“Where is your brother?”

Pope Francis’ tenure as the Bishop of Rome has been striking in many ways, but perhaps none more so than his concern for migrants and refugees.

Perhaps it is because Jorge Bergoglio’s family fled fascist Italy. Perhaps it’s because the Pope is from a continent that has seen so many migrants flee violence. Perhaps it is simply the work of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of a bishop. (For my part, I think it is all three.)

Whatever the reason(s), Francis’ time as the heir to Peter has been marked from the very beginning by his love for migrants. His first trip outside of Rome as Pope was to Lampedusa, the Italian island and landing point for many migrants and refugees in peril on the sea.

Some five years after that trip, Francis invited migrants, refugees, and rescue workers to Saint Peter’s for Mass. In his homily, the Pope revisited his sermon from Lampedusa five years ago, the theme of a God who searches us out, asking, “Where are you, Adam?” and “Cain, where is your brother?” It is a question, Francis tells us, directed at us. Where are our siblings, those suffering and in need of God’s loving kindness?

Building on that theme in this year’s sermon, the Bishop of Rome brought in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Addressing the assembled faithful from Spain in his native tongue, Francis says:

I wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my visit to Lampedusa with you, who represent rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea. I thank the rescuers for embodying in our day the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life. To those rescued I reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances that you are fleeing. I ask you to keep being witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing.


Under the banner “Every Family is Holy,” Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis has “detained” the Holy Family.

In a timely reminder that Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary fled with our Lord into Egypt as refugees, the Cathedral has placed figures from a nativity scene in a fenced enclosure, similar to the ones used by ICE to detain families. (As an aside, these detention facilities are often run by for-profit companies.)

The priest behind the prophetic action is the Rev. Canon Lee Curtis, one of my classmates at the Candler School of Theology. Even in seminary, Fr. Lee was a constant prophetic voice, a defender of the interconnection between social justice and Christian orthodoxy.

You can learn more about the work of “that church on the circle” in this report from the Indy Star.

Who Eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors?

The Feast at the House of Levi, Veronese

In the continued saga of the current administration’s immigration policies, restaurants have become places of protest. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have both been confronted with protests while dining out. Secretary Nielsen was jeered by protesters, while Mrs. Sanders was asked to leave the the establishment.

Predictably, this has become “a whole big thing.” Opinions are divided about whether or not these actions were correct. Continue reading “Who Eats with Sinners and Tax Collectors?”

Vatican II: Hear the Difference

The 20th century was a period of great liturgical renewal and reform, especially between 1955 and 1980. In the United States alone, those twenty-five years saw two new Lutheran hymnals (and a move towards liturgical unity across the Lutheran denominations), a revised Book of Common Prayer, and the first official vernacular translations of the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The liturgical changes came as the result of a surge in historical research beginning in the 1800s. Indeed, Lutherans of a certain age will remember the old Common Service Book, used for some four decades (1918-1958), but the basic order of service was put together in the 1880s.

In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, liturgical scholars were part of the driving force behind the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The resulting changers were staggering. The chalice was restored to the laity, the priest turned towards the people (versus populi, as opposed to facing east, ad orientem), and the Mass was celebrated in the language of the people. Continue reading “Vatican II: Hear the Difference”

United Methodists File Charges Against AG Sessions

Some six hundred members of the United Methodist Church have submitted a petition to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought under church discipline for his part in the on-going zero-tolerance immigration policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents. The group, made up of both clergy and lay persons, accuse Sessions of child abuse, among other things.

While “church discipline” varies greatly from denomination to denomination, the United Methodist has a complex system in which members of the denomination are subject to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the Church’s primary governing document. (The Discipline is part statement of faith, part canon law.) In the UMC, such disciplinary actions start with pastoral conversations at a local level. Usually, they also end at the local level. However, on very rare occasions, they may result in a church trial and possibly expulsion from the denomination.In a quote to the United Methodist News Service, the pastor who started the petition says:

I hope his pastor can have a good conversation with him and come to a good resolution that helps him reclaim his values that many of us feel he’s violated as a Methodist….I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.

The Rev. William Lawrence, a Methodist historian, says that he has never heard of similar charges moving beyond the local level.

The bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, of which Session’s home parish is a part, has publicly criticized the policy forcibly separating immigrant families, saying in part:

I implore Congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families. Changes to these laws need to be addressed starting today. Let us join our voices in prayer for the separated families, for those working to end this injustice and for our nation’s leaders.

I, for one, pray that the Attorney General hears the cries of the immigrants and the Church’s prophetic voice, that he feels his heart strangely warmed, and falls on his knees in repentance.

Faith Leaders United: End Family Separations

As previously mentioned, the US Government is, at the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, implementing a plan first proposed in March 2017 by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to separate families detained while illegally crossing our southern border.

Faith leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds have publicly spoken out against this immoral step. Continue reading “Faith Leaders United: End Family Separations”

Covenant: “Mind the Generation Gap”

Writing at Covenant, Hannah Matis speculates on the one-two punch of fewer young clergy facing an uncertain future of part-time positions and “junior” positions:

Meanwhile, if the number of full-time jobs has shrunk, the number of part-time positions has ballooned: and I for one would not be surprised if those positions were disproportionately occupied by women, old and young, and by junior clergy hanging on by their teeth and, heaven forfend, trying to raise families on a part-time church stipend. Whatever our political beliefs, who we hire is a statement of worth: that we ordain women may be a balm to liberal consciences, but what does it say about those values if those women are doomed forever to be supply?

Even as denominations face shortages of ordained clergy, newly ordained young adults, persons of color, and women are finding it harder and harder to find full-time positions.

While Matis is speaking specifically about the Episcopal Church, a similar situation is playing out in the ELCA. While the ELCA faces a clergy shortage, we also have many young and minority pastors who can’t find full-time calls. In seminary, we were told about a coming golden age for those seeking calls as Baby Boomers moved into retirement.  But congregational decline has kept pace with “Boomsday,” leaving a slew of open but part-time pulpits.

I write this as someone serving a parish part-time. I love my vocation, I love my parishioners, and I enjoy the flexibility to have multiple days off a week to run and maintain this site. But the challenges are numerous; just to name three:

  1. Ministry is unpredictable, making it difficult to work a second job when my schedule can change at the drop of a hat.
  2. Working in a parish that can’t afford a full-time pastor means working in a parish striving for renewal. That’s not something easily achieved on a schedule of twenty-hours a week.
  3. I graduated with a debt that exceeds my annual salary, and I was fortunate enough to have amazing scholarships and a spouse who is both debt-free and has a good job. I’m one of the lucky ones, and it’s still a struggle.

In the Church, a thirty-five year old presbyter is deemed “young” clergy and might very well be serving as an associate pastor, in a part-time call, or in multiple congregations. “Aren’t you too young to be a pastor/priest/preacher?” is the constant refrain. In the secular world, a thirty-five year old with a graduate degree would be moving up into management.

Matis concludes with a warning:

That is both the lesson and the warning the Episcopal Church needs to heed: When Millennials don’t need either the political visibility or social advantages of the Episcopal Church and they (or their children) are treated like nuisances, they will just leave. When Millennial clergy bear the brunt of a demanding vocation and receive no investment from their church in them, their families, or their future, they will just leave.

I remain more optimistic. Living into this challenge and knowing many young pastors in similar situations, most of us have no intention of leaving. None of us took up this vocation because we thought it would be easy or because the world would greet us with open arms. We’re here because we’re called by God to this holy work.

But my optimism is not naïve. Soon, and very soon, the Church will have to engage in a very serious and difficult conversation about how we form young clergy and make room for their voices and gifts.

Post Script: Covenant also went back into the archives to re-publish this helpful article by the Rev. Robert Ehrgott on an earlier clergy shortage and the restoration of the permanent diaconate. It’s a fascinating read for those of us interested in such things but also a timely reminder that our present struggles are nothing new. On the heels of the ELCA’s decision to form a united roster for “Ministers of Word and Service” and as we consider, at long last, joining in the apostolic tradition of ordaining our deacons, Fr. Ehrgott’s piece provides a helpful history of the topic within the Episcopal Church but also the Church Catholic.