40 days and 40 nights….

First of all you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in almost a year.  For more on that and where this blog is heading in the future you can read about it here.

Lent is upon us.  For those who may not know, Lent is a 40 day long season of the Church during which many Christians traditionally “fast” from things like meat, sweets or other things that are pleasurable.  In recent years some have chosen to fast from Facebook or from destructive habits or even to a positive discipline.  Please note that those 40 days do not include Sundays.

Normally I observe Lent by giving up something like deep fried food.  It’s a bummer because I love fries and tortilla chips but if I’m honest, it’s not all that challenging.  This year I am stepping up the game and giving up alcohol.  I’ve done this twice before in the past 7 years but for a while now I’ve been feeling like I need to take a step back from drinking.  While I’m not an alcoholic, it has become a habit and something I use as a coping mechanize when dealing with stress and anxiety.  Therefore, I want to take the opportunity to examine the role it plays in my life, gain insight into myself and hopefully develop other, healthier ways of coping.

Now those of you who know their Bible might be wondering if I am acting like those religious leaders that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1 when he said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”  It’s a legitimate question but please believe me when I say that I’m not doing this for praise.

Sharing this with you is part of my own commitment to maintain the discipline.  If I am publicly accountable then it helps me to keep pushing forward.  It also forces me to be conscious and reflecting on what the experience is like and how it affects me both emotionally and spiritually.

My prayer is that this may also be of help to you. If you are questioning the role that alcohol plays in your life or if you are affected negatively by someone else’s drinking, then I hope this may lead to seek for answers or get help if you need it.

Finally, I am sharing this so that Christians will keep talking about the role alcohol plays in our lives and in our church.  This is especially important for the clergy.  Our vocation is not easy.  As I know from personal experience, all too often we wind up choosing unhealthy ways of coping with the stress.  Yet because we feel pressure to live up to the impossible standards set for us (or that set for ourselves), we often try to hide our inevitable failures and shortcomings.  The result is that many clergy don’t get to experience the freedom in Jesus that we proclaim to others but instead live as prisoners of addiction and denial.  This is incredibly destructive not only for our own lives and families but for our parishes and for the Church as a whole.

I don’t know how many people will read this.  But if it encourages even one more person to be honest about the ways in which alcohol affects them personally and the ways in which it impacts our churches, then it is a step in the right direction.

More so than ever I welcome your questions, experiences, prayers and support.


Of Irish Pint Glasses

As evening draws near on this Saint Patrick’s Day, I find myself missing my second home. It makes me sad that the appropriate way to celebrate that wonderful country and people is what I witnessed downtown already- namely scores of young adults, wearing green and staggering drunk by 1 pm. But this is not a rant…. there are plenty of people who have already spoken eloquently about the mis-appropriation of this day and mis-characterizations of the Irish. So instead let me share a memory from my the first time I travelled to Eire. Slainte!

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

I have been fortunate enough to travel several to the beautiful country of Ireland and,  God willing, plan to go many times more.  I have gone both out of religious interest and for  family vacation.  One of the truly unique and glorious features of Ireland is it pubs.  While rightly famed for their beer (although this distinction is sadly slipping away with the proliferation of mass produced American beer and the adjustment of serving temperature from the warmer traditional  temps to the near freezing American norms- but more on that in a future post) they are even better known for their atmosphere and their gregarious company.  As mentioned in my previous post on hospitality, what I loved about them is that you can just walk in sit down and, with the most minimal effort, strike up a conversation which leads quickly to the purchasing of rounds for one another and…

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“Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”


I just finished offering ashes as part of the “Ashes to Go” ministry and it got me to thinking about one of my all time favorite encounters on an Ash Wednesday.  It’s been a few years since I shared it so I hope you enjoy reading it.

A blessed Ash Wednesday and Happy Valentine’s Day to you all.

It was Ash Wednesday and it also happened to be my sexton’s birthday.  So after the noonday service he and I walked two blocks down to my favorite local lunch spot, The Henry James Saloon.  Needless to say, I was still in my full clerical garb complete with a big smudge of ash on my own forehead from the service.  So we are sitting there me with my Yuengling Lager (a Philadelphia staple) and him with his Bud (may God forgive him).  Across from us are four women, obviously there on their lunch break as well.  Anyway, there we are, chatting and suddenly one of the women calls out, “Hey Padre… Padre.”  Needless to say I quickly knew she was talking to me (When one is wearing clerics it doesn’t take long to realize that you attract a lot more attention from strangers than if you were in civilian dress).  So I asked how I could be of service.  Her response was classic Philly, “Gimme some of them ashes.”  She explained that by the time she got home from work and picked up her son, took care of supper and homework, she would not have time to get the 7 o’clock service at her home church.  I apologized and told her that sadly, I did not bring my container of ashes (in this case a small metal box) with me so I could not oblige.  Yet she was not to be deterred… she thought for a moment and then pointed and said, “Well gimme some of your ashes then.”  Bold as brass she was and it knocked me for a loop.  I must have looked as confused as I felt because she felt that it was necessary not only to repeat herself, but to point straight at my forehead.  At last I understood, though I was still not exactly sure how I felt about the whole enterprise but I could see no reason to deny her request.  I stood and went over to her and asked her name.  I then licked my thumb, put it to my forehead and with the residue, made the sign of the cross on hers while saying, “Margie, remember that you are dust and to dust to shall return.”  Although the whole enterprise was a bit half-assed in my opinion it was clearly valid enough in hers.  It must have been because two of her three friends asked me to do the same.   Just goes to show that people are always looking for the sacred, even, or perhaps especially, in the alehouse.

Saint Brigid Revisited

Happy belated St Brigit’s day. And she’s still waaaay more venerable a herald of spring than some stupid groundhog!

So This Priest Walks Into a Bar...

One of my most consistently viewed posts concerns a poem attributed to Saint Brigid of Kildare.  In honor of her recently celebrated feast day (February 1) I wanted to revisit this remarkable woman and her famous poem.

Kildare 081 A statue of Brigid at her sacred well in Kildare

Brigid of Kildare (451-525) is second only to Patrick in terms of both reverence and popularity.   In the town of Kildare there are a number of pubs (again to on one’s surprise) which certainly try to emphasize an association with Brigid.

She was famed for her generosity and her caring nature.  There are also several beery miracles attributed to her.  One tells of how she managed to make one blessed barrel of beer last so that it managed to supply the thirsty members of 18 churches from Maundy Thursday all the way through the Easter season (53 days in all).     That’s…

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Every night is Halloween

At some level concerts are also costume parties.  Think about it, even if all you do is put on a t shirt featuring the headliner, you still probably made an effort to change your outfit from what you were wearing earlier in the day.  Depending on the band that costume can get pretty elaborate… from tie-dyed shirt for the Dead to teased-out hair and makeup of glam metal to fans who mimic their idol’s dress from the Material Girl to Katy Perry, to punk rock Mohawks, most people look different when they’re at a show.

But IMHO the most elaborate costumes can be found at either a goth or black metal show.  These tend to include not just elaborate clothing choices but also make up.  As you see the costumes can get quite elaborate

Now, here’s the puzzle… what do you do when your rock and roll costume party takes place on the night of our cultural costume extravaganza, namely Halloween?  Do the goths dress as bankers?  Does the black metal crowd shed their corpse paint for Miss Clairol?  When for you, in the words of Type O Negative, “Every night is Halloween?” how do you dress for the show?

Oddly enough, not much changes.  In 2008 I saw this first hand when I saw the Sisters of Mercy on Halloween night.  The only non-goth piece of clothing present was a Phillies cap sported by guitarist Chris Catalyst as a nod to the Phil’s recent World Series win!

Earlier this week I took my daughter to see Motionless in White on Halloween and saw much of the same… not a shred of black leather had been replaced by sear sucker.  If anything it was an invitation for the audience to go even darker.


Corpses, demons and slutty nuns abounded.  A couple of over-sized dinosaurs and the fact that Miss May I were dressed Power Rangers added an element of levity but overall the crowd stayed in its lane.

Miss May I



Contestants in the costume contest including zombie Jesus, and a murder-suicide bride and groom.

But then Amity Affliction took the stage and I had to laugh.  It looked like Greg Marmalard, Douglas Neidermeyer and the rest of Omega House had formed a metal band.  They were dressed straight out of a J-Crew catalog.


Finally, someone in this counter-culture crowd understood that Halloween costumes can be fun precisely because they allow us pretend to be the exact opposite of who we are.

I am not complaining.  Halloween inspires the already theatrically minded rockers to go over the top which means that even if the crowds at goth and metal shows tend to stick to their dark and scary uniform, I’ve found that it’s worth missing out on trick or treating to go to a concert. 


So this Canon walks into a bar….


So my usual summer hiatus from writing stretched on for several months more than usual.  Not to offer excuses but in the last few months we have bought and renovated a house, moved from our home of 14 ½ years and I left my position at St Timothy’s and started a new gig working with my bishop on the staff of our diocese.  OK- so I guess I am making excuses.  But along with the new job I also picked up a new title…. You are now reading the words of The Reverend Canon Kirk Berlenbach, Canon for Innovation and Community Engagement.  

Impressed?  Probably not.  More likely you are wondering just what the hell “Canon” means?  Well you’re not alone. Folks might be more familiar with the term as it relates to church law (our bylaws are called canons) or perhaps as it related to the official accounting, history or contents of something.  For example, different branches of the church have differing opinion as to which books of the bible are “canonical”… that is, which ones would be included in the “canon” of scripture.  Or for non-religious types, my son uses the term in relation to anime or sci-fi.  For example, according to him most of the DBZ movies are “not part of canon” which means they are not part of the official story line approved by Toriyama.

Naturally my new job would be a lot cooler and more fun if it meant I got shout “Kamehameha!” and make my hair turn silver but sadly that is not to be.

What I wish my new title empowered me to do

No, my “Canon” powers are much more mundane.  Wikipedia explains it as follows:

“The title of Canon is not a permanent title and when no longer in a position entitling preferment, it is usually dropped from a cleric’s title nomenclature. However, it is still given in many dioceses to senior parish priests (including some Rural Deans, those who have played a role in the wider life of the diocese, those who have served in the diocese for a long time, or similar) as a largely honorary title. It is usually awarded in recognition of long and dedicated service to the diocese.                                        Generally speaking, canons in the Anglican Communion are of this sort, and thus are equivalent to a monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church, often wearing the violet or violet-trimmed cassock which is associated with that rank.”

In real terms the title implies that I have some measure of expertise but apart from a new fancy cassock that is on order from the Wippell Company, my new title of Canon and $3 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, just like everybody else.

What my official new duds will look like.

In truth, although I used the new title in my Twitter and Instagram handles (@canonkirk), what I’m really excited about is the work that comes with it.

While I truly loved my work at St Tim’s, in this new role I get to bring my experience to bear to assist many congregations simultaneously.  I also have the privilege of working along our Bishop and my talented co-workers to help articulate a bold vision of what our Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania could become and how we can act to help change our communities for the better.  And best of all, not only do I get to keep walking into bars, part of my new job is to teach other clergy and parishes that they should be too.

So this priest walks into a hardware store…

So as you may recall my wife and I have gotten really into bourbon.  On our tour of the Bourbon Trail we tasted a lot of different bourbons and ryes and we saw a lot of different bottles.  The coolest bottle by far was from Willett.  Their flagship bourbon comes in a bottle shaped like their still.

My lovely wife and I at Willett


But what do you do with that very cool bottle once it’s empty?  Turns out they can be made into lamps.  While I’m not a very crafty person I figured it was worth a try.

So here’s how it’s done.

I started with a trip to the local hardware store,  You can get a basic lamp kit most anywhere but I did have to order the bit for drilling the glass.  Once that arrived I assembled all the parts and got to work.

Drilling a hole in the bottom of the bottle seemed tricky.  I practiced on an empty Four Roses bottle just to get the hang of it.  Turns out it’s fairly time consuming.  You have to constantly drip water where you’re drilling to keep things running smoothly.  But eventually the bit went through and the bottle was intact.

This meant it was time to try the Willett bottle.  The long, narrow neck made keeping things steady and level somewhat challenging but just ten minutes later it was all done.

Next came wiring the lamp.  I had spent some time trying to figure out what to do with the wire that would run up the middle of the lamp.  While a nice cloth covered cord wasn’t too unattractive if left exposed I really wanted something nicer.

Here’s a bare bones one I found online. Note the exposed cord- definitely not the effect I wanted!

Thankfully, there’s a whole lot of these lamps on Etsy and Pinterest.   After scrolling through the options I finally found a solution.  I could run the wire inside a slender copper pipe.

So, after drilling through the stopper I threaded the pipe and then the wire.  Wiring up the socket is very straight forward.  Once everything was made snug came the moment of truth.  Sure enough it lit up right away.

With lamp assembled and working, all I had to find a shade.  This was no simple matter.  After a lot of searching  I settled on a smaller shade made of copper colored silk.  A final tweak had to be made because the 10 inch harp that came with the kit was too tall .  One last quick trip to the hardware store and I had an 8 inch harp that worked perfectly.

While it took more than a month to go from the impetus to the final product, all in all it wasn’t that much work.  So next time the crafty urge strikes me I might just find myself walking into a hardware store again.