Faithful Endurance – 175 Years of CECBG

As far as I can tell, there is nothing still in existence that tells us exactly when Christ Episcopal Church was organized.  What we do know, is that in the Diocesan Journal of 1843, there is no mention whatsoever of a church in Warren County.  In May of 1844, the Reverend George Beckett reported that he had served as a missionary at Bowling Green for six months.  This would set his arrival here around November of 1843, but no formal congregation had been organized.  In the Journal of 1845, the Reverend C. C. Townsend informed the convention that a building had been built, an organ was ordered, and Sunday School had 40 students and 6 teachers.  There was also an ongoing ministry to the enslaved population that was producing “encouraging results.”[1]  Still, there are no dates.  So, it was up to those of us planning the festivities for our 175th anniversary to pick a weekend to celebrate.

As we looked at the calendar, trying to decide what weekend worked best for us to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, the one thing we obviously didn’t pay attention to was the Lectionary.  There’s no way we would have purposefully picked a weekend where the Gospel begins, “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’”  Leave it to Jesus to be a bit of a buzzkill on this weekend set aside for joy and thanksgiving.  Of course, it is ultimately my fault for not remembering that late Pentecost is where the Lectionary dives deep into Holy Week.  This lesson takes place on Monday or Tuesday of the last week of Jesus’ life.  He has flipped the tables of the money changers, had his authority questioned, and taught lessons that were purposefully at odds with the religious powers-that-be.  By this point, there was no chance that things were going to end well for Jesus.  This teachable moment was an opportunity for Jesus to remind his disciples that no matter what might be happening in the world around them, the work of building up the Kingdom of God should go on.

After almost a decade of struggle to get the fledgling mission church in Warren County off the ground, the Bishop of Kentucky didn’t assign Christ Church a clergyperson for nearly all of the 1850s.  Vacant beginning in 1852, it wasn’t until 1861 that a missionary was assigned to Bowling Green.  Ordained a Deacon on March 30, 1861, the Reverend Samuel Ringgold must have received the old English blessing, “May you live in interesting times,” as he was in residence here for less than six months when on September 18, 1861, Confederate General Simon Boliver Buckner arrived in Bowling Green with 1,300 soldiers.  As the Civil War began, Kentucky’s Governor officially declared the Commonwealth to be neutral in the conflict.  Bishop Benjamin Smith did his level best to keep the eyes of his clergy and congregants on the work of the Gospel rather than the conflict raging all around.  However, the Episcopal Church’s history as the Established Church in England and in several of the American Colonies meant that church and state were never fully separated.

In the Morning Prayer service of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, there was a prayer that was to be said for those in authority.  It read,

O Lord our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favor to behold and bless thy servant, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way: Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord.[2]

The recently formed Episcopal Church of the Confederate States authorized the amendment of the Prayer Book to replace “United States” with “Confederate States” wherever it appeared, but given the way in which cities like Bowling Green were handed back and forth between the two sides, this prayer proved to be quite problematic for clergy like Samuel Ringgold.  The Union General stationed in New Orleans declared that, in his jurisdiction, not saying the Prayer for the President would be regarded as treason, and at least one priest was arrested in the chancel of his church for not saying the prayer at the request of a Union Officer.[3]

For Samuel Ringgold, the situation was dire.  Bowling Green was under martial law; at times a Confederate Capital, at times a Union stronghold, at times Kentucky neutral.  Totally cutoff from his bishop in Louisville, he wrote to the Bishop of Tennessee, James Otey, for advice.  “For more than two months after the Southern Army had taken possession of this place, I continued to use the prayer [for the President of the United States], never omitting it, until the provisional government was established.  Since then I have not used it.  The question is, whether I should now use the prayer substituting the word Confederate for United.”[4]  Bishop Otey replied a week later, on Epiphany Day, 1862.  He reminded the young deacon that he was not his bishop and what he was offering was not an official position, but his thoughts were, essentially, that you should pray for the president who had troops in town that Sunday.  Whichever side it was, to Bishop Otey, they represented “The powers that were ordained by God.”[5]

A month later, the Confederate Army retreated from Bowling Green, and on March 1, 1862, Ringgold wrote to Bishop Smith in Louisville that Bowling Green was devastated and Christ Church had been commandeered for a hospital.  Over the next several months the pews were burned, the windows broken, and the walls covered with graffiti.  Even as the world fell apart around them, however, Ringgold and the handful of members left at Christ Church chose not to be hopeless but rather, “to go to work…”[6] By the late summer of 1862, Ringgold shared good news of their progress with the Rector of Grace Church, Louisville, “We have now, not only a comfortable, but a pretty and clean churchlike room to worship in.  We have a most interesting Sunday School, fine choir, and much larger congregation than ever before… Notwithstanding the disorders of our times, the number of our communicants has doubled during the past year.”[7]  By January of 1863, Ringgold was, reportedly, the only clergyperson still holding services in Bowling Green, and even when the original church was torn town by soldiers to build chimneys for their tents and the Rector’s stove was stolen from his house with dinner still cooking on it, Ringgold and the people of Christ Church Bowling Green kept the faith, proclaimed the Gospel, and served the needs of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

Our Gospel lesson this morning ends with Jesus telling his disciples that “by your endurance, you will gain your souls.”  Whether the year is 33AD, 1862, or 2019, enduring the ongoing catastrophes that sin creates takes faith in a God who has a plan to bring all things into their perfection.  Endurance doesn’t mean sitting around, waiting for God to take a magic wand and fix it all.  Instead, by exhorting his disciples, and us, to endure the challenges of the present, Jesus calls us to get to work – relieving the suffering that sin creates in the world.  Salvation, it turns out, won’t come from the glorious edifices of religion, be they Herod’s Temple or a small brick church on Upper East Main Street.  The redemption of the world comes one day at a time, by way of the hard work of the people of God who seek to make this world more like the Kingdom of Heaven.  For 175 years, the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green have been faithful to the work of building up the Kingdom of God in Warren County.  Our prayer this day is that for the next 175 years, we might continue to be blessed with faithful disciples who endure whatever the changes and chance of the world might bring, giving generously of their resources of time, talent, and treasure to the honor and glory of Almighty God.  Amen.

 

[1] Journal of the 17th Convention of the Diocese of Kentucky, accessed on 11/14/19 at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89072985872&view=1up&seq=30

[2] Book of Common Prayer 1789, page 31.

[3] Paul G. Ashdown, “Samuel Ringgold: An Episcopal Clergyman in Kentucky and Tennessee During the Civil War.” published in The Filson Club History Quarterly Vol. 53, No. 3, July 1979., p. 234.

[4] Ibid., 234-5.

[5] Ibid., 235.

[6] Ibid., 236.

[7] Ibid., 236.

Hold Fast to Hope

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I told myself I wouldn’t let it happen.  I prayed that I’d steer clear of it.  I wrote two blog posts in a row against it.  And I failed.  Last night, as I watched the election results, I fell into fear.  As a minister of the Gospel, called to care for “young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor,” I stand firm against any and all forms of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-semtism, and any other oppressive force employed by human beings against another human being.  I watched, somewhat from the periphery for my own mental well being, as the candidate Donald Trump tapped into these very forces in order to drum up an electorate from every nook and cranny in every one stoplight town in America.  And last night, as the map turned red along with the stock markets, I let fear creep into my heart.

I confess before God and you that I thought the worst, if only briefly, about the millions of Americans, some of whom are my dear friends, who cast a vote for Donald Trump.  I got angry at the hatred and fear that seem to run rampant in this country.  I went to bed at 11:30 bitter and afraid.  I hope you will forgive me for my fearful thoughts last night.  I know that God already has. I woke up to my alarm clock at 5, picked up my phone, and read Morning Prayer.  Somewhere in them midst of Suffrages A, I found the peace that passes all understanding.  I let go of the fear and the anger, and I was reminded, yet again, that my calling to care for the outcast, oppressed, widows, and orphans does not depend on who occupies the White House.  I felt a calm resolve to be about the Gospel and to show and share the love of God with everyone I meet.

Then I opened Facebook and saw my newsfeed filled with the vitriol that had made my night so restless, and I felt sad, and, quite frankly, embarrassed by the reaction of my Hillary Clinton supporting friends.  It seems that both sides have forgotten that the other is made in the image of God and we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  As I scrolled and wondered how it is I had moved from fear to peace so quickly, I kept being drawn to the word “hope.”  The reaction I was seeing was one of hopelessness, and I realized I can’t buy into hopeless.  Instead, as the Collect for Proper 28 reads, I am holding fast to hope.

Over and over again in the Scriptures, the mouthpiece of God, be it an angel, a prophet, or even God’s own voice, commands us to not be afraid.  When we fall into fear, we allow the deceiver access to our lives.  We see others as the enemy.  We see resources as scarce.  We engage in zero sum games, when the reality is that in the Kingdom of God, there are no losers.  Fear is not the Gospel, hope is, and hope leads us to action.  So today, like every other day, I commit to sharing the good news of God’s love with a world that needs to hear it; I commit to checking my privilege with regularity; I commit to caring for my LGBT sisters and brothers; I commit to learning more about the ways in which young black men are incarcerated and killed at a much higher rate than any other group of people; I commit to supporting my Muslim brothers and sisters in their right to worship without fear; I commit to making sure the poor have the means by which to escape their poverty; I commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees as Jesus Christ; I commit to a life of hope  because God is still in control.  I hope you will join me in holding fast to the hope that comes from God and God alone.



You’ll have to forgive a little bit of eisegesis on the Collect for Proper 28C, but the day after a Presidential election this divisive seems to invite some pastoral latitude.

Do not be weary in doing what is right

Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my most popular blog post ever.  It was the day after President Obama won his re-election campaign against Mitt Romney and my sense around social media and in the real world was that people had lost perspective on the place of American politics in God’s larger plan of salvation.  “Why I’m Grieving Election Day” was read by more than 40,000 people in 24 hours.  It received 140 comments and was shared thousands of times on Facebook.  It struck a chord, to say the least.

That post is getting some retread this week as we once again go to the polls to elect a President for these United States.  Once again, my Newsfeed and conversations are filled with people who are praying that their candidate would be elected, and that the future of American depends upon it.  Mark Twain’s War Prayer would remind us that these prayers also includes the unsaid prayer that God would forsake the cause of the other side.  Prayer is a dangerous activity, and we would do well to consider what it is we are really praying for before we list our candidate and his or her platform.

Here’s the thing: come tomorrow, or whenever this national nightmare is over, the call of Christians will be the same whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes the President-elect.  We are to, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “not be weary in doing what is right.”  As my friend Megan posted on a Facebook thread yesterday, “God’s still in charge no matter who wins tomorrow. But equally as important, our call to preach the gospel, free the captives, help the struggling continues no matter who wins too.”  Or, perhaps better yet, as the Apostle Paul told the Christians in Thessolonica, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.”  We can not let the world take away our impetus for love, which, I’m sorry to say, this election cycle has worked hard to do.

And so my word for today, both here and on my social media platforms is quite simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we can get that part right, as the Diocese of Ohio bumpers sticker reminds it, we will change the world.

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Many will say “the time is near”

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Late last week, the Babylon Bee, a satirical Christian news site made in the image of the Onion, posted an article entitled “Second Coming of Christ Scheduled for Game 7 of Cubs-Indians World Series.”  Quite honestly, that Jesus didn’t come back during that rain delay is surprising to me, but who knows, perhaps God’s omnipotent plan for all of Creation doesn’t revolve around the decaying pass time of the current largest empirical economy in the world.  I’ve seen others who think that maybe tomorrow will be the day.  This is again an American-centric plan that suggests that the 2016 Presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might be the catalyst for Jesus’ Second Coming.

Of course, Jesus warned us about such foolishness. In Sunday’s timely and unavoidable Gospel lesson, we find ourselves jumping ahead to Holy Week.  Since most Episcopal congregations skipped over Proper 27, Presumably in order to transfer All Saints’, but likely because nobody wanted to preach levirite marriage, after almost four months of walking with Jesus from Mount Tabor to Jerusalem, we all of a sudden find ourselves in Jerusalem in the thick of Jesus’ struggle ahead of the cross.  Last week’s lesson was h the first of several encounters with the religious powers-that-be.  This week, we hear a portion of Jesus’ ongoing lament over Jerusalem, and how the central image of God’s steadfast love for his people has been sabotaged, and now has to be torn down.

Even then, Jesus says, even when God allows his very home to be destroyed in your midst, don’t let people fool you into thinking it is something bigger than it is.  There will be wars and rumors of wars.  We’ve got that.  Earthquakes.  See Kansas and Oklahoma.  Famines. Check. Plagues.  Isn’t Whopping cough making a comeback?  Portents in the heavens?  A Wrigley Field sign that reads “World Series Champs” would seem to qualify.

If you are looking for signs, they will no doubt seem to be there, and yet, we do not know the day or the hour.  Instead, rather than getting caught up in the signs and the scare tactics, Jesus invites us to trust that he will be by our side.  As we go to the polls tomorrow, fueled by a healthy dose of fear mongering from both sides over the past year or more, remember that even if the world were to end tomorrow, not that I think it will, God is still in control.