gathering” is user driven. This year, I was asked to prepare remarks for a “Returnee’s Panel,” wherein I and two others who had attended several “Gatherings” would offer our thoughts to first-timers on why we keep coming back. While my talk was given without a manuscript, this is more or less a written adaptation of what I’d said.

I am a firm believer in the idea that most church leaders (lay and ordained) can be divided into two categories: anchors and visionaries. Anchors are those leaders who root us to our past; keep us firmly grounded in our sacred traditions; remind us of our history; call us to attend to our scriptures with focused learning; celebrate our sacraments with a grounded understanding of their significance and a high theology of their continued efficaciousness in our lives. Because they are leaders, the very best of our ecclesiastical anchors do all of this with a strong sense of purpose rather than meaningless fussiness; with a love for the historical that never strays to idolatry; with a clear grasp on the narrative arc and importance of scripture while not forgetting that God is even bigger than we can write Him; and with a reverence for our sacramental rituals that is adoring more than it is adorned.

However, if the church were comprised solely of anchors, then we would fail in the mission Christ set before us. For the metaphor would hold true and the ship of Christianity would be stuck in the mud and be able to go nowhere. This is why we need our visionaries.

Visionaries are those leaders who dream us into the possibilities of the future; who keep us moving when we would much rather remain comfortable and secure; who challenge us to live into and beyond the accomplishments of our holy predecessors; who ask the provocative questions that call us to think about our theology in a quickly and ever-changing world in which circumstance and technology can seem to be leaving the relevance of scripture behind; who take our sacraments and rituals routinely beyond the walls of our churches of stone and wood with a strong sense of mission informed by the shrinking nature of our world geography. Because they are leaders, the very best of our ecclesiastical visionaries do all this with a great hope of what could be while appreciating the gifts already present; with a restlessness for mission rather than a contentedness for what already is; possessed of a zeal inspired by the saints while not being frozen by intimidation of them; with a holy curiosity for how scientific advancement and progress in human understanding of our universe can inform and be informed by theology and scripture; with a divine desire to see the beauty and mystery of our traditions and liturgies shared in as many venues and ways as possible.

However, if the church were comprised solely of visionaries, then we would drift away on the winds of fads and with the fickle vagrancies of the times. The great ship of Christianity would be cast adrift from the mud with purpose but without a plan to sustain it, with hope but without root to nourish it. No, it seems clear to me that the church needs both kinds of leaders if we are to carry the mission of Jesus Christ into this great 21st century and beyond. More than that, the church needs both kinds of leaders to work together, and not against each other.

This is why, each year, I make a great effort to attend the same two conferences for continuing education. They represent the very best in leadership training that I have found. One, a society of “anchors,” if you will. The other, a gathering of “visionaries.”

In my few years attending the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Priests, and through the benefits of membership in its fellowship, I have learned more about the great traditions of our church than in any book or seminary class. I have come to understand that sometimes the faithful few in my pews are more important for me to focus on that the great masses of humanity other churches have. I have benefitted tremendously, both personally and professionally, from this band of clergy dedicated to worshipping God in the full beauty of holiness and to carrying the light of Christ to the darkest places of both our cities and rural areas, where the lowest and the forgotten of our great land live and move and have their being.   I have learned the meanings of our ancient rituals and their continued importance today in a world just as hurting as it was in times gone by, if in different ways. Most importantly, I have gained an increased sense of the significance of sign and symbol, always pointing beyond to something greater. Always pointing to Jesus Christ.

Even though I personally identify more with this group of “anchors,” each year I also attend the “Gathering of Leaders,” a conference designed for the visionaries of the church, and unabashedly about numerical growth. At these gatherings and through the benefits of membership in its fellowship, I have learned so many best practices for adaptive leadership from those who are practicing them and seeing the results. My congregation and, dare I say, those whom we serve in our surrounding community have benefitted from the imaginative and prophetic ideas for mission and outreach that have been bandied about at the famous “networking sessions” of these Gatherings. I have heard what can only be described as examples of the very best of new, “on the ground,” theological thinking, fearlessly engaging a fast paced and increasingly unchurched culture. Most importantly, I have gained an increased sense and born witness to the fruits of the transformational power of grace which we boldly proclaim in Jesus Christ.

We are the body of Christ. We are living out our baptismal vows in this corner of Christ’s Body that we call Episcopalian. But we so often bound gleefully down the rabbit holes of false dichotomies. It is either this way or that way. It can only be progressive or traditional; it can only be liberal or conservative; it can only be building-centric or emergent. The fact is we all have different gifts and we need each other. The progressive brother cannot say to the traditional sister, “I have no need of you.” This is why I delight in both conferences, and why I encourage all of us, lay and ordained, to find some way to participate in the full beauty and joy the wide range of our church represents. Our God is amazing and Christ died to offer all of us the new life of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. So let us climb out of the holes we have dug for ourselves and see the dayspring from on high again as if for the first time.

The most transformational words the church can offer are these, “This is Body of Christ. This is the Blood of Christ.” So let us take and eat, take and drink. Let us taste and see. Let us be the Body of Christ and live more fully into this great and holy calling, whether anchor or visionary, nourished by Word and Communion, and strengthened for service in a world which God still loves abundantly.

The Rev. Ryan Whitley serves as Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Aardmore, PA. He is a member of the Holy Cross Chapter of the Society, whose members serve in Pennsylvania.

Liturgy Moments: A Creative Approach to Liturgical Catechesis

by Fr. Shawn Strout, SCP

by Fr. Shawn Strout, SCP

One of the greatest challenges that many of us clergy face in today’s twenty-first century society is time.  We no longer live in a society in which Sunday is honored as a day of rest, at least not here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  It is no longer unusual, in fact rather typical, now for people to work on Sundays.  Schoolchildren will often have athletic events, preparation classes for standardized tests and community service activities to do on Sundays.  Furthermore, with the rest of the week so packed with activities, Sundays become the overflow day.  These hectic schedules and over-programmed lives make our task as clergy much more difficult.  Oftentimes, we rejoice simply to see people show up on Sundays for our primary worship services.  The extra commitment required for formational activities seems nearly impossible.

And yet, one of the responsibilities we carry as clergy is not only to preside at worship services but also to facilitate the spiritual formation of our parishioners.  This spiritual formation includes areas ranging from the Scriptures, theology, ethics, liturgy and many other important topics.  With all of these competing priorities, liturgical catechesis can often take a backburner in our formational priorities.  However, I have found a deep hunger among my parishioners for greater reflection on the mysteries we celebrate each Sunday.

massIn order to meet this hunger for deeper liturgical catechesis within the time constraints of my parishioners’ over-programmed lives, I had to come up with a creative solution.  The result of that creative process is what I call “The Liturgy Moment.”  Every second Sunday of the month after each of our three services (8:00 am, 9:30 am and 5:00 pm), we have our “Liturgy Moment.”  Immediately after the service, those folk who are interested gather at the front of the nave, and I share some information about a liturgical topic for about five to ten minutes at the most.  I deliberately keep the presentation brief so as not to require a major time commitment.  The topics have ranged from the history of Lent to the theology of sacrifice in the Eucharist.  I have sometimes done a series over the course of two or three months, but I usually let each Sunday stand on its own.  I try to keep my comments relevant to the current liturgical season.  And during the summer, I opened up our sessions to questions about which they may have been wondering.

These brief episodes – Liturgy Moments – have been quite successful in providing a regular means of liturgical catechesis.  Otherwise, I would find it difficult to set aside time every month for liturgical catechesis.  But because these Liturgies Moments really only require a moment of their time, my parishioners find them easily accessible and enjoyable.  They do not need to make a commitment any greater than an additional five to ten minutes after the service.

Having suggested this approach, I in no way want to discourage more in depth and sustained catechetical approaches.  Like many clergy, I lament the oftentimes last minute, ill-prepared and seemingly arbitrary baptismal catechesis that so many people receive.  I dream of the opportunity to provide full-length catechetical programs like St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Pilgrims in Christ program or the Roman Catholic Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (when done well).  These longer, more in-depth and liturgically grounded programs are wonderful examples of liturgical catechesis at its best.

However, they pose two important challenges.  First and most obvious, they require a major time commitment.  I do not want to suggest that we shy away from asking folk to commit time to their discipleship with Christ, especially those folk who are contemplating joining the Body of Christ.  A single catechetical session on the Saturday morning before a baptism does a great disservice to the importance of baptism.  But not everyone can commit to a weekly meeting for several months.  In some communities that expectation may be too unrealistic.

Additionally, these catechetical programs are primarily meant for persons discerning baptism.  While they do extend beyond baptism at the Paschal Vigil into mystagogia during the Easter Season, they typically end by Pentecost.  Therefore, they are not suitable for ongoing liturgical catechesis throughout the year.  Also they are geared to people wishing to convert to the Christian faith.  They do not address the needs of those persons who may have been baptized for quite some time.

The Liturgy Moment can be a way to provide ongoing, sustained liturgical catechesis for all of the faithful.  Initially, the Liturgy Moment may feel too superficial.  You might ask, “How could I possibly cover the intricacies of the liturgy in just five to ten minutes?”  You cannot.  But you can as you go month to month over the course of many months.  I have found a real deepening not just in liturgical knowledge but also liturgical participation through these Liturgy Moments.

In conclusion, let me just reiterate – keep it brief!  We clergy too often enjoy hearing ourselves talk.  The key to success with the Liturgy Moment is that it is just A MOMENT, not a mini-sermon or forum.  Also, keep it interesting and relevant.  Solicit questions from time to time from the congregation.  I find this very fruitful.  For example, I did a three month series on sacrifice in the Eucharist after a parishioner asked me about the Fraction Anthem, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast.”  She said she had never understood what that meant.  So, we spent three sessions on Christ as Passover, sacrifice and feast.  There are innumerable riches that you can glean from our liturgy to share with your parishioners – and it only has to take moment!

The Rev. Shawn Strout serves as Assistant Rector of Christ Church Parish in Kensington, MD where he is active in liturgical leadership, training and assisting with children and youth ministries. He is Secretary of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. 

Ashes to Go: A Difficult Invitation to Holiness

by Fr. Jared C. Cramer

As we approach another Lenten season, many priests around the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are considering whether or not to adopt a relatively new Ash Wednesday practice. I’m speaking, of course, of the trend of offering “Ashes to Go.”

If you are not familiar with this new practice, “Ashes to Go” refers to a practice wherein clergy, sometimes accompanied by laypeople, go into the streets of their local community to offer the imposition of ashes for those going by. It is often practiced in urban areas at train stops or busy intersections.

The actual form of the offering varies rather significantly from church to church. In some churches people dress in street clothes and in others they wear full vestments. Some churches primarily and solely apply the ashes, others have crafted some sort of small liturgy that gives at least a bit of the Ash Wednesday experience to those who pass by.

There is even a website for Ashes to Go, complete with an about page if you want to learn more of the history of this practice. Sara Miles, Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, talks about it in her new book—an excerpt telling the story of how it started in her neck of the woods was published in a recent edition of Christian Century. (There are some parts of her article I would take strong exception to, particularly the resistance to that which might be strange and hard to understand, but the point of this essay is not to argue with hers.)

The debate around the practice of “Ashes to Go” has been pretty strong, among clergy at least. It has been almost as strong, at times, as debates around Communion Regardless of Baptism. Full disclosure, I used to be in the crowd that didn’t think it was a good idea, believing that it ran the risk of not only cheapening the Ash Wednesday experience but also that it did not invite people into all that Ash Wednesday is intended to invite them. Then, after conversations at our Great Lakes Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests gathering, I decided to give it a try… and my mind was changed (you can read about that experience here: “Invited: One Reflection on ‘Ashes to Go‘”).

I know that members of the Society are certainly not of one mind on the question, and I want to be clear that I don’t speak for the Society as a whole on this practice, but I do think that it touches concerns that are near to the heart of why our Society exists and what we are most concerned and passionate about when it comes to the contemporary practice of Christianity in our Anglican tradition.

One of the twin aims of the Society is “catholic evangelism.” Our Society is deeply interested in how we might invite unchurched and de-churched people into Christian community. Our Society believes that the richness of our catholic faith can provide strength, mercy, and discipline to those who are searching.

At the same time, our emphasis on catholic evangelism makes us wary of practices that water down the faith for the purposes of evangelism or incorporation. I think this wariness is good. Contrary to common thinking in many quarters of the church for some time now, I don’t think the way to invite people into Christianity is to find the most de-churchified way of talking about it. I think we should lean in the other direction, inviting people into strange language and strange practices that speak of another world, one that is seeking to break into and transform the one in which we live.

In my view, “Ashes to Go” can be a powerful example of just that—not of watering down, but of leaning in. The name, first off, seems cute, like it is perhaps making light of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. However, I would strongly suggest that though the name is playful, the experience is not. Someone may come up to me standing next to my “Ashes to Go” sign, thinking, “Oh, this is kind of fun and convenient,” but then that person is told that the church invites her into a Holy Lent. Ash is smudged on the forehead, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The person is told that he is sinful, but God forgives, that he is going to die…

 Photo illustration by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit


Photo illustration by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

One of the powers of our prayer book tradition is the way in which the liturgy and rubrics provide a corrective to bad theology, weak preaching, and even inadequately formed clergy. The words of our liturgies say most clearly what it is we believe—and whether or not the priest and penitent believe that this “Ashes to Go” moment is holy at the outset, the words of our liturgy make it clear that it is. The words say some countercultural, counterintuitive things. They challenge.

The most common critique of the practice of “Ashes to Go” is that it only gives the person who experiences it one part of the Ash Wednesday experience as envisioned in our prayer book—that it only gives them a portion of that countercultural message our liturgy proclaims. And this is a fair and important point… but… you cannot always say the whole message every time.

New preachers often struggle in sermon writing with trying to say too much in each sermon. “You don’t have to cover all of it in your sermon,” my homiletics professor would tell me, “Just say the piece that’s important for right now. You can do more next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.” So we must strike the balance of saying what is timely, saying it fully and faithfully, but also knowing when we have said enough—or as much as we can say at this moment.

I do believe that “Ashes to Go” can be a time when we can say enough for some people and some circumstances. In my experience, I functioned as a reminder to many of the people who passed me by in the morning, a reminder of what the day was, that the church still did talk about death and ashes. Those people may not have stopped for me, but they may now be more likely, having been reminded, to seek out a church to go to for Ash Wednesday services today.

For others I talked to, they were emotionally grateful for the experience. Their work constrained them from having an opportunity to go to services. They weren’t looking for something easy, cheap, and convenient, they simply did not have the luxury of not being at work when Ash Wednesday services were happening. One of my colleagues, another member of the Society who offered this at a highway exit, had a trucker come to him in tears, so grateful to be able to have this moment, knowing there was no way he could get to church for the full experience.

Why would we rob these people of even a portion of the Ash Wednesday message? Simply because they were unable to come and hear and experience the full liturgy? Surely not.

For others, they were curious. They never perhaps had the courage to walk into a church on Ash Wednesday, though they saw others doing it. I was easier to approach. And in this day and age, for people to want a priest to tell them that they are going to die, to invite them to confess their sins, to tell them God’s mercy is greater than they could even imagine… well, that’s a rather remarkable thing.

Most importantly, we need to remember the point of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. The imposition of ashes is important. The Litany of Penitence is important. The celebration of Holy Eucharist, a reminder of the consequences of our sin and of the extravagant grace that covers those sins, yes this is so very important. But the point of Ash Wednesday is to invite people into a Holy Lent. The reason this day exists is for the purpose of one paragraph of the liturgy,

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

And this is the point of “Ashes to Go.” It’s not to get people their ashes—the ashes are only a symbol of something larger. True, some people may think that they are simply getting this checked off their list, but they are mistaken. Because when that ash is smudged, they are invited to something deeper.

A good practice of “Ashes to Go” is focused on the invitation to Lent. It includes the distributing of opportunities to observe the season at the local parish and also resources for observance in other ways. It includes the priest saying, at the very least, the invitation to a Holy Lent. It involves a moment of profound and intimate truth-telling between two created beings, struggling to live through their mortality in ways faithful and yet still imperfect.

“Ashes to Go” is certainly not the fullest and best experience of Ash Wednesday—but that does not mean that it cannot be a powerful invitation to the overworked, the curious, the seeker, the broken, to enter into the Lenten wilderness and find salvation.

Click these links to download Fr. Cramer’s “Ashes to Go” liturgy leaflet that he distributes in either PDF or Word formats.

The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He is a founding member of the Society, currently serving as Communications Director. His reflections on life and ministry can be found at his blog: Care with the Cure of Souls.

Reclaiming Evangelism in the Episcopal Church

by Fr. Jared C. Cramer

by Fr. Jared C. Cramer

When I was a teenager in the Churches of Christ, I remember being trained on door-knocking. Most people are familiar with this method of evangelism, though most often it is simply described dismissively as a a joke, rarely seen as a faithful way of bringing the gospel to people. However, for the tradition in which I was raised was raised, as well as for others, it is an essential way of casting your evangelistic seed wide, like the parable of the sower.

So there I was, a teenaged, passionate, evangelical Christian, knocking on doors to try and talk to people about their salvation. Most people were remarkably polite, more so than you might expect. But there was an oddity of the neighborhood we had not anticipated.

In the Churches of Christ, one of the fundamental tenets is the necessity of baptism for salvation. Baptism is how you receive the grace of God, it is what incorporates you into the Body of Christ. But, because of the curiosities of American religious history and geography, our tradition was used to arguing with Baptists and other evangelical groups about baptism. Most believed instead in the “Sinner’s Prayer,” while the Churches of Christ insisted that baptism was the Biblical way of becoming a Christian. I grew up thinking we were the only group that believed in baptism.

So, the entire dialogue we were trained for in door-knocking was one predicated on convincing people that baptism was essential for salvation… which made for some interesting conversations in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic neighborhood I was dropped off in.

Because everyone agreed with me. I’d go through the whole litany of questions, ready to jump in and prove my point at any moment, only to have these Roman Catholics look at me with rather bemused expressions, telling me that yes, they had been baptized. Yes, they do believe that was what made them a part of the church.

“Well, bother, what do I say now?” I wondered to myself back then.

I’ve been involved in the Episcopal Church for almost ten years now, five of those years as a priest. I now understand much better than I did as an adolescent the theology behind the Christian tradition of baptism. I know now that since the publication of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry over thirty years ago, the current ecumenical consensus on baptism is actually rather profound. Indeed, the theology of baptism with which I was raised led rather naturally to the baptismal emphasis of the Episcopal Church, particularly since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

But if there is something I am increasingly aware is missing ever since I came to be in this Anglican tradition, it is this—a sense of the role evangelism plays in the church.

Because sometimes it seems as though Episcopalians believe in baptism, but we don’t really believe in evangelism.

A part of this is our, if I may be so bold, tendency towards a bit of ecclesial snobbery. On our best days, we are often described as “denominationally non-competitive.” That is, we don’t think every Christian needs to practice their faith in our tradition to be faithful. However, we also have a deep streak of turning up our noses, “tut tutting” other church’s practices, like an ecclesial dowager countess.

And when we do that, we begin to let our catholicity slip away.

Because to be a truly catholic tradition means we are not afraid of truth no matter where it is found. Most importantly, it means that we recognize that other parts of the Body of Christ bear witness to our God in ways we have not yet comprehended. We seek to learn from them, to grow from them, to see how another part of the body can help us be more faithful.

Some people say that evangelism is just not something we do in the Episcopal Church. And that may have worked in the era of Christendom, when people were baptized into the church at birth, raised in it as an essential part of society, and expected to participate in it regularly if they wanted a significant role in the community, but those days are long past.

The idea that evangelism is just not something we do simply will not work any longer.

St Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles One of the First Evangelists

St Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, One of the First Evangelists

We need to look more carefully at our brothers and sisters in other Christian traditions, particularly those who have practiced evangelism well. We need to look at those who we think may not practice it well, asking ourselves if our reluctance comes from true disagreement on theology and Christian praxis, of it is just snobbery or cowardice. And if we disagree with the way another group does it, we need to do more—we need to come up with a way of doing it more faithfully. We need to begin once more (or perhaps for the first time!) to train our members about how you talk to someone about your faith and how you invite people into the faith

I come from a line of people in my family who have been deeply gifted as what my former tradition called “personal evangelists.” These are people who have a calling and the training to spend time one-on-one with people who are searching, even people who may not realize they are searching. They guide people through the journey of learning about the faith, leading them to the opportunity to make a decision for the faith.

Surely, in the Episcopal Church, we can do this in more spiritually nuanced ways. We won’t fall into the all-too-common trap in some traditions of mistaking sheep-stealing for evangelism (though if the sheep of another tradition have wound up bruised and disconnected, we can faithfully welcome them to our flock). We can train people to recognize that we don’t bring God to people, we talk with people to help them discover a God who is already present in their lives. We can resist forms of emotional manipulation, encouraging decisions for Christ that are also a part of a life-long journey into the divine.

We can do all of these things. We must do all of these things.

But no longer can we say that evangelism is not something we do because it seems beneath our cultivated sense of Christianity.

And, to be honest, as we prepare in my own overwhelmingly anglo parish, in one of the most segregated areas in the entire country, to create a ministry to reach out to Latinos who live just outside of our segregated invisible walls, inviting them to be a part of us, to grow with us, to help us break down the segregation that exists in Northwest Ottawa County, to help us see more clearly the breadth and width of God in this world and in the church… as we prepare for all that, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we might even wind up knocking on some doors.

The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He is a founding member of the Society, currently serving as Communications Director. His reflections on life and ministry can be found at his blog: Care with the Cure of Souls.

What is to Prevent Us?

The following sermon was preached by Society Convener, Mother Erika Takacs, at the closing mass of the Fifth Annual Conference of the Society of Catholic Priests. It is a fitting inaugural post for the new SCP Blog: Tracts for These Times.

It was hot in the chariot, I imagine. Stuffy and still and hot. They had stopped on the side of the road, something to do with an axel that the eunuch didn’t understand, and so he sat, baking in the desert in his glorious, gilded oven. The high wooden doors trapped the heat, and the sun beating down on his uncovered head made the air shimmer before his eyes. The plush pillows had all been thrown to the floor an hour ago, but still the cloth beneath his legs felt uncomfortably wooly and warm. It was hot in the chariot, close and dusty, and the eunuch felt entirely trapped. Trapped in the still air of this chariot, trapped on this bleak wilderness road, and not least, trapped in this snarl of a biblical text. He glanced again at the scroll draped over his knees like an unwelcome blanket. The passage he had thought might distract him while he was trapped in this infernal box now only made him feel more claustrophobic. What in the world was Isaiah going on about? A man, some man, a slave who would suffer and bleed and yet utter not a sound, who would be humiliated and tortured, who would lose his life, silently, humbly, obediently. The eunuch had heard the text in Jerusalem, and now, days later, he found the prophecy about this servant still singing in his head, echoing with question after question after question. Who was this man? Was he a real man at all, because really, what kind of man would allow this? Even a eunuch would not; even a eunuch would at some point stand up for himself. So who was this man? Had these events already happened or were they still to come? Had the eunuch missed it already, or should he still be looking, and if he should still be looking, well, then where? In Jerusalem, back in Ethiopia, on this stupid, solitary road? Who, when, where…the questions spun around in the hot air of the chariot, dancing before his eyes like dust motes in the light. He glanced down again at the text; he knew there was some truth there, some truth beyond his own questions, but he couldn’t untangle himself enough to actually touch it.

By the time Philip arrived as his chariot door, the eunuch was sweating his way again through the text, sputtering and spitting out words that were only getting him more and more tangled up in his confusion and frustration. When he heard Philip’s voice, gentle and easy, “Do you understand what you are reading?” he was entirely too exhausted to be shocked by the directness of the question. No, of course, I do not. Do you not see how tied up I am in my questions? How can I unravel all of this myself, how can I understand this when there is no one to guide me? Yes, yes, of course I want you to explain it to me. Come in, sit beside me, tell me who, tell me when and where, tell me why.

And so they are off. They read aloud, together, and the questions begin. Is this a real man? Oh, yes, Philip replies. Who? Is it Isaiah? It is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth – I heard talk of him in Jerusalem – is that where this happened? Yes it is. Yes, the eunuch echoes, and he feels the tightness of his bonds begin to slacken. The chariot begins to move, they pass through a shadow of clouds, a spot of cool in the heat of the day. The eunuch looks out across the desert, feels the beginnings of a breeze on his brow. He takes a breath and continues. Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem, yes. But why, he asks. Why did he allow this? Why did he give himself over to this? Love, Philip replies. Love? Love for whom? Why, love, Philip says, for you.*

They continue to talk. There are questions, answers. Philip tells stories, some ancient, some new. The eunuch argues, shrugs, argues some more. But as they talk, the eunuch feels bond after bond loosen and fall away. Soon, he and Philip are laughing, stumbling over each other’s sentences with exclamations of wonder and surprise. The eunuch feels his heart leap in his chest, he is overjoyed, giddy, impulsive, and when he hears the sound of water bubbling along by the roadside, he suddenly calls out to his driver to stop. He turns to Philip, eyes clear, and asks one, final, dazzling question – What is to prevent me from being baptized?

And there is only a resounding silence, only a holy silence, filled with joy and pregnant with possibility. And in that silence the eunuch hears the answer to his own question ring out in the depths of his being. And the answer is NOTHING. What is to prevent me from being baptized? NOTHING. And with that answer, he feels the last of his bonds fall away completely, and he is free, finally free to open the door of the chariot and step out into a new understanding, a new way of being, a new community, an entirely new life in Christ.

In the past few days, we have all heard about, talked about, worried about ways in which we can feel trapped by the world, by the incomprehensible woundedness of our cities, the frustrating challenges of the church, the baffling brokenness of our own selves. We all know what it is like to feel stuck and stifled, to feel as if we have nothing but questions that tangle us in knots. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going, who will show us how to get there, and who will join us along the way? But this holy word of scripture assures us that if we are bold enough to ask “What is there to prevent us,” we will hear the very same answer – NOTHING.

There is only nothing – nothing to prevent us from that mystery, that wonder, that sacrament, that challenge to which God calls us. There is nothing to prevent us. Why? Because in his life, death, and resurrection, Christ, that suffering servant, has made it so. He has promised to be with us always, to step into the chariot with us again and again and again, to walk miles into the wilderness of our lives to find us and untangle us from the whatever thicket we have lost ourselves in. Christ has called us to be bold enough to ask that question – what is to prevent us?

What is to prevent us from being fully open to the mystery we worship? Nothing. What is to prevent us from reaching out our hands to the poor and reaching the heights of heaven? Nothing. What is to prevent us from proclaiming the fundamental relevance of the Gospel? Nothing. What is to prevent us, all of us, laity and clergy, from living out the fullness of our baptismal covenant? Nothing. What is to prevent us from doing authentic, transformational ministry for and with young adults, and old adults, and not-quite adults, and everyone in between? Nothing. What is to prevent us from living the truth that the world is our parish? Nothing. What is to prevent us from just starting to do mission? Nothing. What is to prevent us from bridging the achievement gap in our own cities and towns, across the entire nation and the world? Nothing. What is to prevent us, in this society, from starting a new movement, a new Anglo-Catholicism to transform the church, to transform the world? Nothing. What is to prevent us from intentionally inviting more of our women colleagues to join this society so that our membership and our national conferences reflect more accurately the fullness of our life together? Nothing. What is to prevent us from claiming in our rule of life that we not only center our lives on the Eucharist but also on our mission to the poor? Nothing. What is to prevent us from growing strong bonds between all of the provinces of the Society of Catholic Priests around the world, bonds forged in love, in word and deed, in holy food and drink? Nothing. What is to prevent us from being entirely flame and setting the world alight with the blazing truth of our salvation in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Nothing.

What is there to prevent us? NOTHING. For Christ goes before and behind, beside, above and below, with us, always to the end of the age. Christ goes before us, now and forever, to the end of the age. What is there to prevent us?

Feast of Saint Philip, 11 October 2013, Conference of the Society of Catholic Priests

*I am indebted to the writing of Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi, for the feel of these last few sentences.

Mother Erika Takacs is a founding member of the society in North America, currently serving as Society Convener. She also serves the associate rector at Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia. Outside of her work, her two great loves are reading and baseball. She is a member of the Holy Cross Chapter of the Society.