Parish vs Missions

What's the difference between a parish and a mission?

Fundamentally, there is no differences in the congregations of either.  Both have communities that gather together for corporate worship and support the life of their church.  The differences come more at the operational level.  A parish is a church that can financially support its own operation.  They also have a greater degree of independence in how they operate.  For example, with the guidance of the Canon for Congregational Development, a parish selects and hires its own rector.  The rector is the title for the priest-in-charge of a parish.  The elected lay officials are called a Vestry and vote on financial matters concerning the church as well as function as a council of advice for the rector.  Parishes also contribute a portion of monies they receive each month to the diocese as a part of mutual ministry support.  That money is used by the diocese to, among other things, support congregations that cannot financially support themselves.

A congregation that cannot sustain itself financially is called a mission.  Missions receive financial support from the diocese to operate.  Because the diocese is supporting them, the Bishop also exercises more control in selecting the priest-in-charge of the congregation.  A priest leading a mission is called a vicar.  Another difference is that the group of elected lay leaders is called a Bishop's Council.  When a mission can financially support itself for a period of time, they can petition the diocese for parish status. It's also possible that a parish can decline in membership, be unable to sustain itself, and may revert back to a mission status. 

In our diocese, not all missions have permanent vicars.  Some missions may have supply priests who celebrate the Eucharist with them on Sundays but are not with them throughout the week.  Something new in recent years is the addition of bi-vocational priests.  These are people who have not gone to seminary, but have been selected by the Bishop to be educated through the Iona program.  This is the three-year formation program that is ran by the diocese for the formation of deacons and bi-vocational priests.  Once ordained, these priests are assigned to non-stipend positions as priests-in-charge of missions that cannot support a full-time vicar.  

Kneeling or sitting after Communion?

After taking communion, I see some people go back to their pew and kneel and some sit.  What is the proper etiquette?  Should I kneel or sit?

Each church, within the guidelines of the Book of Common Prayer, tends to have its own customs for worship.  For example, some churches stand for the Prayers of the People while some kneel.  Either is acceptable.  So is kneeling after returning from communion.  The local practice may be to sit or kneel.  What I observe at the churches I've been in is a mixture.

It really is a matter of your personal piety - the practices you do to make you feel closer to God.  Here's how I approach it.  Holy Communion is a sacred encounter with the living God.  As I return to the pew and contemplate this, I prefer to kneel because it feels more reverent to me.  The person in the pew next to me can be just as contemplative while sitting.  Most importantly, either kneeling or sitting, at that moment you should strive to tune everything else out and enter into deep prayer with God.  Following that practice can assure us of an even more fruitful experience from communion. 

What's the meaning of the coin in the fish's mouth?

There's a story that always puzzled me where Jesus tells the disciples to catch fish that will have coins in their mouths to pay taxes with.  What does this story mean?

In this story, the tax collectors corner Peter and are asking why if Jesus pays the Temple tax.  Peter answers them that Jesus does.  Then Peter goes into the house and Jesus asks him who Peter thinks kings collect taxes from - their own children or others.  Peter answers him "from others" and Jesus responds that the children are exempt.  But, Jesus adds, so that the disciples don't cause offense, he instructs Peter to fish in the lake and that he will find a coin to pay the Temple tax in the mouth of the first fish he catches. 

A tax was established from the time of the Old Testament. Over time, this tax levied on Jews for the Lord's sanctuary was increased to pay for the upkeep and operation of the Temple.  In one sense, it's not that unusual that Peter will find the coin to pay the tax in the mouth of a fish.  There are plenty of stories in the Bible about unusual finds! Maybe Jesus causes this miracle of the fish because Peter is a fisherman.  And it's interesting that this is the only Gospel to tell the story - maybe because Matthew was a former tax collector himself.

What's more important in the story than where he finds the coin is the problem of whether Jesus’ followers should be paying taxes to support the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples were facing a conundrum. If they believed Jesus was the son of God, why should he, or they, pay for the upkeep of what Jews considered God's house on Earth - the Temple.  Yet if they didn’t pay the Temple tax, they would no longer be considered Jews, an identity they didn’t intend to shed. Jesus solves the dilemma for them by affirming his identity as the son of God, and also extending his kingship to his followers, while protecting himself and Peter from still more confrontation with authorities and Temple tax collectors.

Do we stand or kneel for communion prayers?

The Book of Common Prayer allows us flexibility in how we perform certain parts of worship.  The rubrics give us direction on what those may be.  These are the italicized instructions before certain sections.  After the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), the BCP says that the people may stand or kneel.  Whenever there are two options in a rubric, either are valid to do.  However, the first option is generally the preferred.  The Eucharistic Prayer is a holy time.  People may feel that kneeling is a more reverent act.  With the current BCP, the alternative of standing  allows us to participate in a celebratory posture.  We are lifting our prayers to God in celebration for the sacrifice that Jesus makes for us.  Either position is an act of personal piety and acceptable.  

When was the Bible written?

One would think that to a question this common, the answer shouldn’t be so hard to find.  Of course, the Bible contains many different books, written at different times by different people. This means that sometimes there isn’t a straightforward answer to the question.  

It’s hardest part of the answer is around the Old Testament books.  While there's too much to pack in here about the authorship of the earliest books of the OT, the oldest written ones date probably between 800 BCE - 600 BCE.  Certainly during the Babylonian Exile, much of the oral tradition began to be written down.  The latest books of the OT end somewhere around 500 BCE.  There are several books that we classify as "apocryphal" that date up to around 100 BCE (Maccabees).  

It’s easier to answer for the New Testament books.  These were written within a much shorter timespan, more or less in the years between 45 CE and 95 CE. While none of the books contains a specific date of composition, scholars have managed to assign dates that are fairly accurate. The Book of James is regarded as the oldest in the NT.  The letters written by Paul to various church communities make up the bulk of the early writings beginning around the early 50s.  The "newest" book of the NT is generally thought to be Revelation written around 95 CE.  

Do all churches face East?

I had to do a little digging for the scriptural part that references this.  In Matthew 24:27, Jesus says, "As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."  Ezekiel 43:4 also speaks of God’s presence as arriving from the east.  In light of these verses, as well as other verses that compare God’s encounters with Christians to the rising sun, Christians have chosen to represent Jesus second coming in architecture, art, and other types of symbolism as being "from the east to the west."
Since we're always to be watchful for Jesus' return, one of the ways the Church has called us to remember this is with the architecture of the building.  The Church chose to represent this by situating the altar, which is our focal point of worship during the Sunday liturgy, at the east end of the nave.  That way, as people worship, they're facing the direction from which Jesus is supposed to return - as if they are watching for him to arrive.  

There is a Bible verse that talks about this, Matthew 24:27 - "As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."   Looking eastward, we're also reminded of Jesus rising again by the rising of the sun each morning.

It also is represented in cemetery planning.  Caskets have historically been placed with the head to the west and the feet to the east to similar to how they face in the church - that way they're facing Jesus when they are resurrected at his return.  A person laying with their head to the west would face east if they were to stand up. When funerals are held in the church, it's customary during the service to place the casket with the feet toward the altar to reflect a similar image and to remind us that the deceased believer and all the company of heaven continue to worship along with the Church even in death.

One interesting exception to this custom exists, which is the funeral and burial of clergy. Clergy caskets are situated with the head facing the altar during the service and buried with their head facing east and the feet west. The reason for this is similar to above - the priest would rise to proclaim the return of Jesus to their people, which means they would be facing west to see the people.  A priest at a church I did my field work in humorously reminded me, "that means when a priest rises, he's turned his back on Jesus."
This is certainly a custom in most liturgical churches (Episcopal, Catholic, Orthodox).  Of course, it's not always practical to do so based on the land and the building.  Remember, a lot of what we do in liturgy is symbolic.  Is your service just as holy if the nave doesn't face east?  Do you worship the Lord just the same if you're facing north?  I think God is pleased any time we show our faith regardless of what direction we're facing to do it. 

What's the difference between "Heaven" and the "Kingdom of Heaven"

Heaven is the term we generally use when we're thinking about a "place" where God is thought to live.  It's also the place where we believe that we will ascend to upon our death.  Many people envision this being a place above this created world with its opposite, hell, being located in the underneath.

The “kingdom of heaven” is a term used frequently by Jesus, alhough he never clearly defines it.  He mostly refers to it in parables.  It's also sometimes called the “Kingdom of God.” The concept is one of the central messages of Jesus’ preaching. It is a symbolic term calling up the Jewish belief that God created this world, and is its universal king and judge who constantly works for the good of the people. But unlike the concept of a traditional kingdom, this kingdom isn't a physical one but one that encompasses a reign of justice, peace, and love — in short, a paradise.  Jesus also repeatedly pointed out that “The kingdom of God is among you” and encouraged his followers to work to spread the Kingdom of God. To follow that example of Jesus suggests that it's not something coming in the future, but something to be lived in the present.  We can use our gifts to further a world of justice and peace right now, in this world.

What's Apostolic Succession?

In the creed we profess “One Holy catholic and Apostolic” Church.  There's a couple of things mean by the "Apostolic Church" and the idea of Apostolic Succession.  The first is that there is an unbroken line from our current bishops back to the original apostles.  As Peter, the first Bishop of the Church, consecrated successors, and so on, that chain reaches through the ages until today.  When a bishop lays hands on you at your confirmation, you are receiving that laying on of hands passed down over the ages back to those original twelve.  The second aspect is that there is an assumption of the faith, teaching, and discipline of the apostles being passed on by Peter and his successors.  

For another perspective of the Apostolic Church, St. Irenaeus (a peer of Polycarp, who himself was a student of John) writes:

“the greatest and most ancient church…which was established at Rome by the most renowned Apostles Peter and Paul. This tradition the church has from the Apostles, and this faith has been proclaimed to all men, and has come down to our own day through the succession of bishops. For this church has a position of leadership and authority; and therefore every church, that is, the faithful everywhere, must needs agree with the church at Rome, for in her the apostolic tradition has ever been preserved by the faithful from all parts of the world.

What are the different kind of Bishop?

I think what you're asking about are different types of bishops.  In our Diocese of Oklahoma, most of you have probably only experienced one type, so some of the others may be a bit confusing.  The primary is the Diocesan Bishop.  This is the type of bishop that our Bishop Ed Konieczny is.  They are the ecclesiastical leaders of the diocese.

Just prior to that, he was a Bishop Coadjutor.  This is a bishop who is elected to succeed a Diocesan Bishop.  Bishop Ed was elected to succeed Bishop Robert Moody.  In that transitional time, after he was consecrated, he took that title.  Once the Coadjutor becomes the Diocesan, the term Coadjutor is dropped.

Another type of bishop is a Bishop Suffragan.  This is a bishop elected to assist the Diocesan Bishop and to serve under the Diocesan's direction.  In essence, it's a working co-bishop in a diocese but without any right of succession when the Diocesan retires or resigns.  Sometimes, Suffragan Bishops are called by another diocese to become their Diocesan Bishop.

Some diocese have an Assistant Bishop.  This is someone who is already a bishop that is appointed by the Diocesan Bishop to serve under the Diocesan's direction.  Sometimes it may be a retired Bishop who becomes an assistant.

What is General Convention?

The General Convention is the main governing body of the Church.  It is comprised of two houses: the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.  It meets regularly every three years.  However, the House of Bishops meets regularly in between sessions of General Convention.

All bishops, whether active or retired, have seat and vote in the House of Bishops. Each diocese is entitled to representation in the House of Deputies by four clergy delegates (either priests or deacons) and four lay deputies. 

The convention is divided into committees which consider resolutions. Each resolution is referred to a convention committee which makes its recommendation to the House. When one house has acted on the resolution it is sent to the other house for consideration.  Resolutions must pass both houses in order to take effect. 

For more information on General Convention, or to see what legislation has passed, or is under consideration, please click here

What does INRI mean on the Cross

It is an abbreviation for Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judeorum – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. In Latin the “I” and “J” are usually interchangeable and ancient Latin did not use the “J” That is why it is INRI not JNRJ. It was common for the Romans to hang a sign above the crucified to indicate the charges against him. The Bible says that Pilate put the charges in Latin, Greek and Hebrew on the sign.  He had this placed this title above Jesus in mockery rather than faith. He also likely knew it would irritate the Jewish leaders, which it did.  But even in his ridicule, Pilate spoke truth. 

When Do I Make the Sign of the Cross?

There's a lot of things we do in worship that may be confusing to a newcomer as well as someone who has been here even ten or more years, so don't be embarrassed!  Some of these things are personal acts of reverence - for example, making the sign of the cross or bowing/genuflecting at certain times.  What's comfortable to one person may be awkward to another.  The point of personal reverence is to help you feel more connected to worship.  Understanding why may make it feel less awkward.  However, and this is important, it is a personal act.  If it isn't something you feel comfortable doing, that's ok!  

We could have a whole series about "liturgical aerobics".  But, let's stick with the question about the cross.  When we make the sign of the cross, it's traditionally done by taking the fingers of the right hand and tracing the cross over our body, in the order of forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder, and (optional, though you will see many Episcopalians do this) chest again. When we're baptized, the priest marks us on the forehead with the sign of the cross to remind us we are marked as one of Christ's forever.  The sign of the cross recalls this and is also a reminder of our devotion to Christ. 

There are specific times during the liturgy that you may see people make the sign. Some of these may be:

  • Opening acclamation - "Blessed be God..."
  • At the end of the Gloria "In the Glory of God the Father"
  • At the end of the Nicene Creed
  • During the Prayers of the People when we pray for the departed 
  • When Fr. Sean makes the sign of the cross over us at the absolution following the confession
  • During the Benedictus when we sing "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord"
  • During the Eucharistic Prayer when Fr. Sean says "Sanctify us also..." - a reminder of our sanctification by the Holy Spirit
  • After receiving the bread and wine at communion
  • When Fr. Sean gives the final blessing at the end of the service - "And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit"

There may be other times.  For example, any time the mention of the Trinity is made "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" you may see people make the sign of the cross.

There's one last place you may see a slightly alternate version.  At the beginning of the Gospel reading, Fr. Sean or I will say "The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ..."  People may make a small sign of the cross on their foreheads, lips, and heart, with their thumb.  It is a moment to put us into a reverent state to listen to the words of Jesus.  People may pray silently, "Lord, be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart".  

What is the Immaculate Conception?

Many people mistakenly believe that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Jesus. However, it is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to Mary. Essentially, the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary was protected from "original sin" and was sinless. They still teach that Mary was born in the normal way, only immune from inherited sin.  

The Roman Catholic Church argues that the Immaculate Conception is necessary because, without it, Jesus would have received his human nature from one who was herself stained with "original sin". From her time in the womb, Mary was sanctified because of her special role in bringing the Jesus as God incarnate into the world.

One problem with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is that it's not taught in the Bible. Even Catholics would have to admit that scripture doesn't directly teach it. The Bible nowhere describes Mary as anything but an ordinary human female whom answered God's call to be the mother of the Jesus. Mary was undoubtedly a godly woman and surely a wonderful mother. But the Bible gives us no reason to believe that Mary was sinless. 

What scripture does tell us is that Jesus was miraculously conceived inside Mary, who was a virgin at the time. That is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.  The Episcopal Church teaches that belief in the Virgin Birth doesn't imply belief in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  

Why Do We Light Chapel Candles?

The practice of lighting candles goes all the way back to the Old Testament. God required the Israelites to keep lamps burning perpetually before the Holy of Holies.

In the Church, light is a representation of Christ, so the burning of candles or lamps, has naturally come to symbolize him in a special way. For example, a candle must burn perpetually before the aumbry (that recessed cupboard in the wall which contains blessed bread and wine), as it did in the Temple. 

When it comes to the candles in the chapel, those are called "votive candles".  Something that is "votive" has to do with a vow or expressing a desire.  Someone who lights a votive candle is usually praying for a loved one, someone who has departed, or maybe for God's help with something going on in their lives. 

So the practice of votive candles not only has biblical roots, but it's also very symbolic of who were are as Christians united to Christ, and of our dependence upon God in our needs.