The Joys of Camping

July 22nd, 2019

Summer camp. Just the phrase seems old-fashioned. Living in tents. Splashing in the water. Singing by the campfire. Sunday in the chapel.

That’s life at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, CT–a camp founded by the Church of the Incarnation in 1886. No cell phones or computers, just fresh air fun pretty much like a century ago.

And yet the camp remains incredibly popular, with two overnight camps and two day camps running simultaneously and accommodating hundred of children. Spots at the teen-age camp, where the kids cook all their own meals, are filled by March.

I was just in Ivoryton for a Board of Directors meeting and I marveled at the success of the place. The oldest church camp in the country–what a great ministry of our church.–J. Douglas Ousley


Irreplaceable

July 15th, 2019

One of the unhappy things about parish life is losing people–the worst, of course, being losing church members through death.

Church officers are interchangeable; a vestry member or a rector retires and their successors can end up being more effective leaders than the ones they replaced.

But church members are unique and therefore are, strictly speaking, irreplaceable. New members arrive and occupy the pews, but they will never bring exactly the same qualities as those held by the departed persons.

Each one of us is a child of God. God sees us as we are, warts and all. May we appreciate this profound truth about our faith, and may we appreciate the unique personhood of our fellow children of God. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Hot Summer Ahead

July 9th, 2019

A year or so ago, the former Altman’s Department Store across from the church began an extensive exterior restoration. As part of the work, the bottom floor of the building is covered in netting. Homeless people now climb into a space behind the netting to bed down and in many cases to live. Others take advantage of the sidewalk covering and sleep on the sidewalk. A little town has sprung up.

The obvious question to ask is, why doesn’t the city do something to help these people so they aren’t forced into what the English call, “sleeping rough?” And the answer to that question is that the city isn’t very good at helping the poor.

Last night, a local television station did an investigative segment on seven of the city’s “cooling centers,” where poor people including the homeless can go for relief during hot weather. It turned out that four of the centers have no air conditioning. Moreover, they haven’t had air conditioning for weeks and they have similar problems every summer. Yet the whole purpose of these institutions is to present a comfortable environment in hot weather.

I recognize that the tolerance we have toward the homeless is in some ways admirable. They are allowed the freedom of the streets. We can be proud of our tolerance and our social freedom. But less proud of the consequences. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Best Kind of Publicity

July 1st, 2019

When it comes to religion, it’s hard to think of anything new. Christianity has been around for two thousand years; almost every form of ministry has been tried at one time or another.

But Incarnation’s Associate Rector has beaten the odds. She has invented a new form of ministry that just became the subject of a post on the Religious News Service. Once a week for half an hour, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser stands on the church steps and offers blessings to passers-by. She always has people coming up to her for advice and prayer.

Besides being innovative, this takes guts! I have subbed for Adrian a few times when she was on vacation and I can attest that you are vulnerable to all kinds of stares and comments.

But Adrian has done this for four years, and she deserves all the credit she gets. What a great way to show the love of God to the world. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pride Universe

June 24th, 2019

As everyone in New York City knows, the annual Gay Pride March takes place this coming Sunday, at the end of what has been called, Pride Month.

The Episcopal Church has been on the winning side of this issue for quite a while, and we might be tempted to ask why Episcopalians and LGBT people need to bother to march in this day and age. They have virtually all the rights of straight people. Isn’t the battle over?

But we need to remember that homosexual behavior is still against the law in many, many countries throughout the world–and it is often proscribed in the name of religion. Even in this country, the largest Christian body, the Roman Catholic Church terms gay sex sinful.

Unfortunately, there is still much to march for. —J. Douglas Ousley


Sometimes It Pays to Get Together

June 18th, 2019

I’m not a big fan of clergy gatherings. I usually manage to avoid them.

But since I am reaching mandatory retirement age at the end of this year, I thought a time of reflection would be useful. So I responded to a generous offer from the Church Pension Fund to meet for a week with 27 other clergy and 8 faculty members at an idyllic conference center in Richmond, Virginia.

While most of the clergy at this “CREDO” conference (“credo” is Latin for, “I believe”) were from the South or the Midwest, we seem to share the same joys and face the same challenges in our work. I was impressed by how bright and engaged my colleagues are. The small group sessions were particularly helpful.

The Episcopal Church may be struggling with attendance and other issues, but, to me, the future of its leadership looks bright. —J. Douglas Ousley


Expecting to Dance

June 10th, 2019

As I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, there are many churches, particularly in Africa, where Anglicans come to worship on Sunday expecting to dance.

This is not the case in most American Episcopal parishes. Yet that doesn’t mean that our faith has to be, in the old phrase, “high and dry.” We can still look for an emotional element in our religion; in fact, we need to find such an element. We need at least on some occasions to feel the Spirit within us.

These experiences can range from enjoyment of a favorite hymn to a walk on a sunny day to a dinner out with friends. In the season of Pentecost, we can be grateful that the Holy Spirit is always reaching out to us. In that Spirit, we can, as the Twelve Step movement says, let go and let God. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Bell Tolls

June 3rd, 2019

Yesterday, I officiated at a memorial service at Yale as part of my class’s 50th reunion.

During the service, I read the name of every classmate who had died in the past five years. After the name was read, a bell was sounded and people present could offer remarks and remembrances of the deceased.

While it was a somber occasion, the mood was uplifted by humorous reminiscences of our college years. Yet the service couldn’t help being serious. As our class secretary remarked to me, eventually the bell will toll for each of us.

And that reminder of our mortality is also a reminder that religion is still needed by people–however secular they think they can be. Church bells are a sign that this life is not the end. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.–J. Douglas Ousley


Prayer List

May 28th, 2019

Incarnation maintains a list of names of persons to pray for; we ask God to heal them of physical, mental, or other problems.

There are always twenty or thirty names on the list. Some names are removed when the persons feel better; others are removed when the persons die. Some people with chronic conditions are on the list for years; others only for a week or two.

While the majority of persons whom we pray for are not parishioners but relatives or friends of parishioners, we all feel a relationship with the names we hear. They make our prayers personal; we are reminded that our faith has a tangible effect in the world we live in. We sometimes silently add names of persons known to us in need of healing.

Whatever the affliction, prayer comforts. As Jesus said, by our faith, we are healed.–J. Douglas Ousley

 


Leadership in the Church of England

May 20th, 2019

I’m just back from a week in London and, as usual, I had many conversations with church people there.

And also, as usual, I heard many comments on the present Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. Both leaders are relatively new in their positions. Both had secular careers before being ordained later in life. Both have Evangelical backgrounds.

And it must also be said that neither the Archbishop nor the Bishop come off in person as particularly attractive or exciting. Bureaucratic might be more accurate.

They don’t seem to have come up with stimulating new programs that would be likely to inspire the church. Nor have they impressed the high-powered businesspeople in the ancient City of London, where Incarnation’s sister parish is located.

While this is regrettable, the church will have both leaders in place for some years to come. All the more reason to pray that other, Spirit-filled persons will also be raised up to share the governance of our mother Church. —J. Douglas Ousley