Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Well, after a great run here at Blogger, Liturgical Nerds is moving to Wordpress!

Please find us at our new address
and update your links, RSS feeds, etc. accordingly.

You can still follow us at
of course.

Our official relaunch begins with Advent on November 29th, 2009--see you there!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sex, Ordination, and Covenants

Over at The Huffington Post, regular columnist Rev. Debra Haffner is writing about the commitment to celibacy and chastity for ordained clergypersons. I encourage you to read the entire article. The most interesting statement is where Rev. Haffner asserts that
it does not make sense to ask [ordained, single clergy] to give up adult sexual lives outside of the congregation.
Once again, I'd like to make the distinction between being a grownup and being an adult. Adult means that you are old enough to do whatever you want; being grownup means you have the wisdom and self-discipline to exercise that ability appropriately. As Paul says,
‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Cor 6:12, NRSV)
But there's more to it than that. I'd like to quote extensively a passage from Rowan Williams' Where God Happens (reviewed by Josh here), because I feel like it addressses this more substantially than I could.
A church that is simply recognizing different preferences is stuck at the level of individualism; the real work has not yet been done, the work that is the discovery of God's call beyond the simplistic "listening to the heart" that we all too readily settle for. This is a work that takes protracted, committed time, which is why the church is so much involved in blessing lifelong commitments--marriage, ordination, monastic life--not as a way of saying that everyone has to be involved in one or more of these but to remind all baptized believers that, because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do to them. And it is a work that requires the kind of vulnerability to each other that can only come with the building up of trust over time, and the kind of silence that brings our fantasy identities to judgment. (p 67)
I understand the rub. But you can't separate your sexuality from your spirituality; you can't take one covenant seriously and neglect the formation of another.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Experiencing Jesus

The experience of Jesus in Christian worship and discipleship is not primarily 'spiritual'--whatever that means--but sensory, corporeal, bodily, tangible, enfleshed, incarnate, and immediate.

An overemphasis on so-called spiritual or heavenly aspects eviscerates the power and import of faith. It turns us inward and enforces purity of life or experience as condition for grace. It also demarcates what is of God and what is not in a way that belies the Biblical witness. Rob Bell famously says, "Everything is spiritual." The material things of life are used by God throughout the Old Testament, Jesus in the New, and the Spirit in history to convey grace and life.

To treat God--Father, Son, or Holy Spirit--as that which can only be apprehended internally denies the importance and validity of Incarnation and Crucifixion, as well as the goodness of the Creation. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes, "By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see." May the sacredness of all things created, redeemed, and sanctified by God lead us further into the grace of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Commissioned Elders Presiding at Communion

On the Commissioned Elder and Provisional Member of the Annual Conference and the Sacrament of Holy Communion in The United Methodist Church

Concern for Sacramental Integrity

A number of incidents while I served three years as a probationary member of the United Methodist clergy covenant as well as since I have been ordained have provoked this response. As I served in campus ministry, I was asked many times to guest preach in local congregations, and on some of those occasions, I was asked to lead the congregation in celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion. On each of those occasions, I declined to do so because of my own personal regard for the integrity of the celebration, and to comply with the Discipline of our Church. And yet, that should not have had to be a personal decision. It should be reinforced by clergy colleagues and certainly by superintendents. Unfortunately, my story is not unique: I continue to hear similar stories which deeply disturb me. Many clergy seem unaware of current authorized practice. At the risk of taking something on which is far above my pay scale, let us review...

Disciplinary Provisions

This issue is one which has plagued Methodism from its early days. The official teaching document adopted by the 2004 General Conference, This Holy Mystery, reminds us that:
"[John] Wesley was convinced that there could be no sacramental ministry without ordination as elder. This conviction ultimately determined his decision to perform ‘extraordinary’ ordinations himself...Under the terms of the Book of Discipline, several groups of people are authorized to preside at Eucharist in the charges to which they are appointed.... "
(This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion, as recorded in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008, Resolution #8014, p. 991.)
Among these groups of people will be found the commissioned elder/provisional member, as illustrated by the current Discipline:
"A provisional member preparing for ordination as an elder shall be licensed for pastoral ministry (¶ 315). "
(The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, ¶ 326.2.)

"Provisional elders...may be licensed by the bishop to perform all the duties of the pastor (¶ 340), including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion...within and while appointed to a particular charge or extension ministry. For the purposes of these paragraphs the charge or extension ministry will be defined as ‘people within or related to the community or ministry setting being served.’ "
(The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2008, ¶ 316.1.)
Theology of Commissioning and Ordination

These two paragraphs indicate the source of authority in a local church that is given to commissioned clergy and provisional elders: it stems from their license for pastoral ministry. Though their identity as clergy stems from the act of commissioning, they function as a licensed local pastor. This dichotomy will not be unified and cemented as a life-long part of their identity until ordination. Ordination is the act of the Spirit which gifts individuals for apostolic ministry; it also confers the authorization and blessing of the Church for a gospel ministry unbound by time or location.

However, licensing in the United Methodist tradition, whether in the transitional state of provisional membership & commissioning or for the long-term as a local pastor, is a recognition that the Spirit is still unfolding the gifts of ministry in an individual. Moreover, licensing for pastoral ministry only recognizes a local and temporary (rather than universal or “catholic,” and life-long) call.

The Limits of Sacramental Responsibility

I cannot find anywhere--neither in the paragraphs relating to the ministry of local pastors & provisional elders nor in the paragraphs relating to the responsibilities of bishops & district superintendents--a place where the current Discipline provides for the administration of the sacraments by those not ordained as an Elder anywhere other than in their appointment. Moreover, regardless of what may have been past practice, the current Discipline does not delegate authority on this matter to a person or group: no bishop, district superintendent, cabinet member, senior pastor, Board of Ordained Ministry, nor District Committee on Ministry may make such an authorization.

In the event that there might be a neglect of the Sacramental life of a congregation or assembly, This Holy Mystery suggests suitable alternatives: celebration by a bishop, district superintendent, elder serving in extension ministries, or retired elder. (cf. This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion, as recorded in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008, Resolution #8014, p. 992; cf. Discipline ¶ 340.2.b & ¶ 344.3.a.) A desire to further the mission of the church would still have to follow the Disciplinary procedure to begin a new church community; we should treat the celebration of Holy Communion with at least equal regard, even when we desire to "spread scriptural holiness across the land."

There are other reasons—theological, ecclesiological, missional, and practical—why I believe that this continued occurrence is wrong. There may also be reasons to review our current practice and re-open the debate on our orders of ministry and theology of the Eucharist. But I submit that--whether it is in departing from the tradition of the entire Church (without sufficient cause), violating the unity of the Body of Christ by engaging in practices unrecognizable by our ecumenical brothers and sisters, neglecting to be aware of the current requirements in United Methodism, or deliberately refusing to submit to the Discipline--the rogue practice of asking or allowing provisional elders or local pastors to celebrate the Sacraments outside of their appointment is un-collegial, disobedient, and a failure of the Church.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Liturgical Banners

So, over at Liturgy, Rev. Bosco Peters had put up a set of liturgical season banners for websites, blogs, etc. I thought it was a great idea, and so I decided to give it a go. Here's my first efforts...there will be more to come. Comment below if you have a particular feast/season I don't have that you'd like to see.

Please note that these are all my own personal images, taken from the year I spent in Britain. If you'd like to use these on your not-for-profit blog or website, feel free; just please give credit: "Liturgical banners (c) Joshua W. Hale, 2009. Used by permission." Email me if you are interested in using them on any for-profit/monetized site or purpose.

And here they are:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

LN on Twitter

Well, we weren't here before Oprah, but Liturgical Nerds is officially on Twitter now, as are our individual accounts. Please follow us at

See you in 140 characters!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

40 Days of Prayer

If you haven't yet received an invitation to be a part of the 40 Days of Prayer, then I invite you to learn more about it at

You can also read Josh's thoughts on why this is important and how he got involved at