The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

It’s Not About Chocolate

One day Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. Satan had just come from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting. “Yes, sir, I just caught the world full of people down there. Set me a trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist. Got ’em all!”
“What are you going to do with them?” Jesus asked.
Satan replied, “Oh, I’m gonna have fun! I’m gonna teach them how to marry and divorce each other, how to hate and abuse each other, how to drink and smoke and curse. I’m gonna teach them how to invent guns and bombs and kill each other. I’m really gonna have fun!”
“And what will you do when you get done with them?” Jesus asked. “Oh, I’ll kill ’em,” Satan glared proudly.
“How much do you want for them?” Jesus asked
“Oh, you don’t want those people. They ain’t no good. Why, you’ll take them and they’ll just hate you. They’ll spit on you, curse you and kill you. You don’t want those people!!”
“How much?” He asked again.
Satan looked at Jesus and sneered, “All your blood, your tears, and your life.”
Jesus said, “DONE!”
The middle of Feb. will see the beginning of Lent.  It’s the time we, as Episcopalians, set aside to consider Jesus’ sacrifice of “blood, tears, and his life” for us.  Over the years I’ve seen Lent be approached lots of ways, beginning with, “I’m giving up chocolate.”
As time has passed, I’ve seen our approach to Lent grow into a time when we concentrate on “walking in Jesus shoes.”  We have, as a church and as individuals, turned toward activities and/or disciplines that were a bit more serious than simply “giving up chocolate.  The focus of these activities can be on fasting and/or prayer and/or sharing.
There are lots of ways to approach this, depending on your own passions.  One way is to look at a practice and put your own spin on it.  Rather than just fasting, perhaps you might spend one day a week making casseroles for Mana from Heaven, or the Salvation Army.
Another option is to spend just an extra 15 minutes a day in prayer.  If you aren’t on the prayer chain, join it.  It’ll certainly add 15 minutes to your prayer time if you say a “please Father, look gently on so-and-so who needs blah, blah, blah” for each prayer request on the prayer chain.  If you are already on the prayer chain, this might be a good time to learn about praying the rosary.  There are several good sites online such as or there is a youtube video .  If you aren’t into computers, I’m sure Mary has information for you, or let me know 224-1733 and I’ll print off something for you.
Yet a third possibility is to share more of what you have been blessed with.  Clean those closets!  There are lots of places that will get your gently-used clothing to folks that need it.  Clean your basement.  There are lots of places that will get those dishes and glasses you are storing to folks that need them.  Visit a shut-in friend you haven’t spoken to in ages.  Your visit will be a blessing to her or him.  Volunteer your time at the DMARC food pantry, one of the local schools, the FreeStore, . . .
You get the idea.  Give! Give! Give of yourself.  That’s what Jesus did.

The Emblem and the Shield
August 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

The other day I was cleaning the bookshelf over my desk – something I avoid as religiously as possible –when I found a book I’d long forgotten about.Actually it’s been there since Karen Voss gave it to me a couple of years ago. At that time I said, “Thanks” and promptly put it on the shelf. Well, the other day I had two options 1) continue dusting or 2) peruse the book. Well, no question about what I chose. And I’m so glad I did.

The name of the book is, “The Episcopal Handbook” published by Morehouse Publishing Co. and it’s chock full of good stuff about being Episcopalians: who we are, what we believe, how we differ among ourselves, why questions are okay. It gave me lots of things to think about. One of the early topics is a description of the Episcopal shield. I think we ought to know about the shield since we’re sort of bound to what it represents. First a little background. The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is an inheritor of 2000 years of catholic and apostolic tradition dating from Christ himself, rooted in the Church of England. When the Church of England spread throughout the British Empire, sister churches sprang up. These churches, while autonomous in their governance, were and are bound together by tradition, Scripture, and the inheritance they have received from the Church of England. Together they make up the Anglican Communion, which is headed spiritually by the Archbishop of Canterbury and has some 70 million members, making it the second largest Christian body in the world.Here in the United States, the Episcopal Church came into existence as an independent denomination after the American Revolution. Today it has between two and three million members in the United States, Mexico, and Central America, all of which are under jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican communion is represented by the Anglican emblem, which is the Compass Rose. (The compass rose in its original form is well-known to many as it has appeared on charts and maps since the 1300’s. It is the familiar north, south, east, west cross-symbol used to show direction. Its many compass points indicate the many directions of the winds.) The Episcopal Church is represented by the Episcopal shield. In its Anglican form, the red cross of St. George sits on a silver shield at the center, a reminder of the origins of the Anglican Communion and a unifying link of the past within the communion today. Encircling the cross is a band bearing the inscription “The Truth shall make you free” in the original New Testament Greek. From the band radiate the points of the compass. The compass symbolizes the worldwide spread of the Anglican faith. Atop the shield is a mitre, the symbol of the Apostolic Order (the role of the Episcopate) which is essential to all the churches which constitute the Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal shield is reminiscent of the American flag (many of the founding fathers of the ECUSA were also the founding fathers of our country), and its red, white, and blue motif signify that the ECUSA is the American representative to the Anglican Communion. The colors each have a symbolic meaning: Red is for the blood Christ shed for us and for the lives of the martyrs of our faith; White is the color of purity; Blue is the traditional color of the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Son of Man. Several crosses appear on the Episcopal shield. The large, red cross that divides the shield is a cross of St. George, the cross of the Church of England, and it represents our ties with our mother church. There are nine small crosses in the upper left quadrant arranged in a St. Andrew’s cross, the cross of the Church of Scotland. (Remember the legend that says when St. Andrew was about to be put to death on the cross, he asked to be hung spread eagle on an x-shaped cross because he was not worth to die the way his Lord had died.) When no Anglican bishop would ordain a bishop for the fledgling Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, bishops of the Church of Scotland agreed to lay hands on Samuel Seabury, ordaining him the first bishop of the ECUSA. This cross honors the part the Church of Scotland played in the birth of our church.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Italy Experiences
July 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

Ciao from Sorrento, Italy.  It’s pretty neat to be sitting on the balcony of my hotel room, looking out over the bluest ocean ever and writing for friends in Iowa.  We only have a few days left in Italy, but what a wonderful trip it has been.  Harry and I are here with my son, wife, and grandson, Anna and her significant other; and Amy.  Also with us are my brother Peter’s children and grandchildren.

We spent a few days in Rome but our real purpose was to take all these Magelli (my maiden name) offspring to visit the small Italian village in Northern Italy, Castel di Casio, where my folks were born and where our shirt-tail cousins have summer homes.

Since we’ve had something like 20 addresses in our 49 years of wedded bliss and each of my four children was baptized in a different church, it’s a very moving experience to visit the church where family members have been baptized since before the 1800s.  The church is named St. Biagio – which incidentally was my father’s name- the Biagio part, not the St. part.

St. Biagio is called St. Blaise in English and you might remember Saint Blaise’s feast day because of the “blessing of the throats” that took place on this day.  On the feast of St. Blaise, which is Feb. 3rd, two candles are blessed, held slightly open, and pressed against the throat as the blessing is said.  Saint Blaise’s protection of those with throat troubles apparently comes from a legend that a boy was brought to him who had a fishbone stuck in his throat. The boy was about to die when Saint Blaise healed him.  We actually had that service a couple of times when we lived in Illinois.  It was neat.

I was a bit disappointed in what I found at the church though.  They have removed the statue of St. Theresa (my and my grandmother’s saint) and replaced it with a bowl of flowers on a table.  I wasn’t able to find out why.  I am a little upset about that.  (Like since I go to mass there once or twice a decade, they should consult me?)

We also visited what is my favorite church of all that I have ever visited.  It’s St. Steven’s in Bologna and was started in 80 AD.  Of course it has been added to over the years until it is now either five or seven connected churches.  I haven’t figured it out exactly.  But, for me, it’s a very spiritual experience to stand on ground that probably held people who were alive when Jesus was alive.

The trip was a bit bittersweet because while we were having our “root’s” experience, my sister, had a stroke and died a few days later.  She died while we were visiting family in Castel and exactly 38 years to the day and hour after my father died.  It was some comfort to be able to light candles that day in St. Biagio’s and the next day at St. Steven’s.

See you next month!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Pentecost Means Sharing Jesus’ Love
June 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

I’m not much into pop culture. I don’t go to many movies; I watch replays, not new, on television; and my favorite music is made by Peter, Paul, and Mary. So I surprised myself a little by reading an article by Jennifer Knapp. She is a Christian music artist who has recently returned to music after a seven year hiatus during which she revealed that she has been in a same-sex relationship for the past eight years. She writes “Almost exclusively, I was playing in and around churches – Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Catholic – and some churches that had no recognizable denominational affiliation other than a cross over their door. Where I began thinking that all Christians were alike, I quickly discovered that they were not. They all spoke of Jesus the same, but their practices and traditions, their “do’s and don’ts,” could be vastly different. Through trial and error, offense and blessing, I learned that not even a Christian could be solely judged by his cover. Blundering assumptions about how I thought one church might believe, or even how one single congregant among them might believe, only left me an agent of offense. I began to recognize the intense personal nature of
each individual’s specific spiritual journey. I began to see the powerful protection a community of faith could be for the fragile and broken. I also have seen the tragic emotional and spiritual devastation brought upon those who sought only compassion and were greeted with condemnation in times of utmost vulnerability.”

Hmm. What does that mean to us as we enter into Pentecost? What are we to say as we go out to spread the word of Jesus Christ. It’s been said that a comfortable part of being an Episcopalian is that no matter what you believe, you can find someone to agree with you. That leaves a lot of room for diversity among us doesn’t it? The nice thing is that, as Episcopalians, we embrace diversity. And as for the Pentecost thing, we have the Nicene Creed – though someone suggested that many Episcopalians recite parts of it with crossed fingers. There is one more thought that can guide us as we invite others to learn about Christ. It’s something Shirley Cruse told me many years ago when I asked what we should be teaching the young ones in Sunday School. “Tell them this is a safe place because it is where Jesus lives and loves. Tell them no matter where they are in the future and no matter how far into the future it is, they can come back to this place. Tell them no matter what problems they have they can come back to this place. Tell them here they will find love because everyone here lives and loves in Jesus.”

For next month, I’m going to send Liz an old article. Harry and I and an assorted bunch of my kids, nieces, nephews, and friends are trekking to Italy for a “roots” experience. I’ll tell you about it when we get back.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

May 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

Spring’s here. May’s coming. It’s hard to think about May without talking about Pentecost. Following Christ is a hard act but being part of a liturgical church helps us to focus on all he asks of us. It’s what we do as Christians. We do Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Pentecost. Pentecost, from the Greek pentedost, means fiftieth. Fiftieth what? Well it’s 50 days after Easter, which for the early Jew/Christians was especially related to Passover. And as early holidays would have it, 50 days after Passover was the Jewish feast of Shabuoth, also called Pentecost. Shabuoth celebrates the Ten Commandments being given to Moses. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt; on the Shabuoth (Jewish Pentecost) they were given the Ten Commandments and became a nation committed to serving God. Now this is important because we see a parallel as on Christian Pentecost, we celebrate committing our selves to serving Christ by spreading the word of His resurrection. Since Easter, Mary has been referring to us as a Resurrection people – a neat way to think of ourselves. It gives such hope. But without Pentecost it would be difficult to grab and hold the idea of resurrection – even more difficult to know what we are to with this knowledge/belief of Christ’s death and rising. Pentecost tells us we are to share what we know. Jesus appeared several times in the fifty days after his death. That secured the idea that indeed Christ had died and risen from that death. But for the most part these might have just seemed like “sightings” if not for the occurrences of Pentecost. Pentecost gives us direction, tells us what we need to do with this knowledge of the Risen Christ. Pentecost is the day that the Holy Spirit touched
ordinary people. We all know the Pentecost story, the twelve apostles (Matthias had been chosen to replace Judas Iscariot) had gathered to celebrate Jewish Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples. It was pretty exciting and the description probably was just an interpretation of what they experienced And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it
filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each
of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad,
the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. The story goes on to say that the Disciples went forth and converted lots and lots of people. The inference is that we should go forth and do the
same. That’s why we celebrate Pentecost – to rededicate ourselves to spreading the “good news.”

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

What Was It Like That Morning?
April 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

By the time many of you get around to reading this, Easter will be over, won’t it?  GOTCHA!  I certainly hope you get around to reading this sometime in the next seven weeks!  And the first thing we know is that the Easter season isn’t just one day or week but a whole 50-day period ending on Pentacost (the 50th day.) which is May 23rd this year.  Unfortunately lots of folks do seem to think Easter: eggs, hats, church, brunch, egg salad and moving right along.

How lucky for us Episcopalians that we know Eastertide goes on a bit longer than that.  Considering all it means, it surely deserves more that a day.

Golly can you image what it must have been like for those early Christians just sorting out what Jesus’ death meant?

Or even can you think what it must have been like to be one of the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb.  Can you come up with an explanation that your Roman Centurion boss might believe?  Or is it more likely that you’d end up in real trouble for falling asleep and letting someone take Jesus’ body from under you nose?  No doubt the story of bribery of the guards by the priests saves you from some serious pain.

And think about the Marys having gone through Wed., Thurs., and Friday of Passover week (a very holy time for Jews), then not being able to take Jesus for burial because the Sabbath was about to begin.  Think about how painful that must have been for them.  They lost someone they dearly loved and lost him to a horrible, painful death and they had to wait three days to care for him and begin closure.  So they got up as early as they could at the end of the Sabbath to go care for Jesus’ body.

But when they got there: no Jesus, only an angel is at the grave.  Can you imagine how difficult even verbalizing the scene would be.

“Yeah, we got  here early but the cave was already empty, but there was this angel, a really big angel standing there.”

“No, the guards were there and they were awake.”

“No, they were pretty vague about what happened.”

“Well, like I said there was this really big angel standing there and . . .”

“The angel, he was really big and all in white, and he said, uh, he said Jesus had risen and, uh, we were supposed to tell you guys about it.”

“No, No, that’s all we know.”

About then I’d have needed a few aspirin for the gigantic headache that I’d feel coming on!  And probably – according to Luke anyway – looks like Peter could have used a few Bayers also.

I’m a great fan of mysteries.  In fact, when I have time to read for fun now, that’s all I read.  But this is a Mystery with a capital M.  It requires the suspension of reality for  imagination and the suspension of imagination for an unseen reality.  I think that’s what’s called faith.

Because bottom line is I believe it!  I believe it, not just on Easter, but on every Sunday when the host is offered for, “His great sacrifice.”

Well you know the rest of the story, or if you don’t just pay attention to the readings the next several weeks and you’ll get a feel for how this story is going to play out.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Bits and Pieces 1
March 1, 2010
Terry Swanson

On Being Episcopalian:  Bits and Pieces 1

Lent seems to have snuck up on me early this year.  It seems like it shouldn’t start for another week or so.  I’ve got to get that out of my head and catch up with the calendar.  As I always do during Lent, I try to add something to my daily activities that remind me that, indeed, this is a special time and I should behave in a special way.  Lent is forty days long so if I pick 10 activities and devote 3-5 days to each, I’ll have filled a personal devotional.  Sometimes I get confused with myself because it seems like the activities I’ve chosen are things I should do anyway.  You know, like, “I’ll clean out each of the clothes closets and take all the items I haven’t worn for two years to CFIDVS or Good Will.”  Well that’s noble but is it a Lenten devotion?  It’s difficult, isn’t it?  Maybe if I combine the cleaning with prayers of thanksgiving for all my blessings?. . .

I spent most of last week-end’s miserable weather days cleaning files.  One of the files I found was chock full of interesting stories, jokes, cartoons, and bits and pieces people have sent me, over the years, for the St. Timothean.  Many of them never got in for one reason or another so over the next few months, I’m going to share some of these mostly hokey – but moving and dear, nonetheless – pieces with you.

One page was full of Billboards Sponsored by God.  Here are a few of them:
Let’s meet at my house Sunday before the game. – God
C’mon over and bring the kids. – God
What part of “Thou shall not . . .” didn’t you understand? – God
We need to talk. – God
That “Love your neighbor’ thing.”  I meant it. – God
Will the road you’re on get you to my place? – God

And here was a little riddle written on a yellow scrape of paper:

What am I?

I speak every language under the sun, and enter every corner of the earth.
I bring information, inspiration, and recreation to all mankind.
I am the enemy of ignorance and slavery; the ally of enlightenment and liberty.
I treat all persons alike, regardless of race, color, creed or condition.
I have power to stretch man’s vision, to deepen his feelings, and enrich his life.
I am a true friend, a wise counselor, and a faithful guide.
I am as silent as gravitation, as pliant and powerful as the electric currents.
and as enduring as the everlasting hills.
I am a bread of life, with the message of
salvation for every lost soul.

Here’s one someone copied for me and to which we can all relate:

What Can I Do for My Church?

I can be loyal to its services.
I can hold it up in prayer.
I can contribute toward its support.
I can aid in its ministry.
I can welcome guests to the services.
I can promote good fellowship.
I can seek out and help the discouraged.
I can refrain from criticism
I can invite my friends and neighbors.
I can help create a spiritual atmosphere.
I can encourage the study of God’s word.
I can dedicate my talents to God’s service
I can be kind and courteous to all.
I can look for the best in other members.

More next month.  If you are one of the people who sent me these, “Thank You.”

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Why was Christ Baptized?
February 12, 2010
Terry Swanson

On Being Episcopalian: Why was Christ Baptized?

We had an especially nice service this morning at 8 o’clock. We had a baptism, not something we often have so early in the morning. And it was different from most of our baptisms because it was not a child but a grown – a senior – man. It was timely because the Gospel that day was Luke 15-16:

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  John answered them all, “I baptize you with[ water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

That got me to thinking about something I’d never considered before. I thought baptism was a particularly Christian sacrament. What was going on with these “before Christianity” baptisms?

For the Episcopal Church, Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body (the Church) and inheritors of the kingdom of God. The Church is an organism like a human family, and not an organization like a club or a business. I once heard baptism described as signifying dying with Christ and being buried in the waters of baptism to begin life anew in Him. That’s a little esoteric for me.

As often is the case, I identify with the way the catechism talks of sacraments, “God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” Isn’t that powerful? Doesn’t that make you feel safe and loved?

Anyway back to my question. How could there be baptism before Christ even started his ministry? Well, you can tell I’m not much of a history buff or even an Old Testament buff. A little research and it didn’t take long to find out what was going on in that baptizing gospel.

The baptism of John was a Jewish washing called a mikvah, a ritual immersion bath that had been part of Jewish life for generations and symbolized a spiritual cleansing. Throughout their history it had been traditional for Jews to outwardly demonstrate their personal repentance.  They would do that through washing ceremonies.  What was happening was John was preaching, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and that was a very clear message, “The Messiah is coming!”  The people who accepted that message and desired to repent came to John, repented, and demonstrated their repentance in the mikvah or baptism. They were a people being made ready for the coming of the Messiah. So it was a Jewish washing as they were preparing themselves internally in their heart and demonstrating it externally in their baptism for the arrival of Messiah.

Stay Warm!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Let’s Make it a Happy New Year
January 11, 2010
Terry Swanson

Well by now you’ve all had a chance to review St. Tim’s 2010 budget. Yuck! As things stand we will have to face the fact that we will lose Elizabeth next summer.   We don’t want to do that! She is a vital part of our ministry team and is responsible for several programs – programs that will wither and die; programs that touch us all in different ways.

Can we fix the problem. Yes, easily. We need to pay our way. You’ve seen the numbers. And if you haven’t, contact the office and get a copy of the pledges we got and what we need. Think about your own pledge and think about whether you’re giving God an appropriate, “Thank You.” for your blessings. Are you giving God what’s right or what’s left?

Did you know that giving generously, is good for your health. And that means giving of all sorts of form: certainly money is one – one that is important to St. Tim’s at the moment. Volunteering is another. The following is titled, “Six Ways Giving is Good for Your Health” from

It’s The Thought That Counts Simply contemplating generosity boosts your immunity. When Harvard students watched a film about Mother Teresa tending to orphans, the number of protective antibodies in their saliva surged; when the students were asked to focus on times when they’d been loved by or loving to others, their antibody levels stayed elevated for an hour. In another study, the brain’s pleasure centers lit up when people made check marks next to a list of organizations to which they wanted to donate.

Lend an Ear, Help Your Heart Being generous with your attention can reduce your risk of heart attack. Cardiac arrest is highly correlated with the amount of self-reference (“I,” “me,” “my”) in a person’s speech. The best advice? Listen to and connect with others—social ties lower your risk of dying from heart disease.

Lend a Hand, Lower Your Pain People suffering from chronic pain report decreased intensity, and less disability and depression, when they reach out to others in similar pain. In one study, pain was reduced by 13 percent. Scientists believe the release of endorphins explains the phenomenon.

Goodness Nose In a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, people who were socially connected reported catching fewer colds. Volunteering is, of course, one of the simplest ways to connect.

Love Heals Some Wounds
In a 2005 Ohio State University study, married couples were given tiny blisters on two occasions. During the first visit, they talked to each other supportively; during the second, they hashed out relationship conflicts. The blisters took a day longer to heal after the second visit, and two days longer in couples with high levels of anger.

The Magic Touch There’s an off switch for the adrenal gland’s production of the stress hormone cortisol: it’s massage. A study that recruited retirees to give massages showed that their (the retirees) cortisol—as well as their anxiety and depression—levels dropped significantly.

What do these studies mean for us? Believe me when I say they tell us to consider and reconsider; consider and reconsider what we may need from our priest(s) in the coming year. Consider who would come if your husband were in an auto accident when Mary is out of town. Consider who will guide the Community Ministry. Consider who will lead our confirmation class. Consider who will lead the Thursday discussion group if Mary is called to a dying parishioner. Consider, consider, and reconsider your spiritual needs, your children’s, your family’s.

If we lose Elizabeth, we all lose. Up your pledges, make a pledge if you haven’t. Dig deeper! You’ll feel better for it. I promise you’ll feel worse if you don’t. St. Tim’s is our spiritual home. We must care for our family.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

A Few Thoughts About Gifts
December 10, 2009
Terry Swanson

From The Whisper of Christmas  By Joe E. Pennel, Jr., p. 61
“There is no evidence of any kind regarding the date of Jesus’ birth. His nativity began to be celebrated on Dec. 25 in Rome during the early part of the fourth century (AD 336) as a Christian counterpart to the pagan festival, popular among the worshipers of Mithras, called Sol Invictis, the Unconquerable Sun. At the very moment when the days are the shortest and darkness seems to have conquered light, the sun passes its nadir. Days grow longer, and although the cold will only increase for quite a long time, the ultimate conquest of winter is sure. This astronomical process is a parable of the career of the Incarnate One. At the moment when history is blackest, and in the least expected and obvious place, the Son of God is born…”

As has gotten to be my habit lately when I think about doing this column I go to the internet to see what other folks have to say.  Well, folks have been writing about Advent and Christmas for almost 2000 years now and there is some really good stuff available.  Some of the highlights were the stories concerning gifts.  The telling point seems to be a real emphasis on gifts as gifts of your spirit.
Edward Hays in A Pilgrim’s Almanac suggests we take a hint from the real St. Nicholas.  You know the St. Nicholas, who seems to have become the patron saint of shoppers.  If you listen carefully you will hear him proclaim, ‘Keep it simple!’ Keep it simple enough to fit in a shoe or a stocking. One gift that could fit in a shoe, or in a stocking hanging on the fireplace, is a note that speaks of one of our most precious gifts, the gift of time. Such a note might read: “The gift I give to you is one Saturday a month to do whatever you want to do.”  Wouldn’t that bring a tear to a busy mom’s eye?

And because I tend to speak out of turn I wondered what it would cost to ask forgiveness for a hurt I did, purposefully or accidentally.  Or perhaps what would it cost me to forgive – just forgive –without being asked.  That might cost me a lot – of ego if not cash.

Here’s a poem or maybe it’s a prayer I found with some wonderful suggestions for year-long gifts:
a firm handshake to a shaky soul,
a kind word to a lonely person,
a warm smile to the disheartened,
a sincere concern for someone troubled,
a feeling of compassion for the neglected,
a comforting thought for the bereaved,
a respect for the dignity of others,
a defense of the rights of individuals,
a word of witness to help a seeking soul,

Here are gifts for parents to give their children
Give them appreciation for the world’s wonderful diversity by teaching respect and tolerance.
Give them opportunities to make responsible decisions and gain self-esteem.
Give them encouragement and praise.
Give them boundaries.
Give them your ear so they know you are always ready to listen to their questions and problems.
Give them love that is unconditional but not over-indulgent.
Give them opportunities to grow spiritually:  teach them to pray, strong faith will help them become mature adults.

Finally, it’s still Advent.  Give yourself the gift of some quiet time to think about Christmas. DO NOT think about all you have to do to get ready but think about everything you already have and enjoy your blessings.

God Jul, Feliz Navidad, Buone Feste Natalizie, Vesele Vanoce,
Joyeux Noel, Gloedelig Jul, Hyvaa joulua, Mele Kalikimaka…..
…….Merry Christmas

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Let’s Get Ready for the New Year
November 9, 2009
Terry Swanson

Well Consecration Sunday is over – though I’m writing this before the event to be able to reach the St. Timothean deadline. I was sick last Sunday so I didn’t get to the town meeting but I did get detailed copies of the budget. Though the vestry has done a great job of trying to fund St. Tim’s for us, it’s scary to have such a deficit budget.

I was on the elementary school board early in the ’80s when the farm crisis hit. Since we were a very rural community, the problem was very severe. We cut a librarian and library hours – not much community response; we cut the art teachers and program – not much community response; we said we were going to cut more staff and enlarge classes – not much community response. We said we would have to cut 7th and 8th grade boys basketball and coaches – hundreds of folks turned out to protest. We got our referendum passed. Ridiculous?   It’s up to us to keep our priorities straight!

It’s up to us folks to make this work. The famous Pogo once said, “We have seen the enemy and it is us.” To paraphrase: “We have seen the budget and it is (up to) us.”

It’s hard to be scared very long though because Advent is coming up and we are obliged to believe in the future – and in each other. Not only was I on a school board, I taught school for a number of years. It was pretty interesting because while I was teaching in one district about 20 miles from where I lived, I was on the school board in town we lived in. I remember how hard it was to be sure I was wearing the right hat at the right time. When we moved to Des Moines I went to work first doing marketing for a small software firm and then to Pioneer Hi-Bred Int. Inc as a technical writer. What a difference. The great thing about teaching school was no matter how bad it was, you got to start over the next year with a new class and a clean slate. Not so true working in business. Some projects I worked on went on for years and a mistake early on could be quite costly in later phases.

I think being part of a church congregation is a lot like teaching school but also a little like business. Each year we start anew to participate in the wonder of Jesus’ birth and life; death and resurrection. God forgives us our mistakes and at any point allows us to make a  u-turn, make amends and move forward again. The Church reflects this each year as we begin again the cycle of living and learning from Christ’s life. But in this practical world we also must take care of things carried over.

This year, Advent begins on November 29, 2009. As a liturgical church we Episcopalians take Advent seriously. Advent from the Latin Adventus means arrival. The four Sundays of Advent give us the time to prepare for this holy “arrival.” In this busy world we live in it’s easy for Advent to get lost in the preparations for Christmas.

Unfortunately for many of us the preparations for Christmas are heavy on cookie-making and shopping and light on considering the birth/rebirth of Christ. Try to give Advent some of the respect it deserves: maybe taking minutes to just sit quietly and think about the words, “Christ’s birthday is coming,” maybe making an advent wreath and lighting it each evening, maybe remembering each day to thank God for Christ’s first coming to earth as a baby, for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and for the anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.

Oh and Hey! Happy Thanksgiving!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Returning Thanks
September 29, 2009
Terry Swanson

October, a month of many faces:  Sometimes we see hot, humid summer-like days; sometimes we suffer through freezing rain and snow.  Life in Iowa is wonderful.  One stable thing, though, is that for us at St. Timothy’s it is time to think about Consecration Sunday – though I still think about it as the annual stewardship drive.

It has been said that Episcopalians are rather like the Victorians.  They would rather talk about sex than talk about money and the Good Lord knows they didn’t talk about sex!  Well, I’m from a big family-I’m the youngest of nine kids, but believe me, my mom didn’t allow much sex talk around.  Now talk about money was another thing.  We didn’t have a lot of it so we heard about that often.

I had the good opportunity to stand next to John Bloom at the Ministries Fair/Parish picnic and we talked a little about money and St. Tim’s needs.  John is chair of the Finance Committee and has a pretty good handle on what we need to run this wonderful church home of ours.  He reminded me that all we’ve heard from Ray Gaebler about the building needs and all we see each month in the financials say we have a serious task ahead of us.  It’s a fact, as Episcopalians and St. Timotheans, we have some responsibilities, some fiscal responsibilities, to maintain this place we call, “our church.”

We’re a pretty conscientious group when it comes to pay our personal bills.  I hope you, as a St. Timothean, understand that this church home of ours requires the same support diligence and it is up to us to cough up the funds to pay for those services we are so happy, so eager to use.  This place teams with goodness, with wonderful activities for us: our great choir, our wonderful ARK, our children’s programs, weddings, funerals, week-end services, counseling, care, fellowship, etc. etc.  It’s a wonderful, comforting, comfortable place that heals and forgives, and teaches us to give and forgive.  In addition, it’s a pretty place that makes us feel good just to call it, “our church.”  But all this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It gives us a lot, and fact is, it requires a lot (of money) to keep it going.

It’s ours and we need to cough up and cough up gladly, the funds necessary to support it.  Consecration Sunday is coming up and you are going to be asked to make your pledge to pay the bills for this place.  Actually, the request will probably be in the form of a much softer appeal that’s cloaked in the idea that “all we have are gifts from God and we surely want to give thanks for His gifts”-a lofty thought that’s right on!  But make no mistake; let me translate literally.  Giving thanks means to do all we can:  Pray! Pay! and Do Good Works!   Something worth considering is when it comes to returning to God a portion of what he has given you, “You really ought to give what’s right not what’s left!”

I believe we all want this place to go on and on and on.  We all want it here when we need it.  Last year I said that for a long time I thought of pledging as a climb toward tithing, but that I’d changed my mind and believed giving was a witness to God for the gifts He gives us.  Well that’s pretty floral, and though I haven’t reversed myself, I do think that perhaps a climb toward tithing is a good beginning.  Human nature being what it is, a goal like the idea that we should be working toward tithing is a good place to start.  Then after a few years you really will begin to understand that paying St. Tim’s bills, donating to the food bank, baking casseroles, teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, praying for your neighbors are the ways we say, “Thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life.”  AND the truth is, it insures that St. Tim’s will be here when you need it. (The older I get the clearer that becomes!) It’s a wonderful cycle and one we should all plan to be an active part of.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

So, What About Grace?
September 3, 2009
Terry Swanson

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve said that in my lifetime. I guess I thought it meant that something bad had happened to someone else because he wasn’t covered by God’s grace and that, though I had been in a similar situation, it hadn’t happened to me because I was. Or maybe I thought I was just luckier than the other guy. Either way, it wasn’t very clear thinking.

Anyway, my granddaughter heard my daughter and me talking the other day when I cavalierly repeated the old saying. She looked at me and asked, “What’s that mean Grandma?” Ugh. It immediately occurred to me that I wasn’t sure I could define to whom God spread his grace. Indeed I wasn’t even too sure what grace was. So I simply said, “Grandma will get back to you on that!” and decided I’d see what I could learn about grace.

The prayer book says, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” Well I understand the first part, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.” I don’t know exactly why but I kind of react to the second part. Like how do we know it’s by grace that God forgives our sins? Maybe it’s just His loving nature – or is His loving nature, grace? Hmm?

Paul declares in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved though faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the results of works so that no one may boast.” That I sort of understand. Some of the other things Paul says confuse me but I like this message a lot. Still I wasn’t satisfied.

So I did what I do when I’m looking for information. I searched the internet. What a can of worms! So many words, phrases, and explanations – it’s overwhelming – and I really couldn’t follow most of them. As one site said, “the manner of its (grace’s) conferral has been a subject of discussion since the 4th century and is now a characteristic matter of difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

From the website:

In the subsequent development of the theology of grace, two conflicting views have predominated. The first, characteristic of medieval Christianity and continued in much Roman Catholic theology, has treated grace as a divine power that enters a person and, in cooperation with the person’s own will, transforms him or her into one who loves God and is loved by God. This grace is transmitted especially, perhaps exclusively, through the church’s Sacraments (the “means of grace”); and it allows some room for human merit because the one who receives grace must also cooperate with it in the process of transformation.

The second view, often a reaction against the first, is particularly associated with the Protestant Reformation and Protestant theology. In contrast to the ideas that the sacraments transmit grace and that one must cooperate with grace, Protestant theologians have insisted that grace is given where God wills and is not conditional on a person’s receptivity. Thus the sacraments are signs of grace, but do not impart it, and salvation depends entirely on God, not at all on human will – a theme close to the idea of Predestination. This grace, controlled only by God, is not a power that transforms a person; it is a love that receives a person directly into God’s favor.

These two views are not totally incompatible. Both seek to understand the forms of God’s unmerited love for people and their undeserved gift of salvation.

Mind Overload! After an hour or so of reading more extended explanations of grace, of saving grace and natural grace, and sanctifying grace, and few other graces I can’t remember,

I was more than ready to return to the prayer book and accept the simple truth that, “”Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved;”

I did find one site that I really liked. My simple mind tends toward simple explanations and here is what I found that spoke to me.

Distinguish grace from mercy

· Grace-God’s solution to man’s sin.
Mercy-God’s solution to man’s misery.

· Grace-Covers the sin.
Mercy-Removes the pain.

· Grace-Unearned favor which saves us.
Mercy-Undeserved favor which forgives us.

· Grace-Deals with the cause of sin.
Mercy-Deals with the symptoms of sin.

· Grace-Offers pardon for the crime.
Mercy-Offers relief from the punishment.

· Grace-Cures or heals the disease.
Mercy-Eliminates the pain of the disease.

· Grace-Regarding salvation it says, “Heaven.”
Mercy-Regarding salvation it says, “No Hell.”

· Grace-Says, “I pardon you.”
Mercy-Says, “I pity you”

And my personal favorite,

· Grace-Gives us what we do not deserve.
Mercy-Does not give us what we do deserve.

An finally remember: Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace, and your best days are never so good that you’re beyond the need of God’s grace.

I’m still not sure what, “There for but the grace of God go I” means but I think now I might be able to have a talk about it with my 12-year old granddaughter. Who knows, a fresh young mind might unravel it.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Unsolicited Acts of Kindness
August 5, 2009
Terry Swanson

I don’t know why for sure, but, even though I suffered through the worst cold/flu I’ve had in many a year, it’s been kind of a euphoric month. I have seen so many “unsolicited acts of kindness.” Maybe they are around all the time but this month seemed especially blessed.

Early this month, we were involved in the bi-annual Greater Des Moines Bridge Regional Tournament. It was pretty exciting with folks from 22 different states as far away as Hawaii and two foreign countries. It’s a very competitive tournament with players vying for (important-to-bridge-players) colored points. Yet several times over the seven days of play, I saw good players offer to play with weaker players to, “help you get some needed points.” One fellow with lots and lots of points offered to play with an old friend – and by old I mean she is well into her 90s, and slowing down a bit mentally – and even picked her up and gave her a ride to and from the Sheraton. I don’t know if they won but they both had big smiles on their faces when I saw them. Another woman did the same thing for a friend who is not a very strong player and has several serious illnesses – just to help her get those points while she can still play. Unsolicited acts of kindness.

Then the next week the FreeStore served its 1000th client request. It still warms my heart to see the commitment of the volunteers we have. We have a retired surgeon and retired hospital administrator who go out together to pick up furniture. We have a very conservative fellow who goes out with a very liberal volunteer and both bite their tongues and haul couches up three flights of stairs. We have a very big, very bright, very well-educated man who faithfully folds sheets and towels every week.

It has occurred to me that the creationists are barking up the wrong genetic tree when they worry about whether we’re descended from apes. When I watch these good people work so hard, just because it’s the right thing to do, I have no doubt what “So God created man in His own image” really means. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the physical.

I found a lovely piece online written by a young man from the Sudan who was chosen to deliver a talk to his Harvard graduating class. (See for the whole article). He talked of his early life when his family lived in a Sudanese refugee camp and owned nothing they could not carry. While in the camp his mother told him he must always keep his head covered when he slept so the snakes could not creep into his mouth.

Later when he was in the comfort of the U.S. and leaving for Harvard she told him to always remember where he came from. It was advice which he could not understand for a long time. Then he realized there is a time to keep your head covered but also a time to pull the covers down. He said, ” That’s the hard part. Too many of us go through life with the covers over our heads. We want to reach out, but we fear to make ourselves vulnerable. And we are also busy. We have appointments to keep; we have things to do. We race through a world of demands.

And then we ask ourselves almost helplessly, “What can we do as individuals?”

Some people say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a hurricane in Louisiana. Any one of us, however small and helpless we may feel, can spark unimagined changes. Today’s small act of kindness can become tomorrow’s whirlwind of human progress.

But as you all know, progress is not easy, and it will not come unsolicited. I hope that many of us will inspire positive change. There is still so much to be done both in distant lands such as the Sudan, and closer to home in our own communities. The big, sweeping, revolutionary actions are always most noticeable. But quite often, it will be the small things that we can do that will have the most impact. Yes, we all have busy lives. But we can all take a little time, to do a little deed of kindness. We can inscribe a little goodness on the hard surface of this world.”

So get out there and try some unsolicited acts of kindness. Don’t limit your target, don’t have any agenda but being nice. Don’t look for reward. Just hold open some doors, carry someone’s groceries, return shopping carts, pick up litter, put money in other people’s parking meters, smile and make eye contact with a homeless person, take time to talk with someone who has no family, thank someone who has a thankless job, call an estranged family member, become friends with the “weird kid”.

Just be willing to make little sacrifices for others and not expect anything in return. That’s how niceness works. The payback is awesome and that’s what it means to be “made in His Image!”

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

July 15, 2009
Terry Swanson

We had a great experience yesterday. We had an opportunity to visit the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. The Trust is a research center that provides sanctuary for, studies the intelligence of, advances the conservation of, and provides educational experiences about great apes. The science of the Great Ape Trust seeks to understand the origins and future of culture, language, tool use, and intelligence. We saw orangutans and bonobos. Though they were caged, the cages were built to mimic the apes living environment.

Some really interesting study/learning studies that the great apes have been involved in are the use of sign language or language symbols to teach the animals to communicate with humans. Both of these are on-going. Another was a study to investigate forgiveness in bonobos. The study was, “By looking at how apes learn to channel certain abilities such as forgiveness, our understanding of these processes becomes infinitely deeper.”. . .”Our hypothesis is that forgiveness, like other social behaviors, is co-constructed from joint interactions across time – it is not a property of a species but rather a property of a certain socio-cultural set of coordinated interaction.”

Wow! I’m not sure I believe that and I haven’t been able to find the results of the study, but the idea got me to thinking about forgiveness and forgiving.

Scripture talks a fair amount about being forgiven and about forgiving and often tells us that, like the old song, “you can’t have one without the other.”

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will you Father forgive your trespasses.

Mark 11:25-26 And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Luke 7:48 Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven

Psychologists tell us that anyone who has ever been victimized must decide whether or not to forgive the perpetrator. There can be no middle ground to this decision: either you decide to forgive the person who hurt you, or you hold on to bitterness and anger.
Holding on to bitterness and anger can cause problems of their own, so if you have ever been victimized, being able to forgive your victimizer is a crucial part of your healing. I’m sure Jesus knew this also and His instructions to forgive were for our own good, and – and difficult as it is to identify with – because He cares for the one who victimized us.

You might say that, for a Christian, to ask for forgiveness unlocks a new future and to forgive breaks the chains of the past. (Caveat:
Forgiveness does not mean that when you have been betrayed or abused you should give the abuser the opportunity to do it again.)

Finally we must ask the question, “What guides Christian forgiveness if an offender is not willing to repent?” The answer is simple. The Lord commands us to forgive anyway, to release the offense and the offender to Him.

Without forgiveness, there’s no future. Desmond Tutu
One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything every night before you go to bed. Ann Landers
Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Martin Luther King
Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge. Malcolm Forbes
Life is an adventure in forgiveness. Norman Cousins
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Mahatma Gandhi

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

History of Christianity Timeline
June 2, 2009
Terry Swanson

A version of this column was first published in 2005 but it seems reasonable to repeat it as we start our journey through Pentecost – that period when we’re to go out and spread the word of Christ.

Last month we learned a bit about Pentecost and that it is our responsibility as Christians to share our Good News. I thought a good way to begin understanding that responsibility was to learn a little about our history as Christians and Episcopalians so we could better understand how to share our story.

Well I got sidetracked. As I started to look at the history of Christianity, I got lost in it. I do most of my research online so what I found is probably not terribly exact but it is voluminous. The first piece I found – a list of activities/dates translated into a list 23 pages long. References didn’t get much shorter after that. What I found as I looked at the timelines is how much history there is.

For a fleeting moment, as I went through the lists, I had a feeling that was almost like panic. The growth of the church went through so many hands, so many influences, so many egos, so much that was political, that it was awful, awesome, and profound, all at once. Often I knew about an event but not its timing and where it was with respect to other events. Anyway I hope you’ll find the dates/events I’ve included useful as you sort through what it means to be a Christian who worships as an Episcopalian. (Be aware the exactness of the dates may be up for debate. In fact, I can’t even vouch for the events but I think they are probably close to accurate.)

Since we don’t have 23 pages, I’m only including the incidents that would fit in this month’s column

1500 BC: A caravan trader, Abraham, leads Semitic nomads to Egypt (Hebrews)
1230 BC: Hebrew leader Joshua conquers part of Palestine
1020 BC: the Hebrew king Saul defeats the Philistines and unifies Israel with capital in Jerusalem
1000 BC: David succeeds Saul
961 BC: David’s son Solomon succeeds David
930 BC: Solomon builds a temple in Jerusalem for the Jews
566 BC: Buddha is born
260 BC: The Old Testament is translated from Hebrew into Greek by scholars of Alexandria
44 BC:  Julius Caesar is assassinated
30 BC: the Sanhedrin is recognized as the supreme court of justice for the Jews
29-6 BC: Herod murders his wife, her father and brother and a couple of his own sons
6 BC: Jesus is born in Bethlehem
26 AD: Pontius Pilatus is appointed prefect of Judea
27 AD: John the Baptist preaches in Judea
29 AD: John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod’s son Herod Antipas
30-62 AD: Jesus is crucified by the Romans, Peter becomes the leader of the “Christians” and Saul/Paul converts to Christianity and spreads the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean region, and is executed.
60 AD: The earliest gospels are composed
64 AD: Peter is crucified in Rome
64 AD: Nero sets fire to Rome and blames the Christians for it
117 AD: Gospel of John
135: The bishop of Rome Telesphorus institutes the birthday of Jesus (Christmas) as a Christian holiday
150: The four official gospels assume their (near) final form
313-323: Constantine recognizes the Christian church and builds a church to the apostle Peter on the Roman cemetery where the martyr is buried
325: Council of Nicaea, after much discussion and many iterations, approves what we know as the Nicean Creed. (I really never realized how old it was)
478: First Shinto Shrines appear in Japan
552: Buddhism introduced into Japan
570-633: Mohammad’s lifetime
600-670: Christianity gain effective control of England
750: Christianity reaches Germany
950: Christianity reaches Russia
1052: Edward the Confessor founds Westminster Abbey, near London.
1099: Crusaders capture Jerusalem
1189: The third Crusade is led by King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England,
1215: Magna Carta is signed
1264: the Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas publishes the “Summa Contra Gentiles”, that reconciles science and religion
1347: the “black death”
1412-1431  St. Joan of Arc, French national heroine
1480: Spanish Inquisition
1509: Henry VIII becomes king
1517: The Protestant Reformation begins; Martin Luther nails his “95 Theses” against the Catholic practice of selling indulgences, on the church door at Wittenberg
1526: Martin Luther prints his German translation of the Bible
1534: Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican Palace in Rome
1534: Henry VIII declares himself supreme head of the Church of England
1536: William Tyndale is burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English
1549:    Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church)
1563: 1563 – The Thirty-nine Articles, which complete establishment of the Anglican Church
1620: English pilgrims aboard the “Mayflower” land at Plymouth Rock on Cape Cod, Massachusetts
1626: Saint Peter’s Basilica is inaugurated in Rome
1665: Black Plague of London
1666: Great Fire of London
1776: 2/3 of the signers of the constitution are nominal Church of England members
1784: First American bishop consecrated
1789: U.S. Book of Common Prayer
1804: First Black priest ordained
1823: Joseph Smith learns of the Book of Mormon
1858: Saint Bernadette sees the Madonna at Lourdes
1892: Book of Common Prayer revised
1917: Three shepherd children see the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal
1928: Book of Common Prayer revised
1944: First Anglican woman ordained in China (Li Tim Oi)
1945: a library of early Christian texts is discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt
1947: the Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered near Qumran in Egypt
1948: Israell formed as a nation
1962: Second Vatican Council
1974: Eleven women ordained in Philadelphia
1975: First woman rabbi ordained
1979: Book of Common Prayer revised.
1989: First woman bishop consecrated in Boston
2005: German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger becomes pope Benedict XVI
2007: First Openly-Gay Episcopal Bishop

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

From Easter to Pentecost
May 20, 2009
Terry Swanson

I’m writing this on the day after we returned from our western odyssey. It was a great trip. We spent Holy Week and Easter in Tucson Arizona where we visited the San Xavier mission and attended the Yaqui Easter Dances. Then we visited with family and friends in California.

The Yaquis in Arizona are members of a Mexican Indian tribe that moved north to escape slavery and illnesses. They were converted to Catholicism by Jesuits in the 1500s, and the priests very wisely let the Yaquis integrate their own beliefs of the wonders of nature into Christian practices – sort of an early version of Cool Congregations. Over the years these Yaqui/Catholic expressions became more and more stylized until now the Yaquis, like many Christians, see Easter as the highlight of their spiritual year. The dances are the providence of the Yaqui men who dedicate their lives for various lengths of time to one of several societies devoted to Jesus or the Virgin Mary.

They pledge themselves to portray the story of Easter because they see the resurrection as the beginning and the being of their Christian faith. Groups include dancers, maestros (guardians and caretakers) church people (this group includes women) and solders. One group of soldiers, called Chapayekas, wear elaborate masks. Each year they carve these elaborate masks and each year at the end of the ceremony the masks are burned—destroyed as evil is destroyed by good.

Each group has defined jobs and throughout Holy Week they enact the happenings that lead to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Watching these enactments in such a visual way reinforces that faith is just that—not something to be dissected or defined—just something to hold on to. It made me a little sad because I spend a fair amount of my time wondering and worrying and questioning.

Saturday is the most fun for those of us watching the ceremonies. On Saturday the soldiers think that, by Jesus’ death, they have overcome Jesus’ influence on His followers—only to find that His followers are stronger than ever. To remedy this, the soldiers decide to attack the church and make it their stronghold. (To understand what follows you need to know about another Yaqui belief. The Yaquis believe that when Jesus was on the cross and bled, wherever his blood hit the ground, a flower blossomed. Therefore, flowers have great power for doing good.) Three times the soldiers attack, three times the church women and followers and spectators pelt them with flowers and confetti (representing flowers). Finally the soldiers fall to their knees and are accepted into the fold. Good has overcome evil! After that various societies, including the deer dancer, dance and celebrate all night until it’s time for Easter morning mass. It was a great, and different, way to experience Easter.

Several people have asked about pictures but the Yaquis have very strict “no cameras, no pictures, no sketching” rules. This is not a performance but a religious ceremony and the members of the Yaqui community are very protective of the sacredness of it.

Now what I have to remember is that it isn’t over – that Easter is a great holiday and the Easter season and celebration goes on until Pentecost on May 31st this year. Advent and Christmas bring us Christ; Lent and Easter bring us salvation; Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time, from the word “ordinal” which means counted time: you know “First Sunday after Pentecost,” “Second Sunday after Pentecost,” etc. This is the time that is used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world. More about that next month.

Until then, keep on celebrating!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Passover and the Seder Meal
March 27, 2009
Terry Swanson

And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.”Then you shall say … ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘ “Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.”So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

Luke 22: 10-13

I visited with my 92 year-old sister last week. She’s an interesting person. She’s the oldest daughter in our large Italian family, very bright, very strong-willed, and very commanding. At sixteen she was sent as an “au pair” to work for a Jewish family. They bonded and she lived and worked for them for almost 40 years. She started as a maid and baby-sitter and ended as a buyer and manager for their 5 women’s ready to wear stores.

Since I had already decided to write something about Passover and the Seder meal, I pumped her for information. She said she couldn’t remember how many Seders she had helped prepare and serve but she could still feel the joy and seriousness of the family as they shared it. She also told me that Zeide (Grandfather) who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia, told her there were different Seders (Passover meals) depending on where you were from and which branch of Judaism you belonged to. He also told her that Seders evolved over the years and that in one way or another Passover had been celebrated since hundreds of years before Christ.

In short, Passover commemorates the Jews being released from Egyptian bondage and with the Seder the participants remember what their ancestors endured. Since this is one of the most important Jewish holidays, we can be sure that Jesus and the disciples celebrated it. (I should note that some writers question whether Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder but I’ve always been taught it was and it makes sense to me in light of what St. Luke says.)

Every year before the Passover, a Jewish family removes all the leaven from the house. This commemorates the fact that the Jews left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the “puffiness” (arrogance, pride) from their souls.

The Seder, which means “order” is the Passover meal and is the central celebration of the Passover. The Haggadah, the text for the Seder; contains all the blessings; the order for eating; and the telling of the Exodus story. Seder participants recall the slavery that reigned during the first half of the celebration and during the second half of the night, they celebrate their freedom.

With its Passover dishware and silverware, the Seder table is different than the regular dinner table. The centerpiece of which is the Seder plate, a special plate containing the 5 foods that remind us of the struggle of the Israelites in their quest and journey to freedom.

The Seder table is set with a special plate containing five symbolic foods, each with specific meaning in the retelling of the exodus story:

  •     Hard boiled egg – symbol of the suffering and oppression in Egypt; also new life.
  •     Roasted shank bone – reminder that blood was sacrificed.
  •     Bitter herbs – horseradish – reminder that Jews were once slaves.
  •     Greens – parsley, celery – symbol of the coming of Spring which brings hope.
  •     Salt water – reminder of the tears that were shed in Egypt.
  •     Haroset – a nut, apple, cinnamon, wine mixture which has the appearance of straw, and resembles the mortar used to build the Treasure Cities for Pharaoh..

Additionally, three pieces of matzo are placed in the center of the Seder table. Before the meal begins the middle matzoh is removed and broken in half. One half is returned to the Matzoh Cover, the other – the Afikomen – is hidden, to be hunted by the children at the end of the Seder meal. The child who finds the Afikomen wins a special prize. Some homes break the Afikomen in to many pieces assuring that each child present can find a piece and receive a prize.

During the meal four cups of wine are drunk. Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder and each represents a specific part of the Exodus: Freedom, Deliverance, Redemption, and Release. A fifth cup of wine is poured and placed on the Seder table as an offering for the Prophet Elijah. During the Seder the door to the home is opened to invite the prophet Elijah in.

Along with specific order and food, the youngest child present asks four questions about the celebration. “Why on this night do we eat only matzo, which is unleavened bread?” “Why on this night do we eat bitter herbs especially?” Why on this night do we dip the parsley in salt water and the bitter herbs in haroset?” Why on this night do we all recline at the table?

The leader replies to the child:

  • Indeed, this night is very different from all the other nights of the year, for on this night we celebrate one of the most important moments in the history of our people. On this night we celebrate their going forth in triumph from slavery into freedom.
  • I am glad you asked the questions you did, for the story of this night was just what I wanted you to know. Although the Haggadah we are reading tells this whole story, and if you listen carefully you will surely learn it, I should like to tell you here, in a few words, the answers to your questions.
  • Why do we eat motzo tonight? When Pharaoh let our forefathers go from Egypt, they were forced to flee in great haste. Now, they had prepared dough for bread to take on their journey, but the Egyptians pressed them to hasten out of the land. So they snatched up their dough, and fled, and had no time to bake it. But the hot sun, beating down on the dough as they carried it along with them, baked it into a flat, unleavened bread which they called mazzah. That is why we eat only mazzah on Pesah.
  • Why do we eat bitter herbs on Pesah night? Because our forefathers were slaves in Egypt, and their lives were made bitter. That is why we eat bitter herbs on Pesah night.
  • Why do we dip herbs twice tonight? You have already heard that we dip the parsley in salt water because it reminds us of the green that comes to life again in the springtime. We dip the maror, or bitter herbs, in the sweet haroset as a sign of hope; our forefathers were able to withstand the bitterness of slavery, because it was sweetened by the hope of freedom.
  • Why do we recline at the table? Because reclining at the table was a sign of a free man in olden times; and since our forefathers were freed on this night, we recline at the table.


After the meal is served and the Afikomen found, the evening goes on with reading, singing, and praising God.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Birds, Religious Diversity, and Lent
March 2, 2009
Terry Swanson

Just a quick update on the doves from last month’s article:  we didn’t see any for several days; then we saw one pair, and this morning there were a pair and a spare at the feeder.  We don’t know where the extra bird came from, but we welcome her (him?).  The Falcon also seems to have moved on to better hunting grounds.  What drama!  A post script to this story is some additional information about Doves.

I told the sad dove tale to Dottie Carpenter.  She said not to worry too much because doves are very prolific and produce several broods a year.  We’ll have more next year.

It’s been snowing again, and that means being inside, and that means surfing the internet for me.  The internet is just chockfull of wonderful, not necessarily useful information.  I found a great piece about how we, as Americans, viewed our diversity of religion through the years.  Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and a professor of American religious history at Barnard College, wrote a piece about the evolution of religious acceptance in the US.  The approach was a political view starting with the first amendment but more than that it followed the growth of terms we’ve used to describe ourselves.

Colonial America was predominantly Protestant, although Maryland was founded by Catholics from England.  Through the years we saw more Catholics come from Ireland, Germany and Italy.  The following years we also saw Jewish immigrants come into the country.  By the late 19th century the term “Judeo-Christian” was coined and became popular in the 1930s.  After WWII we looked at ourselves in terms of “Protestant-Catholic-Jew.”  Since then we’ve seen an influx of people from all parts of Asia and the Middle East.  Lately we’ve talked about the “Abrahamic Traditions” of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  And last month, President Obama declared, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers.”  I’ve visited quite a few countries over the years, some exotic, some poor, some romantic, but the US, for all its problems, is awesome.

We’re in the midst of some tough economic times here in the US.  It’s going to take all of us being kind to all of us to get through.  Most immigrants to this country come for a better life, which means they probably have lived through times much more difficult than any of us have.  I suspect they can teach us some things about having less but still being very satisfied.  End of Sermon!

Since we were heading south for a few weeks, I’m writing this well before Lent so I have to shift from birds and philosophizing to more serious things.  Usually when I start thinking about Lent I get overwhelmed.  There are so many suggestions out there about how I should keep Lent, I get confused but sometimes I get really tickled.  One internet site I found was put up by the Woodlands Junior School in the UK.  The young writers said of Lent, “Lent is the time when Christians prepare for Easter by thinking of things they have done wrong.” (That would take more than 40 days a year for most of us.)

Over the years, I’ve looked at Lent lots of different ways.  I’ve given up things for Lent, sometimes things I should have given up just because of their nature, like smoking.  Other times, I’ve tried to “do good ” things during Lent.  Other years I did more inspirational reading.  Other years, I have followed the fasting rules set out by the church.  And you know what, except for giving up cigarettes and chocolates, they were pretty good Lenten disciplines.

I felt especially challenged the year I imposed a mental discipline on myself to not be judgmental of others.  That was a particularly difficult one for me – and I wasn’t very good at it!  Every time I take one of those Myers Briggs Personality tests, it comes up that I’m judgmental so it probably wasn’t too smart a discipline to attempt.  I’m much better at “hand on” kinds of things like making casseroles or meeting FreeStore clients.

This year Mary and Elizabeth will lead us in a discipline that will go beyond lent.  For many of us, it may be something we’ll make a part of all our future seasons.  The theme for Lent will be Practicing our Faith.  What does that mean?  Well, I don’t know yet but I’m sure we’ll begin to find out over the next five or six weeks.

On the Practicing our Faith website we are invited to “Explore a way of life shaped by practices that respond to God’s grace and reflect God’s love for you, for others, and for all creation.”  One of the founders of the site, Craig Dykstra, wrote, “”Christian practices are not activities we do to make something spiritual happen in our lives. Nor are they duties we undertake to be obedient to God. Rather, they are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.”

Kind of gives you the shivers, doesn’t it?  Both the Thursday morning book study group and the Sunday between services group (that will meet during lent) will delve further into the idea of Practicing our Faith.  Hope to see you there.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

The Doves and the Peregrine and Me
January 28, 2009
Terry Swanson
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“His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I Know He Watches Me” – that line from the song has been in my thoughts lately.  It’s a lovely sentiment but a little overly romantic I think.  Right now I’m leaning toward my mother’s favorite admonition, “God helps those who help themselves.”  I’ve also been thinking a lot about birds lately as we’ve been watching a birdland drama unfold out our back window.  Now remember we live in the middle of Clive with a typically small city lot.  Our backyard is somewhat bigger than a handkerchief but that’s about all I can say regarding its size.

This winter we’ve had more and different birds than ever at our backyard feeder, probably because we’ve had a lot of snow and because Harry has been very good about filling the feeder.  He says it’s also because this year he’s not buying the cheapest bird seed but the better one with sunflower seeds.  Anyway, this year we’ve been really excited to see a blue jay, a female and a male cardinal, and three pair of mourning doves, as well as the usual juncos and sparrows.  The doves seem to be sweet placid birds that don’t seem to move very fast – on the ground, anyway.  Well, we were enjoying watching them, then on New Year’s morning I looked out and in the back, by the fence, was this really big – I thought it was a hawk – bird.  It was tearing and ripping up something and eating his prey.  Harry came in and said it was one of the peregrine falcons that the city of Des Moines has reintroduced to downtown.  When we checked the carcass, it was one of our sweet doves.

The remaining doves kept coming to the feeder.  A few days later, we found the carcass of another dove on a bench on our patio.  The remaining doves kept coming to the feeder.  We found a third carcass on the patio.  The remaining doves kept coming to the feeder.  Yesterday Harry saw the peregrine perched on the fence. This morning there were feathers from another dead dove on the deck stairs.  To date the peregrine has killed four of our doves.  This morning there were two doves at the feeder.

I don’t really know what all this has to do with being an Episcopalian but it does remind me that, as Christians, we are not to be like the doves: being a Christian is not a passive activity.  As J.G. Holland noticed, “God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.”  There comes a time in our lives, after we’ve done all we can to be “the hands and feet of Christ,” when we can rest and take comfort.  Until then, as Christians, we are called to take comfort but be doers: Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. (Ecclesiastes 9:10).  Each one of us is responsible for finding the path that is right for us:  more time on our knees, more time patching scraped knees, more time clothing knees, more time feeding the owners of knees.

Now I have to go put more seed in the feeder, or maybe if I don’t, the doves will go someplace else.  Then what will the cardinals and jays and juncos do?

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Happy 2009
December 30, 2008
Terry Swanson

Someone told me that time is indeed relative and the older you get the faster it passes.  It sure seems that way, here it is 2009 already and it seems like just a bit ago we were worried about the new millennium.

Each new year brings us new challenges but also a time to reflect on our past.  St. Tim’s past has been colorful as I think about its fifty plus years.  We are indeed like a family with our good times and not-so-good times — but always hopeful!

Doesn’t seem possible but this will be Mary Cole-Duvall’s fifth (and Elizabeth’s second) year with us.  And what a five years that has been – like living in the rainbow that comes after the gray clouds pass.

We’ve seen some wonderful things these past five years:  a growing youth group; an increase in membership; an increase in participation activities, and increase in financial support; and an increase in outreach giving.  It’s been a great growing, learning time for all of us.

For me personally, I’ve had opportunity to be part of some of the Thursday morning study classes.  What a good experience that has been.  We sure have a lot of good minds here at St. Tim’s.  I think I’ve written before that one of the things I like most about being an Episcopalian is that you don’t have to park your brains at the door when you come in.  I think the church is striving to help us understand that God is unchanging, it’s as simple as that, but … but with any luck at all our feeble human minds are changing and growing and gathering knowledge about God as we grow and age and experience our relationship with Him.

This idea of growing in the knowledge of God comes down from the top.  The constitution of the national church includes references to education including CANON 9:“Of the Life and Work of Priests Sec. 1. The Bishop and Commission shall require and provide for the continuing education of Priests and keep a record of such education.”

Also the Policies of the Diocese of Iowa includes a specific policy on Professional Development Leaves which states, “Professional Development Leaves are for the purpose of encouraging professional growth and an increased competence of the clergy and lay professionals, which will contribute to the life and work of the Church in the Diocese of Iowa.  Leaves may be granted for the regular study at any academic level in a college, university or seminary, for research in a specific area of the Church’s Life, or for other creative work which will benefit the Church in the Diocese of Iowa.”  It goes on to say the professional development leave for a priest should take place about every five years of service in the Diocese of Iowa and has specific requirements for the leave.

When we asked Mary to join us at St. Tim’s, we, of course, included a continuing education leave provision.  Since this is Mary’s fifth year, she’ll be using much of her leave time to take part in the “Clergy Leadership Project,” a project of Trinity  Wall Street Church in Manhattan, NY.

The program requires various kinds of participation: conference calls, papers, on-site meetings, etc.   She gets 12 weeks for her leave and will break it up into two or three week segments throughout 2009.  Mary’s first on-site will be in March.  Immediately after that she is going on a silent retreat at a convent in Connecticut.  (That would be more than a little difficult for me, so I have to admire her for doing it. I was too embarrassed to ask if you had to be absolutely silent for the whole week!)

The Clergy Leadership Project is an interactive learning initiative designed for experienced parish priests in the Episcopal Church. Its purpose is to nurture and to challenge participants in ways that transform their personal lives and professional ministries. Through three program components – academic, experiential and personal – this “play in three acts” utilizes consultants from a variety of disciplines. Spiritual reflection and small group process augment rich, new ideas and stretch the thinking of participants.

The intent is to present innovative ideas in science, culture, organizational theory, and congregational studies, then ask clergy to ponder these through the frames of leadership and theological reflection.

The program goals are:

  •     To build a stronger priesthood for a changing church.
  •     To increase leadership skills required for a more open and inclusive church.
  •     To equip clergy to do ministry effectively in a more pluralistic church and world
  •     To advance the dialogue between church and contemporary culture.
  •     To link theory and practice through experiential learning communities.
  •     To use the context of one’s own congregational system to imagine and implement these new strategies.
  •     To develop a vision for growth in one’s personal, spiritual, and professional life.
  •     To form, and make a commitment to, a small group who will covenant together for support and accountability for the two years of the program and perhaps beyond.

It sounds like an intense program, but I’ll bet we all learn from what Mary brings back to St. Tim’s.  Let’s all keep her in our prayers for this undertaking.

As I read through what I had written, I felt a little guilty about having missed the last Thursday morning set of classes.  They were so informative—and fun too!  I’m going back, how about you?  (See info on page 6 of the St. Timothean about Thursday Morning Book Study.)

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Happy New Church Year
December 1, 2008
Terry Swanson

Blue for solemn waiting/preparation: symbolizes the sky or heaven, where heralds proclaimed Jesus’ birth; also represents water for beginnings

White for holy celebrations: symbolizes purity, holiness, and virtue, respect and reverence. White is used for all high Holy Days and festival days, especially Christmas and Easter

Purple the color of royalty and for solemn waiting & preparation: traditionally purple symbolizes pain, suffering, mourning and penitence and is used during Lent

Green is the color for the seasons of learning & teaching:  symbolizes the renewal of vegetation and generally of living things and the promise of new life.

Here we are getting ready for the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year.  The best way to look at the liturgical year is a circle but the graphic took up too much space.  I used to teach high school math so I thought the (number) line would work almost as well.

When I was a Roman Catholic I was always pretty sure of the color of each season.  Colors still pretty much are determined by the season—but sometimes there are variations.  For the most part the colors are logically linked to the meaning of the season.

The first day of Advent (Advent Sunday) begins the ecclesiastical year. Advent means “coming.”  It reminds us of the coming birth of Christ but it also reminds us that we are waiting for the final coming of Christ at the end of time, for the coming of Christ into our lives, and for the coming of Christ to us at the moment of our deaths.

Advent is a solemn season of rejoicing.  We rejoice in knowing that Christ is coming, but know that we are responsible for preparing the way.  It is solemn not in the way Lent is solemn knowing Christ must die so He can rise, but solemn in that we must prepare ourselves to receive Him.

Advent begins on the nearest Sunday to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30,2008), and is observed for four Sundays.  The color is usually blue, sometimes violet.  On the third Sunday, which is called “Rose Sunday,” pink vestments are (sometimes) used.

Christmas commemorates Christ’s birth, though the time of year when he was born is unknown.  Some scholars think it was in the Spring; some think in Sept.  In 338 CE the Emperor Constantine set the date of Christ’s birth at December 25 to coincide with the winter solstice.  It was a way to refocus attention away from the pagan feast of the “Unconquered Sun.”

Christmas requires the finest vestments available.  Usually these are white but sometimes gold is used because the brightness of metallic gold symbolized the presence of God.

Christmas lasts until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.  Epiphany means “showing forth” and the feast commemorates the first showing forth of Christ to the world, when His presence was revealed to the three Magi.

During Epiphany we are to remember the revelation of Christ to John the Baptist, to the disciples, and to all Christians, remember Christ’s baptism and our own, and ponder the ways in which we ourselves are called to bring Christ to the world.  The liturgical color of Epiphany is green.

The number of Sundays in the Epiphany season varies from four to nine according to the date of Easter. This year there are six. So you will see green altar cloth and green vestments every Sunday through February 10 (the last Sunday in Epiphany).

The next church season is Lent.  It has come to be a solemn time for learning what it means to follow Christ.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days (including the seven days of Holy Week, the week before Easter).  Vestments for Lent are the solemn colors, usually purple, sometimes red violet.  Both colors are symbols of pain and suffering.  Note: some protestant churches use blue during Lent as well as Advent.

All the introspection of Lent is for one purpose—to prepare us for Easter, the most important holy day in Christianity.  It marks the discovery of the empty tomb and the return of Jesus from death.  Easter is a Moveable Holy Day because it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar.  The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon. The Paschal Full Moon occurs sometime between March 21 and April 25.

White, which is the color for purity, holiness, and virtue is used for Easter.  The Easter season is 50 days long and ends on Pentecost.

Pentecost marks the beginning of the church, it was when the Holy Spirit descended on the believers and joined them together as a force to spread the story of His power.  The day is symbolized by a white dove and the vestments are red, the color of fire and presence of God.

The Season after Pentecost is when we are taught again the messages of Jesus and are to carry out the work of the church.  The season is long and lasts between Pentecost and Advent, around 29 weeks.  The color is Green and promises new life.

So there you have it.  The mystery of Christ is about to begin again.  Get ready, light your Advent candles and prepare for Christmas!!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Thoughts on Thanksgiving
October 15, 2008
Terry Swanson

Thanksgiving:  turkeys, pumpkins, cranberries, or Thanksgiving:  Eucharist from the Greek word for thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving, once a year; The Great Thanksgiving, at least once a week; thanksgiving, every day.  That’s one way to think about it.

You do remember “The Great Thanksgiving” is first part of our communion celebration, don’t you?  Celebrant:  Let us give thanks to our Lord God.  And the follow up, ” It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, (I love the sounds of Rite One.)  It is our “bounden duty” to give thanks.  That “bounden” word is sort of like a father saying, “And don’t you forget it!”

We have some other wonderful Thanksgiving prayers in The Book of Common Prayer.  Check out pages 836 to 841.  From A Litany of Thanksgiving:  For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve; . . . for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord; For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play.  And from the General Thanksgiving:  . . .for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us; for disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.  Beautiful.  Sometimes I forget I’m supposed to be praying and I feel like I’m reading poetry.

Now for a little Episcopal/US History lesson:  During the Revolutionary War, eight special days of thanks were observed for victories and for being saved from dangers. In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation naming November 26 a day of national thanksgiving.  In the same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the first Thursday in November would be a regular yearly day for giving thanks.  We Episcopalians are just not died in the wool followers are we?

Here’s a little quiz to see if you know the difference between Thanksgiving fact and common perception.

1. The first Thanksgiving in this new land was celebrated by Puritans grateful for surviving their first year in the New World.  T   F
2. The spot where the Pilgrims first landed is called Plymouth Rock.  T   F
3. The Pilgrims spent their first year in the New World fighting off native peoples.  T   F
4. The first Thanksgiving meal consisted of a huge feast including wild turkey, pumpkin pies, rich cheeses and plenty of milk to drink.  T   F
5. George Washington declared the first official Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  T   F
6. The Mayflower Pilgrims were former residents of Holland, fleeing religious persecution.  T   F
7. A Native American by the name of Samoset was the official liaison between the Pilgrims and the native people because he could speak both English and the native language.  T   F
8. The wishbone became an icon of good luck in the New World because it symbolized breaking away from the tyranny of England at the time.  T   F
9. Thanksgiving became an official American holiday after President Lincoln declared it so in 1863.  T   F
10. With the help of the Wampanoag people almost all of the original Pilgrims survived their first year in the New World.  T   F

1. FALSE. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by settlers in Virginia, two years before the Pilgrims even landed.
2. FALSE. The Pilgrims first landed at the tip of Cape Cod, in what is now known as Provincetown. They next moved on to Plymouth, Massachusetts.
3. FALSE. Natives of the Wampanoag Tribe were kind and helpful to the Puritan settlers, teaching them how to work the land and capture wild game. Without the help of the local people, historians believe the Puritans would not have survived.
4. FALSE. While it is possible that wild turkey was on the menu, there was no flour left to make pies, cakes or cookies of any kind, and no domestic cattle to provide milk for making butter or cheese. The only food historians are certain about were some type of wild fowl and venison.
5. TRUE. George Washington declared November 26, 1789 to be a National Day of Thanksgiving although discord among the colonies led many to disagree with his decision.
6. TRUE. Originally from England, the Puritans fled to Holland in search of religious freedom. After becoming disillusioned with the Dutch people, they returned to England to set sail for the New World.
7. FALSE. Squanto was the name of the Native American who had spent 10 years in Spain and England before returning to the New World in 1618. Samoset was his friend in the Wampanoag tribe.
8. TRUE. The successful breaking of the wishbone represented the successful split between the Pilgrims and the religious persecution of the English crown. The person holding the larger portion of the broken wishbone was said to have one year’s good luck.
9. TRUE. In 1863 President Lincoln declared the last day in November to be a National Day of Thanksgiving. However it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who encouraged Congress in 1941 to proclaim the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.
10. FALSE. Over half of the original Pilgrims died during that first harsh winter and long wait for the initial harvest.

Give thanks!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Fall is Falling
September 25, 2008
Terry Swanson

October is here already, bringing in all the sights and smells of fall: mums, red maple leaves, apples.  Pretty soon it’ll be the annual stewardship drive, Consecration Sunday; the first autumn holy day, All Saints’ day, and the associated holiday, Halloween.  What a fun time that is with St. Tim’s own “Trunk or Treat” celebration on Oct. 31.  I understand it will be bigger and better than ever and that the big yellow haunted truck will return.

Last year we talked some about the derivation of Halloween, about how it is shorthand for All Hallow’s Eve, with “all hallow’s” meaning all saints – from the old English where hallowed meant sacred or holy.  Thus Halloween is the night before All Saints Day.

The interesting thing is how we, that is Christians, define “saint.”  To some the term saint is used to describe individual believers.  To some it refers to particularly holy people who are recognized by their fellow believers.  To some it refers to particularly holy people, but only after they are dead!  English-language publications will sometimes use “saint” to describe a revered person of another religion.

I ascribe to the first, that a saint is someone who is committed to Christ–period.  The catechism tells us that “The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. . .”  It also teaches, “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world . . .

That’s worth repeating, “. . .to bear witness to him . . . according to the gifts given them . . .”  What a nice lead in to that fall celebration, Consecration Sunday.

In my head I still think of the annual pledge drive as a stewardship drive, though I realize that my stewardship responsibilities are more than my annual pledge.  I realize God has given me so much more than money, including time (lots of it now that I’m retired), and, to some small extent, talents to use to His glory.

For a long time I thought of pledging as a climb toward tithing.  I’ve moved beyond that now.  We’re not a country club with dues that are required and are periodically raised.  We are the body of Christ; all we have comes from the Father; all we have is His.  We bear witness to Him according to the gifts given to us.  And among the gifts He gave us is our free will.  What a burden.  We get to (have to) decide how we will return thanks.  Like a true loving father, God does not make it easy, does he?

Some things in this life seem universal, and the value of giving is one of those things, evidenced by the wise sayings we find about it.

Not what we get, but what we give, measures the worth of the life we live.

First give yourself to God, then giving away your possessions will be easy and joyful.

Give God what’s right, not what’s left.

Give as you would to the Master
If you met His searching look;
Give as you would of your substance, if His hand the offering took.

God sees the heart, not the hand; the giver not the gift.

There are three kinds of givers:
the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb.  To get anything out of the flint, you must hammer it, and then you get only chips and sparks.  To get water out of a sponge, you must squeeze it, and the more pressure you use, the more you will get.  Ah, but the honeycomb, the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness.

Giving is the thermometer of our love for Him from whom all blessing flow.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

The 14th Lambeth Conference
August 27, 2008
Terry Swanson

Last month I wrote about the Lambeth Conferences that have taken place over the last several decades and said that this month I would write about the most recent one.  Wow!  Depending on whose web site I read or whose report I tried to read I couldn’t always decipher the messages they were trying to send.

The published aim of the conference was clear enough and seemed to me appropriate for Anglican bishops.  The full title was Lambeth Conference 2008 – Equipping Bishops to Fulfill Their Leadership Role in God’s Mission.  The stated aims of the conference were that all bishops attending would be restored and refreshed spiritually

  •     gain deeper knowledge of each other
  • be more aware of the spiritual and physical resources that God has given them to meet missionary challenges in different parts of the world
  • have greater understanding and appreciation of life together in the Anglican Communion
  • address conflict
  • discover a new level of trust in common service to God
  • gain greater understanding of the contribution Anglicanism can make to the worldwide church and the world

These (goals) will be reached through spending time together in spiritual reflection, learning, sharing experiences and discerning their particular role in God’s mission for the world.  And the day will start and end in worship, with a morning Eucharist and evening prayers.  Archbishop  Williams indicated that the emphasis will be on training, “for really effective, truthful and prayerful mission”.  He also ruled out reopening of the controversial resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from the previous conference.  He did emphasize the “listening process: whereby diverse view and experience of human sexuality are being collected and collated. . .”

Well that sounded all and good but the first thing that happened was that not all the bishops were included, most notably missing were Gene Robinson, the US’s first openly gay bishop and Marty Minns, an extremely conservative activist from the US who was ordained as a bishop in Nigeria.  That got some controversy going alright – from both sides.

Then the bishops who were opposed to the consecration of Robinson, called a meeting of conservative bishops that was held in June, several weeks before the Lambeth conference.  They denied it was an “alternative Lambeth” but that’s what it seemed to me.

Well I was getting pretty concerned because so much of the news seemed pointed at a great schism in the Anglican Communion.  Most of the internet stories were either very focused on how we as Anglicans need to be inclusive or they stressed how tradition was paramount.  The implied, and sometimes explicit, cry was that these two ideas cannot find common ground and that the Anglican Communion would not survive.  The concern may have some validity but I was greatly relieved as I read the reports sent each week by Bishop Scarfe and posted on the diocesan website

His reports are serious and reasonable and worth reading because, rather than a large interpretation of events, Bishop Scarfe shared with us his experiences and personal feelings.  He does not diminish the conflict but he also talks of the comradeship that the Bishops shared, of the effort they were putting toward understanding each other.  From his First Lambeth Conference Report – 23 July 2008 :  “We are reminded every day as we pray for those “for whatever reason” who are not here, that we are not complete as a Communion without those who stayed away or were not invited. A public statement by the Sudanese Archbishop yesterday calling on Gene Robinson to resign and excoriating The Episcopal Church reminds us that while we are being greeted at Lambeth by the very same Sudanese with whom many of us have ongoing partnerships, we must face our differences and explain ourselves to one another. Whether we can do this in the grace the Archbishop called us to in Canterbury Cathedral is a matter for all of our prayers.”

In his second report, I almost feel as if Bishop Scarfe invited me into his musings:  “An aspect I find that seems to be underplayed in our listening process is the question: “Where did all these gay and lesbian Christians come from in the first place?  How come the Church has even a problem of having to deal with their presence, place and prominence in the Anglican Church?”  I don’t know why that tickled me so but it did.  Duh!  He went on to remind us that in the past the church sent witnesses to the reality of the Spirit not a Commission to describe it.  Isn’t that a great sentiment?

Finally, in his last report, he talks about the time and effort it will take to move forward.  He says: “While there is anxiety for some definitive statement on our differences, one of the new understandings coming forward is that we are at the early stage of being a Communion in such a global setting, and we should give each other time to find an appropriate level of relating, being accountable and living together as Communion.”

You know, I’ve now passed seven decades of experiences and one of the truths I believe in is that, The more things change, the more they stay the same.  We’re talking about The Church (capital letters) here, not the church (lower case).  It will survive and so will we.  Give Thanks!

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Lambeth Conferences
August 5, 2008
Terry Swanson

Last month I wrote a little about who we are as Episcopalians and I had planned to do the same this month and then it occurred to me that July 2008 was a Lambeth Conference month/year and that’s a pretty exciting event for the Anglican Communion.  The Lambeth Conferences are assemblies of bishops of the Anglican Communion which are usually convened every 10 years by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The first one took place in 1867.  The conference participants can pass resolutions – resolutions that are influential but not necessarily binding to the churches of the communion.  It is interesting to read about the actions taken and how they were changed over the years.  (I love being part of this group, which like its members, keeps struggling for growth and truth.)

It’s pretty interesting to read about the issues addressed at some of the early conferences and then how many of them were re-addressed with different conclusions a decade or two later.

The Third Conference (1888) produced the The Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral.  Its intent was to provide the basis for discussions of reunion with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but it had the ancillary effect of establishing parameters of Anglican identity which hold true today-one of the few actions that has held  without modification. Its four principles are “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation’, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.””The Apostles’ Creed as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.”
“The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.”
“The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”

The sixth Conference (1920)
Rejected Christian Science, spiritualism, and theosophy
Supported political lobbying against “such incentives to vice as indecent literature, suggestive plays and films, the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels.” Affirmed the place of women as lay members of synods.
The Conference’s uncompromising and unqualified rejection of all forms of artificial contraception, even within marriage, was contained in Resolution 68, which said, in part: “We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers – physical, moral and religious – thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.”

The Seventh Conference (1930)
Approved the use of birth control in limited circumstances.
Rejected war as a means of settling international disputes.
Declared induced abortion “abhorrent.”
Opposed racial segregation in churches

The Eighth Conference (1948)
Advised that the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman to be ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion, was against the tradition/order of the Anglican Communion” and dismissed any need to further examine women’s ordination.
Affirmed that “discrimination between men on the grounds of race alone is inconsistent with the principles of Christ’s religion”.

The Ninth Conference (1958)
Called for respect for the “consciences” of married couples who use birth control.

The Tenth Conference (1968)
Welcomed full communion between the Anglican and Old Catholic Churches.
Recommended the ordination of women to the diaconate and recognized previously-appointed “deaconesses” as deacons
Found the arguments for and against women in the priesthood “inconclusive.”

The Eleventh Conference (1978)
Recognized the autonomy of each member church (and) the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about women priests.

The Thirteenth Conference (1998)
Called for a “listening process” about homosexuality in a motion by the whole assembly.  However a much smaller majority, on a separate vote, declared that “homosexual practice (not necessarily orientation) is incompatible with Scripture”  A subsequent public apology was issued to lesbian and gay Anglicans in a Pastoral Statement from 182 bishops worldwide.

The Division and controversy about this motion on homosexuality has continued through the past ten years.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has emphasized that, though, the controversial resolution will not be reopened, diverse views about human sexuality will be presented and reflected upon in 2008.  He has emphasized the Conference this year has two key points of focus: strengthening the sense of a shared Anglican identity among the bishops from around the world, and helping to equip bishops for the role they increasingly have as leaders in mission, involved in a whole variety of ways in helping the Church grow. Since the Fourteenth

Conference begins on July 21, 2008, I’ll give you an update about it next month.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Talking Episcopalian
July 6, 2008
Terry Swanson

Once nice thing about changing the service times for the summer, is that I get to see people that I normally don’t see at the Sunday 8 AM.   All the new faces made me realize just how much St. Timothy’s has enlarged its base – so many new families.  People choose a church for lots of reasons.  Like the people I wrote about last month, who shared why they are St. Timotheans, I think it’s a combination of welcoming clergy and friendly parishioners.  But also like the folks in the “101 Reasons I’m an Episcopalian” book, at St. Tim’s we each have a place in the Church (capital C), that is, in the body of Christ.

We’re well into Pentecost now and as we hear the lessons and Gospels each Sunday, our job as Christians seems to be three-fold: first, to learn as much as we can about the Good News; second, to live the lessons we learn; and third, to share and spread the Good News.

Summer is a time we often vacation and visit other Episcopal Churches so I thought it might be good to refresh ourselves with terms that we, as Episcopalians, hear in and around our churches.

General Terms
Anglican Communion:  An adjective describing the worldwide communion of autonomous churches in communion with the Church of England.

Apostolic Succession:  Episcopalians trace their bishops’ spiritual heritage in an unbroken line back to the first apostles of Jesus.  The importance of the historic episcopate is a major point in ecumenical discussions.

Canons:  The written rules governing church policy, structure and procedure.  There are national canons and each diocese has its own.

Episcopal:  An adjective derived from the Greek word, episkopos, meaning overseer or bishop.  Episcopalian is the noun and Episcopalians attend the Episcopal Church.

Episcopal Church:  The church in the United States that is in communion with the Church of England.  The Episcopal Church maintains that the Holy Scriptures are the ultimate rule of faith. Its symbols of doctrine are the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creed and the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, with certain modifications to fit American conditions. The ministry is of three orders: deacons, priests, and bishops. The system of organization includes the parish, the diocese, the province, and the General Convention. The General Convention, the highest ecclesiastical authority in the church, consists of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (which includes the clergy and laity) and meets in session every three years. The ecclesiastical head of the church is the presiding bishop, elected by the General Convention. The National Council, set up in 1919, is delegated by the General Convention to administer all the organized missionary, educational, and social work. The church has more 2.4 million members in the United States (2005).

More definitions next month

Comfort for the Devil
by Anthony De Mello—taken from an ancient Christian legend:

When the Son of God was nailed to the cross and died, he went straight down to hell from the cross and set free all the sinners who were there in torment. And the devil wept and mourned, for he thought he would get no more sinners for hell. Then God said to him, “Do not weep, for I shall send you all those who are self-righteous in their condemnation of sinners.  And hell shall be filled up once more until I return.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Why I’m a St. Timothean
May 28, 2008
Terry Swanson

Someplace, I don’t remember where, I came across a delightful book, 101 Reasons to be Episcopalian compiled by Louie Crew.  It’s a wonderful collection of sometimes thoughtful, sometimes humorous responses to the query, “Why are you an Episcopalian?”

The Forward and Introduction, by themselves, make good reading and offer some food for thought.  In the Forward, Phyllis Tickle writes, “We Episcopalians are a merry lot. . . . Known as Whiskopalians, God’s most literate communion, Romans on birth control, davenning Christians.*  (Ours is) the poetry of faith, not its various dogma, the elegance of a doctrine, the music of a holy name, the aura of God, and the truth of Christ beyond all telling.”

And in the Introduction, the author writes,  “We come to the Table because the Episcopal Church is a place where God loves us before we decide whether we love God.  We come because here it is safe to doubt, because no one will force us to claim a certainty we don’t feel.”

Here are some of the responses in the book to “Why are you and Episcopalian?”

We have a faith not afraid to reason and reason not ashamed to adore.  The Late Rt. Rev D. S. Tuttle.

I’m an Episcopalian because of the incredibly profound understanding of authority in the Anglican Communion.  The three-legged stool – with its stout legs of Scripture, tradition, and reason, supported by (but also firmly joined by) the seat of our experience and prayer – is perhaps Anglicanism’s most glorious contribution to theology.  Paul M. Johns

We do not give simple answers to complex questions.  Instead, we offer tools that help people develop a sustaining faith.  B. L Moody

We have full-bodied worship: bow, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, hug, walk, and sometimes even raise your hands, cry, laugh, sing, shout, whisper, smell, taste, feel, touch, hold, see, and behold and on and on.  The Very Rev. M. J. Engstom

It’s a church where you can come in without leaving your brain at the door and then have the opportunity to love all those who managed to come in with their “wrong” ideas.  The R. Tev. L Frade

We belong before we believe.  Joanna Wragg

Our theology is an art form not a law book.  P. Gibson

After reading this little book, I thought it might be interesting to find out why folks attend St. Timothy’s so I ask the people at Geodes to tell me why they joined and/or stay here instead of one of the other Episcopal churches in town.  Here are some of their answers.  Most were not signed but I’ve included names with those that were.

People talk to you here.

Walking in the door – what a feeling of family, warmth, and welcome.  We feel at home here.  Shirley Cruse

I enjoy the friendship of the people and also the open-mindedness of the religion.  Father Bob.  Virginia Smith

I’ve gone to the Baptist, Methodist and Catholic churches and this is the only church that knows me and it seems like family.

I was born and raised Methodist.  They finally wouldn’t answer my questions—said it wasn’t important to know.  After joining St. Tim’s I found if they didn’t know they would find out.  Since 1969 I have been a member and found my home!!  Martha Braley

Because it offers me everything I need in my spiritual journey.

Bedause of all the activity and outreach and the high level of energy.  I love the people.  All I have met are so nice.  No question is a bad one.  I like the ritual of the service.

* I confess, I had to look up davenning.  It means to pray as if you are reciting Jewish liturgical prayers.  And the dictionary spells it davening.  Go figure.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Anglican Prayer Beads
April 24, 2008
Terry Swanson

Last month I wrote a little about prayer beads in general and how they have been with us a long time and how they’ve been used by many different faiths.  Anglican Prayer Beads are a relatively new form of prayer, blending the Orthodox Jesus Prayer Rope and the Roman Catholic Rosary. The thirty-three bead design was created by the Rev. Lynn Bauman in the mid-1980s, through the prayerful exploration and discovery of a contemplative prayer group.

Jesus and St. Paul would have been familiar with the Jewish tradition of counting prayers. From its Jewish origins, the early Christian Church considered prayer as the link between earth and heaven, a vehicle for building a personal relationship with God. Repetition of prayers is a natural and time-honored way to pray.  Prayer beads have richly aided in this process. The use of the rosary or prayer beads helps to bring us into contemplative of meditative prayer—really thinking about and being mindful of praying, of being in the presence of God—by use of mind, body, and spirit.  The touching of the fingers on each successive bead is an aid in keeping our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness.

Like so many things Anglican, Anglican prayer beads have a standard and some deviations from that standard.  (I love being an Episcopalian.  Other than the beliefs we profess in the creeds, we’re pretty much free to look for God wherever He points us!)  But I digress.  Usually, an Anglican prayer bead set consists of thirty-three beads divided into four groups of seven with five additional single beads. (However, Harry has one that only has two groups of seven.  You have to go round twice to get the full prayer course in.)  The number thirty-three signifies the number of years that Christ lived on the Earth, while the number seven signifies wholeness or completion in the faith, the days of creation, and the seasons of the Church year.

Four groups of seven beads form the Weeks and remind us of Creation, the temporal week, as well as the seasons of the Church Year. The number 7 also signifies wholeness or completion
Four Cruciform Beads—remind us that the Cross is the central symbol of our Christian Anglican Faith, as well as reminds us of the seasons of the temporal year and the four points on the compass, thus bringing us into mindfulness of the created world.
Invitatory Bead—Just as the Daily Office of the Church begins with the Invitatory, the bead just above the Cross is an invitation to praise and worship God as well as an entry point into the circle of prayer of the rosary.
To begin, hold the Cross and say the prayer assigned to it, then move to the Invitatory Bead. Then enter the circle of the rosary with the first Cruciform Bead, moving through the Weeks and other Cruciforms, saying the prayers for each bead, and
then exiting by way of the Invitatory Bead and Cross. It is suggested that one prays around the circle of beads three times in an unhurried pace, allowing the repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables the mind to rest and the heart to become quiet and still.

Of course you are free to experiment with various prayers to suit your personal prayer style and temperament—That’s the Episcopal Way!—but here is a simple standard to start with.

The Cross
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.
The Invitatory
O God make speed to save me,
O Lord make haste to help me,
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
The Cruciforms
Holy God,
Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One
Have mercy upon me.
The Weeks
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Last Cruciform
The Lords Prayer
Thanks be to God, the Father who made me; the Son who saved me and the Holy
Spirit who guides me.  Amen

The following websites have more information on prayer beads or type Anglican prayer beads in your search engine.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

About Prayer Beads
April 13, 2008
Terry Swanson

Several years ago Shirley Cruse and I were talking about forgiveness and how hard it was for us to do the “seventy times seven” thing.  You know what I mean. “If my hjsband cheated on me, I’d be packed and out of there.” “If anyone hurt my daughter like that, I’d kill him in a drop-dead minute.” Shirley said that one of the things she found helpful was using prayer beads and that just recently she had been struggling with a problem and had fallen asleep while using her prayer beads. When she woke up she saw that she had been holding the cross so tightly, it had left an impression on her hand. When she looked at that, she felt strangely calm and no longer had the anger that had been in her.

That was my first introduction to Anglican prayer beads. Being raised RC, I was familiar with the Rosary and still find it comforting. At the time, I thought about finding out more about Anglican prayer beads but the idea sort of slipped away—until a couple of weeks ago when two of Shirley’s very own daughters were selling prayer beads in the parish hall for J2A. They (both the girls and the beads) were so pretty, I bought some and decided to learn more about prayer beads in general and Anglican prayer beads in particular. Beads have been around since the cave man. The most common items found in ancient burial sites are beads. It makes sense then that we should find an easy link between beads and prayers. In fact in old English “bed” which eventually became “bede” and then “bead” means prayer and is closely linked to the word “bid.” ( I was really excited to discover the bede = prayer connection because years ago I read a book called In This House of Bede about some Anglican nuns, and until now, I never could figure out the name.)

Prayer beads are part of many religious traditions:  Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem and pagan believers use them as aids to prayer, as do people who are going through 12-step programs.  To me, there is something intriguing about a tradition which spans so many different faiths and ages. One statistic said that nearly two-thirds of the planet’s population pray with beads. Some believe the earliest incidents of prayer beads were described by ancient Egyptians as far back as 3200 B.C.  There are also early recorded uses of Hindu prayer beads, called Mala, as early as the eighth century B.C. The use of the prayer bead in Christianity may have begun with Indian prayer beads, which traveled the spice and silk roads to areas of China, Tibet and then west to Arabia and Rome. Probably there were several first sites of prayer beads. Sometimes an activity like prayer beads has beginnings, stops, and rebirths in several places all at once. Early on, repetitive prayer was a way to pray while doing routine jobs and between activities.

One way of keeping track or counting prayers was to keep a bag of small stones. When it was time for prayers, the person would take out the stones, and as each prayer was said, a pebble was put back into the bag. The wealthy used precious stones and jewels, and even gold nuggets. As early as 500 years before Christ, it was customary to tie knots in strings and use the knots to keep track of prayers. Other primitive prayer beads were made of fruit pits, dried berries, pieces of bone and hardened clay.

Tales of prayer beads have come from some famous travelers. For instance Marco Polo reported that the King of Malabar in India wore a fine silk thread strung with one hundred and four large pearls and rubies, on which he prayed to his idols. Alexander Von Humboldt (an eighteenth century scientist) is quoted as finding prayer beads, called Quipos, among the native Peruvians. Since the beads can be fingered in an automatic manner, they allow one to keep track of how many prayers have been said with a minimal amount of conscious effort, which in turn allows greater attention to be paid to the prayers themselves.

Next month: a look at using the Anglican prayer beads.

The Article Archives
Topic: On Being Episcopalian

Early Lent
February 8, 2008
Terry Swanson

Heard frequently these past few weeks: “Wow, Lent comes early this year.”  And indeed it does.  Ash Wednesday is Feb. 6th.  (Ash Wednesday can fall between Feb. 4 and March 9th.)  This early date doesn’t give us much time to think about how we plan to honor the season; does it?  I worried about whether honor was the right word.  Should it be “celebrate,” “remember,” “experience,” what?