Archive for the ‘St. Anne’s Episcopal Church Tifton Georgia’ Category

Twenty-Nine Years an Episcopalian   2 comments

Above:  Some Items on My Writing Desk, December 22, 2022

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


I became an Episcopalian 29 years ago today.  At St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, in the Diocese of Georgia, Bishop Harry Woolston Shipps confirmed me.  I had made an important decision as an adult; I had chosen my affiliation.

I had a Low Church Protestant upbringing.  My father, ordained a Southern Baptist in 1975, had switched to The United Methodist Church in 1980.  I, baptized at North Newington Baptist Church, Newington, Georgia, in November 1979, formed theologically in rural United Methodist congregations.  Yet I did not quite fit in.  My attachment to Holy Communion, which I got to take once every three months, marked me as an outlier.  So did my interest in ecclesiastical history, most of which the congregations in which my father served were oblivious.  Furthermore, my inherent attraction to Roman Catholicism stood out in the rural communities and towns in which I lived and worshiped.

When I joined The Episcopal Church, I came home.  I departed The United Methodist Church amicably; I was not angry about anything going on the denomination.

I have changed greatly since December 22, 1991.  Lutheranism has become more prominent in my variation on Anglicanism, which stands between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.  I have given up the United Methodist refusal to acknowledge Single Predestination.  Now, even if I wanted to do so, I could not return to The United Methodist Church and be intellectually and spiritually honest.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has become my denominational Plan B, even though I have not identified as a Protestant for a long time.

Consider the items in the photograph at the top of this post, O reader.  There are three Marian images, two versions of The Book of Common Prayer, a Daily Prayer book from The Church of England, and a devotional book a minister from the United Church of Christ wrote.  I identify as an Anglican.  I identify as an Anglican in the collegial sense of Anglicanism, not the Donatistic sense of that word.  I object strenuously to the use of “Anglican” as a Donatistic label for congregations, dioceses and congregations in the United States of America.  My variety of Anglicanism is open and cordial.  It also has prominent Marian tendencies.  These tendencies spill over into my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, in the Diocese of Atlanta.  I, as the parish librarian, maintain the parish library as a collection of books and as a Marian shrine.

The Protestant boy I used to be has long ceased to exist.










This is post #2150 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.


Feast of John H. Caldwell (March 12)   2 comments

Above:  First United Methodist Church, Newnan, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth



U.S. Methodist Minister and Social Reformer


We have sinned, and God has smitten us.

–John H. Caldwell, Newnan, Georgia, June 1865



The great Galileo Galilei warned many who were conventionally orthodox and sat in judgment on him for making shocking and revolutionary statements (such as that the Earth revolves around the Sun), that they may actually be heretics.  John H. Caldwell, in the middle of his life, concluded that he had been a heretic regarding slavery.  He chose actual orthodoxy.

Caldwell came to my attention years ago, when I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia.  I was researching Methodist history regarding slavery; my focus in graduate school was the intersection of race and religion in the U.S. South.  Slavery was the rock upon which the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) split in 1844-1845.  I knew that already, but I wanted to know more details.

I was a United Methodist from 1980 to 1991.  Then I became an Episcopalian.  I have never looked back, for I have concluded that I am on this planet to be an Episcopalian.  Besides, my theological development subsequent to my confirmation (St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991) has led me to become a Single Predestinarian Anglican-Lutheran, contrary to Methodist theology.  My increasingly liberal and inclusive social views have placed me substantially to the left of where many of the more conservative elements of society are.  So be it.  I affirm that all human beings with both a pulse and brain waves possess unalienable natural rights, including civil rights and civil liberties.  Call me a radical, if you wish, O reader, but there I stand.  I will do no other.

I write this so that you, O reader, will understand that (1) I know whereof I write, and (2) I have no animosity toward The United Methodist Church.

I recall, as early as the middle 1980s, talk of The United Methodist Church being two denominations in one.  If the General Conference 2020 plays out the way I predict it will, 2020 may echo 1844.  Even if the General Conference of 2020 does not play out the way I predict it will, The United Methodist Church will continue to live into the typographical error and Freudian slip “Untied Methodist Church.”  This is an objective statement.  To quote William Butler Yeats in The Second Coming,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

The big tent encompasses only those who choose to live within it.  Donatism did not die in norther Africa long ago.  No, it is alive and well, unfortunately.

As The United Methodist Church comes asunder and as the United States of America observes the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday, pondering another schism–that of 1844-1845–as well as the cause of it, should lead us to sober-minded contemplation of orthodoxy and heresy, actual and alleged.


John Hollis Caldwell as a white Southerner.  He, born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on June 4, 1820, was a son of James Caldwell (1768-1825) and Jane Wardlaw (1772-1822).  His family moved to Georgia when our saint was an infant.  He converted to Christianity and to Methodism, in particular, at the age of 16 years.  Six years later, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) licensed Caldwell as an exhorter.  Our saint joined the Georgia Conference as a full minister in 1844.

The Methodist Episcopal Church concluded its General Conference of 1844 with a divorce agreement.  The cause of the divorce was slavery.  In particular, the question was whether James Osgood Andrew, the bishop assigned to the Georgia Conference, should continue as a bishop, despite owning slaves, in violation of church law.  He had not owned slaves in 1832, when he had become a bishop.  Yet Andrew had received slaves as inheritances over the years.  State law forbade him from freeing his slaves during his lifetime.  Slavery was still morally wrong, of course.  The MEC had been backing away from this moral truth since just a few years after its founding, as slaveholders joined.  The denomination finally issued a firm antislavery message again in 1864, shortly before the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution went to Congress.

One week apart, in May 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) formed, for the same reason:  slavery.  The SBC formed because Northern-controlled missions boards of the Triennial Convention did not permit slaveholders to become missionaries.  Andrew became one of the founding bishops of the MECS, and continued to preach to slaves that they should obey their masters.

Caldwell joined the MECS and rose through the ranks to become a prominent member of the Georgia Conference thereof.  He accepted the conventional wisdom of his culture and the dominant theology thereof.  Caldwell believed that God supported and ordained slavery.  He quoted the Bible chapter-and-verse to defend this position.  He preached to slaves, telling them to obey their masters.  Opponents of slavery were heretics, fanatics, and radicals, according to Caldwell.  He insisted that they sought to destroy not just slavery, but the freedoms of press, speech, religion, and thought, too.  As Mark A. Noll has written in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006), support for slavery became caught up with the authority of scripture.  Many, if not most, of those who argued for slavery theologically believed they were morally correct.

Above:  Old Main Building, Andrew College, Cuthbert, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

Caldwell also helped to found Andrew Female College (now Andrew College), Cuthbert, Georgia, which opened in 1854.  He taught moral and mental science there.  He, a slaveholder (via inheritances), sold one of his slaves to pay the college’s debts.  Caldwell’s father-in-law, a wealthy planter, insisted that a Methodist minister should not own slaves.  Our saint owned up to four slaves at a time, though.

Caldwell, by 1860 the pastor of Trinity Church, Savannah, had moved to Newnan to by 1864.  During the Civil War he supported slavery and the Confederacy.  He assumed that God was pro-Confederate States of America.


Then the proverbial scales fell away from Caldwell’s eyes in early 1865.  Confederate defeat threw many white Christian Southerners into a theological crisis.  They reasoned that surely God had supported slavery and the Confederacy, so how could they make sense of their reality?  Caldwell took a different position.  Over a few Sundays in June 1865 he alienated his congregation and most of the other people in Newnan by condemning slavery, secession, the Confederacy, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  He acknowledged, as he had in 1861, that the cause of the Confederacy had been slavery.  President Jefferson Davis had said as much in his Inaugural Address.  Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, speaking in Savannah in March 1861, had called slavery the cornerstone of the Confederacy.   He was proud of this cornerstone.  Caldwell surveyed the destruction of the Civil War and pronounced the judgment of God.  He also stated that the end of slavery was just.  The Confederacy had been sinful, too, the minister preached, and slavery tainted the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Caldwell’s time left at Newnan was brief.  The Presiding Elder (District Superintendent, in contemporary Methodist terms) removed our saint from the pulpit, at the request of the leaders of the congregation.  U.S. Army General George H. Thomas, who had authority in Georgia, reinstated him in September.  Thomas also ordered local U.S. Army personnel to to protect Caldwell.  Our saint left the Georgia Conference of the MECS in November 1865, after that annual conference voted to condemn the contents of his sermons.

Then Caldwell rejoined the Methodist Episcopal Church and helped to begin rebuilding it in the former Confederacy.  He became a charter member of the new Georgia Conference of the MEC in January 1866.  He ministered to former slaves, helping them build churches, not telling them they should have obeyed their masters.  Predictably, the new Georgia Conference of the MEC was mostly African-American; it was politically and theologically suspect, according to most Southern Methodist neighbors.  Caldwell remained in Georgia until 1871, shortly after “redemption,” of the return of the antebellum ruling class to power.  He helped to found schools for former slaves.  Our saint, a religious scalawag, favored the Radical Republicans’ ambitious civil rights platform and worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau to help his flock.  Caldwell attended the state constitutional convention (December 1867-March 1868) and served in the state legislature.  He opposed the expulsion of all his African-American colleagues from that body.  Caldwell and his fellow religious scalawags were, according to Edward H. Myers, the editor of the Southern Christian Advocate,

miserable traitors to their brethren, their church, and their country.

–Quoted in Daniel W. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion:  The Religious Reconstruction of the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 133


Caldwell and his family to Delaware in 1871.  He had married Elizabeth Thurston Hodnett (1826-1902) on January 2, 1849.  The couple had had five sons and four daughters from 1849 to 1869.  Our saint joined the local conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and served as a pastor, a presiding elder, and a college president.

From 1885 to 1888 Caldwell served as the President of Delaware College (now the University of Delaware), then a men’s institution.  His time as a college president was unhappy for everybody involved.  Personality clashes abounded, and his inexperience created more problems.  Our saint perceived that people were conspiring around him.  They may have been, perhaps justifiably.  Caldwell was simultaneously of his time and ahead of it.  His antiquated moral disapproval of dancing led to some conflicts; he forbade it on campus.  Yet he favored admitting women to the student body; that was progressive.

Caldwell returned to parish ministry in 1888.

He, aged 78 years, died in Dover, Delaware, on Mach 11, 1899.


Caldwell may have been, as one of his adversaries at Delaware College claimed, “cranky,” but he possessed courage, too.  Our saint had enough courage to change his mind on a central issue of his time and to contradict conventional wisdom, as well as to speak up at great risk to himself and his livelihood.  He had the courage of his convictions.  History has rendered its verdict in Caldwell’s case; it has ruled in his favor.

As one should know, presenting evidence is frequently the least successful method of changing a person’s mind, especially in matters that pertain to one’s self-image.  Facts should matter, but ego protection often overrules objective reality.  Human beings are usually more irrational than rational, sadly.

By grace, Caldwell found the moral courage, starting in June 1865, to admit that he had been wrong–horribly, sinfully wrong.  Then he repented, paid the price, and made the world a better place for many of the “least of these.”

That is sufficient reason to honor him.


God of justice, we thank you for the example of your servant, John H. Caldwell,

who turned his back on the sins of slavery and, in the face of hostility,

labored for the civil rights of former slaves, his neighbors.

May we, by grace, confront our prejudices and, when necessary and proper to do so,

expose the foolishness of “received wisdom” and other ubiquitous assumptions,

for your glory and for the benefit of all people.

May the Church be on the vanguard of the struggle for social justice,

never on the side of the oppressors,

regardless of the price she will pay for standing with the “least of these.”

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Amos 2:6-8

Psalm 71:1-6

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 6:20-26









Happy to Be an Episcopalian   1 comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


I have belonged to three denominations and chosen one.  When my parents were Southern Baptists, so was I.  Likewise, in 1980, when my father left the ordained ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention for that of The United Methodist Church, I became a United Methodist at the age of seven years.  Thus, in June 1980, our family moved from Newington, Georgia, where he had been pastor of North Newington Baptist Church, and settled in the parsonage in Vidette, Georgia.  He served as the minister of the Vidette, Friendship, and Greens Cut congregations in Burke County.  In the ensuing years, I took the grand tour of rural southern Georgia.  My initial spiritual formation occurred within the context of rural Southern United Methodism, a different creature from United Methodism as it exists in much of the rest of the United States and the world.

Yet I have always had an inner Catholic.  The sacraments, central to my faith, were too infrequent in those rural United Methodist churches.  My attraction to the Deuterocanon (what many call the Apocrypha) asserted itself, also.  Furthermore, my interest in history, and therefore, in ecclesiastical history, made me an outlier in the congregations my father served.  Church history, as it existed in those places, started with Jesus, ran consistently through the Apostles, jumped to the Crusades, jumped again to Martin Luther, ran forward, and really started sprinting with John and Charles Wesley.  That version of church history left many gaps.

In the autumn of 1991, I started my studies at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia.  I started attending services at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, on the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.  On December 22, 1991, Bishop Harry Woolston Shipps confirmed me.  I remained in the Diocese of Georgia through 2005, belonging to the following congregations:

  1. Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia (1993-1996),
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church, Baxley, Georgia (1996-1998),
  3. Christ Episcopal Church, Cordele, Georgia (1998-2001),
  4. Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia (2001-2003), and
  5. Christ Episcopal Church, Dublin, Georgia (2003-2005).

I have worshiped as a member of St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, in the Diocese of Atlanta, since August 2005.

I have enjoyed the liberty of being a layman and the pleasure of belong to congregations that respect scholarship and encourage the asking of questions.  My father, as a pastor, censored himself; he made honest theological statements at home he dared not utter from a pulpit.  I did not feel free to ask certain questions in those churches.  In Episcopal churches, however, I have asked questions freely and heard priests utter statements (not all of whom I agreed with) that would have gotten my father into great trouble.  The threshold for offending people was low in his case; my father once offended people by supporting the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday.  That position contributed to us moving.  On another occasion, he upset a parishioner by preaching that Jesus had a sense of humor.  He had allegedly insulted her Jesus.  The District Superintendent did not take the complaint seriously, fortunately.

Many of my statements on my weblogs, such as this one, would have cooked my goose in those churches.

So be it.  I refuse to back down from my Catholic tendencies and my acceptance of Single Predestination.  I refuse to back down from my support of civil rights (and not just based on skin color), of Biblical scholarship, and science.

I am where I belong–in The Episcopal Church.  Thanks be to God!





Eucharistic Ministers   3 comments

Above:  A Clip from The Episcopal Church in Georgia, December 1997


I have been a (Lay) Eucharistic Minister (the “Lay” part of that title is redundant) in The Episcopal Church since 1997, with a brief interruption after I transferred from the Diocese of Georgia into the Diocese of Atlanta, in late 2005.  I have been a LEM/EM in the following congregations:

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Baxley, Georgia;
  2. Christ Episcopal Church, Cordele, Georgia;
  3. Christ Episcopal Church, Dublin, Georgia; and
  4. St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.

I do not recall having ever served in this capacity at Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia, at which I worshiped from August 2001 to December 2003.  I do remember habitually attending the early, quiet service, followed by Sunday School, then going home, eating brunch, and resuming my studies.  (I was in graduate school.)

Most of the time (1996-1998) I was a member at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Baxley, the congregation had Eucharist every other Sunday, for we shared a priest with St. Matthew’s Church, Fitzgerald, a few counties away.  We LEMs assisted at Eucharists, of course.  Every other Sunday, when Father Basinger was in Fitzgerald, two of us presided over Morning Prayer, a beautiful ritual displaced in the 1960s and 1970s, when Eucharist became the default service.  (Morning Prayer does come with the option of celebrating Eucharist, though.)

I took this responsibility seriously, and planned accordingly.  For example, one week, I noticed that the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday were about forgiveness of sins.  I consulted Morning Prayer Rite II in The Book of Common Prayer and selected the two canticles.  The first canticle was a prayer for forgiveness.  The second canticle thanked God for forgiveness.

Officially, The Episcopal Church does not attempt to explain how Jesus is present in the consecrated bread and wine; it merely affirms his presence in the elements.  My position is the Roman Catholic one:  transubstantiation.  Most months, at St. Gregory the Great, I distribute consecrated wine two Sundays.  I tell people that the wine is

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

I mean it literally.








Best Wishes for Episcopal Congregations to Which I Used to Belong   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church, Baxley, Georgia, December 2018

Cropped from a Google Earth Image


I was part of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia for nearly fourteen years.  On December 22, 1991, at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, Harry Shipps, the Eighth Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me.  I moved to Athens, Georgia, and, by extension, into the Diocese of Atlanta, in August 2005.  Shortly thereafter, my membership transferred to St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens.  I have been part of that parish since.  In the same length of time, from 1991 to 2005, I belonged to six congregations–four parishes and two missions:

  1. St. Anne’s Church, Tifton (1991-1993);
  2. Christ Church, Valdosta (1993-1996);
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Baxley (1996-1998);
  4. Christ Church, Cordele (1998-2001);
  5. Trinity Church, Statesboro (2001-2003); and
  6. Christ Church, Dublin (2003-2005).

I have, from time to time, checked on these congregations online.  The current rector of St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, was in high school and a fellow parishioner at Christ Church, Valdosta, when I was a student at Valdosta State University (1993-1996).  St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, and Christ Church, Valdosta, have added on to their facilities.  Christ Church, Cordele, a struggling mission when I belonged to it, has become a lively congregation.  Christ Church, Dublin, has also become more active since my departure for Athens.  The Rector of Trinity Church, Statesboro, just left for Charlotte, North Carolina, after she had served for about seventeen years.

Above:  St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church, Baxley, Georgia, May 25, 2017

Cropped from a Google Earth Image

I have had little success in finding information at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Baxley, online.  It, founded in 1982, was a small mission when I was part of it.  I poured myself into that church.  I served on the Mission Council and as Junior Warden. I redecorated two of the rooms.  I began to serve as a Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Diocese of Georgia, and to lead Morning Prayer, for we shared a priest with St. Matthew’s Church, Fitzgerald.  We had Holy Eucharist every other Sunday.  The internal arrangement of the building has never left my memory.

I remember the way the worship space looked in 1996 and how it changed in for the better.  I recall that the building, constructed for another congregation of another denomination, had a baptistry behind the high altar.  I remember work to hide the baptistry, expand the altar area, add new railings, and replace the aging red carpet with green carpet.  I also recall the redecoration of the altar space (the sanctuary, properly) to look good, as if someone cared.  I remember that we did care.

A few days ago, on the website of the Diocese of Georgia, I read of the impending sale of the building.  The congregation, with an Average Sunday Attendance of thirteen, has moved in with St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.

Above:  St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Baxley, Georgia, May 2014

Cropped from a Google Earth Image

The first Episcopal Eucharist in that building will be at 6:00 p.m. today.  This occasion marks the opportunity for rebirth.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church has come full circle.  Prior to 1989, when it moved into its acquired building on the Golden Isles Parkway, the Episcopal congregation worshiped in the space of what was then St. Christopher’s Catholic Church.

I wish all the Episcopal congregations to which I used to belong well.  I pray each one will serve God as effectively as possible in its community and county.  I pray for St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Baxley, in particular.  The mission occupies a soft spot in my heart, although I will probably never live in Appling County again.









Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig (September 8)   3 comments

Above:  Portrait of Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1862), by Constantin Hansen

Image in the Public Domain



Danish Lutheran Minister, Bishop, Historian, Philosopher, Poet, Educator, and Hymn Writer

“The Father of the Public School in Scandinavia”

Nikolai Grundtvig comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  His Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is September 2.  His Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, shared, appropriately, with Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), his contemporary.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, or the Danish State Church

The Enlightenment had much to recommend it–freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, constitutional government, et cetera.  The founding of my country, the United States of America, owed much to the Enlightenment.  However, the Enlightenment had limits to its virtues.  It overestimated the powers of human reason, for example.  The intellectual movement also rejected the “supernatural,” a category I consider spurious (although I accept that many of the contents of that category are real, just as natural as birds and sunsets).  Rationalism dominated Danish Lutheranism during much of Grundtvig’s lifetime.  The influence of Rationalism reduced pastors to moral instructors, truncated and rewrote the liturgy, and rejected human sinfulness.  Rationalism was what Archdeacon Claus Harms (1778-1855) of Kiel condemned in 1877 as the

papacy of reason

–strong language, coming from a Lutheran.

A competing strand of Lutheranism was Pietism, usually dated to 1675 and either credited to or blamed on, depending on one’s opinion of it, Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), author of Pia Desideria (Heartfelt Desire).  Pietism began as a reaction against dry, abstract orthodoxy divorced from daily life.  On the positive side, Pietism encouraged personal prayers and devotions, the study of the Bible, and much charitable work.  On the other hand, Pietism devalued grace (via a fixation on works) and the sacraments, was subjective to the point of undermining orthodoxy, frowned upon “worldly amusements” to the point of sourness, and redefined the Church as the assembly of the regenerated and reborn, not as the community of those bound together by word and sacraments.

There were also orthodox Lutherans, of course.

Young Nikolai Grundtvig

Nikolai Grundtvig, born in Udby, near Vordinborg, Denmark, on September 8, 1783, eventually offended all the above parties.  He, the youngest of five children, came from a long line of ministers.  His father sent the nine-year-old Nikolai to Jylland, to study under the Reverend L. Feld.  Two years later our saint passed his examen actium.  By the time Grundtvig graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a degree in theology in 1803, he had no faith left.

For a few years Grundtvig wandered in the spiritual wilderness.  For three years he worked as a tutor to a wealthy family in Langeland.  He, a fine poet, studied Icelandic epics and the Eddas.  In 1807 our saint wrote his first theological treatise, about religion and liturgy.  From 1808 to 1811 our saint taught history in Copenhagen.  During this time he returned to a state of faith.

Grundtvig was orthodox.  In his trial sermon, delivered in 1810, our saint asked,

Why has the Word of God disappeared from His house?

This condemnation of the dominant Rationalism delayed Grundtvig’s ordination for a year.  From 1811 to 1813 our saint served as assistant minister at Udby, under his ailing father, who died in 1813.  At Udby Grundtvig wrote Kort Begred af Verdens Kronike i Sammerhaeng (Short Concept of the World Chronicle, 1812), his first work of history from a Christian perspective.

The Wilderness Years

For much of 1813-1839 Grundtvig was unemployable as a minister.  He did not work as a pastor from 1813 to 1821 and from 1826 to 1839.  Literary work occupied much of our saint’s time.  He published a collection of poems in 1814, a volume of sermons in 1816, and an edition of Beowulf in 1820.  Grundtvig’s rejection of Romanticism foreshadowed that of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Grundtvig worked again as a pastor in 1821-1826.  King Frederick VI appointed our saint the pastor at Presto in 1821.  The following year Grundtvig became the assistant pastor of Our Savior’s Church, Kristianshavn.  He resigned that post amid a libel lawsuit five years later.  In 1825, in Kirkens Gienmaele (The Church’s Reply), Grundtvig had accused the theologian H. N. Clausen of treating Christianity as a merely philosophical idea.  Our saint argued that Christianity is actually a historical revelation handed down from generation to generation via Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  Authorities censored Grundtvig’s writings.

Grundtvig was out of the pulpit again.  He traveled to England several times in 1829-1831 to study old Anglo-Saxon documents.  In so doing he pioneered a field of research.  Sang-Värk til den Danske Kirke (Songs for the Danish Church), his hymnal published in 1837, was popular.  Grundtvig, a lecturer at Borsch’s College in 1838, returned to parish work, at Vartov, Copenhagen, in 1839.  There he remained for the rest of his life.


During the 1820s Grundtvig developed Grundtvigianism, the movement that reshaped Danish Lutheranism and, to a lesser degree, influenced Norwegian Lutheranism.  Grundtvig rooted his orthodoxy in the liturgy and the sacraments.  He emphasized

the living word,

the locus of which he identified as the Apostles’ Creed, used in baptisms.  Only “the living word,” Grundtvig argued, could fulfill the need for

the great natural law of the spiritual life,

that is,

the necessity of the spoken word for the awakening of life and the transmission of the spirit.

Grundtvig rejected the position of orthodox Danish Lutherans at the time that the Bible was the sole source and standard of faith.  According to our saint, the Bible was

the dead word.

It was vital, but the word of God, broadly speaking, was the message of God, not the contents of a book.   As Luther wrote,

Printed words are dead, spoken words are living.  On the printed page they are not so forcible as when uttered by the sound of man through his mouth.

In context Grundtvig was not far afield from Martin Luther and John Calvin.  Luther, who understood Sola Scriptura narrowly, to mean that nothing outside the Bible is necessary for salvation, emphasized the power of the spoken word in the liturgy.  Grundtvig, therefore, stood in line with Luther.  Furthermore, Reformed theology has long recognized the created order as a second “book,” alongside the Bible, in which to encounter God.  Another portion of Reformation theology has been the distinction between the “word of God” (the Bible) and the “Word of God” (Jesus), a reference that reaches back to the Gospel of John.  As far as I have been able to discern, Grundtvig’s primary innovation was identifying the locus of the spoken word of God in the Apostles’ Creed.

Grundtvigianism was, according to its orthodox and Pietistic critics, heretical and lax.  The Grundtvigian openness to the possibility of postmortem conversion did more than arch eyebrows.  It allegedly encouraged, for lack of a more precise term, “loose living.”  Furthermore, Grundtvig’s Christian humanism and love of Danish culture led him to value many “worldly amusements,” thereby alarming and offending Pietists.  He, for example, enjoyed the theater and encouraged folk dancing.  Danish Pietists, or “Sad Danes,” avoided such alleged sins, which Grundtvigians, or “Happy Danes” accepted.

Many of Grundtvig’s critics within Lutheranism would have accused Luther of heresy, for Grundtvig channeled Luther well.

The Public Citizen

Grundtvig became “the Father of the Public School in Scandinavia” via his folk school movement.  He opened the first folk school in Rödding, Denmark, in 1844.  The movement spread across Denmark and to Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  In residential high schools young people came together across social class lines and educated each other.

Grundtvig, from 1839 to 1872, was pastor in Vartov, Copenhagen, and, courtesy of King Frederick VII, a bishop from 1861 to 1872, was a major figure in Denmark.  In 1848, for example, Denmark was turning into a constitutional monarchy.  Our saint was a member of the constitutional assembly.

The Great Hymn Writer

Grundtvig was the greatest Scandinavian hymn writer of the nineteenth century.  He wrote more than 1000 hymns, mostly from 1837 to 1860.  (I have added a few of these texts, in English, of course, to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.)  Grundtvig’s peers in the elite club of greatest Scandinavian hymn writers included Hans Adolf Brorson (1694-1764) and Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703).  Grundtvig composed hymns for the entire church year, but his favorite theme was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Death and Legacy

Grundtvig died in Copenhagen on September 2, 1872, six days prior to what would have been his eighty-ninth birthday.  He had preached his last sermon on September 1.

Grundtvig’s influence extended beyond Scandinavia.  When Danish immigration to Canada and the United States of America began in earnest in the late 1800s, the immigrants were not of one mind regarding religion.  Many of them, indifferent to religion in Denmark, remained indifferent to it in the New World.  Grundtvigians and Pietists also immigrated.  The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (DELCA), initially a “big tent,” became a smaller tent via the Pietistic schism of 1894.  No such schism disrupted the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, however.

Evaluating Grundtvigianism

I find much to admire and little to question in Grundtvigianism.

Grundtvig’s encouragement of a positive form of Christianity that embraces the positive elements of society and culture, thereby eschewing serial contrariness and rejecting sourness in religion, in the name of God, was wonderful.  Pietistic and Puritanical hostility to “worldly amusements” has never been a spiritually or physically healthy attitude.  Much of what these Christians weaned on dill pickles have condemned–from tea, with its antioxidants, to chess, with its therapeutic uses, especially for patients suffering from cognitive decline–science has proven to be beneficial.  Art, especially those forms of it involving acting, has enriched the lives of many people.  And has there every been anything wrong with folk dancing?

Grundtvig’s liturgical and sacramental focus, in the context of Christian community, was laudable.  He stood well within Christian tradition in that and other matters.  His liturgical and sacramental focus has long had the ring of truth with me, even before I knew he had lived.  I grew up a United Methodist in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A.  We usually took Holy Communion every three months.  I wanted it more often, however, for I felt closest God in that sacrament.  That reality contributed greatly to my decision to convert to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, Georgia, on December 22, 1991.

My only reservation regarding Grundtvigianism relates to the unusually high status of the Apostles’ Creed.  That is a fine creed, but the identification of it as the locus of “the living word” is too narrow and specific.  The “word of God,” in my thought, is the message of God.  I can encounter in the Bible, in nature, in fine literature, in fine music, in the spoken words of another person, in the silence, in prayer, in contemplation, in the sacraments, in the liturgy, et cetera.  The canon is fixed at 73 books, per the Council of Trent, but the word of God is available from many sources.

My disagreement with Grundtvig is quite minor.








Almighty God, you built your Church upon a rock:

Help us remember with your hymn writer Nikolai Grundtvig,

that though steeples may fall and buildings made by hands may crumble,

Jesus made our bodies his temple through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Help us to recognize Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life,

that we may join our voices to the eternal alleluia;

through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-2, 5-8

Psalm 86:1-12

Romans 5:1-5

Matthew 8:5-10

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 567


Proper Levels of Sensitivity   3 comments

Above:  A Scene from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture


Or, Neither Be a Snowflake Nor Excuse and Facilitate Snowflakism in Others

Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.

Certain statements are always beyond the pale.  These statements are those intended to degrade other human beings.  Reasons for degrading others include race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation.  Anyone who crosses that line deserves strong condemnation.  Nobody should ever tolerate such statements.  One might, on occasion, quote them (as in academic work; try writing a biography of a segregationist politician without quoting racial slurs, for example) or mock them (as in Blazing Saddles).

Above:  Men Reluctant to Give Land to the Irish; from Blazing Saddles (1974)

A Screen Capture

Some works of art age better than others based on this standard.  For example, Blazing Saddles (1974) depicts unapologetic racists as fools and idiots.  The movie stands the test of time as a masterpiece that argues against bigotry.  We who watch the movie laugh at those ensnared by their own learned racism.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is also a classic, but Mickey Rooney’s performance as an Asian man makes me cringe.  On the other hand, the movie does boast Audrey Hepburn and a cat.  How can I dislike a movie with Audrey Hepburn and a cat in it?

Above:  Holly Golightly and Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A Screen Capture

I am sensitive, but not hypersensitive.  Life is too short (however long it might feel in real time) for me to spend it being hypersensitive, either about what others do and say or what I do or say.  No, I aim for a proper level of sensitivity on both sides of the equation.  I find Birth of a Nation (1915) offensive, for the seminal movie does glorify the first Ku Klux Klan.  The work is inherently racist, but it is also a landmark of cinema and a document of sorts of racial attitudes in much of the United States half a century after the end of the Civil War.  I have no regrets about having watched it from beginning to end once, for historical interest, or in having shown clips in classes, for educational purposes, with context.

The guiding principle for me in these matters is respecting the dignity of every human being, a value built into the Baptismal Covenant in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  This principle explains why, for example, I oppose abortion except in extenuating cases (while I argue that changing minds and making alternatives to abortion easier is a more effective, and therefore, better strategy than outlawing the procedure) as well as homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.  Whether one places the label “left” or the label “right” on a position regarding respecting the dignity of all people does not matter to me.  Respecting the dignity of every human being is a principle that leads me to refrain from dehumanizing those who are different from me in one or more ways.

That does not mean, however, that I can ever get through day without doing something to offend someone, given that some people take offense more easily than others, and often at matters certain others consider inoffensive.

I am, for example, sufficiently pedantic to insist on always using the words “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” in the plural.  One can be inclusive in the present tense, often by writing or speaking in language that makes one sound educated.  “One” and “one’s” are gender-neutral pronouns, after all.  One might also remain in the singular and substitute the definite article (“the”) for a gendered pronoun.  One can, when one sets one’s mind to the task, identify several strategies for being inclusive in the singular without wrecking the English language.  Alternatively, one might use “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” correctly by switching to the plural forms of words.  Or one might accept the tradition of using masculine pronouns as the inclusive default position and go about enjoying one’s day.  All of the above are feasible options.  I refuse to distort the English language, of which I am quite fond, because of the hypersensitivity of others.

Some people take offense at even the most respectful and polite disagreements.  I have experience with this, usually in the context of teaching.

In late 1991, in southern Georgia, U.S.A., I was at a transitional point in my life.  I was a freshman in college.  I was also turning into an Episcopalian.  I was, for the time being, still a United Methodist, though.  My father was the newly-appointed pastor of the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  One Sunday morning I was teaching the adult class.  There were two visitors, a married couple, Independent Baptists from Savannah, Georgia.  One half of that couple was a child of a member at Sumner.  During the course of that Sunday School lesson the visitors decided that my position on a particular theological point was lax.  Courteously I said,

I disagree.

I learned later in the week that I had offended–upset, really–them.  If these individuals were not prepared to take a polite, respectful “I disagree” well, how did they cope with daily life?  Did they associate most days only with people who agreed with them completely?

I have also offended students with the Joe Friday strategy–

Just the facts.

(Watch Dragnet, if you dare.  The acting was consistently and purposefully bad, but the two series were popular culture touchstones.)  In World Civilization I courses, for example, I have recited facts of ancient comparative religion.  This information has disturbed some students, who have mistaken me for one hostile to Judaism and Christianity, and who have taken grave offense at me.  To quote an old saying many of a younger generation might not understand,

Their tapes were running.

Those who took offense at me were not listening to what I was saying.  No, they were listening to what they thought I was saying.  They were reacting not to me, but to others who had criticized Christianity on false grounds.  In contrast, years ago, when I wrote an article I submitted for publication at an online theological journal with a conservative Presbyterian orientation, I recited many of the same facts about ancient comparative religion, but with no negative response or reaction.  The editors checked my facts and published my article.  They read what I wrote.  They also understood I was not hostile to the faith.

At one of the universities I attended there was a professor who specialized in Latin American history.  One day years ago he taught about human rights violations centuries ago that were matters of policy in the Roman Catholic Church.  An offended parent of an offended student called the department chair to complain.  The professor’s material was factually accurate; he cited examples Holy Mother Church has acknowledged frankly and for which it has formally apologized.  The two offended Roman Catholics (student and parent) took offense more easily and quickly than the institution they defended.

No ideological, political, or religious camp has a monopoly on snowflakism.  If one is to criticize snowflakism while remaining intellectually honest, one must criticize it consistently, without regard for left-right distinctions.

I have a strategy for dealing with that which would ruin my day needlessly:  I ignore it.  If I do not want to hear a speaker on the campus where I work, I do not attend the event.  If I do not want to watch a program or a movie, I avoid it.  Life is too short not to enjoy it properly.

I affirm all I have written in this post thus far as I add to it the following statement:  I understand why many people are hypersensitive.  I understand that many people’s formative experiences have included unapologetic, intentional insults, degradation, and contempt from others.  I understand that many people have felt oppressed because they have experienced a degree of oppression.  I understand that experiences have conditioned them.  I accept that one should acknowledge the unjust realities of many people’s lives and make no excuses for the inexcusable.

I also return to my original thought in this post:  Maintaining the proper level of sensitivity is crucial; hypersensitivity is at least as negative a force as insensitivity.  Something I do (or have done) today is offensive to somebody, somewhere.  The same statement applies to you, O reader.  Our duty is to do our best to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  That kind of love seeks to build people up, not to tear them down.  It respects in words and deeds the dignity inherent in them.  So may we act accordingly.  May we neither cause legitimate offense not take offense wrongly.




Growing Into Myself   1 comment

Learning from My Past

Recently I have spent much time plumbing the depths of my memory regarding some of my childhood years, especially the two years spanning June 1980-June 1982, when my family and I lived in Vidette, Georgia.  I have covered much of that ground on this weblog, as in a post about memories and another one regarding the now-demolished parsonage at Vidette.  As I have examined old photographs, studied images from Google Earth, and poured over artifacts from that time, I have pondered who I was then–at the ages of seven, eight, and nine years–and why I was that way.  I have done this out of a desire to, as much as possible, stand on the ground of objective reality, not to assign blame.

Besides, what good would assigning blame in these matters accomplish?  Stating objective reality, however, proves helpful.

To borrow a line from Sigmund Freud, the child is the father of the man.  For once I agree with the figure my Psychology 101 professor referred to as “Sigmund Fraud.”  The child is the father of the man; this is self-obvious.  Our early experiences shape us, for better and worse.  I can trace intergenerational influences upon my development back as far as two great-grandfathers.  Many more intergenerational influences upon me exist, I am sure, but I cannot document them.  Many of the positive and negative influences upon me reach back at least to George Washington Barrett (1873-1956) and John Dodson Taylor, Sr. (1860-1936).   Understanding that many of the positive and negative aspects of my past are partially due to previous generations proves helpful in determining an objectively accurate understanding of my past.

Another factor, of course, is me.  How I respond to various stimuli is my responsibility.  Yet I know I should refrain from being too harsh toward my younger selves, for, as much as I ought to forgive others, I need to forgive myself also.  Without making undue excuses, I focus on acknowledging and learning from my past.

Just as my parents did the best they could much of the time, so did I.  Just they made mistakes, so did I.

I harbor no ill will toward them or myself.  No, I embrace the exploration of my past for the purpose of learning more about who I was and who I am.  I seek lessons regarding how I should proceed from the present.  To dismiss the past as irrelevant (“That’s history.”) is wrong-headed.  To live in it is also erroneous.  I embrace my younger selves and thereby understand myself better than I did.  I focus not on sins and errors, but on growth.

We human beings learn by doing.  If we do not attempt anything, we will fail by default.  If we do attempt something, we risk failure.  We might also succeed.  Hopefully we will learn the proper lessons, regardless of whether we succeed or fail in our ventures.

One lesson I have learned from analyzing my past is that moving as often as I did during my childhood (every two or three years, usually) was more of a negative factor than a negative one.

This was beyond my control; I was just a child in a parsonage family.  My way of coping was to become more inwardly focused.  This was easy for me, an introvert.  I chose not to get too close to anyone, for I knew I would not be staying long.  This made saying goodbye easier than it would have been otherwise.  Yet the protective bubble I entered became self-destructive.  Opening myself up to others has been my great project for the last few years.  My father, with his entrenched inferiority complex, contributed greatly to these moves.  He perceived the world through a filter that led him to react to other people in ways that were not helpful.  I recall hearing him complain about many patronizing people, for example.  Some of them were patronizing, I am sure, but not all of them were.  Yet he acted as if they were.  That caused needless problems for him, my mother, my sister, and myself.  The blame for moves was not only his, however; each of those congregations included people notorious for engineering the departures of ministers.  I have come to sympathize with my father (now deceased).  He struggled with that inferiority complex and with the frustration of constantly being a fish out of water.  He did the best he could.  I was not kind and understanding toward him when he was alive.  I did not do the best I could.  I have forgiven myself for that sin.

As I strive to move along the proper course into the future, I seek to do so unencumbered by guilt and resentment yet aware of my previous path.  The future-not the past–awaits.  Many of what I perceive as my missteps may have actually prepared me for a better future.  My record lacks certain large mistakes because I have learned from smaller errors, for example.  Also, grace can transform a negative into an opportunity for the positive.  I look to the future, therefore, and hope and work for the best.



Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of My Confirmation   Leave a comment


Above:  Cover of the Bulletin, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


On the morning of December 22, 1991, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I became an Episcopalian.  The Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps (who died recently), then the Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me.  Officially I retained membership in The United Methodist Church until the following Autumn, on the occasion of the 1992 Charge Conference of the Sumner Charge (four congregations at the time).  Indeed, I remained substantially a Methodist for a long time, but I had begun to think of myself as an Episcopalian prior to my confirmation at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.

I have become convinced that I was supposed to become an Episcopalian, for the affiliation is a natural fit for me.  I am, after all, somewhat Roman Catholic while retaining many Protestant influences. Ritual appeals to me strongly also.  Furthermore, The Episcopal Church grants me a wide berth to respect certain traditions, break with other traditions, bring my intellect to bear on my spiritual life, disagree peaceably with many people, and be an introvert without feeling out-of-place.  Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, is relentlessly extroverted.  That is not an inherently negative characteristic, but the manner in which many extroverts fail to respect the value of introversion and therefore marginalize introverts is unfortunate.  Indeed, personality typing helps to explain why certain denominations and styles of prayer are preferable to some people but not others.  That which feeds one person starves another.

I have never looked back from my choice to become an Episcopalian.  As I have become more liberal in some ways, more conservative in others, and incorporated Lutheran theology into my thought, I have become a different type of Episcopalian than I was in 1991.  My faith life is a work in progress; I wonder how it will proceed as I continue from day to day.  The Episcopalian way of being simply makes sense to me.  Since I moved to Athens, Georgia, in August 2005, I have dwelt spiritually primarily at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  I have also frequented two university chaplaincies (Episcopalian and Presbyterian U.S.A.), attended services at First Presbyterian Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church, engaged in community volunteering at one Presbyterian U.S.A. and two United Methodist congregations, participated in a performance of the first part off Handel’s Messiah at Oconee Presbyterian Church (Watkinsville), and attended community functions at four other churches (Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational Charismatic) in the area.  Furthermore, I have attended a diocesan gathering at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, without ever entering a worship space there.  The fact that I seldom want to attend services in another denomination demonstrates the fact that I have found my niche.  Why should I seek another place?  Nevertheless, I am agreeable to ecumenical engagements.









Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   Leave a comment

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities

FEBRUARY 7, 2021


Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He answered,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns , so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.   In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.