Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Power of a Word of Thanks

On December 19th, I celebrated my 40th Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. That morning I opened my email and found a note of thanksgiving for my ministry. It came from Professor Louie Crew a long-time leader in the Episcopal Church, and an activist for the full inclusion of all people in our faith community. For many years now, like many Episcopal Clergy, I receive a note of encouragement from him on my birthday, my wedding anniversary, and my ordination anniversary. Here is the interesting thing about all this; Professor Crew and I have found ourselves on opposite sides of issues over the years, yet, every year I get words of encouragement from him. This intentional act on his part is more than I have ever received from any other church leader including the eleven Bishops in the seven dioceses that I have served.

I remember how such affirmations and encouragement have helped me over the years when I did get them. For example, one Christmas I opened a Christmas card from Bishop John Krum of Southern Ohio. I was a chaplain resident in Cincinnati and on Sunday provided supply services at one of his congregations, although I was not canonically resident in his diocese. The card had a printed greeting. On the inside he had hand written, “Thank you for helping with our congregation in Norwood. It means much to me.” At that point in my life when I would have doubted that the Bishop of that diocese even knew who I was, it meant a great deal. 30 years later, I still remember it! Even more significant was the fact that up to then, 10 years into ordained ministry, it was the only such personal note I had ever received from a Bishop.

Of course, I have received much encouragement over the years from many folks inside the Church. I felt well affirmed by Bishop Payne in Texas, but then I worked closely with him as a member of his staff. However, I worked closely with him and I am not sure the other clergy of the diocese felt the same. Actually, I think if we are honest about it that we clergy would have to admit that affirmation and encouragement from our leaders comes seldom and far between.

I say all this not to make any of you feel bad. I actually want like to affirm all you who give leadership in the Church. What I do want to say is that my 40 years of experience tells me that when it comes to affirmation and encouragement, there is a drought in the Church. What is strange about all this is that you would think Christian leaders would be people who especially were abundant in our praise and encouragement of others. I think of the example of St. Paul who began all his letters save one with a generous thanksgiving for the church he was writing, and ended most of his letters with acknowledgement of individuals in these local communities. After all, the great commission is to make disciples, but the great commandment is to love one another.

Personally, I would have to admit that I have been slow to figure out the importance of such words of affirmations. Today, when I look upon the revitalization of the Cathedral here in Dallas, a struggling, multi-cultural and bi-lingual inner city parish, I can most attribute our positive movement to a decision I make early on to affirm and love our folks, especially our leaders. I only regret that I haven’t done it more.

I think clergy leaders need to remind ourselves that the Church in our age is entirely a volunteer organization. Our people come, work, and give because they want to do this. They choose to do it in our congregations. We should be thankful for this and make our thanks known.

One of my dearest mentors told me that he kept a stack of Thank You cards on his desk in his office. He regularly scheduled a time each week when he would stop everything else and prayerfully write thank you cards to members of his large congregation. I admired what he did. I only wish I had followed his example better. I cannot help but wonder what a healthier and better community we would be if all our leaders could show much more encouragement and thanksgiving to others.

A few Sundays ago, one of our pre-school children came up to me after the main service and said, “Dean Kevin, can I give you a hug?” And even before I could say yes, she stepped forward and gave me one. “Yes,” I said to her, “even Deans need hugs.” To my surprise and delight, she smiled and said, “Yes, I know.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Headlines that We Would Like to See Versus

Headlines that We Would Like to See Versus Headlines We Will Probably See

Recently, I got to thinking recently about headlines that would be good to see versus those we will probably see in the days ahead.

We Would Like to See

Jerusalem, July 18, 2017: Prime Minister Martha Swartz announced today that a permanent peace agreement has been reached between Israel and the State of Palestine. In the agreement, both parties have agreed to keep Jerusalem a free city open to all visitors. Israel has agreed to cease expansion of new towns into the West Bank, and Palestinians have agreed to a peaceful recognition of Israel’s right to exist. “What were we thinking?” The Prime Minister said in her opening remarks before the Israeli Parliament . . .

We Will Probably See

Jerusalem, June 1, 2020: Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza early this morning as Israel launched a pre-emptive strike again Hamas to punish them for rocket fire against Israeli settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu said “It is time Israel shows our determination to . . . . .

We Would Like to See

Karachi, Pakistan, March 15, 2015: Pakistani and Indian representatives announced a wide-sweeping peace agreement between these two long divided nations which includes disarmament of nuclear weapons by both sides. In a joint statement, the leaders declared, “Each of our nations have enough problems of poverty and poor education than to waste our time and energy building up huge armies and weapons in a battle that neither of us could win.” Military leaders from both countries hailed the . .

We Will Probably See

Mumbai, India, March 16th, 2019: India began retaliatory shelling across its disputed borders with Pakistan today in reacting to the recent alleged state sponsored terrorist attacks in the major cities of . . .

We Would Like to See

Kabul, Afghanistan, September 15, 2021: Free and democratic elections in this troubled state have led to the election of the first female Prime Minister. “This is a victory for reform and the rights of all the people of Afghanistan” said the new leader as she . . .

We Will Probably See

Kabul, Afghanistan, September 20, 2030: 87 year old President Hamid Karzai was re-elected today in an election marked with extensive fraud and violence. President Karzai now presides over one of the most corrupt governments in the world while three of the Provincial Capitals are now held by a resurgent Taliban. After the election, President Karzai committed himself to the on-going reform of his government and said that, “All our present troubles are directly the result of decisions by the U.S. government to . . .

What We Would Like to See

Oslo, January 20, 2030: World scientists acknowledged today that “We are seeing the beginning of the reversal of recent global warming as Nations adhere to the New Paris Accords on limiting CO2 gas emissions combined with the growing use of cold fusion energy developed in 2019 by a team of renowned international scientist at the Institute of . . . “

We Will Probably See

Miami, Florida January 20, 2030: The City of Miami was officially abandoned today after extensive efforts to hold back the affects of increased ocean waters failed. This makes the 7th major world city to be washed over due to the effects of global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. Meanwhile, both the U.S. and China announced their planned veto of a U.N. backed resolution that called for a 3% reduction in . . .