Archive for 2016

Hopes and Fears

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

One of the historic connections Incarnation is most proud of is our relationship to perhaps the greatest clergyman of the 19th century, Phillips Brooks. One of Brooks’ brothers, Arthur was rector of Incarnation; Phillips preached his last Christmas sermon from our pulpit.

Brooks is indelibly linked with this season because he was the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” When we sing that marvelous carol this Christmastime, we may pay particular attention to the words, “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

2016 had more than its share of global hopes and fears. And whatever we are feeling now, Brooks’ hymn reminds us that we can bring our feelings to Christ. Whatever our hopes, whatever our fears, we can bring them to the One who shares them and holds them in his heart. —J. Douglas Ousley

The President and His Religion

Monday, December 19th, 2016

As far as I know, we have never had a professed atheist President. Our last two leaders, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were faithful churchgoers.

Donald Trump’s personal faith is not clear. He claims membership in the Marble Collegiate Church around the corner from Incarnation; he met his second wife while attending a service there and pastors of that church have officiated at one at least of his weddings. One of his grandchildren was baptized in an Episcopal Church.

Doubtless, then, Mr. Trump would claim to be a Christian in something resembling good standing. It remains to be seen, however, how his faith will affect his decisions as president.

Of course, one can be a fine political leader without being a Christian or a believer of any kind. Americans may put too much emphasis on the personal religion of its presidents. And one thing is certain: we don’t need hypocrisy in high places. —J. Douglas Ousley

Two Nations?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Yesterday, a number of messages appeared on the Diocese of New York priests’ listserv. They were from women priests offering bus rides to Washington D.C. for the January 21 “million women” march. I was amazed at how many parishes have already rented buses for the trip.

Later in the day, I was at a dinner party with a pretty conservative (and mostly Episcopalian) group of people. I asked various guests what they thought of the upcoming march–and none of them had even heard of it!

I hope the latter group were simply forgetting having previously read about the January gathering. I also hope that the activists on the march remember that many of their fellow citizens have different concerns about the future than they do. —J. Douglas Ousley

Time for a Break

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The reality is still sinking in and people are still in tears over the election.

All the more reason to give thanks on this most congenial of holidays. We might remember the legend that the Pilgrims shared the first thanksgiving with Indian neighbors. Whether this really happened or not, the idea is a nice part of our heritage. There can have been few greater cultural barriers at that time than between the transplanted English and the Native Americans. A hopeful thought for the future…–J. Douglas Ousley

A Pastoral Letter Concerning the 2016 Election

Friday, November 18th, 2016

A Pastoral Letter Concerning the 2016 Election


To the Incarnation Family:


A member of the congregation in his thirties recently told me that he felt the recent presidential election was one of the worst things that has happened to America in his lifeline, equal to the attacks of 9/11. I can’t myself remember receiving so many emails and personal expressions of worry and outrage.


Since I have avoided talking politics from the pulpit, and I have kept my own ballot choice to myself, I have received comments from supporters of both candidates. While supporters of Hillary Clinton are the most outspoken in their fears for the future, I have also received confidential comments from supporters Donald Trump that are also apprehensive about what will happen to our country.


In most cases, supporters of one candidate can’t comprehend how any Christian could possibly support the other candidate. Many people have contended that the Church should take sides—as the Episcopal Church supported the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and as it continues to denounce racism in our society today.


We can all agree that racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are social evils. We can also agree that the President-elect cannot be charged with these evils until he has been inaugurated and begun to exercise his power. So we are really concerned now that no decisions be made for the future that will make it hard later for the new government to govern justly for all the American people.


A number of Christians have marched or otherwise protested the election results; that’s probably not a bad thing, as it reminds those coming into power that a lot of people didn’t vote for them—holding their feet to the fire, as it were.


In the meantime, I believe it’s important for everyone to realize that there are decent and honorable Christians on both sides of this election. And it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the new government upholds the ideals upon which our nation was founded.


Finally, we can all pray that God will bless America.


Yours faithfully,

The Rev. J. Douglas Ousley


Church of the Incarnation

My Experience in Trump Tower

Friday, November 11th, 2016

One hot summer day, some years ago, I was walking through the lobby of Trump Tower, cooling off on my way to Central Park.

Suddenly, I heard a shriek! I looked down at the lower level of the lobby and saw Donald Trump himself , striding across on his way to an elevator. The scream came from a woman in what was obviously a group of tourists; the lady, clad in a pink pants suit, was overcome with excitement at seeing in person the reality TV star.

Being one of the many New Yorkers who at that time didn’t appreciate Mr. Trump’s star quality, I was bemused at the attention he got. (He cheerily waved back at the woman, then proceeded on about his business.) Little did I know then that the American Heartland’s attraction to Mr. Trump would one day propel him into the White House. —J. Douglas Ousley

Apocalypse Soon?

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Apocalyptic thinking is found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament prophets foretell future doom, as do all the New Testament writers and Jesus himself. According to these witnesses, when God’s judgment arrives, sinners won’t be pleased.

So the electoral apocalypse predicted by social commentators on the left and right has some spiritual roots. One example is the worry that President Trump would outlaw abortion and align himself with Russia. Another is the perceived threat that President Clinton would curtail religious freedom and undermine family values.

I agree that this election raises issues of enormous consequence. But I don’t believe the Apocalypse is imminent. Christians are often overly prone to catastrophic thinking. It’s better to live in hope. The End of Time has often been predicted. My own view (and prayer) is that God will continue to bless America. —J. Douglas Ousley

How in Heaven’s Name Should I Vote?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

I have friends on both sides in the current presidential election, so there’s nothing I can say about either candidate that won’t annoy someone whose friendship I value.

But there are also many people who are struggling to vote at all, and some of them have asked me for my advice. Beyond the obvious–praying for divine wisdom and guidance–I don’t have any recommendations. I wish I did.

It is strange that people see the candidates in such different ways. As is usual, some Christians see “prophetic witness” where others see the work of the Devil! With two weeks to go to Election Day, many of the faithful will be looking for inspiration. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Rock Star

Monday, October 17th, 2016

My favorite picture from my recent trip to Rome is a photo I took of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury as they processed right by me on the way to the altar of the church where they were to make their historic declaration. (See last post.) In the picture, the Archbishop has just begun to clap his hands, as applause breaks out in the congregation as a whole.

Applause in church? Very rare, I know–but this pope is a religious rock star. When he’s around, people get inspired and the rules are bent. (Photos in church? I disapprove in principle–but everyone around me was snapping away, so I joined in.)



From Canterbury to Rome

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

I’m just back from an extraordinary visit to Rome.

My wife and I were in Italy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome–an ecumenical outpost representing the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. There was to be a grand dinner at the art gallery in a private Roman palazzo, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.

As it turned out, we were also witnesses to what may prove to be an historic encounter between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. At a stately private service of vespers, each gave a forward-looking, hopeful homily to inspire their respective churches to work together for evangelism and service to the poor. They exchanged personal gifts: the Archbishop received a replica of the staff or crozier given to the first Archbishop of Canterbury, while he he gave the pope his own, very simple pectoral cross.

The service concluded with the commissioning of 19 pairs of Anglican/Roman Catholic bishops or archbishops from all over the world. Their duty now is to carry out ecumenical work in their respective countries.

All in all, it was an impressive demonstration that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the ecumenical movement. —J. Douglas Ousley