Forget-Me-Not

I’ve never had to be the gardener before. Sure, I’ve laboured in a garden before, but at other people’s instruction and in their garden. When the lockdown came into effect, I was in a house with some desk work to do and to help pack parcels for MICAH once a week, but not too much else. So I turned to the garden. I hadn’t done much out there at all as general busyness and the autumn and winter weather had me otherwise occupied and not wanting to go outside. Spring was springing, however, and the garden needed to spring with it. 

I’ve recently posted pictures of the backyard we have at the Tsedaqah House. It’s small but lovely, with flowering shrubs and nice furniture helping to make it a great space to soak up some sun, read a book, or enjoy a quiet evening outside. I love spending time in a garden, as the saying says, “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden more than anywhere else on earth.” 

An unexpected project (besides rearranging the outdoor furniture and flower pots which I’ve loved doing since age five as my mother will tell you) became transplanting and caring for a few of the (previously planted?) Forget-Me-Nots beneath one of the shrubs. I really needed to mow the lawn, but these tiny blue flowers had spread into the grass, and I didn’t want to just mow them down, so I decided to transplant them to some window boxes on the patio and hoped for the best. 

It’s no accident that the beginning of the relationship between divinity and humanity took place in a garden, according to our inherited Scriptural narrative. God, the Divine Gardener, has us in his care and gives us what we need to flourish in that care, and we commit to continuing in that life-giving relationship. 

Very important: being a disciple is a process, and it takes time. 

The Forget-Me-Nots have been pretty easy keepers, but I have had to make sure they were in just the right spot on the patio to get just the right amount of sun, and that I watered them when the rain hadn’t taken care of that for me. I needed (and need!) to continuously tend the garden with whose care I have been entrusted. 

Our Divine Gardener takes the same care of us (though certainly knows more about us than I do about plants!). Our responsibility is to soak up the nourishment and produce fruit to God’s glory, and this takes time, too. We glorify God in our big and small growth, patiently working and incrementally growing until we finally meet Christ in eternity. We ought to rejoice in our process-selves here in the earthly garden, enjoying what God has wrought and is working within us. 

I’m naturally someone for whom longer projects are a “growing edge.” I like getting things done quickly and sometimes find activities whose ends I cannot see at their beginnings difficult. During the lockdown, I’m learning to live with the uncertain and the unfinished. I am learning to remember to tend my garden, and more importantly to let God tend God’s. I am learning to pay closer attention to each step in the process. And I am remembering to trust Christ more, who knows all things and has the whole world in His hands. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

A Tsedaqah House Sunset, St. James’ Mount, Liverpool

Dean Sue has said repeatedly in her posts on prayerforliverpool.org that the current pandemic is a “long Good Friday.” Having recently undergone Good Friday during the pandemic, I can attest to the veracity of Dean Sue’s theological claim.

Good Friday does feel long. The liturgy of this day—when we can observe it—demands long minutes spent in contemplation “of those mighty acts” by listening to the Passion, kneeling before the wood of the cross as the Reproaches echo forward Jesus’ powerful lament, and staring at a barren altar without Sacrament. 

COVID-19 has indeed placed many of us in a long Good Friday. Some of us cannot be present to wait at the bedsides of the dying, and some of us can’t even be near when we bury our dead. As economic uncertainty grows, more of us are going to go without what we need. And we still have to isolate, which will mean many of us will continue to feel utterly alone. 

We have lost people we love because of this virus, in a similar way to losing the One who loves us on Calvary. 

COVID-19 has also placed many of us in a long Holy Saturday. As the rhythm of Holy Week progresses, the long emptiness of Good Friday gives way to a similar emptiness on Holy Saturday—but it’s of a different kind. The altar is still bare, but there’s no liturgy to say that we haven’t already said. I have always felt impatient on Holy Saturday, excited for the pre-eminent Vigil liturgy that evening, but having to wait and watch before night falls and the paschal fire can be kindled once again. 

For those of us stuck in isolation at the moment, the news isn’t helping—it’s slipping us into an anticipatory Holy Saturday mode. We long to be set free to go to work and play again with other households. I’m going bananas not being able to go into the Cathedral, which has come to feel like home.

The stone is still sealed over the entrance to the tomb. 

If I’m honest, the idea that evil, when it happens to us, is inherently deserved or meant to randomly test us has never felt like an adequate explanation as to why we suffer. Evil is far more complicated than that—and like God, why and what it truly is will always just elude our understanding. Evil is not something we can explain or justify or even quantify. It is simply a given in the nature of our existence, and I think we can all agree that it is most certainly a fact of our own lives right now. 

Here’s the Good News, though: Jesus gets it. Jesus knew what it was to suffer. His humanity and divinity were nailed on the tree. He was despised and rejected. He was beaten, flogged, and pierced. He died an agonizing death. And thanks be to God, right? Because the Cross of Christ, his Suffering, is balm for us in the shadow of death. We are not alone and can never be apart from the One who has endured it all before and continues to endure the burden with us.

Beyond death, isolation has been among the worst consequences of COVID-19 for many of us. But Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being, has the innate ability to be with us and know exactly what we are going through. We are known by Christ, and so loved. And while we still wait for the end to this virus, we can have solace in our Christian hope that resurrection will break forth in the end. 

Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, 

to herald our salvation; 

He stoops to earth–the God of might, 

our hope and expectation. 

He comes in human flesh to dwell, 

our God with us, Immanuel; 

the night of darkness ending, 

our fallen race befriending.

— Johan von Rist

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Christ’s Stable Order

I have found myself thinking back often to Winston Churchill’s description of WWII as, “a time to try men’s souls.” It often feels like the world is on trial these days. To make it worse, we can’t physically be in one another’s presence—so this scary time is compounded by profound isolation for all of us.

And yet. Our persistent tradition always seems to have something to say and something to teach us. The still, small voice of calm is audible enough if we can quiet the news and our minds. Jesus Christ “the master of the sea” still says “Be still!” to the chaos and orders the peace that passes all understanding. He enters our locked rooms and declares, “Peace be with you.” 

Living under the restrictions has been an opportunity to gain new insight into what it really means to be the Church. We use that word, “church” probably too much on its own to describe a church building. Because, the Church, the Body of Christ, is us. We, the people, are the Church, whom God has called to mission and ministry. We can weather anything, because the church’s record in regard to large scale disaster—persecution, plague—is actually rather good. The Body of Christ can and will continue, because our history informs that we can, and Jesus promises that we will. It is down to the persistent belief in God and ourselves that we can both survive and stabilize our surroundings. 

That has meant, however, in the current situation, getting creative. The canons of the Cathedral continue to meet for the offices, but via Microsoft Teams and while remaining at home (and I get to tag along). The Cathedral has continued to offer an opportunity for weekly worship on Sunday morning by sharing a pre-recorded video on our new blog created to keep us all connected: prayerforliverpool.org. I’ve had the continuing pleasure of collating the daily post by one of the Clergy clergy for this blog and sharing it on the Cathedral’s Facebook Page. It has been heartening to see the appreciation for the digital resources the Canons offered throughout Holy Week. MICAH Liverpool have also been creative in complying with social distancing regulations while continuing to run the Food Bank. I’m so appreciative of the opportunity of continuing to help packing food parcels on Thursdays.

The Church of which Jesus Christ is the head has always had the ability to adapt to new situations in which she may find herself. Church history as a whole could be considered a balancing act between inherited tradition and the discernment of the new. But the Church in all things is inspired by the Holy Spirit, maintaining the stability of the witness and worship of Christ who is the be all, end all—literally. 

We can take solace in that stability. We can continue to pray and consider Scripture and let Jesus guide our lives, just as we would before. Our prayers both connect us to the Divine, but to the centuries’ worth of other souls who have lifted their lives to the Crucified One, who promises us His presence to the very end. While isolated, we aren’t ever alone. 

A time like now demands our witness. But this pandemic is also a reminder that the only stability we can really trust is Christ’s. We have the opportunity now to live into the interplay of world chaos and Christly order. Our call is to discern and act on the part we can play towards bringing about the holy order of God. But more importantly, we must let Christ speak to the world that is sick, in pain, and dying. As God’s church, Christ becomes present when we act in his name. And we will soon realize that we’re not doing our own work, but God’s. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

The Unintended Consequences of Praying the Daily Office

My previous experience of daily worship was once daily (a few times a week) when in university. Before coming to Liverpool I had some expectations based on previous worship experiences, I’ve not attended services “as regularly” as I have in Liverpool these past six months (and don’t get me started on how quickly this first half of the year has flown by!). 

I should mention my time at Holy Cross Monastery for Discernment and Orientation for participating in YASC. The Brothers offer five services a day, which I soaked up eagerly. Suffice to say, I was expecting and anticipating regular attendance at corporate worship throughout the week while a residential member of the Tsedaqah House. 

As much as I love it, worship and prayer are not activities confined to corporate liturgy in the Cathedral. The idea of all of life being prayer and an opportunity for communion with the Divine are among the ideals of the monastic life. We can (and should when safe to do so, which isn’t the case at the moment sadly) enrich the everyday life of prayer with dedicated periods of getting together (i.e., the Daily Offices and the Holy Eucharist). But if the only time we as Christians feel connected to Christ is in a church building, then we’re missing an opportunity for the full experience of a Christ-centered life. A “day job” looks different for each of us, but it can be part of our mission as Christians to search out and intentionally appreciate the presence of God on the bus, in the office, or in the living room (or the parlour if I’m feeling particularly posh). 

Worship is an offering to God first and foremost of our time, presence, and prayer, and we do it corporately as an indication of the communal nature of the Call of Christ. But what has become apparent to me over the course of these last six months is that corporate worship gives back as much as it takes. Having a separate, dedicated space for reflection and meditation does wonders for spiritual, mental, even physical health. I love the ability sometimes in Evensong to stop the turning wheels of my brain and to sit in silence before God. Placing ourselves before God is indeed a part of our worship of Him. 

It may sound obvious, but worship also helps grow and deepen the faith we’ve claimed. One of the specific ways in which that happens is the use of the Daily Office Lectionary. Passages of Scripture have been selected and laid out for reading on the different services of the different days of the year, and all are conveniently at your fingertips in various apps according to the various lectionaries around the communion. Indeed, at Morning Prayer in the Cathedral, many Canons are to be found using their phone apps to follow along with the liturgy! 

One moment I’ll never forget was the time I was reading (as us Tsedaqites are asked to that every now and again) from Paul and the lesson is going on and then all of a sudden he breaks into his classic “A woman shall learn in submission…and keep her head covered…a woman shall not speak in church” schtick and it falls to me to read all this without rolling my eyes. Ironic that Canon Ellen was leading the Office that morning and sat there in her cassock having spoken the words of the office as prescribed in the Common Worship Books. 

After Morning Prayer, we move out of the Chapter House (which is essentially an octagonal chapel with an altar) and usually have a good chat or two, and a frequent topic of conversation is often “Well, Paul certainly was having a bad day that day” or “Joseph was sure sneaky by deceiving his brothers like that” or whatever the bizarre bit of the readings turned out to be that day. And honestly, reading the Bible in this way (liturgically and methodically) is the best thing for us. There are bits of the Bible I’d rather not talk about as much as others, but the Lectionary keeps me honest, and forces me to confront, acknowledge, and hopefully embrace what God has revealed beneath and behind the words of Scripture, especially those bits I’d rather not talk about. And it’s absolutely vital that this digging into Scripture is a communal activity. No one of us will ever know the unknowable mystery that is the God we worship, and Jesus’ Call to Discipleship wasn’t individual, it was a communal call. God incarnates wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name and consider the salvific narrative of Scripture that will lead us into eternal life. 

Dean Sue has started a new custom for us in Lent—in place of the new Testament Reading, we’ve been reading a portion of the Rule of St. Benedict at Morning Prayer. I’ve encountered his Rule before, but not in the depth that regular readings like this provide. Early on, I was struck at how utilitarian his Rule is, how “followable” it is designed to be. He exhorts his listeners to prepare themselves for the discipline of living in community, which has continued to puzzle me. We do need to prepare ourselves for the discipline of living a Christian Life, because it takes work. It takes work to get up and pray together each day and it takes work to meditate on God’s Word. But we get as much as we give: “For those … who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What we find in Jesus is who we truly are. 

We find ourselves. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

A Dusty Vocation

One habit I’ve developed over the years of being a regular church goer is after a major feast, like Christmas for instance, I usually look ahead to “the next big liturgical season”, in this case Lent and Holy Week. Now, fair enough if you’re planning liturgies or coordinating schedules. But when I was growing up (and this year too!), I started preparing for Lent by listening to the Lenten liturgical cds I have on my laptop early in January. To be honest, it does feel a bit weird to be listening to penitential chant with the Christmas tree still up. But as Canon Malcolm will tell you, “Nelson, he’s just a little bit weird.” And my mother will tell you the same thing. 

Last month, however, I attended a service at a crematorium just outside Liverpool. I got the “grand tour” of the facilities, and saw the way the coffins move from the chapels through the process to  result in a small urn of ashes in the end. Now, I’ve been acolyting and assisting at funerals since maybe age 10, so I’m somewhat used to being around human remains and cremains. In fact, over January I played the organ for two funeral services at St. Margaret’s, Toxteth (and would have also at the crematorium but the organ didn’t work). But before my visit to the “crem,” I had yet to see the inner workings of the cremation process. 

Being in the crematorium reminded me of the words used in the BCP 1979 for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No matter who we are or what we do in this life—basket weaving, softball, or ritual satanism—we will all one day leave it and return to the earth in one way or another. 

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of more than our mortal coil, however; the day is also a glaring reminder of our present condition: dust. Made in the divine image and ruach-filled we may be, but we are still made of what began as a dusty collection of molecules and atoms. Wondrously made, and yet dust. “You are dust.

When the Liverpool Cathedral Learning Community convened for two days this past month, I had the opportunity of hearing research updates from several folks who have made progress on various projects I heard about in September, at our last meeting. One rural-based vicar is working on a project trying to understand why the tiny parish of which he is priest has such high numbers on a Sunday, which using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the low church tradition as its mode of worship. I will never forget his comment of a frequent fear he has, that, “I’m worried that we’re a museum,” that is, doing Christianity in an older way but not really getting anything out of it. 

Christianity has been accused of many things, not the least of which is this idea of being a museum, where liturgy and words and music happen but not much else. I think of Marx’s critique of religion as being the “opiate of the masses,” only a deluded escape from the world controlled by the powerful and not effectual for real change or improvement in the world in which we live. 

Now, I will grant you that Christianity is weird. We wear weird clothes (mozettas and chasubles and rochets, oh my), do weird things (drink blood and eat flesh), and read weird books (the Bible). We often meet in old and grand buildings and also in storefronts. We have many ways of organizing—or not organizing—ourselves. And we all have something to say about this Jesus Christ who has called us into His service which has a major impact on our lives and how we live them. Heck, we spend forty days each year being reminded that we are dust. To be dust is our vocation. The same atomic dust that makes up the stars of the heavens and the creatures of the deep also make up our inmost parts. 

The radical thing about Christianity is that we don’t do this alone, all this dusty work. We are called by Christ to be active in His service, which means serving our neighbors. Here in Liverpool Cathedral, that means we’re engaged in feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. And too, there are hungry people who come to the Cathedral for a moment of quiet, prayer, in a beautiful space; set apart from the business of the world for reflection and contemplation. Where we can get in touch with our dustiness and start acting like it. 

We are dust, to dust we shall return, and in spite of that, or in fact, because of that, we work together to change the world in which we live. Weird, yes. Bizarre, yes. But our founder was a carpenter’s son who got some fishermen and a few other guys together to teach and heal and transform the world. And we still are being transformed 2,000 down the ages. With that track record, I’d say that we’re just weird enough to leave a world with more love in it than when we found it. 

Dust thou art. Dust we are. And we’re all dust together. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Young Adult Service Corps Missionary Report

In the US Episcopal Church, each parish holds an Annual Meeting every year to conduct the business of the Church—electing officers, approving budgets, and the like, as required by Canon. As a member of YASC, I am sent and commissioned not only by the Presiding Bishop but also my home parish of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Rockport, Massachusetts. As such, I submitted a written report for St. Mary’s Annual Meeting this year, and now I’d like to share it with all of you. I’d like to extend the thank you at the end of the letter to my blog readers as well—I’m so encouraged at the reception and feedback I receive. Thank you!

Greetings from Liverpool, UK! It’s been such an amazing year of mission abroad so far, and I’m struggling to believe that I’m already four months into my time here. 

Those of you who subscribe to my blog (nelsoninliverpool.com) have a bit of an idea of what I’m up to. I live in Tsedaqah House, which is located on the Close of Liverpool Cathedral, as a member of the Tsedaqah Community. Tsedaqah is a Hebrew verb meaning “to do justice,” as found in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Ideally, there are three members of the Community, one representing each linked Diocese in the Triangle of Hope partnership: Virginia in the US, Liverpool in the UK, and Kumasi in Ghana. I represent the US in the House, and my colleague Jen is from Liverpool. Unfortunately, our Ghanian counterpoint was unable to join us because of VISA issues. However, we were delighted to welcome Fr Kessie, the Triangle of Hope Link person from the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, to stay with us in the Fall.

From where I sit writing this, I look out on a beautiful view—the flood lit windows of the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral. From where I live (Lady Chapel Close), I hear the tower bells ring (for six hours on New Year’s Day), and occasionally even the organ and choir if they’re going full throttle. Mind you, I’m usually to be found in the Cathedral itself when music is to be heard or services are to occur, which should surprise no one.

Life here in Liverpool is wonderfully busy. My work outside the House is as the Cathedral Assistant, which means I support some of the administrative work in the Dean’s Office (where I sit at the desk previously occupied by now Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when he was Dean of Liverpool). Jen and I also serve as lay Officiants at Morning and Evening Prayer, as well regularly attending the daily rounds of the Offices in the Cathedral when we can. I also serve as a member of the Thursday volunteer team at the MICAH Food Bank for the day to help feed the hungry. We also run a guest room, and therefore Jen and I are regularly making sure that the working guest room is fit for purpose.

One thing that I have learned this year is that even though the Anglican Communion is wonderfully diverse in all of its various contexts, all of us are engaged in one common mission, which is to make known the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in all that we say and do. We all are missionaries of Christ, and whether we volunteer at MICAH Liverpool or at Open Door on Cape Ann, we are engaged in the same work that brings a message of Love into a world that so desperately needs it.

Thank you all, so much, for incredible support you have so generously given me to be able to serve abroad this year, both prayerful and financial. None of what I’ve been able to to and experience this year would be possible without the formation and support of St. Mary’s I’ve been so lucky to receive throughout my life. I’m so grateful for the wild ride it’s been and hopefully will continue to be wherever Christ leads me in the future. 

Respectfully Submitted, 

Nelson Pike

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

So You Wanna Be a YASCer?

So you’ve applied to YASC and been invited to the discernment retreat. I imagine you sitting in your room at Holy Cross Monastery. Sitting at my desk in my room after arriving for the first time at Holy Cross was one of the first times I stopped and asked myself, “What am I getting myself into?” 

If you’re also asking that question, then let me assure you that you aren’t alone. I asked myself that question several times in preparing to go abroad in the service of Christ.

The other question I asked myself was, “Why me? What gifts could I possibly bring to missionary service? Is Elizabeth sure this is a good idea? Am I sure that this is a good idea?”

I can’t answer that question for you, though I wish I could. You and the people around you are the ones who answer that question as you discern (and orientate yourself towards) mission service.

So let me actually assure you, so far as I can, that you’re in the right place right now. Once you’ve arrived at Holy Cross, you’re in Elizabeth’s care, which is a great place to be in general, first off. But the Brothers and staff and other folks are here for one thing—to help you healthily discern whatever’s next for you. And should that lead to missionary service, great. If not, that also great, because as Brother Rob says, discerning the answer of “no” is a successful discernment. And all the people around you right now are here to help you on that step, wherever it is. That’s one of the reasons I love the Global Mission Office staff. They get the personal investment you’re making by being here, mostly because many of them have sat where you’re sitting. 

You’re about to be dumped on with a whole bunch of information and rules and good humor and lots of great stuff. It really is great and I encourage you to soak it all up. And to add a few pieces of advice from the scads of advice I’m sure you’ll get, at no extra charge, here you are: 

  1. Take time to do nothing. You’re discerning, it’s hard work. Take the time you need to refresh and recharge. And figure out what activities you can do to accomplish this. 
  2. In the same vein, pay attention to you (as Brother Rob also says) as well as everyone else. Recording even mentally how this all feels or what questions you have or what you want to know more about are crucial to discernment. These sorts of responses help you build for yourself the answer of what you are called to do and even more importantly, why. 
  3. Finally, take advantage of Holy Cross! Meet the brothers, “pull an Elizabeth Boe” and try to meet all the brothers (or at least talk to all of them). Go to the Offices and investigate why they are there and what they can do for you. Or take a walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery.


You’re in the right place. Now let Christ do Christ’s work in you as you journey on. However you end up doing it, service in the Name of Jesus Christ is the adventure of a lifetime. And I’m truly excited for you as you begin figuring out what that might look like. 

Love from Liverpool,  

Nelson Pike

Advent and Christmas in Liverpool

Realistically, the thought of not being busy this time of year was dead at least by the time November rolled around, with more and more talk of the things called Carol Services and other activities. It turns out that I ended up at least as busy (and happily so!) as I was at University. And it’s been such an activity-filled month that I haven’t had a moment to stop and take stock of what Advent and Christmas is like in Liverpool. 

When I arrived here, it’s safe to say that I didn’t then expect to be performing in three months time in a theatrical production in the Cathedral’s Main Space. But the Director of Choral Outreach Stephen had me playing Bob Cratchitt in a musical version of A Christmas Carol, for which he wrote songs and a local music director wrote the script. The true stars of the production were the many school children who sang the songs, but folks from around the Cathedral pitched in to play a role and help get the whole thing together. It was quite the revelation to consider myself having a wife and six children as Bob Cratchitt!

Another new exciting part of my work at the Cathedral has been preparing for the Christmas Questionnaire. The Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral, Canon Leslie Francis, put together a questionnaire in order to learn more about the folks who come to the services in Advent and Christmas at the Cathedral. We administered at both Carol Services on Christmas Eve, as well as the Evening Service on Advent IV called the Holly Bough Service. The questionnaire is designed in two parts, the first to be completed before the service begins, the next towards the end. The differences in the responses between the two parts—and between the responses between the surveys taken from the different services—-will hopefully tell us something about the people who come to these special services, and furthermore, how the Cathedral might attract them back. It was quite a production to make sure each soul received a questionnaire upon arrival at the Cathedral for each of the services. The first Carol Service on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral ends at 3pm and the next begins at 4, which meant myself, Jen, Canon Leslie and others were running around collecting questionnaires like mad before returning to the West End to distribute more to the next group of worshippers as they arrived! 

A word about the Holly Bough on Advent IV— I understand it to be a service originally created by the first Dean of Liverpool, Dean Dwelly. A Holly-adorned stand with five lit candles (four red, one white) is processed from the West to the East End of the Cathedral, or, from where the Nativity Scene is to the High Altar, over which the Crucifixion is enshrined in the Reredos. The holly, walked from “Crib to Cross” as it were, represents a central tension in the Christian Faith—the Baby in Bethlehem is also the Dying Savior on Calvary. These two salvific actins of the Savior betray an even deeper mystery of our faith, that through these events, we know for certain that the God of Bethlehem and Calvary loves each of us unconditionally and knows the inner life of our souls. 

I was very excited to lead Morning and Evening Prayer at the Cathedral a few times this month. Both Jen and I have cassocks in the Cathedral burnt-red color with cloth cinctures to wear when we take part in liturgies here, and we are both scheduled to lead Offices a few times between Christmas and New Year when many of the clergy are out on holiday. At Evening Prayer, we use the 1662 Prayer Book (the official BCP of the C of E), which means I now can speak Elizabethan English (sort of). It’s a simple service, but part of the daily round of worship that is the core of life here. The one thing the officiant does get to “do” is add their own (or read from a different book of) additional prayers at the end of the liturgy. The Dean has a great collection of books of prayers for this purpose. On each Wednesday evening, the Vergers place a basket of written prayers on the Altar before the service, prayers left by visitors throughout the week. At Wednesday Evening Prayer, then, we pray for what those visitors have prayed for. It’s a rather beautiful practice that speaks to the communion between those who pray—whether we actually know each other or not. 

Perhaps the greatest thrill is after the liturgy, when putting my cassock away in the Vestry. Whoever is the leader at any of the services signs the service register, a rather large book (in which I assume Justin Welby’s signature must appear because he was Dean here not too long ago!) with a fountain pen reserved for the purpose. 

I was prepared for many liturgies this Christmas, but expecting not much else since I’m away from home. However, Mentors extraordinary David and Debra picked me up after Midnight Mass to stay with them for Christmas Day, and the Dean invited Jen and myself for Christmas Eve dinner. While I certainly miss home and family, I’m also happy to be celebrating with my new family in Liverpool. 

And now I must return to finding prayers for the next time I lead Evening Prayer and beginning to tackle the boxes (and boxes) of questionnaires that await me in the office. 

May Christ, who by His Incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, fill us all with His joy and peace. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

Walking Toward Reconciliation

The Partnership for World Mission Conference, or PWM as we always called it, is an annual gathering of folks around the Church of England and around the world to network and learn about some of the latest news regarding mission in the Anglican Communion. The Tsedaqah Community, shepherded by Mal and joined by a few others, served as the Conference Choir. Both Jen and I had a solo during a Taize piece during one Evening Prayer liturgy that was well received. 

I learned so much while at the PWM conference. Particularly interesting was a presentation by one of the leaders of the World Christianity Center at the University of Cambridge. This organization encourages students to spend time studying abroad in the global south—where Christianity is growing—and to learn from the theology and life of what it means to be Anglican in the Southern Hemisphere. As the global north always seems to face a more secular reality, there is much to be learned from the faith of our often forgotten friends in the global south. 

The theme of the Conference was Walking Together—which is a wonderful definition of mission in the 21st Century world. Past missionary activity brought not only Christianity but a colonial power and a colonial culture—supported by the religious establishment to many parts of the world. The colonized lost language, culture, and lives at the hands of Christians—Christians who are our forbearers. 

What does, or rather, what could, Reconciliation look like after such sin?

We’re only now beginning a path toward reconciliation, as we are only beginning to be honest about the horrors of the past. The grave deeds need to be named and acknowledged before anything like real reconciliation can occur. Books like The Two Triangles, by Ken Pye and our own Malcolm Rogers begin this conversation by setting before us part of the picture of the Slave Trade that tool place in Liverpool. As the Slavery Museum here declares, “This story has been neglected by too many for far too long.” To begin a response to the past, then, we must first recall it. “We will remember,” as the museum also says, is both a promise and a prayer: a promise to those whose lives haven been extinguished, and a prayer to God at whose bidding and by whose guidance we have hope for the future. 

It was so cool to assist in welcoming YASC Officers Elizabeth Boe and Jenny Grant from the Church Center in NYC (known as “815”) and a small but mighty film crew, and Canon Stephanie, the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Reconciliation all visited us in Liverpool, and toured many parts of the city. We also had the Facebook-famous Father Kessie, our Triangle of Hope link in Ghana visiting us. As a Triangle, we visited the Slavery Museum, and toured the city—which was funded in large part by slavery. It was a humbling and holy experience to make a start at taking in and naming the past—and doing it together. 

Hope was very much present in our group, and especially at Evensong at the Cathedral on the Friday of the visit, at which Elizabeth and Father Kessie were made Anglican Communion Fellows of the Diocese of Liverpool and the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool. It was such a joy to be present at the liturgy that day, and to celebrate to only the great work of Elizabeth and Fr. Kessie but the work of the Church in general—-to feel a sense of accomplishment that somehow, we’ve taken a step towards reconciliation with the past, each other, ourselves, and ultimately, with God. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

The Dignity of Love

When I shut the back door of the van, my hand always gets a little grimy. Not the best feeling in the world, I’ll admit, but it’s a sign that its a well-used vehicle. I’m glad, because I do pray for God’s will to be done, and this van is doing it. The people who drive, pack up, and distribute the vast quantities of food to those who really need it, those are the people who are the hands of God in the world. 

That slightly musty smell of the produce section of the grocery store wafts through the van as I climb in the passenger side door (the opposite side of the car to what it is in the States, which I’m still not used to), and on the chilly morning watch the city go by as we head toward the market or food bank location for the day, or to one of the many older more established food banks that are kind enough to let us have their overflow. 

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to “sit in” as it were with the members of the MICAH food bank. Well, there actually was very little sitting involved, more carrying of food boxes and bags around. Before I shadowed the team, I had been curious as to what the work on the ground looked like. I knew about the food banks that have had a great impact in alleviating hunger in this city, but was curious to find out what actually has to be done to make that happen. 

In theory, the process is simple- fill a van of donated food, put the food in bags, and distribute at an advertised location. But in reality, it’s anything but. Once food is donated, it makes its way to the store room located on the Cathedral Close. Once sorted, food is selected for the food banks and community markets, set out, and then taken to the right location on the right day. 

The food banks occur at two local churches, both close by to the Cathedral. There’s a wonderful team of volunteers who set up, staff, and break down the Food Bank, who take names and fill out information cards (as required by law), bag the food, distribute the food, and help guide new arrivals through the process. It’s quite a system, and I’m honored to be a part of it. When I last went, I helped with the intake process for new arrivals. By law, we have to record information from the asylum papers or residentiary card for each guest, who are allowed four visits to the food bank one per week. 

In addition to the food banks, which are the most well known, MICAH also supplies food to two community markets. Folks who come purchase food at low prices, often at 20 or 50 pence an item. This allows folks to give back to their community what they can, which is really important. Often people in need are looked on as a liability. But all of us, no matter the size of our wallets, have something to offer and something to give. 

If you’ve read my fellow Tsedaqah Community Member Jenn’s blog, you will see a new project that is currently in the works: trying to connect with those in neighboring dioceses who work with victims of human trafficking. Jen provided in her blog post a picture of a local ministry run by one of our new friends the Diocese of Manchester, who provides art and language classes among other things to those who have escaped the traffickers (https://jenwilliams.home.blog/2019/11/12/tsedaqah-chapter-2/). We hope to be able to bring many clients of this ministry for a visit to the Cathedral in Liverpool, as well as host the art exhibition created by the clients themselves. 

Another dream we have is to create an alliance of northwestern Anglicans in mission with victims of human trafficking. This work is integral to the Triangle of Hope Ministry, which works to acknowledge and heal past divisions by slavery and combat it in its current form of human trafficking. We hope that such a Church alliance will help clients in claiming asylum or refugee status. Our friends in Manchester diocese are adamant about involving clients and survivors in our work, which is crucial. We feed the hungry and free the enslaved at Christ’s command because we acknowledge that we are all part of the human family, each with different gifts but with the same dignity that demands respect. We are called to raise each other up in love, and that love we share with one another helps bring God’s Kingdom a little closer to fruition on earth as it is in heaven. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.