Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Meet St. Cuthbert

So, I know that today is Palm Sunday, which is super important, however, it is also the feast day for my favorite saint, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. In the United Methodist Church, we do not have saints. They have never been an important part of Wesleyan spirituality, however, I have always had a strong attraction to saints, and my own faith is always strengthen when I read about their lives.

I first heard of Cuthbert during the year I spend studying in England. He was a shepherd, then monk, then Bishop in northern England in the 7th century. His life was marked by humility, simplicity, a love of nature, and reconciliation.

Foundations of Cuthbert's cell

The foundation of the monastic cell where St. Cuthbert would go and pray on the island of Lindisfarne. The tidal patterns cut off this island from the main island at high tide. 

My favorite story is from one of Cuthbert’s many times when he would leave the monastery and pray. Once a younger monk followed Cuthbert to see where he went and observed him wading into the ocean where he would frequently recite the psalms. When he came out, otters came and helped to warm his hands.

St. Drewbert

Me imitating St. Cuthbert’s prayer in the ocean at Lindisfarne. Sadly no otters washed my feet when I came out.

St. Cuthbert is buried in Durham and I would frequently visit his shrine in the Cathedral which was a short walk from my dorm room.The Cathedral and his shrine were places when I could palpably feel God’s presence and was for me a tremendous means of grace during a wonderful and difficult year.

On this day each year, I have a cup of tea, remember my friends in England and the ways in which God shaped my understanding of my call to ministry, and I give thanks to St. Cuthbert for helping me understand how to better follow Jesus.

Cuthbert's Shrine, Durham Cathedral

The shrine of St. Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. 

Here is the prayer for today from the Church of England:

Almighty God, who called your servant Cuthbert from following the flock to follow your Son and to be a shepherd of your people: in your mercy, grant that we, following his example, may bring those who are lost home to your fold; through Jesus Christ, you son, our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

 

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What’s in a gown? Sartorial Reflections on Baccalaureate

I am not sure that anyone would ever call me a stylish person. I try more than some and less than others, but overall I wear what is comfortable and if that happens to include a humorous T-shirt, fun pair of socks, or exciting tie then I am all the more excited. However, when I was thinking about what I was wearing for Baccalaureate It seemed rather significant.

For those who do not know, Baccalaureate is essentially the graduation for Duke Divinity School. Sure I will not technically graduate until Sunday when the President of Duke University and other people say things that few people listen to or remember, but the good part with worship, sermon, and hoods is what we have all been waiting for. For the service there are two required pieces of attire:

1) Black robe–Unlike High School and College there are no required styles of robes. Most people wear the robes they have purchased for leading worship as pastors. I think this makes it that more significant. In Divinity School, we have been working with the end in mind. I know that four years ago when I began the dream I had was to be a pastor standing in front of my congregation and proclaiming the Word of God. Wearing the same robe to graduate that I will wear when I deliver my first sermon as a pastor reminds me that the four years of work that I have put in were not an end in themselves, but were instead a preparation for my future ministry. My particular robe is extra special because it is one that I got for free while I was in England. The Wesley Study Centre where I was studying received the robes and stoles of a former Methodist minister. No one else could fit in the robe and so I got to keep it. It is a very nice (and expensive) robe and I am extremely grateful for it. However, I am even more grateful for what it represents. My time in England was one which reaffirmed my call to ministry and helped me to understand what it was that God was calling me to as a pastor. I am so excited about what God is doing missionally in England and the friends that I made during that year inspire me in so many ways. As I wear my robe in the service as well as in the pulpit I know that they are a part of my story and ministry.

2) Hood–The hoods represent the fact that I have mastered divinity graduated with my masters of divinity. My particular hood is one that I am borrowing from Rev. Chris Brady who was the lead pastor of Living Hope, the new church plant that I was a part of for most of my time at Duke. While Living Hope has been closed by the Bishop, the community that God brought together for that season of my life remains an important part of who I am, and the ways in which I grew as a person and as a pastor will forever mark my ministry. Chris Brady who is now the pastor of Wilson Temple in Raleigh has been my pastor during my entire time at Duke and a generous mentor and friend.

While most people will only see the robe and the hood, for me they represent both the communities that have shaped and formed me in the past, but also the ways in which God has used those people (and countless others) to prepare me for the work that I am called to in the future. If there is one main thing that I have learned in Divinity School it is that ministry is not something that can (or should be) done alone. Without my community here in Durham as well as all over the US and UK I would not be here today. As I cross that chancel area my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and many friends will be sitting in the congregation of Duke Chapel as well as worshipping online and I am so grateful to be able to share with them that moment and the many other ones to come.

GHS Graduation

June 2006, Me and my parents after my High School graduation.

FSC graduation

May 2010, Me and my two best friends after graduation.


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Hello Goodbye

“You say “Yes,” I say “No.”
You say “Stop,” and I say “Go go go.”
Oh no.
You say “Goodbye” and I say “Hello, hello, hello”
-The Beatles

There is a beautiful certainty in routines. I love when I have things figured out, when my life is going in the direction I know. When I have a plan and a destination and the steps forward are illuminated before me. I don’t like transitions. The awkward speed of the on-ramp or the slow taxi to the terminal with the seat belt sign still illuminated.

But that is the season in which I find myself. The lingering effects of Jet lag, the preparations to begin what will be my final year at Divinity School, and trying to process the previous year in England.

In May when I came home for Duke’s graduation, the minute I stepped off that plane everything I left in England became a blur. It was like I had fallen asleep at one airport only to awaken in a different one after having a dream worthy of L. Frank Baum.  This response scared me. Over the previous 10 months I know that I have been shaped and formed in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I have become more passionate about my calling to ordained ministry and more dedicated to my own personal discipleship, And, throughout that process  made friendships all across England that cherish.

The thought of all that growth vanishing the puff of smoke focused my final few weeks. I filled in all the gaps of my London to-do list, I took the time to eat with friends and learn some English recipes, and I wandered around Durham taking pictures and soaking up more memories so that I could board my plane in Newcastle with luggage full of souvenirs and a heart absent of regret. I succeeded in both. So, now the challenge begins of making this side of the transition successfully. Of integrating the lessons I learned in England to the life I live in the United States.

My first Sunday back at Trinity was in many ways a typical American Methodist service. There were two hymns, a creed, some prayers and a sermon. But at the same time, it was all different. The first hymn was “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” (one of my favorite of Charles Wesley), but sung to the American tune. The second, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul (10,000 Reasons) by modern English Christian songwriter, Matt Redman, was one that I sang many times over the past 10 months. As the service ended I realized that this was my new life. I realized that no longer are my only resources American ones. I realized that my theological, ministerial and personal worldview now stretches across the ocean. I am not sure how all of that is going to work. I am not sure how I am going to put the English lessons I learned into practice in the Church in America.

All these things are still a mystery and the questions they raise I hope will be fleshed out in new blog posts in the future, but also in sermons,  prayers,  conversations over cups of tea, or in debates in the classroom. As I said goodbye to those in England, my prayer was that my time would conclude with a comma instead of a full stop, that our lives would cease to intertwine because we not longer live in the same place or the same time zone. And I hope that the hellos to old friends and the new ones that I will make this year will be enriched by the experiences I have had and the people I have met because I am going to need both the old and the new, the English and the American in order to do the work that God has called me to. Where that journey takes me and us I don’t know, but as I merge back into American life I am grateful that I have so many more people in my corner now and though I may want to tell God to stop, all the signs are telling me to Go, Go Go.

Me and friends at my last meal in Durham.

Me and friends at my last meal in Durham.


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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out: http://kbharward.wordpress.com/]


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Little Wesley Returns!!!

For those of you who are new to this blog (or are not on my facebook) you may have missed the drama. If so, I suggest you check out the back story first here, then read on.

Little Wesley ready to go!

Alright for the rest of you, I need to fill you in on the story. After we last met Little Wesley, he was packed and ready to go. And go we did. Wesley kept me company on the plane and when I got into London. The family I staid with was so excited to see him (alright maybe it was more amusement bordering, but exact emotions are not important!). Ready to see the sights of London, LW and I set off on our first adventure: touring the Wesley Chapel. Wesley Chapel was the central hub of Methodism during Wesley’s life. It was where he staid when in London (which was only during the winter months), and where any Methodist circuit rider could find lodging and rest. This place meant so much to John Wesley that he was buried in the back yard even though it was unconsecrated ground. It was remarkable. After touring the Chapel, Little Wesley and I took some pictures outside by the statue before heading over to pay our respects to Susanna Wesley’s grave. Unfortunately, there are not enough (or maybe too many) visitors to Susanna’s grave that it is inaccessible to the public. Therefore we were not able to get a picture.

The last known picture of Little Wesley

As a result, Little Wesley was tucked away in my coat pocket to keep him warm. After searching all over for a way to get into the graveyard, I realized that it the midst of all the fun I had lost track of time. I ran as fast as I could to the nearby Tube station and was half way to the platform when I realized that the lump in my jacket was gone. Little Wesley was missing! Not wanting to leave behind a fallen friend, I ran back and retraced my steps, from the Chapel to the graveyard and back looking as carefully as I could, but there was no luck. Little Wesley was gone. We put feelers out at the Chapel, but they had not seen him. Having shared this story with a few people we have come with a few possibilities:

Me and LW on an original Wesley pulpit.

1. Susanna Wesley’s ghost plucked the likeness of her son like a burning brand from the fire of my jacket.

2. A small child picked up the fallen Little Wesley from the ground putting her/him on the path of sanctification and Scriptural holiness following in the long tradition of Methodist education and discipleship.

3. Little Wesley, taking his motto a little too seriously, decided that the world was his parish and therefore could not be confined to a ministry of following me around.

Because all three are likely possibilities, the truth may never be known…

The story, does not end there (as if you had not guessed from the title of the post….)! After posting the bad news, I received many comments of consolation. Because (surprisingly) Little Wesley dolls are not popular in the UK, getting a replacement was going to be difficult. Fortunately for me, you, and British Methodism, there are generous people in the US who felt that no England Exchange program would be complete without a Little Wesley. On the same day I learned that both Bobby (the original Wesley benefactor) and my grandmother had sent Little Wesley dolls over to me. Bobby’s arrived first this morning by “parcel” and there was much rejoicing in the common room (alright, maybe there was eye-rolling, strange glances mixed in there as well, but there was definite rejoicing as well!). I am so grateful to have Little Wesley 2 (and soon to be 3) with me now. The adventures can continue!

As did his likeness, Little Wesley 2 has already been facing some rumors of what adventures may be next (all I can say is that there is talk of soaring heights and possible equine accessories…). Because Little Wesley has always been a community mascot I want to put the question to you. What do you think happened to the original Little Wesley? What adventures do you think Little Wesley 2 needs to experience? Feel free to leave your ideas/suggestions in the comments or on my facebook. The fun has only just begun!

The first picture of Little Wesley 2. Many more to come!

If you would like to see some pictures from Wesley Chapel and other Methodist excitement, check out the pictures on my facebook here.

The Adventures Begin in Durham (NC)

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Before heading out on the trip, I needed to head up to Durham (NC) for one final visit to say goodbye to my friends and get my Duke fix for a while. The semester has just gotten underway and so I have had to negotiate visits around people’s studying. Seeing as our classes do not begin for another month, I have tried not to rub my freedom in their faces. Come May, June and July while I am still in school and they are resting easy, I hope they return the favor :).

Being away from this place and the community of the Divinity school is most definitely going to be the hardest part of this whole experience. For the past two years this has been my home. As a class we have laughed together, cried together, argued and debated one another, and through it all grown closer to each other and to the God who has called us to this place. When I get back many of those who I am closest with will have graduated and begun their ministry, but fortunately many others will still be here and I am looking forward to getting to know them even better. For now, however, I am grateful to be able to see everyone here and enjoy these precious last days with them.

While I was with friends, Little Wesley began his trip by seeing the sights around the Divinity school. With some of the best Methodism scholars in the world, there were a lot of people to see. He went to a Div School pot-luck and had his picture taken by a few fans, but in the midst of it all he made time for some Bible study as well. Little Wesley has his priorities straight after all :).

Let the travels begin!

This gallery contains 5 photos


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In Memory of Susan Keefe.

This is not the first blog post that I had expected to write after an unexpected five month hiatus, but as I sat in Goodson Chapel yesterday listening to people tell their own stories, I felt that I needed to write my own. I did not know Susan Keefe. I had seen her in the hallways with her measured pace and the frail features of the ascetic she was. However, like many of my fellow students, I was in awe of this mysterious professor. She was respected and loved my the whole school, not because she was a brilliant lecturer (which I am sure she was), or for her gregarious personality (which she certainly was not), but because she exuded such an unworldly holiness that one knew the Divinity School was all the more so because of her place in it.

Like many, I participated in rumors of her ascetic practices, but looking back I see even those as being marks of the sense of awe in which she was seen. When selecting classes for this semester, hers was the one I was most excited about, even though because of my year in England, I knew that I was not going to take it. Just having her class on my fake schedule was an honor. And so, when we received the news that she had died, there was a collective sense of loss.

I wanted to write this post because her service reminded me of what funerals and memorial services in the Church need to be. Absent were trite words of comfort and vague phrases of an afterlife. Instead there was a clear confession of the resurrection and a celebration of the grace filled life she had led. Her specialty was Medieval commentaries by obscure theologians, preparing them for other scholars later to come and analyze to use in their own research. Dean Hays called it a “thankless task,” and I am sure it was not one which sold millions of copies because a simple Google image search fails to bring up any pictures of her.

While I will never be able to take her class, her memorial service will be the only lecture I will be able to have, which seems in a way fitting. It reminded me that a life lived in constant love of Christ and seeking to follow His way is one which does separate us from this world, but still keeps us intimately connected to it through our ministry and our relationships. That is the true mark of an ascetic. Not how much they are separated from the world, but how much they bring the world closer to the Kingdom through their place in it. Dr. Keefe did that.

The final lesson I have from her is one which Dean Hays and her family found propped on her desk when they were cleaning it out. Handwritten on a simple sheet of notebook paper it said:  “What if you were to say to your congregation: Your baptism was the beginning of your preparation for death.”  At our baptism we die to Sin and are reborn to new life through Jesus Christ. It marks us and makes us children of God and when lived out fully prepares us both for our eventual death, but also for the everlasting life which comes afterwards. I do not know the answer to Dr. Keefe’s question, but I intend to find out by sharing those words and with each congregation I have.

Thank you Dr. Keefe, for a life well lived. Amen.