Thursday, February 24, 2011


The Chaplains' Conference is scheduled for May 2-6 at the Rosalyn Center in Richmond, VA.  You may now learn more about the conference and register by going to  The only cost for the event is for your own travel.  If you have any questions please call the office at 202-459-9998.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Janani Luwum, Archbishop and Martyr 2011

Dear Federal Chaplains,

On February 17, 1977 I was sitting in Christ Chapel at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX, listening to the Rev’d Sam Van Culin, then Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, speak on the ministry of The Episcopal Church to assist and collaborate with the mission of Anglican dioceses in Africa.   In a somewhat surprising and unusual action the Dean of the Seminary, the Very Rev. Gordon T. Charlton, interrupted Sam to give him what he told us was an important message.  After Sam and the Dean spent several long minutes in a side conversation Sam returned and informed us that he had just been told about the abduction and possible death of his friend Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda.  Ironically, Sam had just been talking about how the Archbishop had been engaged in courageous and Christ-like ministry to the very people, supporters of Ugandan President-for-Life Idi Amin, who had chosen to do him harm.

Since that day I have never lost sight of the fact that faithful and sacrificial ministry for the sake of the Gospel of Christ can be costly.  Throughout this episcopacy I am reminded on a daily basis of the cost of your ministry.  I am continually impressed by just how many of you are willing to forgo your own comfort and ease in order to ensure that the light of Christ shines in the hard and dark places of life.  In the field and aboard ship, with prisoners and staff, and in hospital wards with forgotten veterans you are there.  Often you pay quite a personal cost so others know that Christ offers them an enduring hope; a hope that will neither fail them nor fade away.

On this February 17, 2011, let us give thanks that we have spiritual ancestors like the late Archbishop Janani Luwum.  Give thanks that we are sent forth by a church that supports us in our missional work of being light bearers in some of the most difficult places in the world today! 

For my part I am thankful that day after day you are willing to make yourselves available for the incarnation-moment when the life of the other will be radically enriched by the hope of Christ.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

National Books Fund Now Accepting Grant Applications

The Church Periodical Club annually awards grants (through the National Book Fund) to supply books, magazines, tapes, videos and computer programs free to those who cannot otherwise obtain them and to raise the money to do this.   Applications are being accepted through April 15, 2011.

Any organization or individual whose work is affiliated with the Anglican Communion may apply for a grant.  Organizations may be eligible if the Anglican or Episcopal bishop in the appropriate area endorses the request and shows its relationship to the priorities of that diocese.  The need for materials to carry out the mission of the Church must be established for all requests and there must be financial need.  Decisions will be made in the fall.

For further information, go to (grants and endowments); call 1-800-334-7626, ext 6130; or email

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cornelius the Centurion

Dear Federal Chaplains,

As I travel throughout this episcopacy and talk with many of you, a frequent issue that comes up in conversation pertains to our identity in a world that is variously described as post-modern or post-Christian.  I am sure that it comes as no surprise to any of you that the landscape in which we do our vocational bidding has become increasingly a schizoid-type: Christian evangelical or fundamentalist, and at the same time ecumenically diverse with the appearance of so many non-traditional religious groups.  Regarding the latter extreme, as recently as 15-20 years ago we were totally unfamiliar with these folks who range from Muslims and Buddhists to atheists and free thinkers.  Every time I hear the World War II story of the four chaplains who sacrificed their lives aboard the USAT Dorchester[1] so others might take their places in the lifeboats and live, I am aware of just how much the makeup of our federal chaplaincies has changed since that 1943 episode of courage and bravery.  At the time the four chaplains were fairly representative of the US Army Chaplain Corps: two Protestants, one Roman Catholic and one Rabbi.    Today such a mix will not even come close to mirroring the composition of chaplaincy in the Army or the larger federal landscape of religious ministry. 

No longer can we take for granted that because you are clergy of The Episcopal Church that you will garner respect from your colleagues and peers, or even be given a rightful place in the federal organizations in which you serve.  On occasion quite the contrary is true.  I am aware that there is a continuous perception that Episcopal clergy have had their season of favor, and that now it is time for you to step aside – step back – and allow others to have their rightful share of leadership positions and promotions. 

Yes, we are challenged to establish our identity and to act professionally in a manner that is in accord with who we are.  In other words, our being counts!  If you will look at the call of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) I think you can see the prototype for spiritual and vocational identity.  First, Isaiah was challenged to distinguish between his less than righteous being and God’s holiness.  Next Isaiah was drawn into a phase of becoming, or transformation when the searing hot coal from God touched his mouth.  Finally, Isaiah was ready to begin doing when he said he was willing and ready to be sent forth for God.  Being, becoming, and doing are the three primary spiritual components that form our identity.  Though at times you are evangelists, and at times you are ecumenists, always you are Christian priests of the church who are called by your God into this unique ministry. 

Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of time to wait around to go through a process of clarifying our identity prior to going out to do the work God has given us to do.  In aviation the maxim is always, “First fly the airplane,” for if you don’t, nothing else matters.  Yet, in the midst of the many challenges to your identity and your rightful place in the organization, there is something you can do.  This is my challenge to you.  It is always easy to carry out the tasks of priestly vocation from the perspective of a support plan.  Indeed, you are called to support the service members, veterans and inmates committed to your charge.  However, the support plan is never the end of the day.  At best any ministry support plan must be a component of a larger missional plan or strategy.  Today one of the most challenging and promising theological discussions is about how the church will develop a missional theology and then act accordingly to incarnate that theology. 

Regardless of what others want to think or say about your rights or entitlements, your ministry must never be based in such diversionary ideas.  Your ministry is based in the competence that God has created through the transformational work God has done in your lives.  In and through your pastoral and sacramental presence you have some of the most unique and broadly focused capabilities within the federal chaplaincies.  Thank you for being  who you are, for allowing God’s transformational work in your life, and for doing the priestly ministry you do.  In ways you’ll never know, you are making a significant difference in the lives of the men and women whom you touch.


Sermon Preached at Fort Bragg on February 6 2011

Epiphany 5 (110206)
Confirmation and Renewal of Christian Commitment
Memorial Chapel, Ft. Bragg, NC                         
The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9, (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.

The life of Jesus has been described as a series of interconnected events in which 30 or so years of relatively normal life preceded 3 years of intense ministry that led to a tremendous crisis – the crucifixion on a cross and resurrection from the grave – a crisis that we’re still talking about today. 

Almost everywhere Jesus goes he creates a shock wave within the ranks of his hearers and his followers.

People who heard Jesus and assigned any credibility to him whatsoever likely would have experienced spiritual crisis in their lives.  Jesus creates a crisis of faith in the lives of people, at times made of whole cloth and at other times seemingly out of nothing.  Yet, it is still a crisis of faith.

We all know what a crisis is.  A crisis is something that destabilizes life situations.  For example, in Cairo, Egypt there is a significant crisis going on.  Life in that country, with all of the riots in the streets, has become very unstable.  The crisis in Egypt is, among other things, designed to bring the leaders of that country to a decision point.
The crisis Jesus creates, a crisis of faith, is also designed to bring people to a decision point.  To have a crisis of faith – which frequently issues out of a life crisis –takes us to the moment of truth when we are called to make decisions: decisions about belonging and about direction.  To whom do we belong, and what direction in life will we follow?  Jesus, by virtue of his presence and controversial sayings brings people to the moment of decision.

In 1982 we developed our most recent full hymnal.  Historically, every time we publish a new hymnal we introduce new hymns, and for a variety of reasons, delete others.  In the older 1940 Hymnal there was a hymn of which we would do well to be reminded today. 
            Once to every man and nation,
            comes the moment to decide.
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side.
(The Hymnal 1940, Hymn #519)

Though the theology of only one faith choice in a lifetime is a bit questionable, the idea of the times to choose is certainly in accord with Jesus’ message in the Gospel.  Jesus’ presence in a life or in a family can make such a difference that we are brought to that place of decision.  Of course, not to decide is a decision in its own right.  But lest we think that our decisions of being a follower of Christ are simply mental choices, you may want to reconsider.

Jesus’ words have strong implications that will lead to action. 

It is much easier for us to talk about the fact that we want to act in a certain way, and to then keep the issue at thought and conversational levels.  It is much harder to put our words and thoughts into action.  It may be appropriate to remember the old Chinese proverb: Talk won’t cook rice.

Jesus told his followers that they are salt for the earth and light for the world.   We all know a bit about what light is, but salt is more difficult to understand.  In Jesus day salt was used in a number of ways such as preserving and flavoring food.  However, salt was also placed upon the soil to burn away the weeds that would choke good crops.  Hence, salt has a connection with light.  Both salt and light burn and remind us of fire.[1]

This is the fire that comes down upon God’s people in baptism and today in confirmation in which we remember the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The indwelling fire of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ way of calling us into a relationship with him and with his Father.  Jesus’ intent is for this relationship to make a profound and pronounced difference in our lives. 

Today we remember that God calls us to be something that is more than we have ever been before.  The salt and light of God are doing the work of transforming us into something we’ve never been before.  Jesus’ challenge is to a spiritual life in which we establish some heart habits that bear the fruit of our ongoing transformation.  One of these heart habits is to enjoy God.
Many of you will remember and probably have read the books of the late Chaim Potock, a novelist who wrote in the Jewish tradition.  One of his books In the Beginning contains this segment of a story about a young Orthodox Jew named David Laurie.  The following describes David’s experience and enjoyment of God when he is at the local synagogue on the eve of a Jewish festival.
I remember one night when we danced with the Torah scrolls in our little synagogue.  It was the night of Simchat Torah, the festival that celebrates the completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings.  The last portion of the Five Books of Moses would be read the next morning.  The little synagogue was crowded and tumultuous with joy.  I remember one white bearded Torah-reader dancing with one of the heavy scrolls, as if he had miraculously shed his years.  My father and my uncle danced for what seemed an interminable length of time, circling about one another, rocking their scrolls, advancing upon one another with their scrolls, backing off, singing.  Saul, and Alex, and I danced too.  I relinquished my Torah to someone in the crowd, and went out to the rear door to the back porch, and let the air cool my face.  The noise and dancing came clearly through the open windows; and undulating, swelling and receding, and thinning and growing and receding, and thinning and growing sound.  The joy of dancing with Torah, rocking it and holding it close to your heart, the very Words of God.  I wondered if Gentiles ever danced with their Bible.  Hey, Tony and Eddie: do you ever rock it and hold it and know how much you love it?
As we hear from the written word what was spoken by the living Word, Jesus, the totality of Jesus’ invitation is to come close, very close.  Come so close that you can feel the heat and flame of salt and light; so close that all the areas of your lives, even dancing and singing, are open to Jesus’ transforming power. 
Jesus invites us to come closer, closer to God than you have ever before been; closer than you ever thought you could be; closer than ever before you have been brave enough to come. 
Momentarily in the great tradition of the church, three people, Wesley, Rebecca and Michael, will be presented to God.  We will affirm that each of you have searched your lives and are committed to openness with God.  Then we will go the altar of God and allow the body and blood of Christ to enter our bodies and penetrate into the innermost parts of our being.  We will make real the Word that has become flesh and now dwells in us.  
I want to close with a prayer which was given to me over thirty years ago by an old friend, Jim Morton.  As Jim lived the last months of his life, this was a prayer he used each day to remind him of the One to whom he belonged.  As you remain seated, let us pray.

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;                  
do with me what you will.                                           
Whatever you may do,
I thank you;                              
I am ready for all,
and with your grace I accept all.   
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.                                                                     
I wish no more than this, O Lord.                                        
Into your hands I commend my soul;                                         
I offer it to you with all the love in my heart.                            
For I love you, Lord,
and need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my God.  Amen. 

[1] The Biblical Archaeologist: Salt, Soil, Savior by Eugene P. Deatrick (1962, Vol. 2) Former Head of the Soils Department West Virginia University.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do you have pictures or news to share?

If you have pictures or noteworthy items to share with readers, please email them to  Thanks!

2011 Armed Services and Federal Ministries Conference

All Episcopal chaplains serving in DoD components; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and their spouses are cordially invited to join Bishop Jay Magness and Carolyn at a chaplains’ conference they will host at the Roslyn Conference and Retreat Center,
8727 River Road, Richmond, Virginia
May 2-6, 2011.  Chaplains attending the conference will be responsible only for their personal travel expenses; all other conference fees will be paid by the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries.

The conference will feature a renowned constitutional law professor speaking on the topic of religious respect, accommodation, and the First Amendment; representatives from the Church Pension Group speaking about pensions and subjects they address in their diocesan “Planning for Tomorrow” conferences; and an extensive program on community building for chaplains and spouses.  A Conference Chaplain will be responsible for all daily worship events.  On-line registration will begin in March 2011 and will be available at . 

The conference will commence on Monday evening with check-in starting at 1:00pm, a reception at 5:00pm followed by dinner, and a welcome by Bishop Magness.  A schedule of events will be posted online when the registration opens.  Regrets must be made in writing to Bishop Magness. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Theological Education Offering is this Sunday, February 6th

Chaplains, please remember that this coming Sunday, February 5th, is not only the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, but also it is Theological Education Offering Sunday.  Those of us who went to Episcopal seminaries probably remember our experience of being sent out to local parishes on this Sunday to speak to congregations about theological education financial needs.  At no time in our memory has a quality theological education been more expensive than it is today.  One of the excellent and efficient ways to get scholarship aid into the hands of our seminarians is through the Society for the Increase of Ministry ( In fact, some of you may have been recipients of SIM grants and scholarships while you pursued your theological education.  I was and recipient of a SIM scholarship, and I am thankfully giving to SIM as a way to continue the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.  If you are unconvinced or need to be inspired to give, take a look at this YouTube clip:

By the way, we are working with SIM to establish a scholarship stream that will be available to seminarians who are destined for to join our federal chaplaincy ranks.  As soon as it is up and running we will get out the word to you.