MacMahon2009

Musings From MacMahon
August 2009

Former Rector Father Jim’s summer chaplaincy at
St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church
MacMahan Island, Maine

August 29, 2009I am sitting writing this while still on MacMahan. We are experiencing the last gasps of the tropical storm which has moved up the coast. It’s been windy and rainy all day. Actually it’s been a great way to end this time. Quiet. Reflective. A fire. Some leftover chicken soup. Some writing. Joan is sick at home with strep throat and so that is on my mind and heart. It felt good to call friends and ask them to check on her and get a meal to her. I am ready now to be home.

I just read the “Musings” from this past month. It has been a wonderful month and in many ways exactly as I thought it would be. In many ways, of course, it has not been what I expected and I’m not sure what to make of that truth – just yet. I was struck by my words on August 3 when talking about Katie’s loss of a dear friend. I wrote, “I suspect this month will bring many more moments of eagles and phone calls.” Little did I know how true that would be. Of course, my dad’s death. And then just the other day a magnificent “fly by” by a bald eagle. Both in many ways bring tears to me eyes.

On July 21 I wrote,

What I have done is think of some of my priorities for this time. First, like my ministry here I want to be a servant to the good people of St. Cuthbert s whatever that will mean. Second, I want to enjoy my family. Joan will be with me for two weeks including her 60 th birthday. All three of the kids will be with us for her birthday and for some time before and after. I want to give my fullest attention to this time with them. Third, I want to enjoy our friends. Some people from St. Catherine s have taken us up on our invitation to visit us on the island. We are thrilled and I, too, want to give this time my fullest attention. Fourth, I want to be intentional about prayer. Life comes at me very fast in Marietta and my regret is that sometimes the first thing I throw overboard is my prayer time. I want to practice that time with vigor and the discipline to make it a priority both in Maine and in Georgia. And lastly, I want to think about our future together at St. Catherine s. In just a short time we will celebrate 50 years as a congregation. I want to use this time to look to our future both the time we will share together and the time future generations will trod on the pathways envisioned and established by us. This time will include reading and reflection and, I hope, some writing.

Being the type A personality I am, I want to say I’ve accomplished all of my priorities. And that would be true. I’ve written about each of them in some ways over the past weeks. The one I am most proud of, however, is my prayer life these last 31 days. There were some days on which I was distracted, but over all I have worked hard to set a pattern in my life. I am looking forward to working out ways to make that happen in Marietta. One way is that I want to start a prayer group that will meet each week with me to spend some time in silence, in sharing, and in prayer.

This has been a grace filled time of re-creation, recreation, celebration of family and friends, and service to people who opened their hearts and homes with a hospitality I have rarely experienced. Praise be to God for the people of St. Catherine’s, St. Cuthbert’s and MacMahan Island.


August 26, 2009

Northeast PointI write this on one of – if not the most – beautiful days since arriving at this very special part of God’s kingdom. Last week was warm and humid and exactly as one person asked me, “how do you like Georgia weather without air conditioning?” Katie left on Friday and spent the weekend with a college friend in Boston. Friday afternoon friends began arriving from Georgia. We had a house full of company over the weekend and the most prevalent comment we heard throughout our little “neighborhood” on the island was “it is so wonderful to hear the joy you have together.” Indeed you could hear us! There indeed was lots of laughter, storytelling, memory making and just sheer fun. Everyone began leaving this morning and by tomorrow morning I’ll be the only person in the rectory – again.

Market Boat ShoppingThe people of MacMahan Island have welcomed me, my family and our friends into their summer lives with grace and hospitality. They have told us their stories and have listened to ours. We’ve worshiped together and shopped together. We’ve met in home, on floats, and just walking around the island. I have been so blessed by their sheer joy and genuine desire to make us a part of what they consider to be a piece of heaven on earth – and I do believe they have it right.

Cooling off in Sheepscot BayI will spend the remaining days finishing some reading that I’d like to have done before heading home. I will preach and celebrate on Sunday and have some interesting meals between now and then as I try to empty the refrigerator and not waste any food. I hope to do some boating or at least one trip to Boothbay Harbor with my back door neighbor. I want to anticipate my return to St. Catherine’s and what my priorities will be over the first few weeks. And I want to see a few more things in the mid-coast region of Maine. All in all a good to-do list to tackle.

Island flora and faunaNext Monday I will leave for Georgia. I hope to make the trip in 2 days because I know once I leave I will want to be home. I am ready to leave not because I haven’t enjoyed this time but because the time is over and now it’s time to move onto the next months that lie ahead. Much has happened in August 2009, not the least of which is the death of my father. I hope to do some reflecting on his life and its impact on me in the next few days as well as the time that lies ahead.

I know that many have given much that I may have this time – both people here on the island and especially all of you back at home. I am grateful beyond words for this time and am already looking forward to August 2010.


August 18, 2009

We all (Joan and I, Matt and Kari, and Katie) arrived back at MacMahan on Thursday morning after arriving late in Bath on Wednesday evening. The funeral for my dad was very nice. Many family and friends joined us either in State College for the liturgy at St. Andrew’s and later in Wilkes-Barre for the burial. I officiated at the burial in Wilke-Barre as I did for my mother. The most moving part of the ceremony was the presentation of the American flag. I had not experienced this in the past and as the eldest it was presented to me. My father was very proud of his service to our country during World War II and I am proud of him. The flag will have a special place in our family alongside the flag from my grandfather’s funeral as well as the flag that flew on my father’s ship.

The weather on the island has been spectacular. To be truthful, perhaps a bit too warm. It had been cold before going to Pennsylvania so everyone who joined me post Pennsylvania is packed for cooler weather. I think Joan said I better get used to seeing the one or two pair of shorts she brought. We’ve had lots of time to talk, play games, hike the island, take naps, read and generally enjoy the environs of this beautiful place. Matt and Kari were able to extend their trip by a day to attempt to recover some of the time they lost due to my dad’s death. We said a sad goodbye to them on Sunday as they made their way off the island and back to Chicago.

I’ve been able to do some good reading while here. I finished Angels and Demons by Dan Brown and The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I’ve been doing some “church” reading as well. I finished Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann. I hope this book will guide us as a congregation into a new time of planning. I’ve already convened a group at St. Catherine’s to talk about this on July 25 as an initial opportunity for us to think about what this process might look like.

I’m working on Calming the Restless Sea: A Journey to God by Ben Campbell Brown and Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus by Robin R. Meyers. Both books are helping me think about my prayer life and about our life together as a community as we attempt to be faithful to Jesus’ call to love God and love our neighbor. I’ve had plenty of time to write and reflect on all of my reading and I am grateful for such a profound gift.

Living on an island without any communication with the outside world besides a phone has been an interesting experience. Between my time here before my dad’s death, the hectic nature of funeral preparations and family time, and our return last Thursday, I haven’t really had a chance to catch up on what is going on in the world. I suppose it (the world) is a bit like those noontime soap operas. You can tune in once a month or year and get caught up – but as for the day to day watching – nothing much changes.

It is hard to believe that August is half over. To experience this holy time is a profound gift. I am well aware of the work your staff is accomplishing while I’m taking advantage of this time. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them for their grace and mercy in affording me this time. I hope and pray that in some way I may return the favor over the coming year.


August 11, 2009

It was a beautiful week on the island. Each day was bright sunshine and warm temperatures. From what I hear, it’s a privilege to be on the island during their summer. I hiked each of the many trails crisscrossing the island and didn’t get lost (Katie said, “Of course, you hiked them.” Matt said, “Dad, it’s hard to get lost on an island.” So much for supportive kids.) I met the market boat on Friday and bought a few tomatoes and visited during Captain Crunches’ visit to watch people buying lobsters fresh from the boat.

All in all it was a relaxing week and I got a lot of reading and writing done as well as recreation. This place and being here is a powerful gift and in my morning prayer I’ve been thanking God for this opportunity.

You know by now that my father died on Saturday. Getting the call was hard because I was alone and at first my reaction was confusion – what am I supposed to do; when do I leave; etc. I think the hardest part so far were those first few hours when we were all flung widely across the geography we inhabit. Kari and Matt were here and both Joan and I first were concerned for them and getting here to be with them. Now that I am here in State College I know they are doing well. I left the island Sunday morning at 8:00 via a parishioner’s boat. I arrived in State College at 6:00 pm. The family is gathering and the funeral will be Wednesday at St. Andrews Episcopal Church. We’ve been making service arrangements this morning.

I will miss my dad and will grieve his death. He lived a good and faithful life for 87 years, but I am not overwhelmed because I know that Dad is where he’s wanted to be for the past 10 years: by my mother’s side. I am pleased I took the time to see him on my way to Maine – God was very good to put that on my heart. Even when I saw him nearly two weeks ago, Dad asked me twice, “Now what’s the scoop on your mother.” Now, by God’s glory and mercy he knows the answer better than any of us could tell him.

I know it will be hard for all of us. The celebration at St. Andrew’s will be lead by the local priest. I will officiate at the interment in Wilkes-Barre. The most cathartic thing I’ve done so far was to sit and write about my dad on Saturday evening while still on the island. I’ll share some of that at the worship service on Wednesday but for now I’ll end this “Musings” with these words in honor of my father:

“I remember at my mother’s funeral Fr. Larry preaching that ‘sometimes there are worse things than dying.’ My father lived some of those worse things these past 10 years, but now I have a deep faith that he is freed from them and rests in God’s arms alongside our mother. I find great comfort in knowing they are reunited once again. Rest in peace, Dad and Mom.”


August 3, 2009I arrived safely on the island on Saturday morning. After an arduous trip with profound amounts of rain and traffic, Saturday morning was a picture perfect postcard day. I was parked, on the island and settled into the rectory by lunch time. I met with representatives of the Chapel Committee in the afternoon to get the “lay of the land” and spent an enjoyable sunset at the Saturday evening cocktail party at the “yacht club.” I’m realizing that MacMahan is somewhat of an “Episcopal ghetto” much like Sewanee with many retired clergy populating the island.

The first Sunday at St. Cuthbert’s went extremely well. I find that after all these years I am still a bit nervous when I face my first service with a congregation. I hope that the nerves serve more as a creative inertia rather than an impediment to the worship we do together. This seemed to be true yesterday. There were 47 people in church and I learned some of the peculiarities that make St. Cuthbert’s unique. For example, we wait to start worship if people can be seen making their way up the path to church. We ring the bell at 15 minutes prior to worship and at the beginning of worship. There is no procession in but there is one out. Next week they are going to “experiment” with a coffee hour – they don’t know where yet so stay tuned. At the end of communion the congregation sings two verses of “Eternal Father strong to save,” the second verse having been written especially for St. Cuthbert’s on MacMahan Island. I also learned that St. Cuthbert’s is the only summer chapel in Maine that is on an island. Overall we had a uplifting worship experience and I believe we all went away with a sense that this month will be good for all of us. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in our midst. God is great!

The rest of Sunday was very quiet. Unlike Saturday, Sunday was cool and foggy all day. It reminded me of living in Sewanee. You could see the fog gently rolling in from the bay and back out again at regular intervals. I discovered ways of keeping warm without heat in the cottage – hint: close all the windows and doors you’d opened the previous day as the first line of defense. I spent the afternoon reading and working on some written material I agreed to prepare for the Finance Team and Vestry. It was quiet and peaceful, but I did have a sense of isolation that at times was very present. Late in the afternoon, I heard the distinct call of an eagle. I went outside and high above the cottage there was an eagle just riding the winds and calling over and over again. This went on for 10 or 15 minutes. Then she/he moved on. Maybe the eagle was here to remind me that you are never alone and that this time is a gift to simply “ride the winds of life.”

Katie called yesterday to tell me she’d lost a dear, dear friend to a drowning accident in Michigan. It was clear how wonderful this man was and how important her relationship with him and his family is to her. It is difficult to hear your children so distraught and only be able to offer words of comfort over a phone. Nonetheless the phone was here and we were able to have some good conversation and listening. I suspect this month will bring many more moments of eagles and phone calls. My prayer this morning is that I’ll find the strength and desire to be as present as I can to each.


July 28, 2009

Well, I’m not exactly at MacMahan yet, but I did promise to write a bit each week. I am to some degree engaged in island work, however. I am with Matt and Kari just south of Chicago. I promised Matt earlier in the spring that I would visit and together we could work on their new home. So we are building an island for his kitchen. It’s been a while since I had time to brush off my wood working skills — as limited as they are. We purchased most of the material yesterday and made pretty good progress before Kari arrived home from work to give our labor its first real review, inspection and critique. We passed. All kidding aside, three of the delights in my life are adult children and this time with Matt and Kari is very special. Katie is joining us this evening and we’ll go out to celebrate her 32nd birthday.

I left Marietta after church on Sunday and drove to Chicago. The trip across I-24 from Nashville to Metropolis, IL is one of the prettiest drives I can think of. You cross beautiful, rolling, rich and green farmland in Tennessee and Kentucky as well as the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Ohio Rivers all interspersed with land between the Lakes recreational facilities. Our nation is so vast and everyone has their favorite sections but the Cumberland area of Tennessee and Kentucky just has a simple and working beauty about it.

Arriving in Illinois after this beautiful drive is a sobering moment as you turn right on I-57 and start the “climb” to Chicago which you realize is still 4-5 hours away. Illinois, unlike Tennessee and Kentucky, is flat. The highway makes its way north between massive farms of corn and soybean. Nothing — for mile upon mile — but corn and soybean. Illinois along this corridor is the beginning of the breadbasket of the nation and it fulfills its role with neverending miles of corn and soybean. It is beautiful in its boring-ness — in some odd way.

I leave Thursday for Pennsylvania and a short visit with my dad. I’ll stay overnight with my brother and head for Maine on Friday morning. Leaving St. Catherine’s on Sunday after two services and our summer meeting I was reminded what I love best about our congregation. People seem genuinely interested in one another and what is happening in our individual and corporate lives. It’s some times difficult to find such interest these days — I’m glad to be a part of a community that does so. Together we are blessed!


July 21, 2009 I will be leaving after church this Sunday to make my way to St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church on MacMahan Island, Maine. I’ll spend a few days with Matt and Kari and Katie in Chicago and stop to see my dad in Pennsylvania and visit my mom’s grave on the way – yes not the direct route. My first Sunday with St. Cuthbert’s will be August 2 – the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. I’ll be their preacher, pastor and chaplain until Sunday, August 30. I’ll return to St. Catherine’s on September 2nd.

During my time in Maine, I will share with you a weekly article that we’re going to call Musings from MacMahan. This will be a time to reflect a little on life in the slower lane and what insights I might have from driving a bit slower and in an unfamiliar landscape.

I know this sounds like a dream come true opportunity – an island in Maine in August. And it is! But I must admit to some apprehensions of being on a small island “at sea” with only three ferries a day to terra firma. Will I get bored? Will I enjoy it so much that….? Will there be a sense of isolation and if so how might I respond? Am I capable of slowing down and enjoying it – or will I pace back and forth over the island’s foot paths – leaving them a bit more trodden? Will I feel out of touch with only a cell phone and a laptop but no internet? Am I planning to read too much; think too much; plan too much; pray too much; etc?

What I have done is think of some of my priorities for this time. First, like my ministry here I want to be a servant to the good people of St. Cuthbert’s whatever that will mean. Second, I want to enjoy my family. Joan will be with me for two weeks – including her 60th birthday. All three of the kids will be with us for her birthday and for some time before and after. I want to give my fullest attention to this time with them. Third, I want to enjoy our friends. Some people from St. Catherine’s have taken us up on our invitation to visit us on the island. We are thrilled and I, too, want to give this time my fullest attention. Fourth, I want to be intentional about prayer. Life comes at me very fast in Marietta and my regret is that sometimes the first thing I throw overboard is my prayer time. I want to practice that time with vigor and the discipline to make it a priority – both in Maine and in Georgia. And lastly, I want to think about our future together at St. Catherine’s. In just a short time we will celebrate 50 years as a congregation. I want to use this time to look to our future – both the time we will share together and the time future generations will trod on the pathways envisioned and established by us. This time will include reading and reflection and, I hope, some writing.

So each week, I will try to reflect on what’s happening and capture some thoughts on paper and find some way to send them to Karen Manno for publishing in the Parish email, the e-Wheel and the paper Wheel. I wonder if I’ll have to use the US Postal Service – does anyone remember how to do that?