Forward Today: Advent confessions of a clergy spouse

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ: We’re pleased to welcome Lindsay Barrett-Adler, our Director of Development, as our guest author this week.

Last Sunday, I heard my parish priest (and husband) say the following words to begin A Service of Advent Lessons and Carols: “Beloved in Christ, in this season of Advent, let it be our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the Angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, to see the Babe lying in a manger.”

I have been preparing many things lately—decorations, presents, school break babysitters, cookie exchanges, and all kinds of Christmas fun for my family. And that’s in addition to my paid ministry here at Forward Movement. Sitting with our two-year-old in the church soft space, I continued to reflect on Paul’s (the husband’s) invitation to prepare my heart and mind for Christmas, now only a few weeks away. Did he just add one more task to my ever-expanding list?

And this can easily become the refrain of my Advent as a clergy spouse. More services, more meetings, more parties, more commitments, and the ever-present pressure to deliver a picture-perfect Christmas morning at the end of it all. If anything, church can sometimes feel like an extra burden at an already frenzied time of the year. I could get so much done in that hour on Sunday morning!

Putting the third dozen batch of cookies into the freezer, I imagine how Martha must have felt when she and Mary welcomed Christ into their home. I have been so busy and so stressed, so worried about all the things on that to-do list. Would Jesus look at my priorities and say I am giving value to the most important things? In the brief time left in Advent, will I choose “the better part,” or will I continue to cling to stress as a status symbol and conversation starter, letting that to-do list monopolize my heart and mind?

I choose to let it be my care and delight to prepare myself for the remainder of Advent and hope you will too. Beloved in Christ, let us go to Bethlehem, letting fall by the wayside those things that distract us from the journey ahead. We each have the opportunity, with each new day, to do as Baruch invites: “Put on the robe of the righteousness from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting.” There are so many ways to prepare in the time left, from taking up a habit of prayer to fasting and spending time with God in scripture. Whatever my new Advent practice ends up being, it will be done not with obligation and guilt, but with care and delight.

Yours faithfully,

Lindsay Barrett-Adler
Director of Development

P.S. We hope you enjoy Forward Today, one of the many free ministries offered by Forward Movement. You can make a special, year-end gift to inspire disciples and empower evangelists by clicking here.

More from our ministry:

Pray on the go with our podcasts or mobile app

Pray with Mary and Martha: Bible Women

Explore our flagship devotional, Forward Day by Day

A visual devotional for the season: AdventWord

Forward Today: Most affecting and majestic manner

Dear friends in Christ,

Advent offers us an invitation to renew our study of scripture and our life of prayer. As an Episcopalian, I naturally think of the Book of Common Prayer in this season of repentance and growth. Given that this is a time of year when I buy Christmas gifts, I find myself wondering who I know who might enjoy the gift of the Book of Common Prayer at Christmas.

In the larger sense, the prayer book is a gift for all of us. The preface to the 1789 edition, which is reprinted in our current 1979 book, ends with this flourish:

And now, this important work being brought to a conclusion, it is hoped the whole [book] will be received and examined by every true member of our Church, and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind; without prejudice or prepossessions; seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavor for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior.

Isn’t that lovely? I’ve always loved the Book of Common Prayer since I first encountered it, but thinking of it as a means of transmitting our faith “in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ” really hits home.

Forward Movement publishes the finest personal edition of the Book of Common Prayer you can buy. The rubrics are, as the name would suggest, printed in red ink. This edition features a leather cover and gilt-edged pages with a ribbon. It’s an ideal size for holding. You’ll love it. And I’m happy to say it’s on sale this week for just $39.95, discounted from the usual retail price of $55.

You might like this lovely book for your own use, or it makes an excellent gift. It has a gift plate inside the front cover. What better Christmas gift than the gift of prayer? If a prayer book isn’t right for your recipient, Forward Movement also publishes Hour by Hour and Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, both also with leather covers and gilt pages.

Of course, you don’t have to buy books to have a rich life of prayer. However you choose to pray in this Advent season, I encourage you to talk to God and to listen for God’s still, small voice in this noisy world.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Pray each day of the season with words of scripture: AdventWord

Explore the spirituality of the Prayer Book: Inwardly Digest

New this year: Calendars for the Twelve Days of Christmas

See more gift items: Devotionals, prayer books and more

Forward Today: The counter-cultural season of Advent

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday the season of Advent begins. Two thousand years ago, John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness to call people to repentance. Today, Advent is a voice crying in the din of our time that salvation comes not from shiny things, but from Love Incarnate. In other words, the subversive call to repentance has not changed much in 20 centuries.

December can seem overwhelming. Custom demands that we spend vast sums on gifts. Invitations to parties and festive gathering might stack up. In church, folks are working hard preparing for Christmas celebrations. One might be left wondering how there will be any time for Advent.

And this is the point. Keeping Advent isn’t easy, and that is exactly why we do well to try to keep this season of preparation and repentance.

I’m not here to yell at you for playing Christmas carols or putting up a few decorations. Avoiding Christmas festivity isn’t the fundamental point of Advent. Though I think waiting to celebrate Christmas until it’s Christmas has virtue, I also think people can do two things at once. We can enjoy some holiday festivity and find ways to keep Advent.

What does this look like? Presumably, your church celebrates the liturgy a bit differently this time of year—Advent music and a different focus. This season might be a good time to curl up with the scriptures. As we’re beginning Year B in the three-year lectionary cycle, you might want to read the Gospel of Mark in its entirety. Maybe you’ll spend a few more moments in prayer each day. An Advent wreath can help to create a prayerful environment at home.

Mostly though, the point of this season is to prepare our hearts to meet Jesus. One day, we will all meet him when he comes in glory to judge the world. Will we, as the Advent preface suggests, be ready “without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing”?

What parts of your life need to change? What practices in your life do you want to increase or decrease? Who can you invite to know the Good News of Jesus Christ, who offers redemption to all? These are the matters for us to focus on this Advent season, and I hope you’ll find practices that aid in your reflection and repentance.

A blessed Advent to you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Forward Movement offers a new seasonal devotional book with practices and reflections for Advent and Christmastide. You can get the book in paper or as an ebook (Amazon Kindle or Apple Books).

More from our ministry:

Explore Mark’s Gospel in Year B: A Journey with Mark Bible Challenge

Get ready for the 12 Days of Christmas: Christmas Calendar

Practical ways to follow Jesus: The Way of Love Practical Guide

Give the gift of prayer with a gift subscription to Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: A right, and a good and joyful thing

Photo by Dawn McDonald on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

The usual messages we hear in our culture go something like this: “Be afraid! You don’t have enough! You need more things to be happy!” Given the din of these messages of consumerism, it’s practically a miracle that even the commerce machine pauses for a day, and we still set aside time for Thanksgiving.

No pun intended, but I am so deeply grateful for this holiday of giving thanks.

At most celebrations of Holy Eucharist, the celebrant says, “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” In the spirit of keeping the main thing the main thing, I hope you’ll find your way to a church. The best way we can give thanks to God for all the blessings of this life is to gather with other Christians and express our adoration and gratitude.

We offer our thanks and praise, and God reminds us of his grace and mercy as we receive the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. It’s simple and beautiful, almost discordant in this age of shiny things and the endless drumbeat of shopping. (I have nothing against shopping! It’s just that it’s not the main thing of life!)

When families gather, it’s customary to express gratitude. I hope you’ll do this, whatever the size of your family. If you aren’t able to gather with others, perhaps you’ll write a note or an email to someone else expressing gratitude for God’s blessings. It’s good for our souls to say thank you to God and our neighbors.

Imagine if we could fulfill the vision of the lovely line from our liturgy, “always and everywhere” giving thanks. In that sense, Thanksgiving Day is a foretaste of the feast of gratitude to come.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Weave prayer and thanksgiving through your day: Hour by Hour

Give the gift of common prayer: BCP Gift Edition

Help us share what we have been given: Become a donor today

Forward Today: Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest

Dear friends in Christ,
Each year, I look forward to the Sunday nearest November 16. This Sunday we pray one of my very favorite collects:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Thomas Cranmer originally wrote this one for Advent, but I like its new placement in our liturgical year. I am grateful for this annual reminder of the purpose of scripture. We love the scriptures not just for the texts themselves but for the hope to which they point: everlasting life given to us in Jesus.
Forward Movement’s RenewalWorks data tells us that not very many Episcopalians read the Bible regularly. I’m not here to shame anyone or make you feel guilty! One of the core messages of the Gospel is that it’s never too late. So why not make time in your life for regular reading of scripture?
If you’re not sure where to start, there are chapters about the Bible and how to read it in two books I co-authored with the Rev’d Melody Shobe, Faithful Questions and Walk in Love. Or you can ask your priest or a wise spiritual friend for guidance. If you want a suggestion of what to read when you pick up a Bible to read on your own for the first time, I suggest reading the psalms or maybe one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John).
At Forward Movement, we offer several tools to help you read the Bible regularly.
  • You can use any of our Bible Challenge books for companion reflections as you read some part of the Bible.
  • Bible Women offers every word spoken by women in the Bible along with the back stories.
  • This January, you can join the Good Book Club (for free!) to read Genesis with folks from around the world.
  • Forward Day by Day offers a reflection on the assigned readings of the Episcopal Church each day.
The Bible is perhaps the most important and most misunderstood book. But the good news is that you can read the Bible for yourself and discover its wonders and the hope to which it points.
Happy reading!
Yours faithfully,
Scott Gunn's signature
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Last chance: Get your copy of Preparing the Way before Advent begins!

Find practical tips for following Jesus: The Way of Love

Discover scripture in the Book of Common Prayer: Inwardly Digest

Get ready for the Good Book Club: A Journey through Genesis

Forward Today: Obedience and sacrifice

Dear friends in Christ,

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Philadelphia area for a meeting. Since I had some time, I paid a visit to the Rev’d Clarke French, a friend, who is serving as interim rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. It’s a thriving congregation meeting in a colonial-era building.

There are many things I appreciated about the lovely and ancient worship space, but I was particularly struck by the lights for illuminating the scriptures as the lectors proclaim them. The lamp shades say (facing the people and also facing the lector) SACRIFICE and OBEDIENCE.

These powerful words are central to the Gospel and alien to our consumer culture. In the world that says “get what you can and be your own person,” the Gospel calls us to another way. We are called to give freely—for the glory of God, for Christ’s sake, for the good of others, and for the wellness of our souls. We are called to obey our Lord Jesus, who calls us to take up our cross and follow him—to die to old ways and be alive in the new creation of Jesus Christ.

This coming weekend brings us to November 11, kept in the US as Veterans Day, when we remember the sacrifice of many for their country. Christian sacrifice can surely be seen in the lives of martyrs, but it can also be seen in more mundane expressions—forgiving others, in sharing what we have with those in need, in turning the other cheek, or in yielding our own privileges for the well-being of others.

Then there’s obedience. This is positively counter-cultural! For those of us to say we follow Jesus, we need to obey him as our leader. The Gospel loses its power if we try to fit it into the gaps of a comfortable consumer lifestyle. Jesus knew this when we said you can’t serve two masters. We either serve the gospel of consumption or the Gospel of grace and mercy. We either orient our lives around greed and self-determination or toward sacrifice and obedience.

I invite you to consider the wisdom and power of OBEDIENCE and SACRIFICE. What do they mean in your life?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Countercultural teachings on wealth and service: The Unjust Steward

Order your 2023 Advent Calendars today

Christian practices for Advent: Preparing the Way

Learn about heroes of the faith this Lent: Lent Madness

Forward Today: A fellowship of love and prayer

Fra Angelico, The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs

Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church celebrates one of its principal feasts, All Saints’ Day. On this day, we remember all those who have gone before us, those who now spend eternity dwelling in God’s presence and glory.

Part of this day is certainly a time to remember the example of saints of all times and places. It may well be a good time for us to learn from their example and improve our lives. But this day is chiefly a celebration of Jesus Christ and his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The one thing all saints have in common is that these flawed humans opened their lives to the power of Jesus and his grace and mercy. In Christ, death is defeated and sin is put to flight. That’s true on a cosmic scale, and you can see Jesus at work in each transformed life and warmed heart.

Today we can also give thanks that we are never alone. Those who now wear the crown of righteousness are still our companions, for all are all members of the mystical body of Christ, the eternal communion of saints.

Let us give thanks for saints, but let us first give thanks for the light that kindled the love which burned brightly in their lives. And let us pray for the strength and courage to be transformed by Jesus Christ, who can work in all sorts and conditions of people.

Let us pray for our own lives and for the renewal of the whole creation.

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Order your Advent devotional today: Preparing the Way

Color in your cartoon calendars for Advent and Christmas

Welcome new believers into the church with the BCP Gift Edition

Pray with authors and readers across the church: Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: Getting our armor ready

Dear friends in Christ,

In a few weeks, we will begin our annual walk through the season of Advent. On the first Sunday of the season, we pray a lovely collect in which we ask God to give us grace to “put on the armor of light.” This phrase comes from Romans 13, which sets out the meaning as putting on Jesus Christ and not the ways of the world.

Every year I think I say the same thing: I’ve never needed Advent more than this year. With the world seemingly tearing itself apart at the seams, I need the anchor of Jesus Christ in my life. Maybe you do, too. Advent invites us to turn away from the evil and distraction of the world and toward the most important things: a life transformed by God’s grace and mercy.

Of course, you can observe Advent on your own and with your church. But you may want some support for yourself, and your church may want to provide some resources for groups and individuals. With Advent coming, now is the time to make a plan and get ready.

Forward Movement offers several ways to enrich your Advent experience. Families may especially enjoy the Advent calendar poster with cartoons by Jay Sidebotham, ready for you to add color and your personal touch. (They’re sold in bundles of 25.) Individuals or book groups may find this year’s new Advent devotional, Preparing the Way: Christian Practices for Advent, helping in navigating the seasons of Advent and Christmas with daily reflections and invitations to go deeper in Christian practice. We have plenty of other Advent resources, too. Order soon to make sure your Advent help arrives in time!

You don’t need to spend a penny to savor Advent. You can enjoy our free podcasts of Forward Day by Day or the Daily Office. But sometimes printed resources really hit the spot.

Part of my point today is to encourage the sale of the materials Forward Movement has printed. But my bigger point is to invite you to think about how you’ll enjoy the gift of Advent and to be ready to dive in to this season.

Jesus is our light. And I’m so grateful for this time to remember that and give thanks.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. With the arrival of Advent, we enter a new liturgical year. Year B draws extensively from the Gospel of Mark, so you might like to read A Journey with Mark to hear this gospel afresh.

More from our ministry:

Try our online Advent devotional: AdventWord

Get your calendars for Christmas as well: Christmas. It’s a Season

Pray beautiful collects from the Book of Common Prayer, Gift Edition

New on our blog: A review of Devotions for People Who Don’t Do Devotions

Forward Today: Celebrating St. Luke

Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church commemorates St. Luke the Evangelist. We give thanks for Luke for many reasons. He is remembered for having written the Gospel of Luke and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. He is commemorated for his healing work as a physician. And for many Christians, he is venerated as the first iconographer.

On this day, I am especially grateful for the Gospel of Luke. His witness to the power, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ still inspires people to turn toward salvation 2,000 years after it was written. Each of the four gospels offers a unique perspective on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. But they are united in testifying to the passion, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus.

Luke’s gospel has been called the “Broadway gospel” because it offers some of the great canticles of praise: the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, and the Benedictus domine. Here we are, twenty centuries after they were recorded, still singing these glorious songs of praise and thanks.

The narratives that Luke shared in his gospel and in Acts might inspire us in all sorts of ways. But perhaps we might also on this feast day be inspired to follow Luke’s example. Let us all be quick to share the Good News. We might not have Luke’s eloquence, but we can all testify to God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How can you be a witness?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Explore Luke’s writings: Luke Bible Challenge & Acts Bible Challenge

Now available: A brand-new Christmas Calendar from Jay Sidebotham

Reflect on baptism as a call to evangelism in our Lent 2024 devotional

Sing the Spirituals and pray for justice: Face to the Rising Sun

The world doesn’t need one more devotional book…

The Rev. Laurie Brock, rector of St Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky and author of God, Grace, and Horses, recently reviewed our new release, Devotions for People who Don’t Do Devotions. Here’s what she had to say:

The world really doesn’t need one more devotional book. We have devotional books for people who do too much, devotions for people who want to do more, devotions for animal lovers, devotions for pizza lovers, and devotions for people who love putting Ikea furniture together.

Okay, so maybe not the last one, but I’m sure someone just got an idea for another devotional book.

Hopefully, the plethora of devotional books are a response to our very human yearning to connect to something bigger than we are and to find meaning in the moments of life that are troubling, awe-inspiring, and confusing. More and more people are not members of a traditional faith community, and yet that yearning to understand, to find meaning, and to experience comfort continues.

Whether you are someone who is a member of an active member of a faith community or who is simply seeking some time each day or week or whenever you find space to spend a few moments, Tim Schenck meets you where you are with quirky, humorous, and insightful reflections on life and the bigger than life invitation of God to love ourselves and each other. From the angel’s share to garbage time, Tim invites us to see awe in everyday moments, to rest in the wisdom of life gone not quite right, and to find love written in life each day.

While the world doesn’t need one more devotional book to remind us we aren’t enough, we always need one that reminds us the world is messy and lovely, if we just remember to notice, to look, to listen, and to be. Devotions for People Who Don’t Do Devotions is exactly that.

– The Rev. Laurie Brock, Rector
St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church