Breakfast Time

The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center welcomes all to breakfast in the Center Monday – Saturday. On Sundays, one of our nearby sister churches, the Chiesa Evangelica Metodista di Roma (Italian Methodist Church of Rome) prepares and brings breakfast to those who live on the streets in our neighborhood. (They adopted the name “Breakfast Time” from a ministry used by the Italian Methodist congregation in Milan.) A rotating crew of five prepare sandwiches and coffee at 07:00, hit the road and are usually done well before morning services. On Palm Sunday, a parishioner and I joined them.

12919765_1773612982871588_1457386058474824054_n-960x430.jpgThe parish began this ministry a year ago, and what I learned as I met their extended family on the streets is that they have built relationships of kindness and trust with people who have precious few of either. The simple meal we offered, while welcomed as nutrition, also created a sacramental space where faith, hope and love could deepen as we encountered Christ in each other. That we do this by going out and walking also brings to mind other facets of what is means to be a People of the Way.

While the populations we serve are not identical, the ministries of Breakfast Time and the JNRC breakfasts are related. We are each seeking to build relationships between those with shelter and security and those without. Such reconciling relationships have the power to transform and save. They are fundamental to the reign of God. Sharing our experiences and exploring synergies in this kingdom work can help make our ministries more effective, and strengthen the bonds uniting the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And, on a personal note, I look forward to a few more opportunities before I leave this place to walk with my sisters and brothers as they proclaim this early Sunday morning Gospel.

“Go Away!”: A Consecration Weekend Coda

Saturday evening, I attended the final season performance of the Centre de Musique de Chambre de Paris, a kind of experimental concert concept in chamber music. The warm and intimate Salle Cortot was packed. The music was great, the animateur was funny, the audience festive and responsive. We ended the evening with everyone singing a French tongue twister from the Offenbach operetta La Belle Hélène (at least my tongue was twisted). A French audience and one crazy American all singing about Agamemnon. What a hoot. My seat neighbor told me that these recitals were like a community event, and that the audience/benefactors and young performers were a kind of family. God was up to something at the Salle Cortot that evening, and I was glad to be a part of it.


Sunday morning, on my way to Eucharist, I saw a half-dozen people still dressed in nightclub attire getting into limos. I’m not sure how Paris nightlife works (in Rome some clubs are open all night), but I did wonder what God might be up to here. What stories might Jesus have listened to on the street, in the limos, that morning? The best I could offer was prayer around the question as I continued to church.

Ordaining and Consecrating a Bishop … and a Church

The Cathedral, Jean Béraud, 1890

Last weekend, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe celebrated the Ordination and Consecration of our new bishop, The Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris. It was a gift to be able to celebrate in community, greet friends and colleagues, meet new members of my church family, and join in beautiful worship. Parishioners IMG_3217from across Europe spent a fun and slightly frantic Friday afternoon together preparing regional food specialties for the evening reception (I was slicing Italian porchetta, a kind of odd purgatory for a vegetarian).

Berkeley Divinity School Dean Andrew McGowan – my advisor, professor and mentor – gave the ordination sermon. The dean used Jesus’ sending command to the seventy in Luke 10:3 (“Go on your way…” or “Go away!” per the actual Greek) to align the Convocation’s pilgrim spirit with being evangelists in this most secular yet sacred of places. I was in heaven. And then there was Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Sunday sermon call to follow the Christian Way of Love.

It was a weekend filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is central to much of our sacramental life. In the ordination rites of many Christian traditions, hands are laid upon the minister and words like this are spoken:

Therefore, Father, make [Mark] a bishop in your Church. Pour out upon [him] the power of your princely Spirit, whom you bestowed upon your beloved Son Jesus Christ, with whom he endowed the apostles, and by whom your Church is built up in every place, to the glory and unceasing praise of your Name. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 521)


It is a powerful moment to be sure. Yet, for me, the Spirit was most evident a few minutes later, when Bishop Curry, standing next to now Bishop Edington, said to us “Greet your new bishop!” And we broke out in extended, joyful applause.

Yes, a new bishop was consecrated. And, what I heard in that applause, what I felt across the entire weekend, was the Holy Spirit consecrating and renewing a church. All of us, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, pilgrim ministers in this place, going out together to lift up the unfathomable love of God in Christ for all God’s children.

Farewell to a Bishop and a Welcome to New Parishioners


The Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation, came to St. Paul’s last Sunday. He was consecrated bishop here in 2001, so it was fitting that this was his last pastoral visitation before the consecration of his successor next weekend.

We welcomed one confirmand and received several others, Latinas all. The Comunidad LatinoAmericana threw a fiesta that went on into the evening. They had the bishop dancing (and even got Mr. “two left feet” on the floor, though not for the machete dance). What a fun celebration! What an awesome community!

Catacombs and Eternity

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St. Paul’s has a tradition of doing a Lenten excursion to one of Rome’s many catacombs. This year, we went to the Catacombs of SS. Marcellino and Pietro. Named for two martyrs of the Diocletian Persecution interred there, these catacombs later became a favorite of the wealthy Romans of early Christendom. The beautifully restored frescoes have a gentle and almost happy energy to them. (Thank you Rev. Austin for noting this!) Do they reflect an early Christian understanding of our own resurrection? A hoped for life after death similar to the earthly life of comfort enjoyed by the deceased? I love how St. Paul tries to find words to describe life after this earthly death (see 1 Corinthians 15, especially vv. 35-55), and I suspect that the catacomb frescoes are trying to do the same thing.1a969627-7162-45d0-9ad5-83e619f81546

After our tour, we celebrated the Eucharist in the underground chapel. Some of us shared how we were grieving our own losses. It was a time to pray about mortality, eternity and hope.

Evangelical Women

Tavola rot 2019Last Friday evening, I attended a round table on gender justice held at the Evangelical Methodist church a few blocks from St. Paul’s. It was the opening event of the annual congress of the Federazione Donne Evangeliche in Italia (Federation of Evangelical Women in Italy). The Federation is a group of women from many Protestant denominations around Italy committed to “witness the liberation of Christ’s love for every human creature, with particular reference to status of women in the church and in society.”

The panel consisted of Letizia Tommasone, a pastora and Waldensian feminist and gender studies theologian, Elly Schlein, a Member of the EU Parliament and critic of the current Italian immigration policies, representing Northeast Italy, and Francesca Koch, the President of the International House of Women in Rome. They talked about women in scripture, women and the Italian migrant situation, and women in society, interspersed by the actor and biographer Fiammetta Gullo performing four stories about women across the field of discussion.

I was grateful to hear the thoughtful presentations, and absorb the energy, camaraderie and faithful attention of the ~100 women (and a few men) that evening. But perhaps the more powerful witness was that the conference overlapped the World Congress of Families in Verona (a city in Elly Schlein’s district), an event favored by conservative government leaders and certain American religious groups.

I came away from this evening inspired by the quiet and firm leadership of these women who, in in comparison with that noiser forum in Verona, offered a simple and powerful Gospel of Christian love and justice.



Walk In Love

Walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:2 and The Book of Common Prayer, p. 376

The Lenten class is a common fixture in many churches. We are offering a marvelous program based on the book Walk in Love by Rev. Scott Gunn and Rev. Melody Shobe. It’s 51oX0gddUZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgan Episcopal take on what it means to live the Christian life, and covers a wide range of topics from scripture and doctrine to what is The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. As a five week Lenten series whose primary teaching tools are short videos from the program, supplemented with some scriptural foundation and background in our tradition, it only scratches the surface, hopefully whetting appetites for more formation and fellowship.

I am fortunate to facilitate a group representative of St. Paul’s parishioners who are comfortable in English (I hope that the ChurchNext publisher rolls out Spanish subtitles soon!) Half-way through the program, I have been moved by three insights.

The first is the beauty of seeing the Holy Spirit at work. People have opened to telling stories about their own faith. The child who learned about Christ from an attentive uncle. The young person who talked about being born again as an adolescent. IMG_3162.jpegAnd there is much wisdom at our table. Like the newcomer who, while acknowledging our beautiful sanctuary, exclaimed “But the church isn’t the building; it’s the people!” Such witness always seems fresh and new to me, and I am grateful, because I end up being nourished by my fellow pilgrims.

The second insight might called “only in the Europe” or “only in Rome” learnings. Nearly everyone was fascinated with the story of The Episcopal Church, because we are always getting asked how what we belong to is different from Roman Catholicism. And several of the Italian participants shared how they find new layers of meaning in the English translations of Scripture. Our Italian parishioners come to St. Paul’s for various reasons, but one of them is the way that our scriptural and worship tradition deepens their faith. Plant an Episcopal church in another culture, and see what new thing arises (Isaiah 43:19). It is a kind of cross-evangelization that is a particular gift of the Convocation.IMG_3163.jpeg

Finally, I am realizing how much satisfaction there is in something as simple as setting out some strawberries and cheese for our sessions. Set the table with love, and let God do the rest.

“One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”

Our African parishioners typically trace back to one of several countries: Kenya and Uganda in the east (Rev. Joel Nafuma was a Ugandan refugee), and Nigeria and Ghana in the west. They come from Anglican provinces like The Church of Nigeria, now the largest or second largest province in the Anglican Communion. In the Northeastern US, we tend to ask the missiological question “What is God up to?” from the frame of decreasing church membership. While I’m not fully sure what the frame is in many of Africa’s Anglican provinces, I don’t think it is one of decreasing numbers. St. Paul’s has benefitted greatly from the strong, confident love of Christ inherent in our African Anglican heritage. I share just one example.

Emeka came to Rome from Nigeria about eight years ago, and became one of our leading ministers at St. Paul’s, as well as one of the leaders of the African part of our community. A chorister since his youth, he also enriches our music ministry with his love of church music. One evening, as we talked about growing the body of Christ here, he shared how he freely hands out his business card to people he meets, inviting them to come to St. Paul’s.

In Anglican circles, one hears a lot about the challenges facing the Communion with regard to different and conflicting understandings of theology, religious expression and ethics. In the US, some formerly Episcopal parishes have aligned themselves as mission churches of the Church of Nigeria, where they find more common ground on these topics. There are real and important challenges here that will take prayer, humility and the fullness of time for God’s healing balm to work. That said, I believe, naively perhaps, that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). And when Emeka, a chorister from the Church of Nigeria and now leader of this Episcopal Church, passes out his business cards, he bears witness to our unity, and to the evangelical heart of the Gospel.

Of Aquinas, Gelato & Salvation

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The other day, a friend invited me to attend a lecture by Bishop Robert Barron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and head of Word on Fire. Bishop Barron was being awarded an honorary doctorate by the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas here in Rome (a place I likely would have attended at some point had I entered the Dominicans as I was discerning my call back when I was at Catholic University). Barron is a delight for Catholics – a social media-savvy evangelical, often compared to a modern Fulton J. Sheen.

The talk was interesting, but befitting the occasion, fairly technical. Barron showed how Aquinas was really a modern evangelical at heart by somehow looking at his theology through the lens of post-modern thinking to arrive at the doctrine of salvation by faith as we embrace grace, God’s free gift of complete self-giving, unconditional love in Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1). At least that’s what I think he was saying. His YouTube videos are decidedly more accessible.

That evening, I had a date with Nasim, our refugee center cook. (You can see Nasim in the lower left hand corner of this blog’s header.) At night, Nasim sells scarves along Via Nazionale, and he has been asking me to have a gelato with him. On my way home, there he was on the street. We ducked into a nearby gelateria and Nasim insisted on buying. We talked about our families. Like many refugees, Nasim had what for me is an unimaginably painful story, which he volunteered. He has family in the country he came from, now including grandchildren, and sends money to them from the little he earns.


Sitting with Nasim on a bench on a busy Roman sidewalk at 9:00 PM, sticky with gelato offered by someone who really had no money to pay for it, hearing a story of great suffering told with great peace and even a sense of joy, I learned anew what grace is, God’s gift through Christ of truly unconditional love. And I was saved.

The Good News in the Ashes

Preaching, discerning and delivering the Word to a people in a time and place, is an honor and a joy. I typically find the scriptural research a blast, the writing a pain and the result almost always a surprise. It can also be an interesting exercise in learning what to let fall onto the cutting room floor because no matter how cool that idea was, it had nothing to do with what the Holy Spirit wanted to say to the church. And often, what ends up being delivered (and differently, heard) seems to be different from what I thought I wrote. Like this Ash Wednesday reflection. The moment has passed, but perhaps you too will find the Good News in the story of the ashes.