mystery worshipper report, week 5

This particular weekend is a challenging one in terms of the church search. Summer Sundays aren’t the best reflection of most parishes here in Virginia, and adding holiday weekend on top of that doesn’t help. And the cherry on top? It was pouring rain this morning. We figured that wherever we ended up, we’d be about 10% of the congregation.

Thankfully, that was not our experience at all!

Continue reading →

mystery worshipper report – week 4

I beg your pardon for skipping Week 3 in our search for our next church home. Having spent last Saturday at PrideFest Norfolk, and then had the start of a migraine attack Sunday morning, we opted for All Saints Pasadena, who stream the Eucharist each Sunday. Their adult forum had been planned–weeks ago–to address gun violence as a public health problem; after the shooting in Orlando, it touched even more deeply. And the sermon preached by the Rev. Susan Russell… well, put simply: WOW.  That’s a link to the video, and I urge you to go watch it.  It’s okay: I’ll be ready for you when you get back.

13241176_1792194427679112_1276997927597287241_nThis morning, we worshipped at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Norfolk. St. Andrew’s is near Old Dominion University, in Norfolk’s trendy (and wealthy) Ghent neighborhood. The building is surrounded by beautiful gardens, feeling like one more (lovely!) house in the neighborhood. They have provided very comprehensive signage, both outside the building and inside–a crucially important detail for welcoming visitors–and I love that there are restrooms just outside the worship space. Continue reading →

mystery worshipper report – Pride Week bonus edition


Pride, photo by Scazza_

I am a Pride Virgin. That is, I have never participated in any Pride celebration before… until tonight. Tonight was the annual Interfaith Celebration, part of the PrideFest in Norfolk. Two years ago, we watched a livestream of the celebration. Last year, my partner participated but I stayed at home (I’m not sure why: there’s a 98% probability that I was either working late or sick… or both!).  And this year we both went together.

The celebration was held at Ohef Sholom Temple, which is filled with light and beauty. Continue reading →

mystery worshipper report – week 2

After our first week of “church shopping,” we gave ourselves an exception week.This weekend is the Harborfest in Norfolk, right across the river from us, which results in heavy traffic (making Norfolk churches more difficult to get to) and inconsistent traffic patterns (stressing out drivers).  Today is also the Grand Prix of Canada, the home and native land of my beloved so we wanted to make sure we’re home in time for the pre-race events at 1pm.

We chose this week to visit Old Donation Church in Virginia Beach, which was our parish home from 2007 to 2009. Old Donation is the oldest church in southside Hampton Roads, the mother (or grandmother) parish of the Episcopal churches in Virginia Beach. It got its name for the land a rector donated… after some time passed and it was no longer a recent donation. Old Do is situated at the entrance to a pricey and exclusive neighborhood, and across the street from a much more modest middle-class subdivision.

When I first visited Old Donation in 2007, I was in the process of separating from my ex-husband and badly in need of love and healing. Continue reading →

mystery worshipper report – week 1

medium_2fa730d1f86c93abc739My bride and I have begun “church shopping,” a phrase I personally loathe, but for which I don’t have a good substitute. Last week, we were farewelled from the parish where we’d worked and lived for the last six years. People asked where we were moving to, and the answer was “We don’t know.”  I would tell people that God calls people to places, and God calls people from places. We are obeying the command to go forth, and now we wander through the wilderness, experiencing many ways of worship, until we come finally home.

Today, we visited Good Samaritan Episcopal Church for worship. However, we didn’t really accomplish the mystery piece because…

  1. I was there in my formal habit. That makes it harder to be a mystery worshipper.
  2. I am 4’9″ tall (about 1.4m), and my lovely bride is about 6′ tall (about 1.8m). We make rather a memorable impression as a couple.
  3. I was a member, regular worshipper, and vestry member at Good Sam in the 90s.

So, you see, I could never be a mystery at Good Sam, which is why I worshipped in my formal habit–it was pointless to try to be undercover!  Ship of Fools owns the “Mystery Worshipper” format, so I will write this post as a narrative and a reflection, rather than in their question & answer form.

Good Samaritan is located in Virginia Beach, across the street from the Virginia Wesleyan College campus.  Continue reading →

on children and church

I gained a new twitter follower this morning, @larry2_0, the Rev. Lawrence T. Richardson, who wrote this beautiful reflection on the blog for the United Church of Christ.  It’s a short one, so if you want to pop over and read it, I can wait for you.

I was quite taken by his story of being a child who hung out with the elders of the church, and this it in particular caught my eye:

They were also impressed with my ability to be deeply engaged in content that was for adults when there was adequate children’s programming available. I became a lover of wisdom because of all the stories and information they shared.

See, here’s the thing.  Children are not some strange alien creature.  Children are humans.  Children are also sponges, and they soak up everything that happens around them.  Children are perfectly capable of being deeply engaged in the sharing of authentic stories of faithful Christians who are working through their struggles, perfectly capable of being deeply engaged in free conversation about the overwhelming, scandalous love of God for us, perfectly capable of being deeply engaged in the wisdom of grandparents.

The other thing is that children are also not miniature adults.  While they are perfectly capable of this deep engagement, they also have different limits than most adults.  Or, to be perfectly honest, they may have the same threshold we have for boredom, but less self-control… so that when a child’s engagement has waned, they are not content to sit still and doodle in the margins of the handouts from some church council session.  So yeah, we do make some accommodation for their unique needs, in exactly the way we would make accommodation for our siblings in Christ who are unable to walk or to hear or to see.

Children's Chapel - National Cathedral - DC, by Tim Evanson

Children’s Chapel – National Cathedral – DC, by Tim Evanson

One of the great gifts I have learned in training as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is that children have a life of faith every bit as deep as any adult.  Children are capable of relationship with God — and with other humans — every bit as deep as any adult.  Children are capable of understanding liturgy every bit as deep as any adult.  And yes, I mean little bitty children – there are four-year-olds at my parish who are often more deeply immersed in the Eucharistic prayer than anyone else in the church.

In church, however, we tend to segregate our children.  We say they don’t know how to behave in church, but how will they learn if we don’t bring them into church and teach them?  We say they don’t understand what’s happening in worship, but how will they learn if we don’t show them worship and allow them to explore it? We say that the work of church councils is too dull for children – or that children are not smart enough for it – but how do we know if we don’t give them the opportunity to engage in it?

Some years ago, I had stewardship of a group of fourth- and fifth-graders for the Christian formation hour on Sunday mornings.  I kicked off our group discussions without a curriculum, starting with a saint’s feast day or a bible reading or something appropriate to the liturgical season.  Their favorite Sunday of the year?  It was the week after I returned from the annual council of our diocese, and I spread out all the papers I’d accumulated during that weekend, and we talked about running the church.  They looked at budgets and resolutions and canons and committee reports, and they were completely fascinated.  No, they didn’t understand everything. Guess what: neither did I.  But they were deeply engaged in this content for adults, when we could have been making a craft or doing a puzzle about the lectionary readings for the day.

Want to know something really sad?  I went to flickr to search for an image to go with this blog post.  I searched on the keywords children and church, limiting the results to Creative Commons licensed images only.  I did not see a single child in the first forty-one photos.  Most were of empty worship spaces, church exteriors, or sacred art. Only image number 42 showed children, and they were singing a song into microphones on church steps, wearing Santa hats.  It was only the 74th image where I actually saw some children inside a church, at worship.  How sad is that!

People like to say that children are the future of the church.

They are wrong.

Children are the now of the church.

Children are the now of the church every bit as much as you are or I am or Pope Francis is.  Children have an important place in the life of the church.  Children have ministries.  Children are capable of far more than we offer them in most churches.  So why do we offer them insipid coloring books with white, Anglo Jesuses and blonde Marys and all the dirt and blood and truth removed?  Why do we separate them, “until they’re old enough to understand”?  Why don’t we include them in the life of God’s people?

Why don’t we allow them to become lovers of wisdom – lovers of Christ – because of all that we can share?

blessing, a poem


Let your life be amen
Let your days be a prayer
Let your actions speak kindness
Let your mind think of peace.

Let your life be amen
Let you know you’re belov’d
Let your heart brim with love
Let it spill all around.

Let your life be amen
Let your work give you meaning
Let your nights bring you rest
Let your spirit sing thanks.

Let your life be amen
Let your bible be open
Let Creation instruct you
Let you learn every day.

Shall we Gather at the River, from the Beattie Road Church of Christ blog

Let your life be amen
Let you die under water
Let you feel the sweet chrism
Let you shine with Christ’s light.

Let your life be amen
Let your days be a prayer
Let your actions speak blessing
Let each breath be of God.


This was born as I read the first chapter of The Path of Centering Prayer, by David Frenette, in which he gives the following counsel to one who might ask for advice on contemplative prayer:

Practice the meaning of one word: amen. If you asked me how you could meditate, how you should relate to God, how you might pray, I would whisper, “Amen.” If I remember one simple thing at the end of my own life, I hope it will be amen.

Frenette continues by giving the meaning of the word – so let it be – and defining amen as giving consent to God, consenting for God to speak to us and to work in our life. I got a couple pages further in my reading before I had to stop and quickly sketch out this poem… while sitting in my psychiatrist’s waiting room.  Creativity is ever urgent, and beauty calls her name.