A vacation in the pews

A postcard for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/23/22.
Pictured: Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, TN, October 23, 2022.

It was a gift to worship at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, Tennessee.

Forty-eight weeks of the year, I am usually the one leading worship somewhere on Sunday morning. This past weekend I traveled to Nashville for a meeting on Saturday. Nashville is just far enough away from Birmingham that it made sense to go up the day before and drive back on Sunday. This meant that I was going to have the luxury of going to church on Sunday morning.

I went to the Diocese of Tennessee website and clicked through the parish sites. There were several options, but I finally settled on going to the Cathedral. I decided that I wanted to hear a big church choir and organ, and the church website reminded me that a colleague (formerly in Alabama) was on staff there.

So on Sunday morning, I took a seat in a pew in the middle of the church. I arrived early so that I could take in the light coming through the stained glass, browse the materials in the pew rack, and appreciate the beauty of the space. Moments before the service, the children’s choir came in. They brought with them giggles and shushing. The sermon was a continuation of a teaching series on the liturgy, and the preacher reminded us that the Eucharist takes us up to the very steps of Heaven and gives us a glimpse of God’s dream for us.

My favorite moment was going to the altar rail. At that moment, my colleague recognized me. With a joy-filled smile, she hugged me right there at the rail. She then pressed the wafer into my palm. While I know that good order and decorum don’t allow for hugs at the altar rail for everyone, I do think that is what we are meant to feel at the Eucharist. Pure joy, recognition, and thanksgiving that we are there, in the moment, with each other and Jesus.



A sermon for the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, Heflin, Alabama, on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/23/22:

Principal text: Luke 18:1-8

Audio only

Coming next

  • October 30 – St. Michael’s, Faunsdale — 21st Sunday after Pentecost
  • November 6 – St. Barnabas — All Saints
  • November 13 – Messiah, Heflin — 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
  • November 20 – St. Paul’s Greensboro — Christ the King

Making meaning

A postcard for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/16/22.
Pictured: The Rev. Dr. Sam Wells speaks at St. Stephen’s Birmingham on 10/15/22.

Someone asked me what I did this weekend, and I replied, “Jesus stuff.”

In addition to leading worship at the Church of the Messiah on Sunday, I got to do a lot of Jesus stuff on Saturday too. I want to share a couple of things from my Saturday Jesus Stuff.

I spent the first part of my Saturday in a “Fear+Less Dialogues” workshop, which offered reflections based on the work of Howard Thurman (an author, teacher, theologian, mystic, and civil rights leader). Here is a quote from Howard Thurman offered to us that has stuck with me:

Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge.

(You can watch a documentary about Howard Thurman here.)

Saturday night, I was at St. Stephen’s in Birmingham for a lecture given by the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells. In the aftermath of the shooting at St. Stephen’s this summer, Wells titled his lecture “The Hurt and the Damage: Letting Horror Turn into Wisdom.” He concluded his remarks by telling the story of how he lost his mother when he was a young man. From that experience, he took on a motto: “If it can’t be happy, make it beautiful.” He went on to say of the shooting:

It’s a scar that defaces this church and always will. But one day, maybe in a few years, maybe in a few decades, I hope at least in a few centuries, and I know for certain in God’s good and eternal time, that scar will have been woven, painted, grown or shaped into something beautiful. The damage will remain – but the hurt will have been joined with the hurt of other communities in a great wave of resistance and understanding and compassion. The hurt will not have completely gone away, but St Stephen’s will be known as a place of kindness, goodness and gentleness. The memories won’t have died, but those now in howling agony of grief will become ambassadors of peace, witnesses of a new society, flagbearers of truth. 

(You can watch Sam Wells’ lecture here.)

Both Thurman and Wells are inviting us to consider how we make meaning of the events of our lives—of the condition of human life. Both point to the transformative power of God as our starting point.



A sermon for the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, Heflin, Alabama, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/16/22:

Principal text: Luke 18:1-8

Audio only

Coming next

  • October 23 – Off
  • October 30 – St. Michael’s, Faunsdale — 21st Sunday after Pentecost
  • November 6 – St. Barnabas — All Saints
  • November 13 – Messiah, Heflin — 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
  • November 20 – St. Paul’s Greensboro — Christ the King

My favorite day at church

A postcard for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/09/22.
Pictured: Misha was our smallest visitor at our Pet Blessing on 10/09/22.

I know Easter or Christmas should be my favorite day at church, but I must confess the Pet Blessing tops my list.

St. Francis of Assisi lived a life marked by joy and gratitude, especially for God’s creation, so we remember him by bringing our pets to church. I love my dogs and cat. And I love it when people come to church with excitement and joy to share with the community a beloved pet that is part of their lives. Some of our churchly seriousness falls away as we navigate barks, meows, and tangled leashes. And generally (though not always), our pets are excited to be brought with us out into the world to share our lives in a different way.

St. Francis and pet blessings remind us that we can come to church joy-filled, excited, and grateful. And that is why it is my favorite day at church!

Here is my menagerie (L-R): Julien, Brother Juniper, and Lucy.


A sermon for the Episcopal Church of the Messiah, Heflin, Alabama, on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/09/22:

Principal text: Luke 17:11-19

Audio only


Coming next

  • October 16 – Messiah, Heflin — 19th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 23 – Off
  • October 30 – St. Michael’s, Faunsdale — 21st Sunday after Pentecost
  • November 6 – St. Barnabas — All Saints

The Mulberry Tree

A postcard for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost 10/02/22.
Pictured: The Mulberry Tree in Autumn, by Vincent Van Gogh at the Norton Simon Museum.

I don’t know much about mulberry trees, but when I read this week’s gospel, I had a particular mulberry tree in mind.

Several years ago, while visiting the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA, I got to see Vincent Van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree in Autumn. It is a relatively small painting in a large ornate frame. It was painted at the end of Vincent’s life while living in an asylum in Saint-Remy.

While in Saint-Remy, Vincent continued to paint everything: doctors, hallways, flowers, fields, and trees. In this painting, Vincent paints a single mulberry tree visible from his window. Vincent applied thick strokes of paint that created a three-dimensional image. Vincent was very pleased with this particular painting. He wrote about it three times in letters to his brother and sister, commenting that he believed it was the best of his mulberry tree paintings.

Vincent’s use of paint renders an ordinary mulberry tree into an extraordinary painting. Through it, we experience not just the image of a particular tree but are invited into Vincent’s feeling and experience of color. In his parables, Jesus ofter takes the ordinary to invite us into the experience of the extraordinary.



A sermon for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Roanoke, Alabama, on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, 10/02/22:

Principal text: Luke 17:5-10

Audio only


Coming next

  • October 9 – Messiah, Heflin — 18th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 16 – Messiah, Heflin — 19th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 23 – Off
  • October 30 – St. Michael’s, Faunsdale — 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Making the best of it

A postcard for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost 09/18/22.
Pictured: Pepper, the dental therapy dog.

This week I had to go to the dentist. I get a lot of anxiety about the dentist, which results in prolonging a visit until absolutely necessary. Well, this past week it was necessary. I decided to try a new dentist, and amazingly they could get me in quickly.

After a few x-rays, the dentist came in to confirm what I already knew, which was I had a cavity that needed to be addressed. She noticed that I had put in my patient notes that I had dental anxiety. She informed me that they had a therapy dog and “would I like the dog?” My answer was an enthusiastic “yes.”

So in comes Pepper, a two-year-old Bichon Frisé. Pepper laid calmly in my lap the whole time. If I stopped petting her, she would nudge my hand.

I could have used her as I wrestled with this confusing parable that we hear from Jesus this week. There are no heroes in this story. No clear character to cheer on. Every decision made seems questionable, yet Jesus offers this parable to his disciples. What are they/we to make of it?

I still don’t like going to the dentist (I don’t think anyone does), but having Pepper there sure made the best out of an uncomfortable situation. Perhaps that is some of what Jesus is telling us, as disciples in this world preparing for the coming of the kingdom, sometimes we just have to do the best with what we have.



A sermon for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Greensboro, Alabama, on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, 09/18/22:

Principal text: Luke 16:1-13

Audio only


Coming next

  • September 25 – Messiah, Heflin — 16th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 2 – St. Barnabas, Roanoke — 17th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 9 – Messiah, Heflin — 18th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 16 – Messiah, Heflin — 19th Sunday after Pentecost
  • October 23 – Off
  • October 30 – St. Michael’s, Faunsdale — 21st Sunday after Pentecost