The new Church of England report on the church in rural areas – Released for Mission, Growing the Rural Churchcatches my attention because of the title combines the themes of mission and growth, which are themes similar to those challenging the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal students in the missiology class I’m currently teaching at Pittsburg Theological Seminary (PTS), an institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

What does the CofE report mean by mission? How is mission as understood by the report related to growth? Does this report represent an advance in a major church’s thinking about mission in the 21st century?

Nearly two-thirds or 65%, of Church of England congregations – 10,199 – are in rural areas, according to the report. Average Sunday attendance in these congregations is 40 (versus 60 in urban congregations), and almost all the rural congregations are in what the CofE calls “multi-church groups,” clusters of congregations served by a single clergyperson or clergy team.

The 35 students in the missiology class at PTS are generally from Pittsburgh and from rural western Pennsylvania, and many testify to the difficulty of stimulating mission awareness, vision and engagement in congregations that are small and rural, intent on maintaining existing patterns of church life at the same time that they worry about their economic and demographic viability. Rural congregations in Vermont face similar challenges, as do rural congregations of many denominations throughout the USA. Read More…

Following is a message received from the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, Bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan, in the wake of the Dec. 16 Taliban attack on Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, in which 148 children and teachers were killed:

Thank you for your kind letter of condolence, love and prayers. The recent attack on the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar has broken everyone in our region. The double suicide attack at [in September 2013] All Saints Church was of a different nature, but here in the school, shooting in the heads, eyes, mouths and beheading small children is simply brutal and barbarous. No human having the fear of God can do it, but this is how the terrorists did it.

The Diocese has cancelled all its Christmas celebrations. We shall be celebrating Christmas in a simple way. Many people have asked us, “This will be the second Christmas without celebrations?” but we tell them the tiny Church is here to be a source of solace for the total people of God.

Despite all the atrocities, I personally feel the local and the International Church can still play an effective role to be a source of comfort for everyone in this, one of the most dangerous regions, which our Diocese is trying to help in its very humble way.

Recently, we have constructed a church on the border of a Tribal area, and, in addition to five Parishes, we have started two new Parishes in the Tribal areas. We feel it is essential to have the Church presence even in the most dangerous areas. We are also looking after the Christians, Hindus and some Shia Muslim Internally Displaced Persons from the war zone area of Miranshah in Waziristan. I will be spending the evening of Christmas with them in Bannu.

Keep us in your special prayers, especially our Priests and the outreach workers for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for their protection. Thank you once again for all your love and prayers.

Posted by: Titus Presler | December 19, 2014

Peshawar school massacre prompts Christians to prayer and outreach

The massacre of children, youth and teachers at the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar on Tuesday, Dec. 16, has rightly been met with shock and outrage around the world and throughout Pakistan.

Recalling their own trauma in the bombing of All Saints’ Church in Peshawar on September 22 in 2013, when 128 church members were killed and 170 wounded in a Taliban bombing, Christians in Peshawar have responded in prayer and compassionate outreach to the families of the 148 people killed and many wounded in Tuesday’s attack.

Insar Gohar, Youth Coordinator of the Diocese of Peshawar, sent out this missive on Tuesday:

Dear Friends & Prayer Partners!

Our city of Peshawar is once again under the terrorists’ attack: a school has been attacked by the terrorists and about 132 school children and teachers have been killed and many other are injured. The parents of the children are in deep grief, and the whole environment of Peshawar is under terror and under grief.

The situation in our city is very tense. All the major roads within the city are blocked, and people have been stuck on the way. Some of the school and college students are stuck in their schools, as the school administrations are not allowing the children to go to their homes unless their parents come. Parents are not finding a way to reach there. My niece is also in her college and we are trying to bring her to our home.

This reminded the Christians of Peshawar of last year’s attack on All Saints’ Church. They are crying with the parents of today’s deceased children.

Please pray for all this situation, for protection of our city, and for peace in our region.

Insar Gohar

An op-ed piece in the New York Times on Wednesday opened with a touching vignette of one small expression of caring by Peshawar Christians in response to the catastrophe:

Outside the main ward of the Lady Reading Hospital, where five teenage Muslim boys lay fighting for their lives, a Christian had come bearing roses.

“Cannot go inside!” said the officer in plain clothes.

“But these roses,” pleaded the Christian man.

“You may give these flowers to me,” said the officer. “Thank you.”

The officer turned to us. “The Christians have called off Christmas, you see,” he explained — in honor of the schoolchildren murdered here this week.

In 2013 as well the Christian community’s Christmas celebrations were muted, at that time in the wake of the toll of the September church bombing. The community’s solidarity this year with the suffering of so many Muslims at the hands of the Taliban is salutary and exemplary. As many Muslims reached out in care after the All Saints’ attack, so now Christians are reaching out in care.

Wednesday I had a long conversation with a Muslim colleague in Peshawar who lost a number of associates in the massacre. He is discouraged, but undaunted.

I have been heartened by the response of so many friends and colleagues in the USA and elsewhere to the news of the December 16 massacre. It is clear that many people around the world are alert and paying attention, even as they may find it difficult to know how to make a difference.

The Nativity that we celebrate in Christmastide took place in desperate times. Grinding poverty, random violence, and imperial oppression were grounds for despair, and many did give up hope. The incarnation of God in Christ Jesus took place in a remote corner in circumstances shaped by those desperations. At the other end of Jesus’ life he shared the humiliation of the oppressed and shared their death. In the eyes of the world that trajectory did not auger well for making a difference.

Yet from that life light continues to shine and transform. God’s reign was proclaimed and enacted in healing and liberation. God’s compassion shone forth. Human community formed over seemingly unbridgeable differences. Resurrection vindicated what came before and validated hope for the consummation of all things.

Christians in Pakistan live in that reality as well as in catastrophic horror. Alongside other Christian communities, the Diocese of Peshawar of the Church of Pakistan, continues its mustardseed ministries in Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It preaches and lives the work of Christ in congregations, clinics, hospitals, schools and, of course, Edwardes College. It is a privilege to join in that work.

Please do pray. That means much.

In recent weeks many in the Episcopal Church have been shocked and grieved by the turmoil that has erupted at the General Theological Seminary, the church’s oldest, located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  I am among them.  It is hard to see conflict dividing and eroding an institution that has offered much to the church in the past and that has the capacity to offer much in the future, now on the verge of seminary’s bicentennial in 2017.

What constitutes the faithful exercise of authority in Christian ministry is prominent among the many aspects of the current controversy that have been debated in various forums.  A week or so ago I came across a sermon that I’d forgotten I preached on this very subject.  What prompts me to circulate it at this juncture is not only the topic but the fact that it was preached in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General shortly after I joined the seminary’s ministry as academic dean in 2005.

Preached from the heart of the seminary, to the heart of the seminary, may it, I pray, be a helpful reflection in the current hard time.

Self-Emptying Authority in Ministry

Sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler, Sub-Dean and Professor of Mission and World Christianity, at the Community Eucharist in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd of the General Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, 27 September 2005.  Year A, Proper 21: Philippians 2.1-13; Matthew 21.28-32

Thank you for the warm welcome that you have extended to Jane and me as we have entered this community this fall.  We have a long association with the General Seminary, but this is a new chapter in our lives and a new relationship with the seminary, one in which we take great joy.  We are feeling very at home here, and your welcome has made that happen.  I look forward to working with you as Sub-Dean, as Vice President for Academic Affairs, and as Professor in the area of Mission and World Christianity.

Self-emptying authority is the theme I am drawn to with you this evening.  Self-emptying authority: the self-emptying of God in Jesus the word made flesh, and what self-emptying authority might mean for us in our lives and ministries.

“By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus was asked by the religious leaders, and he ends up declaring, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Authority was the issue.  Alongside that, we hear Paul sketching through the words of a popular hymn the drama, the deep magic behind the incarnation, how Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped or exploited, but emptied himself and took the form of a servant —

Emptied himself of what?  Emptied himself of all the prerogatives of God: the prerogatives of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence, the prerogative of exalted position, and the prerogative, I would suggest, of ready-made authority.  He was in every way as we are, facing the same choices, with no more resources, whether internal or external, than you and I have.  Yet clearly he conveyed authority such that those whose authority was based in hierarchical position felt they had to ask him “By what authority are you doing these things?”  “By what authority?”

What is authority, and why is it important?

Let’s reflect for a moment on authority in our own life stories.  I invite you to reflect right now on people in your life whom you have experienced as having authority for you.  Whatever authority is, we recognize it when it is there.  True authority has little need to exert itself; instead, we place ourselves in such a relation to it that we allow ourselves to receive guidance from it.  Who are the people in your life whom you have experienced as authorities, people from whom you sought and received guidance in some way, people who shaped who you are?  Reflect for a moment on who they were or are.  What was the quality of their lives that made them authoritative for you?  From what did their authority proceed?

The dictionary defines authority in a number of ways: a citation that is used in defense or support; a decision taken as a precedent; the power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior; a person in command.  The definition that highlights our concern with authority, though, is authority as grounds, or warrant, or convincing force.  There may be no etymological link between the words authority and authenticity, but I believe the two are conceptually related: authority proceeds from authenticity, and authenticity conveys authority.  By authority I do not mean the successful exercise of power, whether legitimately through law, appointment or election, or illegitimately through whatever kind of seizure.  Authority is related to power, but it is not the same power.

Authority, I suggest, is instead a quality of being on account of which we repose confidence in another, anticipate insight from another, and receive guidance from another.  The word exousia in the original Greek of the New Testament actually gives some grounds for this intuition about authority: Exousia is rooted in the verb exeinai, which means to be allowed or permitted.  Ousia in itself is a form of the verb einai, which means to be: as a noun on its own it means that which is one’s own, one’s substance or property, or, more to the point, the being, essence or true nature of a thing.  Exousia, authority, then, is a quality that proceeds forth and comes out from one’s being or essence or true nature.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | September 24, 2014

Engaging difference – a major challenge of our time

It was an honor last week to be among the four people to be designated as 2014 Distinguished Alumni of Boston University School of Theology, where I earned the Th.D.  Among the numerous gracious events in this observance was a panel discussion in which the four of us were asked to present on the topic, “The Three Greatest Challenges Facing Us in the Next Decade,” and then engage in discussion among ourselves and with members of the audience.

The streaming link to the panel can be viewed here (I was the second of the speakers).  Following is the text of my remarks:


Engaging Difference: A Major Challenge of Our Time

Address by the Rev. Canon Titus Presler, Th.D., D.D.

Distinguished Alumni Panel at Boston University School of Theology

Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on Thursday, 18 September 2014

I am very grateful for the honor of being designated among this year’s Distinguished Alumni at the Boston University School of Theology, where my father Henry Hughes Presler graduated in 1936, and it is a joy to be included on this panel.

I’d like to begin with a story. Faith Friends is an inter-religious group, the only inter-religious group that meets in Peshawar. It brings together Sunnis and Shias, various Christian groups, and Hindus and Sikhs for mutual encounter and community-building. Its efforts, though small, seemed promising, so I invited the group to hold one of its meetings at Edwardes College, taking care to ensure that a good cross-section of Muslims and Christians from our faculty were included so that they could experience it. The meeting went well, and the attending faculty members agreed that this could be a good venture to try within our College community. The chair of the Islamic Studies Department and I planned an agenda and carefully selected those to be invited. The day for the gathering arrived, the tea and samosas were laid out. All the invited Christians pitched up, but only one Muslim arrived.

It turned out that the other Muslims stayed away in protest against a particular news item that had appeared on the Web that morning: Terry Jones, the notorious anti-Muslim pastor in Florida, had announced that he was going to have another Quran-burning. Jones’s announcement was an instance of gratuitous religious hostility that contributes to the world’s already heavy burden of religiously motivated conflict. The response of some colleagues in Peshawar in taking Jones’s bait was equally gratuitous, for how much more irrelevant to the situation in Peshawar could the Florida announcement be? Showing up at the tea were minority Christians whose communities were being subjected to indignities every day, and the majority Muslims stayed away because of a bizarre event being planned 10,000 miles away. The one Muslim who attended was indignant about his colleagues’ absence. “For many of us,” he said, “it seems that difference means danger. We need to get beyond the idea that difference is dangerous.”

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | September 23, 2014

Church of Pakistan moderator addresses Episcopal House of Bishops

It is salutary that the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has heard a report on the situation of the Church of Pakistan from the united church’s moderator, Bishop Samuel Azariah of the Diocese of Raiwind.  An account of his remarks at the group’s current gathering in Taiwan appears in an Episcopal News Service article, titled “Bishops explore ministry challenges in Asia” and filed on Sept. 19.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the article: 

Bishop Samuel Azariah, moderator of the Church of Pakistan (United), told the bishops about the life of his church in a country where Christians account for 1.5 percent of the 189 million Pakistanis.

He said Pakistan is “in continuous religious disputes” within itself, and with India and Afghanistan.

“The misuse and abuse of religion has not only impacted our economy and our relationships, but has also introduced a phase of religious militancy” and especially one that vows to spread Islam, he said. “That is the reality of the context we live in and very soon this is going to hit you, my brothers and my sisters, even in the United States.”

Azariah added a caution: “I’m not saying that we need to fight Islam; what I am saying is that we need to recognize that reality” and prepare for it by learning about Islam and working to improve interfaith relations, and always searching for reconciliation.

“Islam will be the dominant religion in your own dioceses sooner or later that you will have to negotiate with,” he told the bishops. “You will have large populations of Muslims around you in your areas to whom you will have to pastor to and how will you do that?”

In his context, Azariah said he rejects the ideas of loving one’s enemies, saying instead he prefers to advocate loving one’s neighbors in a way that aims “to recognize, to respect in humbleness and with patience, the quality of otherness that my neighbor carries within himself or within herself.”

Meanwhile, Azariah issued a call for deeper relations between his church and others in the Anglican Communion, especially in terms of educational partnerships and development.

“We want to be in relationship; not a relationship of dependency. We do not want to be a project of any church but in a relationship of equal brothers and sisters and disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.


• The House of Bishops is meeting in Taiwan because the Diocese of Taiwan is one of the constituent dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and the bishops are committed to meeting in a diocese outside the United States once every three years.  Other such dioceses include those in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela.

• “United” in parentheses after the name of the Church of Pakistan in the article refers to the fact that the formation of the Church of Pakistan in 1970 brought together Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians in a single church body.  Like the united churches in Bangladesh, North India, and South India, the Church of Pakistan is a full member of the Anglican Communion as well as of the global fellowships Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches.

Posted by: Titus Presler | September 22, 2014

Peshawar marks one year since bombing of All Saints’ Church in 2013

Today is the first anniversary of the attack that killed 128 people and wounded 170 at All Saints’ Church in the old city of Peshawar on 22 September 2013. The suicide bombing was the worst attack experienced by the Christian community in Pakistan since the founding of the country at Partition in 1947.

Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters reports that services have been held in the Diocese of Peshawar beginning at 8:30 in the morning and continuing until 4 in the afternoon as the Christian community reflects on the experience and draws strength through prayer and worship together.  Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah of the Diocese of Raiwind, recently returned from a visit to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting in Taiwan, was present, as were the bishops of Lahore and Multan, among others.

Over 4,000 people attended an afternoon liturgy held at Edwardes High School, which was established in 1853 as the first secondary school in the border region with Afghanistan.  “We commemorated the occasion in a grand way,” said Bp. Humphrey.

The major Eucharist was held at All Saints’ Church itself, timed so that Communion would be served around the time that the two bombs exploded, which was at 11:45am on Sunday, Sept. 22 in 2013, and at that time a minute of silence was observed.  The parish’s memorial observances got underway yesterday, as reported and photographed yesterday in Dawn newspaper.

The diocese continues to care for the injured and for those bereaved of their loved ones, especially widows and orphans who lost the sole breadwinners in their families.  Bp. Humphrey is pursuing with the federal government of Pakistan its promise to provide a Rs. 200 million (about US$2 million) endowment for the care of victims.

In another major observance, yesterday the Diocese of Peshawar marked the second anniversary of the burning of St. Paul’s Church in Mardan, about 35 miles northeast of Peshawar, on 21 September 2012. A crowd was processing through that city on the Day of Love for the Prophet (Yaom-i-Ishq-i-Rasool) proclaimed by the government in protest against the anti-Islam film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” when some demonstrators broke into the church compound and burned St. Paul’s.

Since then St. Paul’s has not only been rebuilt but also extended and is now fully in use.  Reconstruction was assisted by a grant from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government.

Korean Christians have pledged to establish a Peace Center at All Saints’ Church.

(Articles about the referenced events of 2012 and 2013 are available on this blog – just type in key words.)

+ + +

A Prayer on the Anniversary of the Bombing at All Saints’ Church, Peshawar

In the Name of God who gave birth to the Word,

God the Word made flesh,

and God the Spirit who empowers the Word for life.


O God, you are the source of all healing and reconciliation:


We call to mind the All Saints’ victims,

who witnessed to their faith with courage

and who died in religious violence.

May they grow from grace to grace in your eternal glory.


We lift up before you those who were wounded,

especially those who live daily with pain and disability.

Visit them with your healing power.


We pray for all who grieve those who were near and dear to them.

May they know the strength of your daily presence

and the comfort of family and community.


Strengthen your Church that it may be a channel of your healing love.

May it speak your prophetic word.

May it share your reconciling power among all the children of Abraham

and on behalf of all who suffer oppression and violence. Amen.

Posted by: Titus Presler | September 11, 2014

Christian Century publishes article on Edwardes situation

The Christian Century, a leading ecumenical biweekly periodical based in Chicago, published an article on the situation of Edwardes College in Peshawar in its edition of 3 September 2014:


Posted by: Titus Presler | August 21, 2014

Response to Ronald Lauder’s op-ed on persecution of Christians

The op-ed page in the Aug. 20 New York Times features an article, “Who will stand up for the Christians?” by Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress.  Below is an expanded version of the response I submitted to the comment section of the website of the World Jewish Congress:

Thanks very much, Mr. Lauder, for this impassioned appeal.  I agree with you entirely that thousands of Christians have been targeted, that thousands have died, and that the global community should challenge violence against Christians as strongly as it challenges violence against other religious minorities.  A number of news outlets have given good coverage to the victimization of Christians in places such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, but you are right to protest the lack of popular protest against such victimization when the victims are Christians.

In the midst of your article you ask the question, Why? – “And the beautiful celebrities and aging rock stars – why doesn’t the slaughter of Christians seem to activate their social antennas?”  I’m not sure why, but I have some guesses.

Christians are members of the world’s most populous religion – at something like 2.2 billion, with Muslims next at about 1.6 billion.  So people may have difficulty even conceptualizing violence against the majority as victimization,  let alone feeling outraged by it.  Reticence is intensified by an impression that Christianity is a “Western” religion, and people have difficulty seeing “the West” being victimized when it continues through the USA and the West European powers to exercise the clout that it does in world affairs.

If such an anti-majority reflex is at work, several contrary points need to be made:

(1) Where Christians are victimized in the ways you highlight, it is in places where they are far from being the majority but are a small minority, and a diminishing minority as a result of discrimination and violence.

(2) Religious freedom as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and in most national constitutions, even in countries where religious violence is tolerated – is a right of all religious people, regardless whether they are in the majority or minority globally, and regardless whether they are in the majority or minority in any particular setting.  Integrity demands that we must be even-handed and not selective in our application of the right to religious freedom.  Global citizens should be just as passionate about the victimization of Christians by Muslims in Iraq or Pakistan as we are about the victimization of Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar, or that of Bahais by Muslims in Iran, or that of Muslims by Christians in France or the USA.

(3) Christianity is not a Western religion but a Middle Eastern religion in both origin and tenor.  Moreover, it was not until around 1400 that a majority of the world’s Christians were European, and today the majority of the world’s Christians are in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  However, the reflex of indifference would be wrong even if Christianity were primarily a Western religion, for the right to religious freedom applies equally to all.

History is another reason for people’s reticence about persecution of Christians.  European and North American history is replete with Christian persecution of religious minorities, and it goes back 1,700 years to the shift by which Christianity moved from being persecuted in the Roman Empire to being linked to its coercive state power.  The Crusades, the Inquisition and the brutal “conversion” of the Americas are well known examples of Christian intolerance, and the Holocaust was one result of centuries of official toleration of anti-Jewish hatred.  Moreover, Christian establishments have been equally intolerant of their own internal “heretical” minorities, such as Protestants under Catholics, Anabaptists under Lutherans, Puritans under Anglicans, Mormons and Catholics under North American Protestants – the list goes on and on.

A reflex born of this history is expressed in such aphorisms as “Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” and “What goes around comes around,” and “Time for comeuppance.”  Few would acknowledge the root of their indifference in such crude terms, but it is likely that the fact that so many members of other religions have suffered from Christian intolerance cools the outrage that reasonable and fair-minded people might otherwise feel and express about contemporary realities.

One appropriate response to this reflex is to insist on both-and rather than either-or thinking.  One can and must both decry current persecution of Christians and be quite forthright in acknowledging and condemning Christians’ persecution of other religious minorities over many centuries.  It is especially important that Christians be clear about both sides of this both-and.

Another appropriate response is to follow your example, Mr. Lauder.  As President of the World Jewish Congress you are at least as aware as the most competent historian of the discrimination, persecution and calamity visited upon Jews by Christians in many corners of the globe over many centuries.  After all, that is partly why there must be a World Jewish Congress.  And yet in impassioned tones you are decrying the widespread apathy and indifference toward the persecution of Christian minorities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

You are saying, in effect: Yes, there is the terrible history.  We must acknowledge that and learn from it.  Truly learning from it, though, means decrying religious persecution wherever it occurs.  We are in the present moment, with real people who are suffering.  We must not allow ourselves, whether tacitly or explicitly, to indulge in historical tit-for-tat thinking.  The time we are living in is our own time, when we must rise to the responsibilities posed by our time.  Every day is a new day, when we have opportunity to write a new story.

Thank you for your vision.

A next-day postscript on August 21: Today there is an equally important op-ed column by Kenan Malik, “Muslims and Jews are targets of bigotry in Europe,” in which the author focuses on rising anti-Semitism in Europe.


Posted by: Titus Presler | April 25, 2014

Home for Easter – with joy and gladness!

It has been so good to be back home for Eastertide. This is the letter I sent to wellwishers while en route last week:

Maundy Thursday

Dear Friends,

I am happy to report to you that I am en route home.  I am writing this over the Atlantic, having flown from Islamabad to Doha early this morning and then continued on Qatar Airways toward Washington Dulles, from where I will fly to my family in Vermont later tonight.  The necessary notification from the Pakistani Government came through earlier this week, and that enabled me to arrange the departure.

It will be a blessing to be back with Jane and the family, and to be back for Good Friday and Easter.

Thank you all for your email letters, concern and prayer over this time.  It was very encouraging and sustaining to hear from so many of you.  I am very grateful.  In the Daily Office epistle for today, Paul discusses how in the Eucharist we participate in the body and blood of Christ and then goes on to reflect, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  Your care during a difficult time has expressed the oneness of the Body of Christ that is the company of the faithful.

I arrived in Pakistan this time round on Jan. 22, and the exile since the events of Feb. 14 has been a little over two months.  Exile is the apt concept, for being deprived of documentation meant that I could return neither to the college ministry in Peshawar nor to my family and home.  It was an involuntary geographical restriction.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you, O Zion,” lamented the psalmist, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?”  The disempowerment in recent events affected the Diocese of Peshawar and Church of Pakistan as well as me, and it resonated with the victimization that Christians in Pakistan have long experienced.

At the same time I rejoice that it has indeed been possible to sing the Lord’s song in Lenten exile.  St. Thomas Church in Islamabad was welcoming, and a number of friendships developed with parishioners there.  On an ongoing basis scripture and tradition have spoken to me in ways that brought me to new places in prayer.

The extended stay enabled me to participate in the 2014 gathering of the US-Pakistan Inter-Religious Consortium, an initiative sponsored jointly by Intersections International at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and the Institute for Research and Dialogue at International Islamic University in Islamabad.  It was good to move forward with friends both old and new in a joint effort that has good potential.

I was able to do a good deal of background work on behalf of Edwardes College and the Church’s effort to secure its rightful role.  There is some heartening news in that area.  Earlier this month Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters met about the crisis with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Canon for Reconciliation David Porter.  Just last week Imran Khan announced that his party, which has a plurality in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has decided to ensure restoration of the College to the Church.  Much remains in the struggle, but these developments help us persevere in prayer.

When a Massachusetts TV host asked if I had final thoughts before the end of a recent interview on peacemaking I responded impulsively:  “All you viewers: Please don’t give up on Pakistan.  There are enormous challenges, but there are also millions of people here who yearn to move forward as a society.  Pakistan is now the 6th most populous nation on earth, and by 2050 it is predicted to be the 4th most populous nation.  So what happens Pakistan is important for the global community in the 21st century.”

In that spirit I celebrate that it was the hospitality of a Muslim household in Islamabad that made it possible for the exile to be safe and fruitful, a family that supports justice for the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.  I am very grateful to them.  The dialogue, mutual appreciation and support we have together are, I hope, a harbinger of the future.

I wish you every blessing in this Holy Week and the coming Easter.

Warm regards,

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 13, 2014

Joining our enemies on their knees – A godly admonition

Islamabad on Passion Sunday

“A church committed to the reclaiming of the gospel of peace looks like those who join their enemies on their knees.”

This stands out for me among the many good things Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in his April 10 talk at the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace conference of Episcopalians in Oklahoma City.

We might rephrase the statement as: Christians in a church committed to reclaiming the gospel of peace will join their enemies on their knees. Whose knees? Presumably our enemies are on their knees, and we are on our knees. Conceivably, the statement assumes that our enemies are already on their knees, so that its import is that we are joining them where they already are. The mandate, then, is to kneel with our enemies – they on their knees and we on our knees, we and our enemies together in prayer.

Considering what this might mean is salutary in Holy Week, when we walk through the Passion, a saga that highlights enmity both within and outside the Jesus movement, violence as a tactic of first resort, and cultures of violence both Jewish and Roman. That saga should prompt us to consider our own enemies and enmities, the violence we suffer and the violence we mete out, and the cultures of enmity and violence in which we are complicit.

Kneeling with our enemies may remind us of Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That in turn may remind us of Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The story Abp. Justin told of the sequel to the bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 suggests a radicalizing of even Jesus’ word from the cross:

The following morning, the Provost, Richard Howard, in the ruins picked up a piece of burnt wood and wrote behind the High Altar the words: ‘Father forgive.’ Someone said to him: ‘You mean Father forgive them?’ to which he replied, in the words of Romans 3:23: ‘No, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Violence is not something that is only the sin of the other.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 10, 2014

Reflexive mission in two Lenten devotionals

Today I share brief Lenten devotionals written by two parishioners at Grace Church on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City, two people who are very dear to my wife Jane and me. 

Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Monday in the 5th week of Lent, April 7
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…   (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 31* 35 Exodus 4:10-31 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 Mark 9:30-41

[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35)     + + +

I spent three formative years of my childhood in Zimbabwe, Central Africa, living at St. David’s Bonda Mission, a small, rural outpost where my parents were appointed missionaries of the Episcopal Church and my father Priest-In-Charge at the mission church.  As the only white students at the local Christian primary school, my sister and I were often exempt from the menial chores and corporal punishment our fellow students had to endure, leaving us feeling oddly excluded and inappropriately “privileged” in the post-colonial context of the time.  During the first year, my closest school friend Tabitha Pomo insisted on carrying my water pail to and from the student garden because, as she pronounced matter-of-factly, “You are white and I am black.”  I was both shocked and relieved when, in my last year of school, I lined up with my classmates and opened my palm for a solid thwack with a ruler, standard punishment for poor quiz grades. When I knelt down to polish the cement floor of our classroom on the final day of school, side-by-side with other students, Tabitha smiled with surprise and recognition. Wordlessly, she slowly applied the polish in practiced circular movements, nodding for me to mimic her and seamlessly join in.  I had the most profound and confounding Christian welcome in Zimbabwe that I may ever experience. And when I reflect on Jesus’ exhortation to servant leadership, I can’t think of a better example than Tabitha Pomo. –Emma Presler

Thank you to today’s author, Emma Presler.  At Grace Emma co-chairs the committee that plans the Sunday Forum.  She met and married her husband, Steven Lee, at Grace.

Today’s Collect: Be gracious to your people, we entreat you, O Lord, that they, repenting day by day of the things that displease you, may be more and more filled with love of you and your commandments; and, being supported by your grace in this life, may come to the full enjoyment of eternal life in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.   Amen.  


Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Wednesday in the 1st week of Lent, March 12
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…  (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 119:49-72 & Psalm 49; Genesis 37:25-36; 1 Corinthians 2:1-13; Mark 1:29-45


In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39) + + +

Jesus went out to a deserted place in order to speak to his Father. Do we have a favorite place we go, when we need to talk to God?  I remember reading this passage with my students at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility. We started to talk about Jesus’ prayer life in the wilderness. One inmate got really animated in the discussion. I later found out he just been released from 30 days in solitary confinement.  “This is my wilderness,” the inmate said. “I don’t need to go to any deserted place to pray. I pray right inside here.” He tapped his heart.  I think about that man whenever I find myself too distracted, too busy, or too tired to pray. I try to pray as he did. From the heart. – Steven Lee

Thank you to today’s author, Steven Lee. Steven is a student at The General Theological Seminary, on field placement to Sing Sing prison.  He is writing on Augustine’s pastoral theology and its implications for prison ministry, our concepts of community, and Church as the Body of Christ.


Today’s Collect: Bless us, O God, in this holy season, in which our hearts seek your help and healing; and so purify us by your discipline that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Collect for Ash Wednesday: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 9, 2014

Hard places – Vignettes from a Pakistani novelist

Being in hard places sometimes means risking danger.  Yet even if risk is not especially acute, wrestling with the world’s disparities of wealth and poverty, opportunity and suppression, hope and despair can be difficult, even harrowing.

The stance of the privileged in proximity to poverty and violence is a perennial struggle.  How are we to understand the disparities in which we are complicit?  What is our self-perception and our understanding of others who are different from ourselves? In what ways are they and we similar and different?  How do we describe those who are suffering and our own engagement with them?  How do we construct narratives that are truthful and that do not stereotype, exploit, glamorize, exaggerate or distort?

These are questions that arise – or should arise ­– for travelers and reporters, activists and commentators, missionaries and theologians.

Novelists are often especially acute in analyzing the anguish. In Uzmah Aslam Khan’s novel Thinner than Skin (Northampton: Clockroot Books, 2012), the Pakistani first-person narrator, Nadir Sheikh, aspires in San Francisco to be a professional photographer. Here’s a piece of the dialogue when he takes his photographs to a stock-photo studio for inspection:

“Why are you . . . wasting time taking photographs of American landscapes when you have material at your own doorstep? . . . Next time you go home, take some photographs.”

When it was obvious I still didn’t get it, he dumbed it down. “Show us the dirt. The misery. Don’t waste your time trying to be a nature photographer. Use your advantage.”

At the next studio he presents some studies of the antique marble tabletop in his mother’s kitchen in Karachi:

“Your photographs lack authenticity.”


“Where are the beggars and bazaars or anything that resembles your culture?”

“The marble is a real part of my family history. It’s old, from 1800–”

He waved his hand. “It seems to me that when a war’s going on, a table is trivial.” I wished for the courage – or desire – to ask what images of what war he was looking for.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 8, 2014

Hard places – Resonance, pathos and mission

Bits from Rowan Williams’ Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) amplify my posting yesterday about risk in putting oneself next to chaos:

You don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud. . . . The new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depth of chaos and be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, “Where might you expect to find the baptized?” one answer is, “In the neighborhood of chaos.”   It means that you might expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighborhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering . . . If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny. . . .

The baptized person is not only in the middle of human suffering and muddle, but in the middle of the love and delight of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That surely is one of the most extraordinary mysteries of being Christian. . . . [T]he path of the baptized person is a dangerous one. Perhaps baptism really ought to have some health warnings attached to it: “If you take this step, if you go into these depths, it will be transfiguring, exhilarating, life-giving and very, very dangerous.” To be baptized into Jesus is not to be in what the world thinks of as a safe place. Jesus’ first disciples discovered that in the Gospels, and his disciples have gone on discovering it ever since.

From a cosmic perspective, the God who created a universe where the random proliferates and free choice flourishes found that one result of randomness and freedom is a vast underside of vulnerability, anguish and suffering. These occur not only in isolated spots but, in one way or another, throughout and in close juxtaposition with the joyful and prosperous. God gravitates to the pathos, contemplates its gravity and waits for human companions to join God there – companions who empathize with those who grieve and vibrate with God’s own yearning for human wholeness. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 7, 2014

Hard places – A reflection on risk in vocation

Events in Peshawar, and being attacked in February, prompt reflection on the element of risk in the vocation of global service.

Given the environment of violent extremism, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Afghan border areas, coming to Pakistan was a risk.  I was aware of that.  I thought it was worth it, and I continue to believe that.  Some have not been so sure, and others have simply been mystified.

Where does this risk-taking come from? Some have said to me, “You’re so brave – I could never do that,” or words to that effect.  I do not feel brave.  Bravery as a category does not come into it. What I have said to people, most recently to a participant in an interfaith conference here in Islamabad, is: “It came as a call.  When I came to assess the situation, the question I left with was not ‘Why?’ but ‘Why not?’ I had peace about it, the peace that Paul invokes as ‘the peace of God that passes all understanding.’  With that peace I have not had to screw up my courage, wince and face the danger – not at all.  I am at peace, and I come and go in peace.  So it is not bravery.  It is rather Emmanuel, God with us.  It is not virtue or achievement on my part.  It is God’s grace.”

On the circumstantial side, coming to Pakistan to contribute in church-sponsored higher education arose out of longstanding relationships of solidarity with local leaders. So I was not suddenly picking up to go into the dangers of a strange place with no connections.  My wife and I had visited Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa much earlier, and she supported the venture. A daughter and a son had also visited Peshawar earlier on projects of their own.

The relationships that come our way in life are in a real sense random – we get thrown in with people through random circumstances. When the question arose, “Well, what about Peshawar?” responding positively seemed to be a God Thing, and I believe it was.  Not in the sense of “God’s Plan” – I don’t experience God working that way.  God gave up planning long ago when God created a cosmos much too random for planning.   Read More…

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