From the Rector #15

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

At Palmer last Sunday, there was a beautiful service of Evensong that was offered to glory of God and also in thanksgiving for the ministry and presence of the Rev. Dub Brooks and his wife Suzanne in our midst. Father Brooks will be the celebrant at our liturgies this morning, after which he will retire as our Senior Associate Rector.

Words are not adequate to express the joy and prayerfulness and priestly collegiality that I have experienced in Father Brooks’ presence across the hall from the Rector’s study. More than anyone else, he has oriented me to the life of God’s people here. For that, I’m grateful. He and Suzanne are also the most fun to sit beside at a party!

Today, however, the party is for both of them. It’s a festive reception in the Parish Hall at 11:15 a.m. And we are all invited, so please join us.

Gracious God, we thank you for the work and witness of your servant Dub, who, through serving as a priest and pastor among us, has strengthened this community of faith and shared his gifts with us. Now bless and preserve him at this time of transition. Day by day, guide him and give him what is needed, friends to cheer his way, and a clear vision of that to which you are now calling him in retirement. By your Holy Spirit be present in his pilgrimage, that he may travel with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #14

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

I love the phrase “he ran out of prayer” in the following passage, and I’ve known lots of people through the years who’ve experienced that from time to time. Written by Walter Wangerin, Jr., it comes from his book Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace:

On a particular evening the pastor came to visit Miz Lil in her living room. While they sat together, he on the sofa, she in a rocking chair, rocking and rubbing her stomach at once, dark grew darker in the room and the faces of both of them dimmed to the other’s sight.

The pastor prayed a prayer. That is what Miz Lil had said he could do for her. But he ran out of prayer before he ran out of yearning on the little woman’s behalf; so he sat in silence.

Sometimes just being there is enough. Thank you for being present to one another in our community of faith at Palmer. It’s a calling that we all share as Christians.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

The Honorable Tim Kaine

Before moving to Minnesota and then to Texas, my wife and I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I served for over six years as Associate Rector at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church. One of the highlights of those years was Virginia’s 2006 Inaugural Ceremonies. These took place outside the Reconstructed Capitol in Williamsburg because the State Capitol in Richmond was undergoing extensive renovations at the time. I was invited by the Clerk of the House of Delegates to offer a prayer at the beginning of their meeting, which convened shortly before Governor-Elect Tim Kaine was sworn into office, where their colonial predecessors in the House of Burgesses once met. The best part of the day, however, was a prelude to the rites of the Commonwealth and to the parade down Duke of Gloucester Street.

I had been asked by the Rector to organize and preside over an interfaith prayer service at our historic church on the morning of the inauguration. This was very important to the Governor-Elect, a thoughtful Christian and former missionary, who belongs to an African-American, Roman Catholic congregation in Richmond.

Voices of prayer, therefore, on behalf of the citizens of Virginia were raised that day by representatives of the three Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Gospel music, sung by the Governor-Elect’s home church choir, nearly blew the roof off the building. All of it was framed by familiar hymns and at least a few familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer.

What I learned is that it’s actually possible to honor the particular identities of those invited to participate in an event like this from different religious traditions. These representatives brought into that sacred space the depth of their beliefs and, therefore, a richness to their prayers. That is to be preferred, it seems to me, over watering down those particularities and pretending that we’re all temporarily Unitarians. I believe that interfaith conversations — and interfaith prayers — are most fruitful when we bring our particularities to the table and share them as a gift.

img_5861

After all was said and done — and prayed, I received a note from the Honorable Tim Kaine, then Governor of Virginia. He commented that the time spent in the church that morning was powerful, and, he wrote,

I will always consider it the highlight of the weekend.

First Moon Landing 47 Years Ago Today

img_9103

It was amazing to be at the Johnson Space Center today at 3:18 p.m. (CDT), when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility 47 years ago. This is Mission Operation Control Room 2, and from the little speaker beside the sign for the Public Affairs Officer, people heard Astronaut Neil Armstrong say these words:

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

And here’s what it looked like inside that room when it happened:

From the Rector #13

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Generation Found is an incredibly powerful and inspiring documentary film about adolescent recovery in our city that will premiere in Houston on July 27. Archway Academy, which is the largest high school in the United States for teenagers in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, and Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, which is home for the main campus of Archway, are both featured prominently in it.

Although tickets to that premiere have sold out, you can rest assured that there will be future opportunities to see Generation Found here in Houston. In the meantime, I would encourage you to pray for the work of Archway Academy, bringing life out of death, which I truly believe is the work of the Holy Spirit. You can do that right now:

O blessed Jesus, you ministered to all the people who came to you. Look with compassion on the students of Archway Academy and the adolescents of this city who have lost their health and freedom through addiction. Restore them to the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove the fears that attack them; strengthen those who are engaged in the work of recovery; and to those who care for them, especially their loved ones, their alternative peer groups, and Archway’s faculty and staff, give honesty, understanding, and the same kind of persevering love with which you embrace us; for your mercy’s sake. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #12

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

June 29 was the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, when Christians remember these two greatest leaders of the early church. They didn’t always agree and weren’t always agreeable, a fact that the words of Paul about Peter (Cephas) in Galatians 2:11-14 clearly establish. Yet both men shared a common faith in Jesus Christ, knew his forgiveness deeply, and were faithful witnesses to him at the end of their lives.

That date is also the anniversary of two important occasions in my life. 20 years ago, I was ordained as a deacon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 19 years ago, I was ordained as a priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach, South Carolina.

The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., was the Bishop of South Carolina who ordained me to the priesthood. He died last month, remarkably, on June 29. He was slow and steady and faithful in the midst of a tumultuous period in the Episcopal Church. “Love Jesus,” he said, is the secret to being a good priest. That, of course, is what it means for anyone to be a Christian.

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

In Memoriam: Bishop Ed Salmon

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

As those words and other burial sentences from the Book of Common Prayer were sung by a choir to the beautiful music of William Croft (1678-1727), the procession began for the funeral of the Rt. Rev. Edward Lloyd Salmon, Jr., at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Missouri, earlier this week. At that service, I and many other clergy who had been formed under the leadership of Bishop Salmon paid our final respects to him and participated in that procession.

I had first met Bishop Salmon in 1996 at his office in Charleston when he was the Bishop of South Carolina. I was a newly ordained deacon who had come to serve in his diocese from the Diocese of North Carolina. He really only had two things to say to me. First, he told me that we in the Diocese of South Carolina are not confused about who Jesus is. Second, he told me that people would try to dump garbage at my feet (i.e., triangulate) and that my job was not to be a garbage collector. In other words, individuals were sure to bring their complaints about other parishioners or staff members to me with no intention to deal with those relationships themselves.

img_8882

img_8915One year after I had been ordained to the diaconate, Bishop Salmon ordained me on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29, 1997, as a priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. He also officiated at my wedding in 2003 at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. With those famous mutton chops down the sides of his cheeks, Bishop Salmon always looked as though he had stepped out of a 19th-century oil portrait of a bishop in the Church of England. Although he could indeed be firm, he was gracious and kind.

Bishop Salmon died last month on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29, which was exactly 19 years after he ordained me to the priesthood. He died before sunrise. But he will awake in the eternal light of that new day, known as Easter. This I believe.

I spent an hour in the church where Bishop Salmon’s body was lying in repose in the chancel during a vigil before his funeral. I was there in the late morning. The service would not begin until that evening. It was raining outside, and I could hear thunder while sitting in the pew. Alone there during most of that time, I thought about the stormy chapters in the history of the Episcopal Church throughout Bishop Salmon’s episcopate. Most people know that he often voted with the more conservative and traditional wing of the House of Bishops. But he was also gracious and kind to those who did not agree with him, and Bishop Salmon was willing to work with them. That willingness to work across theological divides caused him to be criticized by liberals and conservatives alike. I did not always agree with him. Yet he was truly my bishop.

Salmon Vigil D

Before the commendation near the end of the funeral, as the celebrant sprinkled the casket with holy water to remind us that Bishop Salmon was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the choir sang a version of the following anthem by John Tavener (1944-2013). And that is when I felt the most overwhelmed by emotion.

Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.
Alleluia. Give rest O Lord to your [servant,] who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life
and door of paradise.
Alleluia. Life: a shadow and a dream.
Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia.
Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you. Alleluia.

Last but not least, definitely not least in the life of Bishop Salmon, this reflection would be incomplete without mentioning his dogs. There are many photographs of him with rather large dogs sitting in his lap. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of friends, old and new, at the home of Bishop Salmon the night before the funeral. It was good to see his wife Louise again and to meet their children Catherine and Edward. But I was especially delighted to meet his newest puppy, Lindy. Alleluia!

Salmon Puppy

From the Rector #11

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

On this holiday weekend, in the midst of parades and cookouts, I encourage you to set aside a few minutes to give thanks for the rights and liberties that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. Exercise your freedom to worship each Lord’s Day, and let these words from the Book of Common Prayer be on your lips:

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Lord God Almighty, who hast made all the peoples of the earth for thy glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with thy gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Grant, O God, that thy holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector