Worship Opportunities Are All Around Us

Part four on Deepening Your Relationship with God by Worshiping with Other Faiths.

Carolyn B Thompson Eight-minute read.   Resources
The Cross on Lake Kanuga, at Kanuga Conference Center.
The Cross at Lake Kanuga. Image credit: Gary Allman

You don’t have to go to different churches or different faith traditions every week like I do to take advantage of the worship opportunities around you. You just have to be open so you see what God is presenting to you.

In case you haven’t seen the earlier articles – my journey began over two years ago with a calling to go to a different place of worship each week with the objective of being able to feel/see God no matter where I was.

I’m pretty sure I’d not have seen any of the things below as opportunities for worship, much less taken advantage of them as such had I not gotten to this point in my “feel/see God no matter where I am” journey. I’ve definitely been similar situations before, but never saw them as worship opportunities — nuisances, work for the Kingdom — but not worship opportunities.

The notion that worship opportunities are everywhere came to me at midnight one night when I stopped at a huge grocery store on my way home from a trip.

It was actually 11:50 p.m. when the conversation started. I was trying to get a sale price (that ended at midnight) on an item, so I rushed to the cashier (there was only one checkout open at that time of night) to hurry it through, knowing that the computer knew what time it was and would not give me the sale price if I didn’t get it rung up before the stroke of midnight. When he rang it it came up at the regular price. I told him I knew I was close but it still wasn’t midnight so it should be the price in the sale paper.

Of course it turns out that cashiering wasn’t his regular role in the store, he was helping out at this late hour and a manager would be the only one who could fix this quick enough to meet the midnight deadline. After he called for a manager, we waited, and 10 minutes later (now past midnight) no one had arrived. He apologized profusely and just tried to figure out a way he could get the computerized cash register give me the sale price. I’m pretty sure his jury rig made a mess out of some system but he was adamant that he should take care of this for me. I was certainly grateful, even thought it was now 12:30 a.m. and I had been up since 8:00 a.m. in a day that included eight hours of driving.

After everything was packed in the grocery bag he asked me if I lived in town and, a little irritated (I wanted to go home, not have a conversation), I said that I was about 30 minutes away. He then told me he used to work at Culvers, plus he’s a minister. I asked him where and he said he travels. I said that was pretty common around here with church’s too small to support a full-time minister and not enough ministers to go around. “Oh, my ministry travels,” he said. And he told me all about the places he drives his truck to, to minister to people. Why a truck? – because he carries a huge wooden cross in the truck bed. He arrives in various towns, parks, takes out his cross, hoists it onto his shoulder and walks around town.

The pre-journey me would absolutely be not engaging him, trying to get away, even not really believing him, thinking what the authorities must think of this, etc. But, to my own surprise I realized as I left the store, that I had listened, I had asked questions, I had given suggestions for other places where his ministry would help people. My first thoughts weren’t of shock for how I’d acted but I immediately thought, “worship opportunities are all around us – I wish I’d seen this man carrying a huge wooden cross down the street as I would have been able to worship the God who gave His Son so I could be free”.

Over the next days I thought a lot about that worship opportunity and many more that have been presented to me but I’d missed. I won’t miss them from now on. As you look at the list below, and add more of your own, note that seeing something isn’t the worship opportunity.

Seeing something is just recognizing a nice or thought provoking thing. It’s taking the thing you see hear, or feel as an opportunity to worship our Father – to tell God how mighty God is, to thank God, to ask God for forgiveness, or to ask for intercession for others or yourself, that is what makes it worship.

Worship Opportunities

Here’s the list of worship opportunities I’ve thought of so far. Add more to it in the comments below so we all can have more opportunities to worship God:

  • Crosses that people put on roads at the site of a car accident.
  • People standing on the street proselytizing, or Mormons on their mission coming to your home to talk with you, or other organized religious groups visiting door to door.
  • Sunrises, sunsets, mountains, huge open spaces.
  • Christian radio talk shows, music and church services on the web or traditional radio.
  • Church signs with quotes, for example: “The fact that there’s a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers”.
  • Cursillo and other organized retreats — I was invited to one for Christian business women and in answering one of the questions and hearing other’s answers and stories we realized that we just heard 23 great sermons.
  • Get-togethers that aren’t even overtly Christian. At an annual Christmas brunch with dear friends each of us told “the most important thing we’d learned that year” — we heard “have to stop being so concerned about leadership in the US as it’s tearing me up”; “our book group read White Fragility and I realized I wasn’t understanding how privileged I am, even though I didn’t set out to be”; “I am polar opposites – I work unceasingly or procrastinate”; “kindness never goes out of style”; “I care too much about what others think and should be concerned with what Jesus thinks”; “You don’t know what you don’t know because you don’t know”; “I didn’t really believe God would take care of me no matter what – if you asked me I’d have told you that I believed – but this year’s proposal and marriage showed me I didn’t believe – now I’m changed” — all very impactful material for worshipping our God.
  • Church work — we’re usually so focused on cooking the meal, organizing the children for the pageant, gathering the mittens – that we miss the worship in it.
  • Even prayer as part of choir rehearsal and vestry meetings. Again, we usually are so focused on the event at hand that we do this more by rote and miss the worship opportunity.

I can’t wait to see how this list grows as we all look for worship opportunities in our day to days lives!

Carolyn B Thompson is a cradle Episcopalian with an unquenchable thirst for more relationship with her beloved Father.

Resources

Back to Contents

Unknowing Victims

Are you a victim? It’s very hard for people to admit to having been the victim of a crime. For some, it is because it’s an embarrassing admission that they were duped. For others, it is because they don’t even know that they are victims.

Gary Allman Ten-minute read.   Resources
Double Trouble – January 19, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

We often see victims in the world, and sometimes it’s obvious to us that they are, in fact, victims. These victims of spousal abuse, victims of addiction, or victims of circumstances sometimes seem oblivious to the fact that they are being victimized. We wonder why they can’t or haven’t seen it, or why they deliberately choose to be in denial about being a victim. If we have any self-awareness we might wonder if we, too, are oblivious victims.

We live in an immoral world. As Christians we are called to live a moral life and to love one another. We should even love those who would do us harm, which can be a challenge. But as Christians, we should also be championing the causes of those who have become victims.

I’m never going to grow tired of saying it (and I know I say it a lot). It’s yet another example of our fifth baptismal covenant.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

But what about the victims who are closer to home? What about you? Are you a victim? No?

Don’t be quite so sure. I’m not going to talk about ‘obvious’ issues such as addiction, which we don’t talk about nearly enough. No, instead I’m going to talk about an old-fashioned crime in a modern guise.

Here’s what happened to me.

Without realizing it I’ve innocently become embroiled in organized crime.

There, I’ve said it. It sounds sort of exciting as we are tempted to think of the scenarios that play out in the movies. At the same time, when put like that, it also sounds rather mundane.

There is no scurrilous money laundering, even though I live in the Ozarks. I’m not being blackmailed, nor have I or my family (thus far) been threatened. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones. The criminals haven’t taken anything of real value from me, and more importantly, I’ve discovered their nefarious activities. I know what they are doing, and for the past several years I’ve been doing what I can do to make their crimes more difficult.

The bad news is that most of the victims in my position don’t, and possibly never will, know that they are victims. Which is why I ask, are you sure you’re not a victim? You may not know it.

My story only represents one side of the equation. There are victims on the other side who, if they don’t suspect the criminals’ intentions in time, will lose both financially and emotionally. It’s a modern take on a crime that’s as old as the hills. According to the FTC, this crime has cost Americans some $143M in the last year. In my opinion that’s a huge underestimation.

What are these crimes? They’re commonly known as Romance Scams or Catfishing.

In my case what’s being stolen are photographs of me. The pictures are used to create fake profiles used in online social media, games, and dating accounts. The purpose of these accounts, which use my photos, is to defraud people. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that people like me can do to stop these criminals from getting ahold of your online pictures, except perhaps by never appearing on the Internet in the first place.

Michael Lucious – one of stranger monikers the scammers have adopted.

They use my photographs (and the photos of many, many others) to make their fake accounts look real. They claim to be divorced or widowed and are looking for friendship and love. What they are really looking for is a way to separate vulnerable and lonely people from their money. They tend to target older divorced or widowed women, but they are just as likely to use pictures of women to target vulnerable men.

My wife says my pictures are being used because I have a friendly and trustworthy face (who am I to argue?). Also, there are lots of pictures of me doing all sorts of fun things, very useful for the made-up scenarios they weave into their schemes. There I am on planes, in airports, on sailboats, with injuries, out in the woods, and even with my step-daughter. They love to include her pictures because the idea of a widowed man raising a young daughter alone makes them seem far more endearing.

A sample of pictures of Gary Allman used in fake social media accounts. Image credit: Gary Allman

By the way, the irony of this situation isn’t lost on my wife and I, given that we met online, and that at one point her bank account was frozen because her bank thought I was a scammer.

When I first discovered that my pictures were being used, I thought it was a joke. I quickly realized that it wasn’t and I took action to close down all the faux accounts I could find.

And that’s when things got a little bit hairy.

When the fake account suddenly disappeared, the lovelorn victims searched Facebook for their missing beaus and found the real me. In the process, they also discovered the heartbreaking, and ire-raising news that the love of their life was not widowed, but was happily married and living in Missouri. I was not an oil rig worker, or commodities trader living in New York, Geneva, or somewhere in Texas. In short, they thought it was me deceiving them, having a “fling” on the side.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”


The Mourning Bride by William Congreve

They took to sending abusive messages to my wife and I.

Thankfully, the zero engagement rule seems to work equally well with jilted lovers as it does with Internet Trolls. Foreseeing a long future of such abuse, I created a webpage detailing the scams and my innocent involvement. Now when I find and report a fake account, I post a link to my page and a picture of the fake account publicly on social media. It’s my hope that the grieving lovers will see the pictures of all the different accounts I’ve closed and realize they’ve been taken in by a scam.

To be clear, we are not talking about one or two fake accounts, I’ve closed over a hundred, and I am still closing them to this day. It’s like playing whack-a-mole. And that’s just the ones I’ve found, there will be hundreds more out there. (And of course, I’m not the only one. There are thousands of people in my shoes whether they know it or not).

The messages I get now are no longer abusive. They are the stories of people who are victims of these schemes. Some have, fortunately realized something was up, and didn’t part with any money. But many discovered their error too late.

There was one lady who lost all the insurance money she received after her husband died. Another lost over $160,000. I received a message from the granddaughter of one victim who lost everything, and it was presumed as a consequence she took her life.

It is with a sad and broken heart that I am writing to you. I have been writing to “Gary Brooks” since May 2014 and have sent him over $160,000 of my retirement and credit card money…

… I have finally accepted the fact that I am indeed being scammed. I have had such high hopes of a future with this other guy and really sucked in all the affection and promises he sent me…

… I was wondering what you would suggest me to do next …

This is a serious crime, with serious consequences, and very little chance of redress for the victims.

The scammer’s techniques are to quickly move the victims from public conversations to private chat, texting, and phone calls. That reduces the chance that the victim will see any evidence of the scam being outed, It also leaves the scammers free to be grooming more victims simultaneously. The scammers weave convincing and sympathy-inducing stories for their victims, often involving accidents, or temporarily delayed business funding to lure their victims into sending money.

Another disturbing aspect is that these criminals often claim to be religious to make their stories sound more trustworthy.

From a family member

The lies and deceit can seem obvious to casual observers. Unfortunately the victims are often desperately invested in their relationship with the scammer, and will not believe anyone who tries to make them realize they are being duped.

Some of the messages I get are heartbreaking

…you don’t know me but I just wanted to get some kind of clarity.

… had been talking to someone she ‘met’ on the game words … and they used your picture… they ended up getting money … My whole family tried warning her but she refused to listen to us because this person told her everything she wanted to hear… this person was supposed to be returning back to the states from an overseas oil rig but conveniently never showed up…

…was found dead in her home with no clear indication of how. All we know is her newly refilled pain pills were gone … We all believe this person lead her on for so long that eventually it just took a toll on her emotionally … I guess I was really just needing your advice. I really want justice for what this person has taken away from my family.

The scammers don’t only use social media. They use dating websites, games sites, and by a stroke of luck I even found one on the Fitbit site!

One scammer created a complete website (now taken down) posing as a cinematographer.

Once their foul schemes have been discovered the scams don’t necessarily stop. They may pretend to be victims themselves and contact their victims (since they know who they are), and create some complex (but costly) plot to get revenge. The scammers have even been known to send people to physically go and meet the victims.

So…

let’s be careful out there.

Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, Hill Street Blues

What Can We Do?

We can raise awareness. Romance Scams are often treated lightheartedly. For the victims of the scams, their hopes of love and happiness are dashed, and their financial security may be compromised. There’s nothing amusing about either scenario. Spreading the word will warn people that these crimes are taking place, and hopefully reduce the number of victims.

Raising awareness that pictures are being stolen for this purpose should encourage people to check if their pictures are being stolen, and report any fake accounts.

This won’t stop the crimes. There have always been con men and fraudsters. However, widespread awareness of internet catfish scams will make it harder for these criminals to operate. And that can only be good.

Are Your Pictures Being Used?

Facebook search for people with the name "Gary Allman".
This is the result of one of my early Facebook searches for “Gary Allman”

The scammers tend to target people with a good supply of pictures. One of their most popular sources of pictures are people serving in the military. An overseas deployment can explain why they can’t meet their victim in person.

How would you know if someone is using photographs of you in romance scams?

For me, the first ones were easy. They were foolish enough to use my real name and have publicly visible pictures of me. So just do a search in Facebook for your name. If any account with a picture of you shows up and it’s not yours, you’ve found a scammer of one sort or another.

If you can learn the aliases they are using, then trawling through a social media search on that name can unearth a load of these fake profiles. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘Gary Brooks’ I’ve closed down.

How you take down false accounts depends on the organization. In my experience, Facebook and Instagram have been very good at taking down reported accounts. But their record in making it easy to identify them or stop them from being created is appalling. Google is next to useless. Even with copies of my driver’s license, they refuse to remove them.

Are You a Romance Scam Victim?

If you are single and dating partners online, reverse image searches of the profile pictures and any other images your date shares works well for identifying suspect people. This is why I’ve made sure that the pictures of me are easily found with a simple search.

Be on the alert for anything that doesn’t look or feel right. Is the person’s writing style consistent? Does their command of English match their supposed nationality? Are the pictures really taken where and when they claim to be? Do the things in the background of the photo match the story you’re being told? Does the person avoid answering questions about inconsistencies? Does the apparent age of the person in the pictures keep changing? Be careful. There are tens of thousands of scam accounts on Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if over 30% of Facebook accounts were scammers of one sort or another.

Needless to say, never send money or give financial information to someone you’ve not met in person and don’t really know, regardless of how convincing they may be.

There are several groups to help you identify potential scammers (links below).

Even harder than dealing with a scammer yourself is convincing someone you know that they may be in danger of becoming a victim. They usually refuse to listen, even when they may have their own suspicions.

In the worst case, if you’ve become a victim of a scammer, you can report the crime to the FBI online (ironic isn’t it?).

Resources

Back to Contents

I Think I’ve Been Scammed Resources

Reverse Image Searches: support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808

Romance Scam Forum: www.romancescam.com/forum/index.php (this one is particularly good)

Nigerian Dating Scams: www.watchforscams.com/nigerian-dating-scams.html

Social Catfish: Scams: socialcatfish.com/category/scams/

FBI Cyber Crime Page: www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber

Facebook ‘Scam Haters’ page: www.facebook.com/thefightbackstartshere/

About Romance Scams

Gizmodo Article (I agreed to take part in this piece): Pray for the Souls of the People Sucked Into This Dating Site Hell.

BBC article: Scam baiter: Why I risk death threats to expose online cons.

Washington Post Romance Scam Article (May 2018): When a stranger takes your face: Facebook’s failed crackdown on fake accounts.

Washington Post Romance Scam Article (Feb. 2019): Romance scams cost Americans $143 million last year, FTC says.

FBI (February 2018): FBI Cautions Public to be Wary of Online Romance Scams.

Federal Trade Commission (Feb. 2019): Romance scams rank number one on total reported losses.

Reporting a Scammer

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Federal Trade Commission:
https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/Information#crnt&panel1-3

Preparing for the Inevitable

Do you know how to handle your family’s financial transactions?

The Rev. Jerry Kolb Five-minute read.   Resources

In a conference call with the Church Pension Fund, we became aware of a situation that has prompted us to provide some education. It has to do with the death of a partner and financial transactions.

If you have been allowing your partner to do all the banking, paying bills and general financial transactions (especially online), we would like to encourage you to immediately begin sharing those responsibilities. In the instance we became aware of, the husband was doing all the financial transactions. When he died, even though they had joint accounts, the surviving spouse was unable to do any financial transactions because she did not have the passwords, login information, account numbers or access codes to access the required accounts.

Please begin to share financial responsibilities with your partner. Record your passwords and account numbers in a secure location which is familiar to both of you. Consider using an online password and account manager to make this process easier. Help your spouse pay bills ‘online’ (if that is your financial method) so they know how to do it. Also, make sure that both you and your partner’s names are on your accounts.

This kind of information is still important if you pay your bills by a paper check. It is also important if you are a single person handling your affairs. Someone will need this information. Make sure they know how to find it.

One suggestion is to alternate doing the monthly financial transactions. If there is a question, someone is there to provide the answer.

When there is a death of a spouse, the bank and the utility companies will be of little help to you without this kind of information.

Also remember, this issue isn’t just limited to financial transactions. Couples often split the workload. What responsibilities does your partner undertake that you would not know how to deal with if they were to die or become incapacitated?

Facebook Memorialization Page

With the proliferation of online accounts and social media, it’s a good idea to consider putting together an ‘online will’, setting out what should be done with your online accounts when you die. Facebook, for example allows you to elect a ‘Legacy Contact’ to oversee and memorialize your account.

Be proactive!

Fr. Jerry Kolb is Chaplin for Retired Clergy in The Diocese of West Missouri.

Resources

Back to Contents

A Year in Africa – Preparations & Orientation

Continuing to show that ministry can take on many forms. In 2016 Julia Taylor signed up to spend a year with the Peace Corps in Uganda.

Julia Taylor 15 minute read.   Resources

In 2015 I applied for and was accepted in a Peace Corps program sending doctors and nurses to Africa for one year. Now, (2016) I will be part of the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP) to work with medical and nursing schools teaching and working with school facility and administration to improve the educational opportunities for healthcare professionals in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Swaziland and Liberia.

“My bags are packed – I’m ready to go”… to Uganda

Julia Taylor at her official swearing into the Peace Corps – US ambassador’s house, Uganda. Image credit: Julia Taylor

I organized my house, and was very happy to have a Mercy co-worker to rent/house sit while I was gone. I had to complete my on-line training and endure numerous immunizations, including a series of three “pre-exposure” rabies shots.

More enjoyable by far were all the “farewells”: a bon voyage Cardinals baseball game with my sisters, a wonderful weekend visit with six college friends and a goodbye luncheon given by my coworkers at Mercy Hospital. I took my Missouri grandchildren on trips to Virginia and Kimberling City. I flew to Montana to celebrate Anita (my second daughter’s) Air Force change of command.

Finally, after a rousing Independence Day celebration, I packed my 12 year old canine companion Ginger in the car and drove 1,200+ miles to Arizona. I was fueled by a combination of Red Bull and diet Dr. Pepper (I don’t recommend it) and entertained by a recording of “Murder on the Iditarod Trail”, hundreds of miles of highway construction through Oklahoma and endless radio commentaries on the 2016 presidential candidates.

I had dinner with my Arizona family and bought the grandchildren birthday presents in advance for the birthdays I would miss while I was gone. I was fortunate that I had family farewells with all my grandchildren, my sisters and four out of five of my children. My brother in California and my son in Hawaii said their goodbyes via telephone.

I was finally ready to head for Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Thank heaven I had some help. I could have never handled the luggage by myself. Two bags weighing 49.5 lbs. each and a smaller one weighing only 38 lbs. Total baggage fees: $210.

When I arrived at Washington National airport, I tipped generously – the baggage handler, the taxi driver and the bellhop at the hotel. I was there for ten days of Peace Corps training. There were 58 other volunteers – doctors and nurses – preparing to teach. Our studies included lectures on teaching techniques, writing test questions, malaria, parasites, HIV/AIDS, hemorrhagic viruses, mental health and communication methods. A display in the lobby of the Peace Corps headquarters gave me pause. It was a memorial to all the volunteers who died during their time of service. I learned that motor vehicle accidents were the most common reason.

Some highlights of these ten days were: a visit by the Secretary of State, receiving our malaria medications and a simulation session where those of us who were out of practice were given an opportunity to return and practice IV starting techniques. During that session I also gave an Emmy worthy performance as an annoying family member in a tense clinical situation.

I realized that several of the dresses I packed were too short (I know – a strange situation for me but in Uganda knees needed to be well covered). I mailed them back home and shopped for replacements. I completely repacked all three suitcases, saw a Washington Nationals game, attended a performance at the Kennedy Center, reacquainted myself with the Metro system, visited friends from Ft Huachuca days, and walked a lot seeing the monuments and buildings that are essential to any visit to the Capitol. I took advantage of the outstanding restaurants focusing on food that I don’t think I’ll see a lot of in Uganda: Thai, Korean, tapas, and crème brulee.

We ended our Washington DC orientation with a send off from the director of the Peace Corps and the ambassador from Uganda (she gave me her card and her daughter’s telephone number). We received teaching supplies, a lab coat and medical equipment (everyone was stressed about the weight limit for baggage). Our last lectures included recommended actions for trauma in the marketplace, treatment of chronic illnesses and a recommendation to keep our mouths shut for at least three months – to listen and to learn. It will be hard but I will try!

Tomorrow at 6 am I will be leaving with my 140 pounds of luggage flying on Ethiopian Airlines for 13 hours to Addis Ababa and then on to Entebbe, Uganda.

Uganda – Travel and more orientation

Welcome to Uganda. Image credit: Julia Taylor

The 6 am pick up at the hotel in Washington DC didn’t happen. When the bus didn’t appear, we called the Peace Corps emergency number. It didn’t work! Finally the buses, which had gone to the wrong hotel, appeared. After a long check process at Dulles and $200 fee for the third piece of luggage we boarded Ethiopian Airlines. I was in a middle seat for the entire flight. We were fed often and landed in Addis Ababa without delay. The two hours flight to Entebbe included another meal.

Everyone had to present proof of immunization against yellow fever before we could pass through the Immigration checkpoint. Thirty pieces of Peace Corps luggage did not arrive. After long wait, we decided that some would take the bus back to the hotel and the rest would complete lost baggage forms and wait four hours for the next plane from Addis. I was in waiting group. There was a liquor store in the baggage claim area so four six-packs of beer appeared. Finally next plane landed. Great cheers went up each time one of our suitcases appeared on baggage carousel. Two Nigerian women in traditional dress were also waiting for luggage. They cheered with us. When all the lost luggage had been safely retrieved, there were high fives all around and a group picture taken by one of the Nigerians. Apparently the missing luggage had sat on the tarmac during a rainstorm for quite a while because the contents of my soft sided suitcase were quite damp.

“The first of many mosquito nets”Image credit: Julia Taylor

Then we were a bus to Kampala. We were told it would be a 45 minutes trip which sounded reasonable for a 23 mile trip through crowded streets. The trip took three hours which was better than the first bus. It took them 4.5 hours. The Kolping Hotel room was basic with mosquito net which is sprayed with insect repellent before bed. After 32 hours of travel, I finally got to sleep.

The next day we each received a Peace Corps cell phone. It is old style – the kind where you push the 2 key three times for a “c” when you are entering information), I set up account information for a local bank (US $1 = Ugandan 3316 shillings), received more information on malaria including practicing with a rapid detection test (I am negative for malaria for now) and were presented with a water filtration system for new residents.

Learning the test for malaria. Supplied image

One volunteer brought a yoga tape. Every evening in Kampala we met at 6:00 p.m. in the classroom. It was very popular with the volunteers and the local staff, especially since we were told that running was not advisable because of the truly horrific traffic. I learned that fresh produce needs to be peeled or soaked in bleach water. Apparently I won’t be having many salads this year. The Peace Corps office will be holding both passports and immunization records to prevent us from leaving the country without letting them know.

After Lecture Yoga. Image credit: Julia Taylor

The motto for Global Health Service Partnership Uganda is “to increase capacity and strengthen the quality and sustainability of medical and nursing education”

I’m trying to stick to a vegetarian diet but did try a small piece of goat which tastes like … meat. Each day the buffet includes at least one type of fresh banana (sometimes two) plus matookay – plantains – both mashed and steamed. Every day there is a very good sauce with peas which I eat over rice. We also break for tea (complete with pastries) twice each day. We received a small Peace Corps cookbook with suggestions for meals using products available in Uganda.

At the recommendation of the Washington DC Peace Corps staff (in order to make it through the difficult days) I started gratitude list making three entries a day of things for which I am thankful. So far, it hasn’t been hard to list three items.

Our classes on security and safety convinced everyone to stay inside with doors and windows bolted at all times. The briefings were very negative (probably realistic but …). This was followed by a trip to a mall (quite nice) for electronics purchases. Almost the entire group descended on the Africell office so I was there for over four hours. I purchased a mobile hotspot so now I have a laptop, Verizon cell phone, Africell cell phone, a small projector, multiple outlet adapters, power protector and lots of accessories to support this equipment. I wanted to buy skirts since I have learned that “trousers” are not acceptable clothing for women here but most clothing stores were closed for Sunday.

The husband of one of the doctors is an IT whiz and helped me with several electronics issues. Dennis is number 1 on my gratitude list for 25 July.

One of the highlights of today was a great lecture by a university professor on the history of Uganda. There are 117 districts (similar to our states) with 52 ethnic groups and languages. Uganda didn’t exist in any way until the British in 1894 decided the area should be part of the Empire. The British determined the borders of their newly created colony. According to the lecturer the country is still not totally unified. Districts are often more important than the country as a whole.

We started our language classes. The eight doctors and seven nurses on our group are going to five locations. Each area speaks a different language so there are five separate language classes. The language in my area is Lumusaaba. After one 45 minute lesson, I am already lost. However I did learn something: “Wakonile uyrena? Nakonile bulayi” This is a greeting which means “How did you sleep? I slept well.”

I am beginning to adjust to the eight hour time change. After several mostly sleepless nights, I am now able to go to sleep by 11:00 p.m. and wake up in time to hear the Muslim morning call to prayer (about 5:30 – 6:00 a.m.).

We also received some information about our home stay. We are going to our permanent stations on Wednesday for an eight day stay with a local family. This is being done to get us acclimated to the culture. We may not have hot water or flush toilets. The host families have been warned that Americans generally eat dinner earlier than 10:00 p.m. During my stay in Mbale (I’ve been told that it is a four hour trip) my group will meet the administrators and our co-teachers at the university. Then we will return to Kampala for additional classes and finally the Peace Corps swearing in.

The weather has been very pleasant – in the 70s and 80s. I am now repacking my three heavy suitcases preparing to depart from Kampala to Mbale at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Home Stay in Mbale

It was a five hour trip from Kampala to Mbale on a very crowded bus. We crossed the source of the Nile (which flows north). No one was allowed to take pictures. It had nothing to do with Nile River itself. The issue was military security because of the bridge over it. On our bus were some “real” Peace Corps volunteers – the ones who sign up for 27 months and mostly live in very remote places. My group is very much in awe of them.

We are Mbale for eight days for our home stay (to help orient us to the local culture), introductions to university and hospital administration and more language instruction.

My home stay family is the second wife in a polygamous marriage. She has four children, three of whom are in boarding school. The child at home is a 6 year old boy named Moses and called Momo. There is no hot water (only a cold water bucket shower for the next eight days). There is a pit (indoor thankfully) toilet. No running water after about 6:30 p.m. The host “mom” is gracious. She was told that Americans eat huge breakfasts so the first day she overloaded me with carbs. I told her a banana and cereal is just fine. Here they serve cold cereal with hot milk. A dozen chickens sleep in a room off the kitchen at night. Otherwise they are truly free range.

We were given a tour of the building where we will be staying. There are seven apartments and the Peace Corps volunteers will occupy five of them. The building is still being completed and the university will provide some furnishings so I’m not exactly certain what it will finally look like and what I will need to buy to furnish it. I know I will have to get a refrigerator, pots and pans, glasses, silverware, etc. Also complicating the situation is the fact that the administrative and support staff of the university are on strike, so it is possible that our furniture will have to wait until everyone is back to work.

Cooking lunch. Image credit: Julia Taylor

There is a coffee shop/hostel just a few buildings away from what will be my new residence. Free wifi, laundromat, interesting menu, Afro-Zumba classes. We all think this will be where we spend a lot of time. I visited a second coffee shop that serves Mexican food each Tuesday and Saturday. I am looking forward to trying some Ugandan enchiladas.

Circumcision festival is a huge deal. It finishes August 8 but the leadups to the event are already happening. There are parades of many walking, laughing people – everyone except the one on whom the surgery will be performed. The age for circumcision here is 18 years and apparently the boy is not to flinch or faint. If he does it will be a point of shame for the rest of his life. The procedure is done by a layperson who apparently is beaten to death if he makes a mistake. This is a ritual for a tribe of 6,000 persons who live in eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Most gather on even numbered years for the event. The number of young men who are circumcised ranges from 15 to 100. This year the presidents of both Uganda and Kenya are scheduled to visit the festival. We viewed the area for the event. It looked like a county fairground.

the infant mortality rate is 76 deaths per 1,000 births. For comparison, it is 6.1 per 1,000 in the US.

We have made the rounds of the local, district, university and hospital officials. Routine protocol visits seem to be the same the world over except that here all visitors sign an official logbook. The one we signed started in 1957. I learned that the infant mortality rate is 76 deaths per 1,000 births. For comparison, it is 6.1 per 1,000 in the US. Life expectancy in Uganda is 59 years. In the US it is 76 years for men and 81 years for women.

Image credit: Julia Taylor

The only way you can tell who is a boy and who is a girl here is by the clothes the child is wearing. Girls always wear skirts and dresses. All children have their heads shaved – much cooler and cleaner that way.

Using the app Whatsapp? I was able to call my cousin Mary just before her 50th wedding anniversary party. I was glad to talk to her but very sorry to miss the celebration.

We took a field trip to a synagogue outside Mbale. The rabbi who is the only trained rabbi in sub-Saharan Africa was extremely gracious and without notice took lots of time to talk to us. . There are 400 people in the local congregation and approximately 2,000 Jews in Uganda. Three of our group of seven are Jewish so we plan to be back for services.

Ugandan street scene. Image credit: Julia Taylor

Shopping in the marketplace was chaotic and confusing but fortunately we had our language teacher with us so I was able to replace my forgotten underwear, buy African fabric for the Peace Corps swearing in on August 11, and locate a dressmaker who promised to make the dress before we leave Mbale on August 4.

Walking here is a challenge both due to number of motorcycles and the fact that I can never remember which way to look when crossing the street since they drive on the left side of the road.

Mt Elgon Waterfall. Image credit: Julia Taylor

It was a long, very bumpy bus ride (with a full bladder – very poor planning on my part) to the top of Mt Elgon which I was told is approximately 9,000 ft. in elevation. We saw lots of very isolated villages on the way. There was a great hike to a waterfall – definitely got my exercise for the day. The view was magnificent.

St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral has three Sunday services (English, Lumusaaba – the language I am attempting to learn, and Lugandan – the language used in the capitol). The English service I attended included some African music. We also sang two verses of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Each service was over two hours long. An American fire marshal would have emptied half the church. At my service there were at least 550 probably 600 people jammed in. After we stood up for a song, I was slow to sit down and almost lost my end of the pew. Afterwards, one of the priests invited me to his house for lunch (two other Peace Corps volunteers were staying with him). I even saw a little CNN. Then I did some shopping and walked to the coffee shop for African tea (lots of milk), and Kindle time.

One day we visited the main campus of the university where we will be teaching. It was about a two hour drive. The vice chancellor was most gracious. She was certain we had met before. We decided that it must have been in Hawaii. She had been on Oahu for a week-long meeting at the University of Hawaii. Since we were near Kenya, we drove to see the border. A policeman gave us a tour of the border area – we definitely stayed on the Ugandan side. The sight of very long lines of very large trucks waiting to be inspected before crossing the border seemed quite familiar. It was similar to the Arizona-Sonoran crossing at Nogales.

On the last full day in Mbale, we had a dinner for our host families. Several medical faculty members also attended. The site coordinator surprised me with a birthday cake. Everyone sang to me and then three large sparklers were placed on the cake and lit. It was a great time. A perfect ending to our week!

Birthday Cake, complete with fireworks! Supplied image

Back to Kampala

We left Mbale in an air-conditioned bus! The highlights of our trip back to the capitol included lots of sugar cane pieces provided by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who cut them down in his home stay family’s back yard, a purchase of habanero oil, and a great lunch of vegetable curry & naan.

Back at the Kampala Kolping Hotel, the reunion among the volunteers from five locations in Uganda was joyous. After all, we hadn’t seen each other in eight days. The comments were either bragging about how luxurious the home stay accommodations were (hot water, actual showers) or trying to be the person in the most challenging situation (only cold water bucket showers, a five hour church service). I was excited to feel hot water again and I had no trouble remembering to turn on the heater for hot water a few hours before my shower.

There is a small television in my room. I can watch the international version of CNN and two local stations broadcast in Lugandan. However, one evening one station had the Olympics on – in Portuguese. Unfortunately in the middle of a swimming event with the American relay team in the lead, the programming was switched back to local Ugandan news. I still don’t know the result of the race.

My exercise routine is mainly walking up and down four flights of hotel stairs for 30 minutes each morning since it isn’t considered safe to go to the Kampala streets alone. Each morning starts at 5:00 a.m. with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast loudly from all mosques. The call (broadcast five times a day) does not last long but it does remind the roosters that it is time to get up and crow for the rest of the morning. Not to be outdone, the Christians broadcast music with singing all morning on Sundays.

Almost every business – banks, hotels, malls – are protected by rolls of nasty looking barbed wire across the top of walls, and guards, usually men in uniform, with long rifles. You are required to pass through metal detectors to get into the mall.

Whites and Asians are called muzungus by everyone. I think it means foreigner in Swahili.

I went shopping for household goods at a local department store where irons cost 56,000 – Ugandan shillings, thankfully not US dollars. There were quite a few items in the store that carried the Target brand name. The bedding is being individually ordered (sheets, pillowcases, mattress pads, etc.) and then sent to a seamstress who is custom making them. We missed lunch at the hotel but fortunately there was a “Mr. Tasty” chicken shop which in addition to chicken, fish and pizza also sold ice cream. I had a scoop of butterscotch. Ice cream is hard to find here and is a real treat.

On a second shopping trip I purchased some essentials that I am certain I cannot find in Mbale: olive oil, balsamic vinegar and macadamia nuts. I am still looking for white chocolate.

We had more classes and a trip to the Peace Corps office. Once returning to the hotel, Kampala Friday evening traffic was so bad, we all got out of the bus and walked to a very upscale mall. It had a bookstore, gelato, a fitness center, numerous clothing shops and much more. I had my eyebrows threaded & got a supper of hummus and vegetables. One member of our group, a retired pediatrician from Ohio, had volunteered with the initial class of the Global Health Service Partnership in 2013. He has already seen three students that he taught at that time including one we ran into in the mall.

There are multiple starches for every meal – mashed plantains, yams, rice, pasta and occasionally mashed “Irish” (white potatoes). Every morning I was thankful for cold milk on my cereal. We have “break tea” every day at 10 am (tea, coffee, pastry) and evening tea at 4:00 p.m.

Lectures included psychiatry (which included a reminder that homosexuality is still a crime in Uganda) and African traditional medicine. The lecturer reported that 60% of Ugandans use a traditional healer as their primary care provider. She mentioned that if there is a doubt that the baby was fathered by a member of the clan, the baby is in the doorway. If the domestic animals step over the baby that indicates that the father is a clan member and all is well. If the animals step on the baby, the child does not belong to the clan.

We did practice teaching with students from a local university as the target audience. There were several lectures on HIV/AIDS which is still a major problem in Uganda. Adding to this problem, TB is also a huge issue here. Death from AIDS plus TB is four times greater than death from AIDS alone.

We also visited an 84 year old traditional healer who says she is successful in treating all diseases except epilepsy. Traditional healers are licensed by the government and supposedly the herbs they use are tested. On the same day we saw a bone setter. This family ran a practice and a hospital. Many people go to the hospital for x-rays then take the x-rays to the bone setter (who is trained only by his/her family – no formal education is required). The patient has gauze, herbs and then a bamboo split applied. Some people then go home and come back for checkups. The more serious breaks, such as the femur, stay in the bone setter hospital for three to four months until the bones are healed.

We had a cultural afternoon visiting the Ugandan National Museum, the tombs of the kings of Uganda, (official title is the Kabaka of Buganda). Four kings are buried there but they don’t really die so they each have nine wives living on the burial grounds. The women are supported by the kingdom of Uganda (which as far as I can tell is physically the same as the country of Uganda so Uganda has a president with political power and a king with no power but tradition and respect). Kingship is passed down by family: the oldest son gets land and the youngest son gets authority so the current king’s youngest son will one day be king. We visited the National Theater which has lots of craft shops. I bought a pair of earrings and a Ugandan nativity set to add to my collection of 70+ crèches.

Another cultural experience was the trip to the Ndere Centre where we watched amazing performances of variety of traditional African dances. The energy and stamina required for the three hour program was incredible. The audience included people from the USA, Canada, China, England, the Netherlands, Switzerland and several other African countries in addition to Uganda. It seemed to me the local version of the Polynesian Cultural Center (those who lived in Hawaii will understand this).

As our time in Kampala draws to a close, the festivities began. One night we had a happy hour complete with heavy pupus and a trampoline. A very welcome treat was the mango margaritas. 

Our official swearing into the Peace Corps took place at US ambassador’s house. I wore my new outfit that I had made from African material and tailored in Mbale. In addition to the seven doctors, eight nurses, one librarian, one computer scientist and one accountant in our Global Health Service Partnership volunteers, we were joined by 44 “real” Peace Corps volunteers. It was a surprisingly moving ceremony. I am proud to be part of the Peace Corps!

Orientation is finally finished. Now it is time to get to work!

Have I Told You Lately?

Have I told you lately that I love you? Well, Darlin’, I’m telling you now.

Mary Chiles Two-minute read.   Resources
Image credit: Gary Allman

Recently I said goodbye to a longtime friend and co-worker. I’m not sure that we’ll meet again on this earth. The words of an old Willie Nelson standard just came out of my mouth. Kind of corny, right? And yet the words were so right that we nearly wept with the truth of them.

The words just came out of my mouth. Because they were true. This friend and I have had a lot of interaction over the years. That’s code for sometimes it’s been rough—still code for the reality that all relationships have their ups and downs, aches and pains, joys and heartaches. Isn’t that the nature of love?

In this leave-taking suddenly I was poignantly aware of how much our friendship meant to me. I realized that at the heart of it all was love.

Have I told you lately that I love you? Well, Darlin’, I am telling you now.

Willie Nelson

So even if you’ve got reasons to be angry or hurt, don’t ignore the love. By all means acknowledge the importance of boundaries. Speak the truth kindly. And in the midst of the messiness of true friendship, tell them how you feel.

Mary Chiles serves on the vestry at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield Missouri.

Apollo 8 at 50: In the beginning

On Christmas Eve 1968 the astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first people to orbit the Moon.

The Rev. Mark W. Ohlemeier Five-minute read.   Resources
Earth Rising. Image credit: NASA

On Christmas Eve in 1968, three American astronauts became the first human beings to travel to another world. The Apollo 8 crew — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders — had made the quarter-million mile journey from the Earth to the Moon, a hazardous voyage through the deadly vacuum of space. Even though this mission would be overshadowed seven months later by the first manned Moon landing, the flight of Apollo 8 was a remarkable technological achievement. And it was made even more memorable by the way in which the crew decided to mark this historic event.

The astronauts wanted to do something special during their live television broadcast from lunar orbit, and had been contemplating it for weeks prior to the mission. They considered several different ideas, such as rewriting the words to “Jingle Bells” or “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” with a space-moon theme, but that idea didn’t seem to fit the occasion. They attempted to draft a message of world peace, but everything they came up with seemed too hollow. Just a few days before launch, however, they knew that their dilemma was solved thanks to a suggestion made by a friend of the crew.

As the Apollo 8 spacecraft circled the Moon on that Christmas Eve, millions of people on Earth tuned in to witness the broadcast. The astronauts pointed out the contrast between the lifeless surface below them and the tiny, blue orb outside their window that was home to all known life in the universe. Then, each man took a turn reading the first few verses from the book of Genesis:

1 In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, …

These mortal men, as they moved through the dark void of space, had an unprecedented view of creation and chose to mark the occasion by praising the work of the Creator.

The year 1968 was a troubled time in American history: the conflict in Vietnam was still raging; riots at the Democratic National Convention and elsewhere had caused millions in damage; and the country reeled from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. But the mission of Apollo 8 and its message from the Moon offered hope to a divided country and an uncertain world. Fifty years later, while we face our own conditions of national and global anxiety, we can reflect upon the mission of Apollo 8 as a time when the world came together as one, if only for a brief moment, as the crew wished everyone “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”  

The Rev. Mark W. Ohlemeier serves as Assistant Rector at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, Missouri.

Equipped and Sent

An eight-month tenure at Holden Village, a Lutheran Community in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State has a lasting effect.

Mary Chiles Five-minute read.   Resources
Holden Village Dining Hall Millerj870 [Public domain]

For eight months in 2012, my husband, Mike, and I were on the staff of an alpine dreamland. Holden Village, a Christian retreat center housing 500 persons, was situated in the Wenatchee National Forest in the middle of the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Snow-capped peaks surrounded historic dwellings of the former mining village built in 1938. Rustic footbridges traversed the mountain stream that practically sang as it flowed through the Village. It was like living in a Christmas card.

We lived together in Christian Community. We worshiped together daily. There were artists and musicians. Theologians and children as well as retirees and recent college graduates engaged in conversation. High school church groups from around the country came to groom wilderness trails by day and play pool by night.

Our work conflicts were framed in the idea that as Christians, God enabled us to forgive one another as we walked through encounters with one another in an isolated setting. We ate together. Lifelong friendships forged around rousing table talk and challenging ideas. We laughed and cried together.

It was hard to leave. Often people thought that the communal dining, hiking, and worship were so unique, so lovely, that they should stay forever.

But it was not to be. This was a place to soak in practical world changing theology for the very purpose of leaving in order to be the Church in the world.

The express intention of the place was that we were equipped to be sent.

The Eucharist is like that. We come to kneel in a beautiful setting. Hundreds, often those we have known and loved, have knelt to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at that very spot. It is a liturgical wonderland. There are babies and elders. The choir and congregation sing as we receive. The physical surroundings are exquisite. We are connected in community through our common meal and Lord.

It’s such a holy place. I don’t want to go. And yet—the express intention of that place is to equip me to be sent.

Before we go we ask God,

… Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Post-Communion Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, p. 365.

Equipped and ready to be sent.  

Mary Chiles serves on the vestry at Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield Missouri.

We Are Members of One Another

Part three on Deepening Your Relationship with God by Worshiping with Other Faiths. What can we learn from how other faiths worship?

Carolyn B Thompson 15 minute read.   Resources
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 Image: Gary Allman

After one Sunday morning service a pastor said to me, “We’re doing something wrong. We’re not growing. What you’ve seen at other churches and faith traditions could help us.” I said I’d love to talk about ‘The Thing’s I’ve learned, whenever the pastor had time. Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about that request. I’d seen so many things, and before I knew it, the concise answer was there — thank you God, as usual, for providing me an answer before I even asked You.

For me, successful faith communities have the following three key attributes:

  • Dynamic preaching, with the homily/message/sermon including clear to-do’s;
  • Inspiring and interactive music;
  • ‘The Thing’– that ‘something’ — a congregation needs, that is promoted within and outside the community.

My first two articles were very much about what I gained and learned from my experiences worshiping with other faiths. This article is first, a filtering of what I’ve experienced around the question – what makes a faith community successful? And second, it puts words to what I have seen, the actual, specific things faith communities do, that made me feel they were successful. It comes from the many places of worship I’ve visited as an outsider over the past two years.

Needless to say, these are my personal conclusions, and I hope that there is something useful here for everyone to take away. Whether you are: just sitting in the pews, vestry members, worship leaders, clergy, or musicians. I offer these observations in the hope that they can help you strengthen your community by talking about them, making comparisons, and by implementing anything that might be appropriate to your situation.

Dynamic preaching, with the homily/message/sermon including clear to-do’s

The people who preach exhibit massive body and vocal energy. And energy does not equal volume, but it does include changes in volume and pace – like when needing to exhibit calmness or compassion, and pauses for emphasis as well as hand and body movements even facial expressions that illustrate the point:

  • they are incredible storytellers – the stories are told in such detail you can see what they’re talking about unfolding, they use humor and jokes when they fit the message;
  • the wording in every sermon calls us to apply it to our church and us corporately, not just to us as individuals as most of the sermons I’ve previously heard do;
  • they verbally and physically involve the congregation with questions, and wait for answers;
  • they expect people to take away things to do. The churches enable this by giving people a place to write what they’ll do. For example, small cards or a blank page in the bulletin.

I’ve seen many successful styles that caused the congregation’s eyes to be glued on the preacher, including one that was an hour-long sermon – I was shocked when I saw the time, it had just flown by.

Inspiring and Interactive Music

This is not about the genre of music or how skilled the musicians are, though those do inspire us. We each have very different tastes and if it’s not to your liking you likely won’t feel inspired, and then won’t want to interact with the music. 

This is about music in which the words tell a meaningful story about our relationship with God:

  • Music and music leaders who create ways to get everyone singing. Lots and lots of music so it becomes clear to people that it’s a method for worship;
  • A song leader or choir to encourage people to join in, use a pitch that most people can sing;
  • Every so often have the congregation choose hymns;
  • Get many people/and not just instrumentalists and choir members involved in the music;
  • Include people outside the congregation – some churches call it “special music”;
  • make the making of music a priority.

I knew that a place of worship I was attending had inspirational and interactive music when I looked around and saw a clearly expectant look on the faces of the congregation. 

Some Examples

  • Repetition: some churches used a piece of music — other than service music — over and over, seasonally and as interludes in the service. Over time people even began singing during the instrumental interludes.
  • Catering to different tastes: a church with 3 services chose a different styles of music and a different way to produce music for each service. Another with one service designated different Sunday’s for different styles of music: contemporary, spiritual, camp songs, traditional.
  • Spontaneous singing or music: either from the worship leader, priest, or instrumentalist – I’ve seen this during the sermon, when a prayer is requested. Even on birthdays, and it was very moving because it fit exactly with what was being said at that moment.
  • No instruments: without an organist or instruments you can use recordings designed specifically for this situation, or provided you have the necessary licenses and permissions you can make your own from other sources such as YouTube and play it on a phone or a computer. Some faith traditions don’t allow instruments, but oh do they sing — I was at one where we sang eight hymns and the congregation did it in parts!

The Thing’– That ‘something’ — a congregation needs, that is promoted within and outside the community

It’s easy to tell what ‘The Thing’ is within a few minutes – it’s on their walls, it’s in their formal mission statement, it’s talked about in each sermon, it’s evident in the types of groups and activities they have, and you’ll hear it in informal conversations ; during coffee hour, in side comments at vestry meetings, while passing the Peace – not that you’re supposed to be socializing while passing the Peace, but …

I realize this sounds like I’m only talking about how a church promotes its mission to its community, but most of the churches where I saw this clearly demonstrated had not done a formal assessment to determine what ‘The Thing’ was.  In the vast majority of the examples I give below ‘The Thing’ was realized organically.

That takes listening/discernment of God’s calling as well as the people’s.

Some Examples

  • Something for Everyone: one church with large number of people worked to provide something for every part of the congregation. They worked to bring in every age, race, and socio-economic class. On Sunday morning there were many activities going on from 8 a.m. – noon. There were an even larger number of activities on weekdays. Their main method of promotion was not planned as such, but they had their building used each day of the week by internal and external groups. Hundreds or more people passed through the doors each week — a church may not be huge but it will likely benefit it to be inviting and accepting.
  • Church Buildings: built for all the local community to use in the fulfillment of the church’s mission. Building that are used virtually every day of the week by by the whole community. Part of a sermon one Sunday was a story with this vision and everyone works toward it. This is a church where one sermon made each part of the mission statement come to life and “our life and work together” is mentioned throughout all the other sermons – even when asking for volunteers the words are “so if you want to be a part of________”, as opposed to “I need three people to do ___________”). They are outward thinking and say they “want to make a country, and a world we want to live in.”
  • Involved Membership: Even if only one member is doing something they talk about it as a church activity. They list things in their newsletter and it’s mentioned during the announcements in the service (some project it on a screen before and after service). It’s in the external community paper and on the church’s up-to-date website. Things like – weekly internal/external community dinners; Easter egg hunt and brunch; haircuts for children of parents who can’t afford it just before the first day of school; community craft shows, seasonal/issue-based help to community members.
  • A Vibrant Church Community: you feel instantly that they care for each other and for you. Things like – very specific prayer requests from the congregation, occasionally, so many that they last as long as the sermon; each section of the Prayers of People read by a different person from their seat; prayer requests read by the congregation from a list in unison; people using the announcement time to ask who needs help after an issue (flood, big storm, etc).

In Conclusion

People have spoken to me about what I’m doing – some think I’m brave, some think it’s a wonderful experience, and others think it’s dangerous for me to participate in “other religions”.   These three, very different reactions are exactly what I’m getting out of this!  My objective in participating in different faith communities is to strengthen my relationship with God, with others, and with myself. 

Jesus said it wasn’t going to be easy to be one of his followers, and that people, (some will say the Devil) will try to sway me away from understanding too much.  But I’m also told that the more I understand the more God will reveal to me.  My personal understanding of God has become so much clearer with the teachings of other faith traditions co-mingled in my being.  I am thankful every day for those who speak the truth.

Reading Resources

One visit or experience of a different faith’s worship is not enough to understand all of a faith’s nuances. Imagine the impression you would get if you were to only visit an Episcopal Church on Maundy Thursday! Here are some of the books I read after visiting faith traditions that were radically different to my Episcopalian upbringing. I’ve also included some others I happened upon that had a large impact on my journey.

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and Heart of the Middle East

Written as a fiction, it’s a good explanation of the reason for the Muslim vs Jewish issues.

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew

Three women search for understanding.

The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent

This put words to why I love being an Episcopalian.

The Life of Mary Baker Eddie

A biography that helped me get the basics of Christian Science.

Learning to Breathe: My Year long Quest to Bring Calm to My Life

Just enough description of Buddhism to get me started.

The Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet

A biography that helped me understand the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Unity: A Quest for Truth

A straightforward description of the ideas behind Unity Church.

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World

A generic introduction to key religions.

Carolyn B Thompson is a cradle Episcopalian with an unquenchable thirst for more relationship with her beloved Father.

Resources

Back to Contents

Three Months (30 Days) In India

Ministry can take on many forms. In 2015 Julia Taylor embarked on what she thought was to be a three month stay in India, working at the NRI General Hospital, Mangalagiri, Andhra Pradesh, India with Project Hope.

Julia Taylor 15 minute read.   Resources
Saying Goodbyes. Supplied image

My journey for three months with Project Hope began with two boring days driving to Arizona. After I arrived in Phoenix (the temperature was 105°F) I read the instructions for my trip to India (I thought I had read them several times, but apparently I had only printed them). I discovered that I needed a visa! And antimalarial medicine! I completed my online application for an e-visa and contacted my primary care provider in Ozark who sent a prescription for doxycycline (antimalarial) to Hawaii (my next stop).

With my e-visa approved, but only for 30 days — I could renew it in India (or so I thought) — I left for Honolulu.

I spent five days in Hawaii, and while I was there, I attended church at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral. I went to the 8 a.m. service which is mainly in Hawaiian. It was a special service remembering Prince Albert’s (son of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha) baptism. Because in 1862 the four year old prince had become an honorary member of a fire fighting company, the Honolulu Fire Department was there in uniform and with a fire truck. Hawaii’s governor and first lady were also at the service as well as black gowned descendants of Hawaiian royalty. The school my three daughters attended while we lived in Hawaii, St. Andrew’s Priory, is on the same property as the cathedral so I took a few pictures for them.

All too soon my time in Hawaii was over, and I was up early for my flight. I had a quick walk around Waikiki to say aloha to Oahu and then went to the airport. I was flying China Eastern Airlines to Shanghai and was the only Caucasian passenger. The seat next to me was empty so I enjoyed good food, my Kindle, and some sleep during my ten-hour flight. I had to get a one day visa just to spend eight hours in the airport. I walked a lot during my layover.

My flight to Delhi was almost all men. After we landed I slept in one of few comfortable chairs in the airport. My Kindle continued to supply me with great reading material and I found some tea and pastries when the food court opened at 4:30 a.m. Although there was an earlier flight directly from Delhi to Vijayawada (my final destination), Expedia had booked me through Hyderabad. That added ten hours to my trip. Hyderabad airport had terrible food but there was diet Coke available. There were many heavily veiled women including one with thick black gloves to coordinate with her total body black covering. I watched with interest as she gave her husband money and apparently told him to go buy some food for the children (which he did). Another stereotype slightly damaged! Airport security was now segregated by sexes with full body pat down for everyone. Other than being a very long trip (over 40 hours from Honolulu) it was not a bad experience. There were at least two meals on each leg of the trip and vegetarian options on all.

My destination was definitely not a tourist attraction. On my last two flights I was asked if I were on the right plane. From Shanghai on, I was the only non-Indian passenger.

Vijayawada airport is tiny. I was supposed to be met on arrival. However, my pick up was 90 minutes late. I was beginning to be concerned – it was getting dark and the airport closed after my Air India plane returned to Hyderabad – when my ride with two nurses and a driver arrived. The hour-long ride to the hospital showed that the most important car accessory in India is the horn. The traffic was crazy. Buses, people, motorcycles, three wheeled motorized carts, bicycles and cars. All was chaos but everyone survived. I was housed in the hospital’s “staff quarters.” My room was basic but clean. I had a private bath and shower. The shower was a bucket and small pitcher but I had hot water.

The next day I learned three important things:

  1. The tea was great – just like chai latte.
  2. I was wrong about the visa. It could not be extended. I would have to leave the country and reapply for a new visa. That was not an option since any country near India also requires a visa so I would have to leave India for home in 30 days.
  3. Although the doctors and nurses were taught in English and the hospital officially used English, actually everything was done in Telugu. Even the people who spoke English reasonably well had difficulty understanding me because my American accented English was very different to the Telugu accented English they heard in school.

Hospital

Julia at work. Supplied image

They wanted to assign volunteers to the area in which they were currently working. However, they had no concept of Case Management – arranging for patient care after hospital discharge — In India that is a family responsibility. In fact, unless it is an emergency, patients are not admitted to the hospital without a family member (or neighbor or someone) to care for them. That care giver goes to the pharmacy to buy the medications and supplies the patient needs, provides meals and in general cares for the patient. Some of the hospital wards are 60 beds with only one or two nurses. Family assistance is required. Often entire families stay at the hospital for the totality of the patient’s stay. There are always people sleeping in the hallways. At night the hallways are crowded with families sleeping.

Nurses rotate through three shifts: 8 am – 2:30 p.m., 2 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. – 8:30 a.m. Transportation (or lack of transportation) is the reason for the arrangement of the shifts.

There is no way for nurses to get to or from the hospital at 11 p.m. If it safe to do so, nurses are allowed to sleep during the overnight shift.

The hospital and associated medical and nursing schools were started by Indian doctors originally from that area of India, who had practiced in the United States. The hospital offered a wide range of services including open heart surgeries and renal transplants. Since I had experience in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU – the recovery room) I was assigned there. One of the highlights was attending a nurses’ conference on Stress Management. At the end of the two day program, a yoga master was introduced. After a brief lecture, he led 250 nurses to a large room where we lay on the floor and “relaxed.”

Church

Julia Taylor ‘Preaches’ at Shalem Evangelical Church.
Shalem Evangelical Church. Image: Julia Taylor

One of PACU nurses was the wife of a pastor of a Christian church. Vimala asked if I would attend the church and (I thought) she asked if I would pray for them. Of course, I agreed. Later I learned that I had agreed to preach at the Shalem Evangelical Church. I also learned that I should wear white to church. Santhi, the PACU charge nurse, took me shopping for white church clothes and a sari.

Julia Taylor at Shalem Evangelical Church. Supplied image

That Sunday at the church and I was nervous at the beginning. The congregation was Telugu speaking so everything I said was translated by the pastor. Any Bible verse mentioned was immediately located in their Bibles. The women covered their heads. Men and women sat on opposite sides of the small church. The service was over three hours long and filled with lots of music and enthusiastic singing. Communion in the form of dense bread and a sweet liquid was given to all. Everyone was so gracious and encouraging. It was a wonderful experience.

Hindu Worship

Hospital Shrine. Image: Julia Taylor

In the room across the hall from me was a doctor from Calcutta who was at the hospital to administer tests to the medical students. He was visiting a temple and asked if I would like to go too. The visit was interesting and very confusing. We had to be barefoot. I received a tap on the head with a silver vase, sweet water and a handful of spicy cooked rice. I later learned that food – often rice and small yellow chick peas – is often associated with Hindu worship. The hospital had a temple across from the main lobby and a small shrine in one of the hallways. I often noticed hospital personnel stopping for a few minutes in front of the shrine. It is common for families to have shrines in their homes. At first I thought I had caught a man just coming out of a shower – he had just a towel wrapped around his waist. Later I learned that Hindu men often pray wearing only a prayer towel.

Praying at the hospital shrine. Image: Julia Taylor

There is a trinity of gods in the Hindu belief: Shiva the destroyer, Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the creator (The total number of gods in the Hindu pantheon is difficult to pin down, varying from three to 33 million).

Ganesh in the hospital foyer. Image: Julia Taylor

I knew September 17 was a holiday for some reason, but I could not understand the reason for the holiday. I learned from Wikipedia that it was Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of the elephant headed god. A temporary shrine to Ganesh was constructed in the hospital lobby. At first the elephant face was covered in newspaper. The priest / monk/ Hindu altar guild member(!?) uncovered the face, dressed the statue in cloth and flowers, poured a sack of rice at feet of Ganesh, then added more flowers and some fruit. All this took about one hour. People came and watched and prayed at the shrine. Within a day the fruit was gone and flowers had wilted. The statue was supposed to remain in place for 10 days However, after three days the statue was moved with great ceremony. There were fireworks, bands, loud speakers, and much dancing as the statue was moved via tractor to the canal where it was “drowned.” Every small community had its own celebration. It was an amazing cultural experience. I danced, was pelted with pink powder (my hair was still pink on my return to the US), had my hands painted with henna and had a wonderful time.

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. Supplied image

During the four weeks at the hospital I discovered:

  • Banana juice is wonderful!
  • There is life without toilet paper.
  • Plain yogurt with salt is not my idea of great dessert.
  • Putting on a sari is very complex.
  • Hawaii is not crowded. India is crowded!
  • One issue I had never considered – how to keep monkeys from stealing the food you are preparing for dinner.
  • How to drink from a plastic water bottle without my lips touching the bottle (because the bottles are reused multiple times!)
  • Both the rules of cricket and the Hindu beliefs are too complicated for an ordinary human to comprehend.
  • Many Hindus also pray to Jesus.
  • Doxycycline for malaria prevention is hard to take. Every morning I was reminded of morning sickness.
  • My laptop allowed me to listen to the St Louis Cardinals games. The 10.5 hour time difference did make catching all the action almost impossible.
  • “Had your breakfast?” seems to be a greeting similar to “how are you?” Or perhaps everyone was worried that I was starving.
  • In India after a woman gives birth, she gets 84 days paid maternity leave.
  • Everyone eats with their hands. Apparently I was incompetent at this task. Someone usually gave me a spoon after a few minutes.
  • Transportation is normally by three wheeled motorized cart. There was a bench for three passengers. One trip I took carried 11 passengers. It was crowded! Another method of traveling was by motorcycle. I rode as the fourth rider on one. Not necessarily safe but fun.
  • As India is a former member of the British Commonwealth, residents refer to nurses as “sisters”, elevators as “lifts” and lab coats as “aprons”. I was “madame” and the nurses stood up when I came into the room.
  • The only person I saw during my days in Mangalagiri who was lighter skinned than me was an albino Indian man. I got used to stares everywhere I went.
  • I nearly caused a riot in a girls’ orphanage when I brought out bottles of bubbles for the girls.
  • This is a middle-class home (wife is a nurse, husband an accountant): a two room apartment – one bedroom with a double bed for the couple, nine year old daughter and six year old son, squat toilet, no hot water, no oven, no refrigerator, dishes and clothes were washed outside, a motorcycle, and lots of beautiful saris.
“Everyone eats with their hands. Apparently I was incompetent at this task. Someone usually gave me a spoon after a few minutes.” Supplied image

Soon it was 22 September, my last full day in the hospital. Time had gone by so fast. I really was not ready to leave but I had to.

During my brief stay my work accomplishments were:

  • I observed both the PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit) and the step-down Post-Op ward. For each unit I wrote up my findings and submitted them to the hospital administration.
  • I participated in an EKG class taught by the hospital nursing educator. Later I developed student worksheets for identifying various cardiac rhythms.
  • I created information papers on the ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) medications.

These papers will be used as the hospital develops an ACLS certification class for the ICU and PACU nurses.

“… the PACU nurses dressed me in my sari. I had absolutely no idea how to do it myself.” Supplied image

In the afternoon the PACU nurses dressed me in my sari. I had absolutely no idea how to do it myself. The nurses were really amazed at that I had no experience with a sari.

Dressed like, but not looking like a native resident of India, I made the rounds to say goodbye to the hospital executives. PACU had a party for me complete with a gift of a replica of a Hindu temple and a cake. Apologies were made because my name was spelled wrong on the cake but no one noticed that the cake read “Happy birthday July”. It was the first real dessert I had tasted in over four weeks, and it was very good.

Next I went to a gathering of the head nurses of the hospital who had prepared a farewell gathering for me. There were speeches and refreshments. I was presented with a beautiful cloth (apparently the giving of a cloth is an Indian tradition). One of the comments I heard several times during the good-byes is that it is amazing how long (how old) Americans keep working. Apparently by the time someone in India is my age, he or she spends their days in bed having children and grandchildren wait on them.

Julia on her last day at NRI General Hospital, Mangalagiri. Supplied image

I left clothes including my white church outfit which was now permanently pink and Project Hope t-shirts with the staff. I gave the last of my bubbles to a boy waiting somewhat patiently outside the OBGYN ward and presented an 11-year-old girl hospitalized for electrical burns with a small bottle of hand lotion.

Julia gives an 11-year-old girl hospitalized for electrical burns a small bottle of hand lotion. Supplied image

Early on 23 September I was packed and ready to go. Santhi (the PACU charge nurse) and her husband accompanied me to Vijayawada airport from which I left for a two-hour flight to Delhi.

At Delhi airport I was met by a tour guide and driver, and was delivered to my five-star hotel. I had gone from Spartan living to the lap of luxury. After a lunch of Thai curry (I needed a change from Indian) I had a brow threading, facial and scheduled a hot stone massage for later. There was a fourth floor outdoor pool that overlooks the city and several trendy looking bars. However, I did have time for some culture. I toured the National Museum. There were lots and lots of statues of Hindu gods. Santhi and her husband had given me a print out of what was essentially “Hindu for Dummies”. I planned to study it and then go over the multiple pictures I took at the museum. Hopefully I would be able to link a picture with a god. I also walked around India Gate, the giant memorial for soldiers killed during World War II. Back at the hotel the doorbell for my hotel room rang! It was a bellman who asked if I wanted the turn down service. I declined. Too much luxury too fast might be harmful.

The 75-minute hot stone massage was awesome. And there was fresh fruit in my room! My supper was two bananas and two apples. I did not try walking or running outside the hotel now that I was in a big city. The traffic was unbelievable, and I was lucky not to get run over because I couldn’t figure out which way to look when crossing a street (they drive on the left). I checked out the television stations. The listing identified programs in English, Hindi, Punjabi, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and … Australian!

The next day I traveled to Agra – home of the Taj Mahal. The trip took almost four hours and was interrupted only by a 45 minute stop with a man shouting and claiming my driver had hit his car. Somehow it was resolved without involving the police and we continued on our way. We passed a restaurant advertising ‘multi-cuisine pesto bar”. I was sorry we couldn’t stop. We passed a fresh meat market – the goats were waiting at the door to be selected for dinner. I was becoming more vegetarian every day.

The trip took me through rural India for the first time. There were grass huts that I think were for storing crops, not for housing, but I could not be sure. I think I glimpsed an even deeper level of poverty than I had seen previously.

Nevertheless, I proceeded on to my next five-star hotel where one of the many services offered was “astrologer available on request.” Compared to the Western tourists I saw, I was dressed like a very poor country relative or a missionary. I had no other clothes except those I wore in Mangalagiri which is much more restrictive in acceptable fashion than are the cities of Delhi and Agra.

I visited the Taj Mahal. As expected, it was awesome. A few facts:

  • It was built in the seventeenth century by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favorite wife who died at age 39 after her fourteenth pregnancy.
  • He had planned a matching black Taj Mahal for his tomb but that did not happen because the Shah was jailed by his son during the last eight years of his life.
  • The scripts on the front of the building are chapters from the Koran. They are not painted but are made of precious stones.
  • The exterior is cleaned with layers of Pakistani mud which is rinsed with distilled water.
  • The entire building is an amazing work of symmetry and detail – all completed without the aid of a computer.
  • One of the most popular places to have a picture taken is at the “Lady Di” bench, the location where Princess Diana sat and viewed the Taj Mahal when she visited.

One of the newest attractions I visited was the Swaminarayan Akshardham, a ten year old temple which includes boat rides, movie theaters and displays promoting a vegetarian diet. The focus was an 11 foot high gold covered statue of the holy man Swaminarayan. Also on the 100 acre campus (because of the importance of the elephant in Hindu culture and India’s history) are carvings of 148 life sized elephants. Even though I injured several toes walking into recessed lighting (you have to be barefoot in a temple) it was a great experience.

“My hair was still pink on my return to the US.” Supplied image

I finished my time in India with visits to the Red Fort and Agra Fort, both planned by Shah Jahan who designed the Taj Mahal. I also visited a carpet factory and, of course, bought a knotted wool carpet. Hopefully it will go well with the silk carpet I bought in China. I rode in a bicycle rickshaw through the streets of Old Delhi (it was terrifying – so crowded!) and visited the site of Gandhi’s death – he was killed by a fellow Hindu who disagreed with his policy of allowing Muslims to live in India.

I spent my final hours packing and repacking and leaving clothes in my hotel room (hoping that someone could use them and that I would be under the 50 pound weight limit on luggage). At last I was ready for my 15-hour flight from Delhi to Newark, NJ then on to Phoenix and finally a 1,300 mile drive back to Missouri.

I was not certain what my next adventure would be, but I did know that my first priority at home would be to do something about my fluorescent pink-orange hair. Even though it was a reminder of a great time in India, it just wasn’t my style.

This article was originally published as a series of posts on Julia’s personal Facebook account.

Julia Taylor attends Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, Missouri

Building Community in West Missouri

People from across the diocese tell their stories of how diocesan grants and funds are being used in their ministries and outreach.

Gary Allman 15 minute read.   Resources

2018 Gathering Presentations

Brief notes and useful links relating to the three Diocesan Convention Gathering presentations.

Five-minute read.   Resources

What We’re Learning About The Episcopal Church That Can Help Us Grow Spiritually

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham discusses where the church is going. Image: Gary Allman

The church, that wonderful and sacred mystery, is a community brought together by grace, as gift, not because of what church members have done, but because of what God has done in Christ. And the grace is just the starting point. The story doesn’t end there. As Annie Lamott says, the grace of God loves us enough to meet us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there. So let me pose a few questions we must ask, prompted by the letter to the Ephesians: What is the way of life that lies before us? What is that way for our congregations, for our leaders, lay and clergy? What is the way for each person’s spiritual journey?

Resources

Inspiring Legacy Giving

John Hoskins provides information on establishing legacy giving. Image: Gary Allman

No additional information on legacy giving was available at the time of publishing. We’ll update this article when details are available.

Human Trafficking and the Sex Industry:  A Moral Challenge For The Church

Brittany Zampella details the horrific number of people involved in human trafficking. Image: Donna Field

Our Diocesan Convention was blessed to have Brittany Zampella as our speaker on Sex Trafficking.   She delivered an impassioned presentation imploring individuals to become aware of the “insidious injustice” of sex trafficking and the damage it does to trafficked victims, their families and our society.  Brittany emphasized the importance of abolishing the entire sex industry if we hope to rid ourselves of the horrific evil of young girls and women trafficked for the sole purpose of greed and male sexual gratification. 

Attendees were leaving the room after her presentation shaking their heads in disbelief that the problem of sex trafficking was so severe. Bravo and thanks to Brittany for a making a complex subject understandable. A  job well done. 

Mike McDonnell

Diocesan Convention in Pictures

The people and events of the 129th convention of The Diocese of West Missouri.

Five-minute read.   Resources
Friday, November 2. It wouldn’t be a diocesan convention if we didn’t take a group picture of all the assembled clergy (and clergy to be). Image: Gary Allman

People

Donna Parker, St. Mary Magdalene, and the Rev. Kary Man, Priest in Charge at Trinity Independence. Image: Gary Allman

The Gathering

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham discusses where the church is going. Image: Gary Allman

Convention Eucharist and Ordinations

Opening Eucharist of the 129th Convention of the Diocese of West Missouri. Image: Gary Allman

Banquet

Convention Banquet. Image: Donna Field

Business Session

Fr. Sid gets elected (we’re not sure what for…) Image: Gary Allman

A New Curacy Program to Attract Younger Priests

In the next 3-5 years when one quarter of our seminary prepared priests will retire. The Diocese of West Missouri is actively seeking funding for a new Curacy Program to attract and retain younger clergy.

Sally Shied Ten-minute read.   Resources

September 15, 2018, Kim Taube and Warren Swenson are the most recently ordained priests in West Missouri. Image: Gary Allman

T The average age for a parish priest in The Diocese of West Missouri is around 62 years old. America’s pastors are growing older. In 1992 the average pastor was 44 years old and one in three was less than 40 years old. Twenty-five years later the average age is 54 and only 1 in 7 is less than 40 (The Barna group). Many factors go into this number, but the quandary will affect the health of congregations all over.

The Diocese of West Missouri will be seeing a significant turnover in the next 3-5 years when one quarter of our seminary prepared priests will retire. Transitions in the diocese will be more common. With thoughtful planning, the diocese can maximize the potential of our new priests (Curates) to be effective and remain active in the church. This can be a time of growth and renewal! To quote Bishop Marty, “We need to plan now for this transition, and we diligently need to seek new energies and new perspectives of generations now entering the fullness of their adult years”.

The Diocese has submitted a grant application to the Lilly Endowment for $860,594.77 to cover major expenses of a project to attract and retain younger clergy (see Footnote2). The goals for the Curacy Program of The Diocese of West Missouri are:

  • To attract new priests;
  • To retain the promising and gifted seminarians who originate from this Diocese and others;
  • To bring energy and vitality to the diocese; and
  • To provide the stable leadership necessary to spur growth in congregations that otherwise would not have access to full-time clergy.

The Diocese of West Missouri is seeking additional funding of $25,000 over a three-year period to support the Peer-to-Peer learning portion of this project; which includes three weekends per year at a small retreat center in the rural Ozarks. This is an aspect of the project that can stand on its own should the Lilly Endowment funding not come through. This program is for all newly hired and newly ordained priests and deacons as well as the new curates.

Where Did this Plan Come From?

The Curacy Project came to the Commission on Ministry, Subcommittee for Clergy Continuing Education, Orientation, and Mentoring from a small group led by the Rev. Meghan Castellan. After receiving the 100% backing of the sub-committee they drafted a resolution to the convention of The Diocese of West Missouri who referred it back to the sub-committee to begin research and study and determine the feasibility of implementing a diocesan-wide curacy program. In March the committee was ready to press forward preparing our application to the Lilly Endowment. The leadership for this initiative has come from the Commission on Ministry and its special sub-committee. Chairman of the committee is The Rev. Deacon Beck Schubert; other members are Walker Adams, Ruth Beamer, The Rev. Ken Chumbley, The Rev. Dr. William Fasel, Robert Maynard, Sally Scheid, Mickey Simnett (see Footnote1), The Rev. Galen Snodgrass, and The Rev. Ron Verhaghe. Also assisting the committee are The Rev. Canon Dr. Steve Rottgers and Gary Allman, Communications Director, of the Bishop’s staff.

The Curacy Program will give Curates experience in both urban and rural settings. The trend is that only urban areas can support full-time priests. The Rev. Dr. Bill Fasel said clergy coming from residential seminaries and intending to work full-time will only experience the life of the church in metropolitan areas. Realistically, future bishops and leaders will come from this group with little to no understanding of small towns and small churches. The Diocese of West Missouri wants to give Curates a broader experience. Several churches in the diocese are described as “on the bubble” — in that they previously could afford their own priest and had larger congregations. As congregations shrank, from a myriad of outside forces, these churches can no longer afford their own priest. They now share a priest which obviously does not give the congregants as much access to a member of the clergy.

It is hoped that with more access to a priest, through the Curate or the priests and deacons ordained through the Bishop Kemper School of Ministry, they will have a chance to do more planning and once again become strong. Right now, two churches in the diocese have seen this phenomenon with a dedicated part-time priest. Even when only with a church for a short time, the Curate can lead new ministries, new growth, enhanced energy, and renewed optimism. This reinvigoration will enable some churches to grow to the point where they can, once again, be able to afford a priest. The mixed experience of larger and smaller churches, urban and rural will help the Curate to transition a future church.

As any ordained person or those involved on the Commission on Ministry, Standing Committee and other formation groups can attest, hearing a call to the priesthood through the ordination process takes a candidate many years and multiple interviews at the local, regional, and diocesan level. The requirements include a bachelor’s degree and three years of seminary resulting in a Master of Divinity. During this period the candidate most likely will have to relocate at least once. It is a long row to hoe. Ordination is like other graduations in that it is the commencement of a long and hopefully, fruitful career.

By the time a young priest comes to a congregation, a great deal of time and money, not to mention prayer and faith have been invested. Yet, in general, four times as many clergy leave the calling within the first five years than those who served forty years ago. Whether the priest comes from one of the three-year seminaries or a program like the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry.

Seminarians are well prepared in theology when they graduate. But the learning has just begun! Local clergy have commented, “The hardest thing I had to do was doing work I had never done before”; “Getting the lay of the business end of running a parish”; “Adjusting to the demands for my time and personal attention, not just from a few friends, but from every parishioner, all with their yokes, some light, some not.”; “That budgets and Vestry politics matter”. Canon Steve said “ordination is a steep learning curve. The new priest must learn how drive the bus where the rubber meets the road.” He said that common professional challenges are learning what you do not know and that are you not ready to save the world. The most important knowledge is how to build and maintain relationships.

At this time The Diocese of West Missouri has no formal Curacy program. Several current priests were surveyed about what would have made their transition to priesthood easier. In addition to the comments they made about difficulties with their transition experience, they all indicated a more formal mentorship program, and a peer group with whom they could share experiences would have helped. Comments included how important it was to have a regular prayer life, “This is a lonely profession. Know yourself. Know your needs.”; “maintain your relationship with your spiritual director. If a mentor is not assigned to you, find one. If the mentor is not a good fit, find a better one.”

Throughout the program Curates will learn the importance of time management, boundaries and balance. Curricular will be drawn from Leadership Bootcamp, Evangelism 101, and Project Resource, providing Curates with the tools to inspire radical generosity and engage faith communities in the journey of changing the culture of stewardship in The Episcopal Church.
In the peer support sessions, they will learn how to form their own support groups — and more importantly the need to, and how to select a mentor, either lay or ordained from their ministry context, though not a supervisor; how to create community; the importance of self-care and the need to establish and honor a sabbath. Curates will be able to develop peer relationships with a variety of priests serving in a variety of settings. These leaders will have a support system, so they do not feel all by themselves, even in a small town, and they will know how to take care of themselves.

Desired Outcomes for the Diocese and Curates

To evaluate the program, the following outcomes are being aspired to:

Outcomes for the diocese

Short-Term (1 year)
90% of Curate supervisors will report growing congregations with the Curate assigned to them.

Long-term (3 year)
At the end of the Curacy Project (3 years) The Diocese of West Missouri will have developed a sustainable method of filling vacancies and retaining 65% of well-trained Curates in the diocese.

Outcomes for Curates

Short term (1 year)
After each year of Curacy, 100 percent of Curates will report developing collegial relationships with each other; learning and experiences in the program will positively affect their confidence in pastoral work.

Long-term (3 year)
75 percent of Curates will report they have grown in ministry and feel they can be an effective parish priest in a variety of setting

Sustainability and Continuation

In addition to the Lilly Endowment support, the COM subcommittee is working with the diocese to create an Endowment Campaign to raise money to help fund the future of the Curacy Program.

In Conclusion

The Curacy Program is a natural fit for the mission of the diocese as it responds to new issues of these times of reduced financial and human resources. We are calling out new leaders and will be preparing them to be sent out. Training that the Curates receive will be in line with our baptismal vows. Doing these things marks our fidelity to the vows all Episcopalians make to follow Jesus.

Your thoughts and prayers for this new initiative are sincerely appreciated.

Sally Shied is a member of the Commission on Ministry, Subcommittee for Clergy Continuing Education, Orientation, and Mentoring, a Lay Eucharistic Minister, Diocesan Convention Alternate Delegate and member at Christ Episcopal Church Springfield.

Footnotes

1 Regretfully, since this article was written in July 2018, Committee Member Micki Simnett lost her battle against cancer entering into the larger life on August 31. Besides serving on the Commission on Ministry, Mickey was also serving an elected term on the Diocesan Council. Mickey was a recipient of the Bishop’s Shield.

Let light perpetual shine upon her.

2 In late September the committee was informed that the Lilly Endowment had received nearly 600 applications and awarded grants to 78 charitable organizations. The Curacy Program was not one of the projects selected for funding. The committee is now looking for alternative funding for this very important program.

Resources

Back to Contents

Courses for Licensed Evangelism and Christian Formation Roles

The Bishop Kemper School for Ministry has put together courses to prepare potential licensees in Evangelism and Christian Formation.

The Rev. Dr. Bill Fasel Five-minute read.   Resources

Since the lead up to the Presiding Bishop’s visit in May 2017, we in The Diocese of West Missouri have been putting a lot of emphasis on evangelism and Christian formation. I would like to tell you of two leadership opportunities in evangelism and initial formation. The Commission on Ministry has defined two licenses for leadership in these areas. One is “Evangelist” and the other is “Catechist”. The Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM) has devised two curricula to prepare potential licensees.

A licensed Evangelist is a lay person who coordinates and facilitates the evangelism activities of a congregation or other ministry (like campus ministry, for example). The license does not necessarily imply direct evangelism, like going door to door. Rather, we envision groups of persons working as a team with leadership from the Evangelist and clergy.

The same sort of structure would also be true for a Catechist. A Catechist is a lay person who coordinates and facilitates the preparation of (mostly new) members for baptism, confirmation, reception in The Episcopal Church, or the reaffirmation of baptismal vows. The Catechist would work with clergy and sponsors to help prepare persons for these rites.

Both of these licenses fit together as part of the ancient, and modern, Catechumenate. The Catechumenate has four stages:

  1. Evangelism — where we seek out and invite new persons to the Christian faith and the Episcopal Church, or as the Presiding Bishop puts it, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
  2. Catechumenate –where we he help persons to learn how to live and worship within our faith communities.
  3. Enlightenment –where we prepare persons for the rites of Baptism or Confirmation, etc., frequently during Lent.
  4. Mystagogy — after the rite of baptism or confirmation where we help the person to live into their vows and to take their next steps in formation and discipleship, frequently during the Easter season.

I invite you to look up these licenses and requirements of the diocesan website, and I also invite you to check out the curriculum at BKSM — links to both are provided below. See if it might be something for you.

I would invite anyone who is curious to consider auditing one of the courses in the curricula. For the Catechist license, I recommend taking “Adult Catechesis and Formation”. The classroom time for this course will be October 13-14, with reading starting September 10. For the Evangelist license, I recommend taking “Contemporary Mission”. The classroom for that will be November 10-11, with reading starting October 15.

The cost for auditing is $100 per course, and you can register on the BKSM website.

For more information, please contact me, the Rev. Dr. Bill Fasel, at nerm@diowestmo.org.

The Rev. Dr. Bill Fasel is chair of the Commission of Ministry, serves on the board at Bishop Kempler School of Ministry, and heads NERM, the North East Regional Ministry.

Resources

Back to Contents

Clover House, providing space for healing and hope

Clover House is an oasis, providing healing and rest to young women sorely in need of a safe place to stay. Created by Saint Francis Community Services, the program provides restorative, residential care for female adolescent survivors of sex trafficking.

Shane Schneider Five-minute read.   Resources

CupcakeImage: Flickr user sayo ts

Searching for something to cook, she discovered the last two boxes of cake mix in the cupboard. For the next three hours, she laid claim to the Clover House kitchen, baking dozens of chocolate cupcakes with care and attention. The frosting, she made from scratch, and when she finished, 36 perfect cupcakes graced the counter top.

“Well, what now?” asked The Rev. Susanne Methven.

“Let’s find homeless people and give them a cupcake,” said the 17-year-old cook.

***

Opened in 2016, Clover House is an oasis of sorts, providing healing and rest to young women sorely in need of a safe place to stay. Created by Saint Francis Community Services, the program provides restorative, residential care for female adolescent survivors of sex trafficking. The home-like setting offers both security and community to youth dealing with complex and unique trauma. At Clover House, survivors have the emotional space to develop healthy relationships and to rediscover their sense of purpose.

The Rev Susanne Methven blesses Clover House.
Image:Image: St. Francis Foundation

***

“Stop!” shouted the passenger, and Mother Methven hit the brakes. The youth hopped from the van and approached a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk. “You want a cupcake?” she said as she placed one in his hand.

Near the hospital, she yelled out the window to a couple walking, “You guys want a cupcake?” before leaping from the van with two in her hand.

At the hospital emergency room, she offered one to a woman on the phone, who smiled and spoke to someone on the other end, “I just got a cupcake.”

***

“For the past two years, I’ve lived in this house with these young women,” said Methven, Clover House director. “I’ve witnessed how the ordinary rhythms of living in the context of our Clover House values shapes us. We are a community of women who learn together and choose to love each other as the best way of becoming fully human. Along the way, we are deeply touched by each other.”

Without intervention, survivors of sex trafficking often face lives of brokenness, addiction, legal problems, and mental health challenges. One of only a handful of similar programs in the nation, Clover House helps survivors move from hurt, to healing, to wholeness. The program approaches the youth keeping the whole person in mind – spirit, mind, and body. It includes Living Compass, an Episcopal-developed wellness program; volunteer opportunities within the community; individual, group, equine, and gardening therapy; and use of a gym. The youth also attend school while at Clover House and develop important life skills.

“Serving here is one of the few occasions in my life when I have felt strongly that this is my calling,” said Methven. “Clover House is important because it’s through community – with each other and with God – that we find the hope and grace to learn together and be shaped by love. The biggest gift is watching these girls grow and change. These are youth who have experienced the depths of human evil, yet who have the resilience, strength, and courage to heal with our support. Their stories inspire me.”

***

The youth gave away every cupcake that day, and she did it joyfully –- indeed, with an abundance of joy. Mother Methven marveled that this young woman, who had both seen and survived so much suffering and ugliness in her short life, should get such happiness from giving away cupcakes.

The next day, she asked her why.

“When I was homeless,” she replied, “people would give me food. But I never got anything fun like a cupcake.”

Shane Schneider is the Senior Copywriter for The Saint Francis Foundation and Saint Francis Community Services. He is the major contributor for Saint Francis’ quarterly magazine Hi-Lites.


General Convention in Pictures

There’s been a lot of words written about the 2018 General Convention in Austin, Texas. Here are the pictures.

Gary Allman Ten-minute read.   Resources

For the 78th General Convention in 2015, I stayed at home and watched the events in Salt Lake City unfold on my computer screen. I felt that I was constantly missing a piece of the puzzle.

In 2017 I applied for funding to attend the 79th General Convention. My request was approved, and there I was in the midst of things, and it was totally overwhelming.

I arrived in Austin, Texas on July 4, and things were already in full swing. First lesson arrive earlier to get the lay of the land, and to be able to hit the ground running when things switch up a gear. We — the diocesan, church, and general media, in total over 100 registered media people covered the convention — were allocated a briefing room, recording area (I won’t call it a studio), the services of the Office of Public Affairs, and set-aside areas in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies to work from. The days were long, with early starts and carrying on late into the evening. Meals were taken ‘on-the-hoof’, between sessions. There were Morning and evening media briefings and so much more to take in and try to follow.

It was tiring, but a fantastic and often moving experience not to be missed.

During the convention I left most of the word smithing to my media expert colleagues and concentrated on curating the fire hose of information they produced. I Relayed the important bits on our Social Media and the in the daily General Convention Round-up magazine I produced. The truth is that that the learning curve is steep, and while the ‘old hands’ take it all in their stride, the many ‘newbies’, myself included, wandered around looking a bit lost for the first couple of days!

Did I find the missing pieces of the puzzle? Not really, what I found was that the puzzle was a whole lot bigger and complicated than the view from my computer screen led me to believe.

***

Rather than bombard you with more words about Convention, I’ve picked some of my favorite pictures, which I hope will give you a flavor of what it was like. As always, you can click/tap on any picture to see it bigger and start a slide show of all the images in the article.

You can see a lot more pictures in our Flickr General Convention album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/diowestmo/albums/72157670856010488

You can read about the diocesan youth’s experience at General Convention in this article: spirit.diowestmo.org/2018/09/wemo-youth-at-general-convention/

Our General Convention Team

Deputies: L-R Fr. Jonathan Frazier, Fr. Tim Coppinger, Mthr. Anne Kyle, Curtis Hamilton, Linda Robertson, Fr. Marshall Scott, Liz Trader, Amanda Perschall.

Alternate Deputies: Fr. Stan Runnels (far Right). At Convention, but not pictured here: Mthr. Megan Castellan, Channing Horner, Christine Morrison.

Also pictured: Bishop Marty, and … WEMO Jesus. Image: Gary Allman

Lay Deputy Linda Robertson (left), Convention Volunteer Louise Horner, Alternate Lay Deputy Channing Horner, Clergy Deputy Mthr. Anne Kyle. Image: Gary Allman

Opening Eucharist

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the opening Eucharist. Image: Gary Allman

Revival

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: ‘God is love and gives life’ Image: Gary Allman

Episcopal Revival in Austin, Texas Image: Gary Allman

Episcopal Revival in Austin, Texas Image: Gary Allman

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: ‘God is love and gives life’ Image: Gary Allman

Even Bishops get selfies with the PB.’ Image: Gary Allman

Bishop’s United Against Gun Violence

Bishops United Against Gun Violence. Image: Gary Allman

Prayers for Justice

Prayers for Justice at T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Image: Gary Allman

Presiding Bishop Micheal Curry addresses the people from General Convention at Prayers for Justice outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Image: Gary Allman

Business Sessions

House of Deputies

House of Deputies. Image: Gary Allman

House of Bishops

Media

Assembled media representatives at the daily briefing. Image: Gary Allman

Province VII Meeting

Province VII Meeting. Image: Gary Allman

Around Convention

People gathered near the ‘stage’ in the General Convention Exhibition Area. Image: Gary Allman

Closing Eucharist

Convention Eucharist. Image: Gary Allman

It Wasn’t All Work

Pigeons have featured a lot in this convention. No doubt, fed up with tweeting, it seems they finally found someone to speak up on their behalf. Image: Gary Allman

Unfortunately this wasn’t mine, but it was appropriate. Image: Gary Allman

Gary Allman is Communications Director with The Diocese of West Missouri

Resources

Back to Contents

Five Tips for ‘Gifts for Life’

Five personalized ways to support Gifts for Life and spread the word about the good work done by Episcopal Relief & Development. Why not create a ‘ripple effect’ of blessings?

Richard Hoff Five-minute read.   Resources

Cover photo for the 2018 Gifts for Life catalog Image: Episcopal Relief & Development

Anne Browne loves all the work that Episcopal Relief & Development does, and wants everyone to know that “Episcopal Relief & Development is the best organization they can support!” But her real passion is reserved for one program: Gifts for Life. She deeply appreciates how directly Gifts for Life empowers local partners, offering individuals and communities the ability to help themselves in ways that respect their home, history and culture.

A born educator, Anne spent many years with the American Field Service as a coordinator and counselor, worked with intellectually disabled students, taught kindergarten, and put in 21 years as a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo – along with raising seven children, enjoying 11 grandchildren (and several godchildren) and running home-based mail order businesses selling cards, stationary and children’s books and toys from around the world.

With this background to draw from, it’s no wonder that Anne is ingenious at finding personalized ways to leverage her support for Gifts for Life and spread the word about the good work done by Episcopal Relief & Development. Here are some of her favorite tactics for creating a ‘ripple effect’ of blessings.


Five Tips from a Gifts for Life ‘Professional’

One: Think like Miss Manners

Everyone likes to be thanked – or will at some point earn a congratulations, be in need of condolences, or have some other reason why acknowledgement with a card is socially graceful and appropriate. Following the advice she used to give her card-buying customers, Anne makes sure she always has a stash of 10-20 Gifts for Life cards on hand for just these situations. (Every Gifts for Life donation is acknowledged with a card.) As Anne says, “It’s just like buying something for the food pantry and leaving it in your car – it’s right there when you get to church.”

Children receiving nutrition after a disaster, DR Congo Image: Episcopal Relief & Development

Two: Give to Celebrate Holidays and Birthdays

Instead of buying special Christmas, Valentine’s or birthday cards, double the effect of your goodwill by donating to the Gifts for Life program that is most relevant or appealing to the person you are giving for – while spreading the word about Episcopal Relief & Development’s good work.

Three: Honor Others

Anne became an Episcopalian at age 19. She was drawn by the positive changes in her family due to counseling by an Episcopal priest her aunt and mother met following the early death of Anne’s cousin. For Anne, being an Episcopalian means to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ and to have a commitment to being ‘active in community’ – two reasons she is so supportive of Episcopal Relief & Development! Four years ago, Anne decided to walk her own walk by honoring people in her church who she felt truly live out their faith. She chose Thanksgiving as an appropriate time, and sent Gifts for Life cards to those special members of her community, acknowledging their contributions.

Four: Especially for Kids

Anne adds small tokens to Gifts for Life cards to make the donation more real and tangible to young people. One favorite is a small stuffed lamb or other animal to accompany an Animal and Agriculture donation. Another is a book or some colored pencils with an Early Learners gift. She also suggests including a colorful photo (think a flock of bright yellow baby chicks!). Applicable for any age, photos grab attention and interest and help anyone understand what this gift in their honor really represents.

Child with her pig, Nicaragua Image: Episcopal Relief & Development

Five: Especially for New Grandparents

Anne loves sending cards supporting Early Childhood Development programs to new grandparents, who will be celebrating their new connection to why this program and the education it helps support is so important, anywhere and everywhere in the world.

“It is truly a blessing to share and to give.”

Anne didn’t know Episcopal Relief & Development well throughout most of her life. Now that she does, she wants to share the good news, with people in her church and with others. Gifts for Life has offered her a perfect way to show her concern and caring for this world while cultivating new links in her ‘chain of blessings’ and introducing people to an organization that she knows does good and necessary work.

Anne Browne (center) with her family Image: Episcopal Relief & Development
Episcopal Relief & Development is grateful for Anne’s dedication to Episcopal Relief & Development, and for her commitment to finding ways of making Gifts for Life a gift for all occasions!

Richard Hoff is a Major Gifts Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.

The Sexual Immorality of Pornography

Pornography seems to have gained a certain amount of legitimacy and respectability. It’s not unusual to hear someone (albeit jokingly) refer to their ‘porn stash’ or questionable online browsing history. The reality is that pornography can create ripples of pain and human suffering that spread out into the world.

Mike McDonnell 15 minute read.   Resources

 

Editor’s Note. I’d like to warn readers that Mike’s article makes hard reading. Once again he doesn’t pull any punches, and confronts, head on, a topic most people would rather not discuss. Pornography and human — specifically male — sexuality. As I’ve mentioned in the past in relation to sex trafficking, if we choose to be offended and pretend that this problem doesn’t exist, there cannot be an informed discussion. Without discussion there will be no change.

 

In today’s society pornography seems to have gained a certain amount of legitimacy and respectability. It’s not unusual to hear someone (albeit jokingly) refer to their ‘porn stash’ or questionable online browsing history. Such comments give credence in an ‘industry’ (and it is an industry) that has a very dark underbelly. So while, in some circles, pornography may be accepted and embraced as a part of today’s world, for others, the impact of the criminal elements who exploit (primarily) men’s weaknesses creates ripples of pain and human suffering that spread out into the world. For some pornography can become an addiction, and then there is the plight of the ‘participants’ many of whom are coerced by blackmail, abduction, and threats of violence to them or their families. It all starts with ‘an innocent bit of fun’…

The darkness of pornography can engulf your mind and soul bringing the weight of desperation that presents no glimmer of hope, or light just foreboding, and an unimaginable gloom. It is a nightmare coated with the aura of seductiveness that radiates a false promise of sexual fulfillment and love, that can result in disappointment, shame, broken relationships, destroyed lives, and personal ruin.

Pornography may be the most challenging evil for men to defeat. It attacks at the heart of a man’s natural desire to find love and intimacy. Unfortunately, some men misunderstand love and become confused in their effort to find closeness through sexual gratification. It is easy to understand the allure of sex and its power over the minds of men; but when we seek momentary satisfaction through a third party, we have crossed the line of morality in so many different ways.

This statement from The Catechism of the Catholic Church is excellent in defining the dangers found in porn:

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public) since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

I have heard men speak of porn as “nothing more” than pure entertainment and, that moreover, it enhances their sexual relationships with their spouses or girlfriends. What is the effect on a man watching someone else have sex? What benefit do they receive? What justification do they use to rationalize their self-gratification? Who benefits, and at what cost to the individual watching or reading porn? After all, it may seem that the woman or young girl performing sex acts areis having a great time even if it is staged.  We can be taken in by a false realism believing that the girls are not being forced to satisfy unusual sex requests, and are not suffering physical abuse and torture; instead what we are viewing is merely two people finding pleasure in each other’s arms. Therefore, if we continue to follow that cloudy logic, it would look as if that all the women are enjoying themselves, moaning and groaning in delight, and besides, don’t they all experience an orgasm? So if they are enjoying every minute of the encounter why shouldn’t I? They are having great sex and making good money. What is wrong if I satisfy myself by becoming part of their reality even if it is manufactured?

Statistics for porn are easily accessible if you are seeking more data… you will discover that the analytical part of porn is depressing and frightening.

Porn Hub is the most significant pornography site in the world. Each year for the past five years they have published an annual “Year in Review,” to “discover and reflect,” on how people have been viewing porn. What is amazing is their business acumen in their target marketing by age, sex, sexual preferences, location, time of day usage, country, state, etc. They have terrific insight into who is using their product and when. If you happen to be a porn-site visitor who mistakenly believes your information is private, you may want to rethink your position. Let us review Porn Hub’s Analytics (1) 2017 worldwide numbers and Daily Infographics 2013 stats (2) for the US:

Porn Hub Analytics (1) (www.pornhub.com/insights):

  • 28.5 billion annual visits to Porn Hub
  • 81 million daily visits
  • 25 billion searches performed
    • 50,000 searches per minute
    • 800 searches per second
  • 4 million videos uploaded
    • 810,000 amateur videos

Daily Infographics, US (2) (www.dailyinfographic.com/author/timwillingham):

  • 8.7 billion annual visits
  • 24 million daily visits to porn sites
  • 40 million Americans are regular visitors
    • 28,258 are viewing porn every second
  • Porn yearly revenues $2.84 billion
    • $3,076 is spent on porn every second 
  • 116,000 requests for “Child Pornography” every day

Statistics for porn are easily accessible if you are seeking more data. However, as I was warned before receiving the Porn Hub Analytics, you will discover that the analytical part of porn is depressing and frightening.  The numbers reveal an alarming and almost overwhelming prevalence of pornography throughout the world.

What does that say about us men? What in the world is going on in our minds that we need this external stimulation to find satisfaction and, most importantly, what does God say about pornography? 

I am not a scientist nor a theologian, but I am a pragmatist. You may look at those professions and wonder what does being pragmatic have to do with science or theology, let alone porn?  Nothing actually, but from my perspective, it allows me to ask myself several essential questions without dependence on science or religion. Is sex beneficial to me? Does sex satisfy? What are the costs and rewards of sex? Is there a moral quandary when using pornography? And why do I need artificial stimulation to satisfy my sexual cravings?

As a young man, it seemed as if I had sex “on the brain“ 24/7, and indeed I probably would not have been opposed to reading or viewing porn. It is and was very seductive, stimulating and alluring. Consequently, being rational about sex and controlling urges was challenging. However, age conveys a measure of wisdom, and clarity of thought; although, getting older does not free me from the lure of pornography. Though the desire is significantly dampened, it still lays hidden in my mind.

Let me take a moment to review and answer the questions I asked:

Is sex beneficial? I don’t know about you, but I love sex. There is nothing more satisfying than finding yourself entwined with a woman. It is both fulfilling and relieving and offers a degree of closeness that cannot be attained in any other manner. It is a gift given to two people that cannot be measured in precise physical terms but is to be understood as spiritual when given and received in love.

Is sex satisfying? Yes, no and maybe. Yes, when it is being given and received by two individuals as an offering, willingly and openly accepted. No, when it is forced or coerced, for self-gratification without care or concern for the other person’s well being. Maybe, when a person, because of their physical and or mental condition is allowing another person to use his or her body to satisfy themselves or being gratified themselves. 

What are the rewards and costs of sex? The rewards resulting from a healthy sexual relationship are cumulative. It brings a feeling of well being, intimacy and attachment that are realized in very few circumstances. It is part of the shared human experience that the very personal contact of sexual intimacy can only bring by strengthening the bond between a couple. The flip side is the toll that porn will inflict on a relationship through the pretense that pornography interjects excitement and variety in sexual relations. However, pornography’s goal is to blur the lines between love and self-gratification. It achieves this by featuring women and even children who “seem” to be willing to perform and enjoy all varieties of sexual perversions that the viewer may desire. Porn embeds an illusion in the minds of men that will become more addictive over time. This deception has the effect of ultimately subduing the love women may feel for their spouse, which can eventually wreak havoc with family relationships and careers. The fundamental question that must be considered by all men viewing pornography is: do my actions have a negative or positive impact on my family and others in and beyond my sphere of influence?

Is there a moral quandary when using pornography? Let’s be clear, porn is destructive and supports criminal elements that trafficks women and children (including boys) for the sole purpose of enriching themselves at the cost of lives. Men who watch and purchase pornography are not doing it for any reason, except to satisfy their sexual desire, no matter the detriment to the victims who are raped, violently molested, starved and even killed during deviant sexual behavior.  Researchers have also found an association between the use of pornography and infidelity in marriage. Does that surprise anyone? (What Porn Does to Intimacy, July 16, 2014, Psychology Today)

What do you think? Is there a “moral quandary?” As I‘ve already mentioned, I am a pragmatist. The chances that pornography could bring about anything positive is remote. It is destructive to men and devastating to the children and women who suffer from the consequences of persistent sexual abuse. Is it immoral? Damn straight!

418 [Men] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. Ephesians 4:18-19

If you are using pornography to fill an emptiness in your soul, please find help. If you are married, you need to understand why you require artificial stimulation to satisfy your sexual cravings and work out how to remove your dependence on it. If you are single, please realize that what you are often watching supports the trafficking of humans and that the picture you see is only an illusion and is not real sex or love. It is make-believe, not real and is an evil, immoral pretension of what is a beautiful, life-sustaining gift to humankind. It is not the answer to the spiritual wellness or joy you deserve.

This is a revised version of an article originally published on the Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s website.

Mike McDonnell is co-founder of the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, VP Social Justice (Human Trafficking Ministry) with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and a member of St. George Episcopal Church, Camdenton.

General Convention is Coming!

How General Convention works, and some idea of what to expect from the 79th Convention of The Episcopal Church

Curtis Hamilton Ten-minute read.   Resources

Deputies and Bishops from 17 countries will soon meet in Austin, Texas for the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. The General Convention is composed of over 800 deputies from the 109 dioceses and (potentially) 300 or more active and retired bishops of the Church. They will deliberate for nine legislative days from July 5-13, with some committees meeting as early as July 3.

How General Convention Works

Below is a brief summary of how General Convention makes its decisions.

  • The General Convention is a bicameral legislative body (that is to say that it is managed by two separate bodies). The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops meet separately.
  • Resolutions for discussion may be submitted from various groups throughout the Church (certain interim bodies, Bishops, Dioceses and Provinces, and Deputies).
  • Each resolution is assigned to a committee of the Convention. In committee hearings, testimony is heard, the resolution is debated and perfected, and a recommendation from the committee is forwarded to one of the houses (house of initial action).
  • In order for the resolution to become an Act of Convention, it must be approved by both houses in the exact same language before the General Convention adjourns.

Items to Come Before the Convention

The General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church. As such, it takes action on numerous topics.

  • Legislation of concern to the Church — This is a broad category. It encompasses policy issues such as human trafficking, care of creation, and many more. It also includes issues in our church life such as gender equity, sexual misconduct in the church, and more.
  • Amending the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the Constitution, and the Canons of the Church.

These above, along with Acts of Convention, describe both how the Church works and what it believes. Convention also deals with the following:

  • Adopting a triennial budget for The Episcopal Church — A budget for the Church for the next three years will be adopted. There are lots of clichés that could be used here (things about rubber and roads or treasure and heart come to mind), but this document does show what our missional priorities are for the next three years.
  • Electing candidates to offices, boards and other committees — These offices include President and Vice President of the House of Deputies, members of the Executive Committee of the Church, board of directors of the Church Pension Fund, and other groups.

In my opinion, the following are issues of high importance that will come before the General Convention. (These are in no particular order.)

  • Editing/Revising of the BCP — This includes the possibility of including liturgies for marriage for same-sex couples in the current BCP and the possible adoption of a plan for a revision of the entire BCP.
  • A proposal to provide a salary for the President of the House of Deputies.
  • Updates to the Canons regarding sexual misconduct by clergy and lay employees and leaders.

West Missouri Deputation Members

These are the members of the deputation:
Lay Delegates — Mr. Curtis Hamilton (Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City), Dr. Linda Robertson (St. John’s, Springfield), Ms. Amanda Perschall (Trinity, Lebanon), and Ms. Liz Trader (St. John’s, Springfield).

Clergy Delegates — Fr. Marshall Scott (St. Luke’s Health System, Deputation Chair), Mtr. Anne Meredith Kyle (Calvary, Sedalia), Fr. Tim Coppinger (EChO Regional Ministry), and Fr. Jonathan Frazier (St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City).

Alternate Deputies attending — Mr. Channing Horner (St. Paul’s, Maryville), Ms. Christine Morrison (Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City), Fr. Stan Runnels (St. Paul’s, Kansas City), and Mtr. Megan Castellan (canonically resident in West Missouri).

Deputies and Alternates not attending — Ms. Carole Pryor (St. Philip’s, Joplin), Mr. Grafton Cook (St. Mary’s, Fayette), Fr. David Kendrick (St. John’s, Springfield), and Fr. Jose Palma (St. Nicholas’, Noel).

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to speak with any member of the deputation. You can email me (see below) and I will be glad to forward your question or comment (with your permission) to the rest of the deputation.

Ways to Follow General Convention

There are several ways you can follow General Convention here in West Missouri.

  • The General Convention website has a veritable treasure trove of information available. This includes the “Blue Book” reports from interim bodies that give background on some of the resolutions submitted. You can also find links to documents that explain how General Convention works.
  • You can find the resolutions submitted to the General Convention at vbinder.net. This site will also give you status updates of resolutions throughout the convention.
  • There will be choice of Livestreaming channels available including daily summaries and press conferences. Many will be in both English and Spanish. Check the various websites for details.

The members of the deputation look forward to serving you and the Church as a whole in this important work. We ask for your prayers as we prepare for and attend the General Convention in July.

Curtis Hamilton is a two-time deputy to the General Convention (2015, 2018). He has attended two other General Conventions (2003, 2012) as a visitor. He also serves as Secretary of the Diocese.

Resources

Back to Contents

General Convention 101



The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has produced a handy pictorial guide to General Convention. Click here or follow the link provided (below) to see an online version of the guide, which you can download and print if you wish.