Black, Blue, and Purple: Researching Advent Colors

Yesterday, I shared an old post on the debate over liturgical colors in Advent. After writing that post five years ago, I spent a few days digging through various liturgical guides to research the topic. (As is fitting of someone in their late twenties: write an article, then research it.) So today, I’m reposting the fruits of that week-long obsession compiled into a single post:

Continue reading “Black, Blue, and Purple: Researching Advent Colors”

Work to Do While We Wait

Originally posted December 5, 2016.


One of the fastest ways to start a light-hearted argument in a Lutheran church is to bring up the blue/purple debate around Advent.

Disclaimer: Results may vary. Author is not responsible for any threats of excommunication which may be incurred. Warning: Do not attempt on ELCA Clergy Facebook page as the debate may escalate quickly. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Knowing that I’m treading into unduly controversial waters, let me throw a couple of cards on the table:

  • My background is in the United Methodist tradition. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, purple was still the preferred color for Advent. Purple for Advent brings back a lot of nostalgia. (Also, good Lord, am I old enough to have nostalgia?)
  • I’m convinced that the term adiaphora was coined specifically to resolve debates about liturgical colors. I can think of few things that matter less. Yes, colors have meanings attached to them, but these attachments are incredibly diverse. We’ll come back to this, but suffice it to say that the liturgical colors aren’t on the back side of the Ten Commandments. This is not a hill I’m willing to die on. In the end, if you want to send your altar guild on a shopping spree to buy a full set of blue vestments and paraments, go right ahead.
  • It’s adiaphor, but I’m still passionate about it.
  • I favor simplicity when it comes to vestments and paraments. Which is to say, vestments and paraments should be free of large, elaborate illustrations and words. (Looking at you, Gaspard.) In the same line of thought, the fewer sets needed, the better. If you can get away with using one set for two seasons, do it.
  • I’m not even going near the use of a rose candle and vestments for Gaudete Sunday. I don’t know why some people detest the rose candle so much, but they do. They’re wrong, but they do.

So…what color should we use for Advent?

Continue reading “Work to Do While We Wait”

The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies

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There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most Protestant congregations in the US, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.

There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday;  Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are most often observed the following Sunday.

Then there’s the Ascension. Following Saint Luke’s dating in the Acts of the Apostles, it falls forty days after Easter Sunday. Like the observances in Holy Week, the Ascension is pegged to a specific day of the week: it always falls on a Thursday. As with Epiphany, the Reformation, and All Saints’, and unlike the observances of Holy Week, the Ascension is almost always celebrated the following Sunday. In his brief commentary on Acts 1:1-11, New Testament scholar Brian Peterson writes:

Continue reading “The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies”

“More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic

Question: What exactly do you do?

A while back, I wrote on the work clergy do behind the scenes: sermon writing, liturgical prep, home visits, and more.

As you might imagine, a lot of that has changed during the ongoing pandemic. Sure, there are still sermons to write and pastoral care to be done. At its most basic level, ministry goes on.

But the daily work of ministry? It’s different. In the ELCA, we call pastors “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” — but right now, the Word is proclaimed through a camera lens, and we’ve had difficult (at times, contentious) discussions about what Sacramental ministry looks like when the Church is meeting in cyberspace.

So what is it I’m doing now that I’m not behind the Altar and can’t climb into the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

Continue reading ““More Additional Duties as Required” – Ministry in a Pandemic”

The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry

As the Synod on the Amazon came to an end, two big developments have dominated much of the news coverage (admittedly at the expense of other pressing matters both ecological and liturgical). The first has been passed out of the synod in their official write-up: the ordination of married men to the priesthood. The second was discussed but did not come to pass: it was expected the synod might recommend the ordination of women to the diaconate. (An important addendum: reports have circulated that an expanded version of the commission tasked with considering women’s ordination will re-convene following the synod.) Continue reading “The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry”

To Welcome the Stranger

A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Churchwide Assembly Vote to Become a Sanctuary Churchbody

Dear friends in Christ,

In the middle of last week, the Churchwide Assembly voted to designate the ELCA a “sanctuary churchbody.” Over the next several days, news organizations picked up the story; the coverage was mostly vague.

When I returned home from worship this afternoon, I learned that Fox News aired a short panel discussion on the Churchwide Assembly’s decision. I assume that this piece will make the usual social media rounds over the coming days, and I write to you today in hopes of addressing any concerns that might be raised by the segment.

Continue reading “To Welcome the Stranger”

The Athanasian Creed

Question: What is the Athanasian Creed, and why does it matter?

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Today is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Across the western branch of Christ’s Church, preachers went through the annual tradition of scratching their heads and trying to figure out what to say about that most sacred mystery of God’s existence. Every analogy falls into heresy, and even the our best words fall short. It’s a daunting Sunday to climb into the pulpit. (And I should apologize to my supply preacher for putting him in that position.)

Scripture itself provides relatively little information on the nature of the Trinity. We are sent to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see all three persons at work in the cosmos from Creation and through to the consummation of all things. And Saint John tells us that the Logos is God and with God from the beginning. But how does that whole three-in-one one-in-three thing work?

Blessedly, the Spirit has led the Church to craft statements of faith we now call the ecumenical creeds. Among them is the oft-neglected Athanasian Creed, a lengthy discourse on the nature of the Trinity and Christ’s ministry.

So what does this creed say, why does it matter, and why do we so often ignore it?

Short Answer: The Athanasian Creed is a bit like the Holy Roman Empire: neither Athanasian nor a creed. Discuss.

Continue reading “The Athanasian Creed”

Decline and Resurrection

News broke a few months ago that the religiously unaffiliated now make up about a quarter of the US population. New Gallup research suggests that religious people with no congregational membership make up another quarter of the population. Put another way, nearly half of the American population lacks a congregational affiliation. Whether they identify with a faith tradition or not, they may as well be “Nones.” Continue reading “Decline and Resurrection”

#SBCToo

Infuriating but not surprising. That’s my response to the latest news in the unfolding scandal in the #ChurchToo era.

The Houston Chronicle has broken the story that everyone knew was coming. At first, I felt numb, as though there was nothing else could shock me following the waves of accused clergy in the Roman Catholic Church — but then I read about just how close the abuse was to the top. Baptists may not have Bishops, but their conventions come damn close. And, just as on the other side of the Tiber, these false prophets have sacrificed children to demons, covering up criminal acts and sins.

Women impregnated by their abusers, forced to “confess” their trauma in a perverse display of church “discipline,” urged to get an abortion by leaders in a denomination that exiled moderates through a thin veneer of pro-life language.

And we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of abusers — and it is only the start. Continue reading “#SBCToo”