Aldon Hynes's blog

The Purpose of Ecclesiastical Institutions

As I struggle through my own formation, thinking back to the retreat last weekend, my interaction with various people in positions of power in certain ecclesiastical institutions, my readings about the Orthodox faith and my readings for seminary, one quote from Frederica Matthewes-Green in her book Welcome to the Orthodox Church particularly jumps out at me.

But to learn Orthodoxy itself is a different matter. Because once you’re on the inside, you find that Orthodoxy is not primarily a religious institution, but a spiritual path. The institution exists for the sake of the path.

It sometimes feels that both Protestants and Roman Catholics miss this important idea. To paraphrase Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, “The Sabbath [and ecclesiastical institutions] were made for man, not man for the Sabbath [and ecclesiastical institutions]”.

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Retreat Reflections: Breakfast 4'33"

Breakfast had started by the time I arrived. Already, people were sitting at tables eating. My normal breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal, and there were packets of oatmeal available in case I wanted to make some. Yet I decided to get my daily oats in the form of Cheerios and to add to that a hardboiled egg and a cup of yoghurt.

There was one particular table where the sunlight seemed greater than at other tables and I chose to sit there with my face to the sun. It would make it easier to be silent and for others around me to give space to my silence.

If I looked towards the window, my eyes adjusted to the brightness and everything in the room seemed dim. At times, I closed my eyes to just feel the sunlight on my face.

The sounds of breakfast were like John Cage’s 4'33", the background noises becoming the foreground as a result of everyone’s silence. There was the sound of spoons hitting the sides of bowls of cereal. There was the sound of butter and jam being spread on toast. There was the sound of people cracking the hardboiled eggs. There was the sound of people walking and of chairs being scooted in.

My thoughts returned to the saying, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.” I sat quietly, listening to breakfast opus 433, trying to absorb it all. I got up and got a cup of coffee. I thought of Virginia Woolf sitting quietly drinking her coffee.

Where do you miraculously experience the beauty of God and God’s creation?

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Retreat Reflections: Just Paint

This is a brief story that came to me while I was praying during a recent silent retreat.

There was once a group of painters whose works of art were so beautiful that everyone wanted to come see and buy their paintings. They decided they should work together to share ideas and help each other out and they became more and more successful. The started setting up committees and filing reports about which painters sold how many paintings.

Then, they started arguing amongst themselves about what the right way of painting should be and who should be painters and who shouldn’t be. They split into different factions. New people came along and wanted to join their ranks, and they were told no.

Their paintings all started to look the same with less and less vibrancy. Slowly, people stopped coming to see and buy the paintings. So the painters decided they needed more committees to work on making sure that everyone painted up to the groups standards and to reach out to people who no longer bought paintings.

As the painters spent more time dealing with conventions, convocations, and meetings, and writing reports and resolutions to address the decrease in sales, they became more and more dispirited. Their painting suffered, and more and more people stopped coming to see and buy their paintings.

Some outsiders suggested that maybe they needed to simply spend more time painting, explore new ways of painting, and encourage others to become painters. Some scoffed at these ideas. Others thought there might be some merit to them and suggested new committees to explore these ideas. Unfortunately, very few painters actually acted on the suggestions and painted more or in new ways.

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Coming out as a Queer Multivocational Unordained Priest

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ whose journeys are somehow intertwined with mine, the peace of Jesus, the Christ be with you. It is a tradition within parts of the church for postulants to write to their bishops four times a year about their journeys. I am not a postulant and I have no bishops, but still I feel compelled to write.

I am starting my second term as a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I am currently in the online Certificate of Theological Studies program, but God willing will change programs to the lo-res M.Div program in the near future. This term I am taking Introduction to New Testament and Church History II. I am particularly interested in both of these classes in thinking about how our understanding of God and God’s Church changes over time. I have also recently joined a formation group and I’m looking forward growing with members of this group.

The resolutions of the 233rd Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut provided an interesting glimpse into some of these changes in our day as it looks at what it means to be a member of the clergy in good standing, including, “a future with even more novel forms of ordained ministry“.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a priest. In my previous ember letter, I wrote about reading Carter Heyward’s book, “A Priest Forever” and finding that her description of an Ontological Priest fits nicely with parts of my journey.

Recently, I participated in the Trinity Institute and this has further shaped some of my thinking. Jose Antonio Vargas talked about what it is like to be undocumented in America. He is here without the necessary papers because of what seems to be broken policies and bureaucracy. It limits what he can do. In light of Heyward’s book and my own journey, I feel like I, and others I’ve met during my journey are Unordained Priests, in a manner not unlike how Vargas is an undocumented America.

Another speaker at Trinity Institute was the Rev. Elizabeth Edman who spoke about queer theory and the idea of disrupting binaries. My eldest daughter is just completing her Master’s Degree and about to start her PhD in gender studies in Japan. We have many interesting discussions about queer theory and while I won’t claim to be any expert, I’m very interested in disrupting binaries. In particularly, there is the queer/heterosexual binary, and there is the clergy/laity binary.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut uses “Guidelines for Mutuality” that seem to me to encourage this disrupting of binaries by urging participants to avoid either/or thinking. Yet I wonder, how much are we using either/or thinking and maintaining binaries as we think about the roles of priests and laity and who can become a priest? Can we try on (to use another one of the guidelines) new ways of thinking about the priesthood. Here, I return to some of my studies where the early church and the reformation church explored ideas of what the priesthood is.

In part of our journeys we may talk about bi-vocational priests. Yet I wonder if that is at best a half-hearted attempt to disrupt the clergy/laity binary. I have thought of myself as a bi-vocational seminarian as I work full time and attend seminary online. Yet perhaps, we need to recognize that many of us are called to many things in our lives. As the Great Litany says,

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good

Perhaps we should be talking about being multi-vocational.

So, perhaps this ember letter is coming out as a queer multivocational unordained priest.

I wrote the beginning of this while I was on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in New York. At matins the light shining on one section of the choir caught my attention, perhaps similarly to how the unconsumed burning bush caught Moses attention. I sought the source and found that it was from sunlight streaming in through a stained glass window over a statute of Mary.

While the image in the stained glass window was most likely the annunciation, it seemed for me at that moment that the image was of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth when they were both pregnant. I stopped to ponder this.

In what ways am I Mary? What will I be giving birth to? In what way am I Elizabeth and who are the Marys in my life? How do we honor this in those around us? Perhaps some of us should hold a baby shower for Mary during the feast of the visitation, where everyone is invited to bring gifts symbolizing the ministries they are struggling to give birth to or nurture.

With this in mind, Bishop Glasspool’s article in The Episcopal New York entitled “Call the Midwife!” caught my attention. It echoed some of the same things I was thinking about.

Another part of my journey includes the Eastern Orthodox Church. I have been trying to make it to vespers Saturday evenings at local Orthodox Church. My youngest daughter has developed a strong interest in the Orthodox Church and is hoping to be baptized into it this year. Likewise, I continue to regularly worship with seminarians from Andover Newton at Yale stirring my childhood Congregational tendencies.

So where does all of this leave me? Perhaps all the more like Mary; a little confused, frightened, unsure, and yet willing and excited about what the miraculous annunciation meant. As who I am changes with whatever is growing inside of me, planted by God, I am seeking out the midwives and relatives. Will you be an Elizabeth, Ann, or Brigid to me? How can I be an Elizabeth, Ann, or Brigid to you?

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Retreat Reflections: Matins

When Matins had ended I sat as other departed. I noticed that an end piece of the railing of one of the kneelers in the choir was strangle illuminated. It almost looked as if someone had left a cellphone there that was glowing brightly. I looked for the source of the light, guessing it was sunlight coming in from an unexpected angle.

As I left, I found the source. Over the statue of the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus, and stepping on a serpent, there was a small stained glass window that the sun was pouring in through. The window at that moment appeared to depict Elizabeth talking with Mary about Mary’s pregnancy during the visitation, although I realize it was more likely an image of the annunciation.

It was striking, and I wondered what sort of message there might be for me in this? Am I like Mary, carrying something inside of me that I do not yet understand, something waiting to be born and change the world? Perhaps I need to speak with my spiritual midwife about this. Am I like Elizabeth? Is there a Mary in my life who is carrying something too wonderful to understand, who needs encouragement and words of wisdom?

I stood in silence and absorbed as much as I could.

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