Annual attendance figures

One of the things I dread as a parish priest is to make the annual attendance report. I purposely don’t look at the weekly attendance report because it’s always less than I think it should be. There’s nothing worse than looking out at the congregation and wailing inwardly, “Where is everyone?”

Having once been in a parish that was on a steady decline, I know that focusing on the numbers can be depressing. Somehow I think that by staring at the numbers on a sheet of paper I can get them to increase. No such luck!

However, this year I had a wonderful surprise when I put the figures into the Excel spreadsheet and saw the results. We are up in attendance from 80.4 a Sunday to 82.1 a Sunday!

Now that may not seem like very much, but let me point out that it’s a two percent increase, and it’s far better than being flat or declining. Numbers don’t lie, and what the numbers are reflecting is that there are some good things going on at St. Antony’s.

As a feeling-type person, I can sense that good things are happening, but it takes hard data to confirm that. With our attendance figures complete for the year, I can finally say for sure, “Yes, we’re doing well.”

Christmas can be a blue season

Vicar’s Voice
December 2016

The culture around us is preparing us for the “hap-hap-happiest time of the year,” the season of Christmas, also known as the Holiday Season. For many people, Christmas is the best time of the year because it focuses on gift-giving, decorations, parties, heart-warming Christmas stories and songs, and nostalgia of days gone by.

But for many people, Christmas is not the best time of the year. For those who live alone, Christmas can be a depressing reminder of isolation and loss. For those who have broken relationships within their families or friends, Christmas only highlights the difference between the “perfect” family holiday and their personal reality of hurt and brokenness.

Celebrating Christmas when you’re dealing with divorce, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease is a struggle. For many people depression is their holiday companion. And for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, Christmas can be empty.

When I was twenty years old, my father was killed in a car accident on November 8. Our family was stunned by the suddenness of the news. We walked through the funeral and burial ceremonies in a numb haze. By the time Christmas came, we were still in shock. We gathered as we always had, but that year Dad was not there to hand out the presents to each person in turn as he always had. We had to choose someone to take his place, but it just didn’t seem right. That memory still tinges my Christmas experience.

So if you or someone you know is experiencing a “blue Christmas” this year, it’s a good idea to remember that the meaning of Christmas goes far deeper than piped-in Holiday music and the mad rush of shopping. Christ was born to a poor peasant couple in a humble cattle shed. They weren’t a “perfect” family. The simplicity and humility of Jesus’ birth keeps us grounded in the love of God come to earth.

May Christ find a home in our hearts, however humble they may be, this Christmas.


Leaks, floods and other water problems

Sometimes it seems that everything happens at once. On Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, two men from Silverdale Water showed up to inform me that we had a serious water leak. I shut down the water and called David, our sexton. David found a plumber who would come, but not until Friday.

On Thanksgiving day, I was preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner when I thought I would check the sump pump outside the door of the nave. It had been raining heavily all day and the hillside was saturated from earlier rains. When I checked the pump, I found it wasn’t pumping and the water had flooded into the church.

My son Guy and I bailed out the sump and hooked up a garden hose to get the pump working again. We moved the chairs in the church and pulled back the carpet to start it drying. The next day, Friday (my day off!), I rented a carpet cleaner from Fred Meyer and used it to suck up the excess water from the carpet. We got some big fans and got the air to moving to dry out the carpet and the subcarpet.

That same day Nick the plumber from Robison Plumbing came and diagnosed the plumbing problem. A pipe running from the narthex closet down to the basement had failed. Nick promised to come back on Monday to make the repair. He made it possible for us to have water in the hallway bathrooms, but we had no water in the kitchen for Sunday coffee hour. We used paper and plastic so we didn’t have to use the sink.

On Saturday night several of us rolled the carpet back temporarily and moved the chairs to their normal places for Sunday worship. Sunday night we came again and moved the chairs and also the organ to reveal all the wet carpet. We set the fans blowing again and left it overnight.

On Monday, Nick the Plumber showed up and put in a new line to the basement. He’s a young guy but he’s very resourceful and skilled. I was surprised to see that he had the line repaired before 5 pm and we had water once again in the kitchen.

In a couple of days we’ll turn off the fans in the nave and put the carpet back in place. I’ll be relieved to have this episode over.  I spent a lot of time and energy on this over Thanksgiving weekend, in addition to preparing for Sunday worship, so that what would have been a relaxing weekend turned into a lot of work and anxiety. Such is the life of a small town Vicar.

Letter to the parish after the election

November 9, 2016

To members of St. Antony’s,

Last night a long and bitter campaign season was concluded with the election of Donald Trump as our next president. For some, this is a moment of elation and triumph, and for others it’s a time of grief and anguish. Our country has been torn apart by the divisive rhetoric and ugly tone of the campaign.

But it’s important to remember that the mark of a great country is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. The people have spoken, and now it’s our task to move ahead as a nation. Donald Trump, in his acceptance speech, has promised “to be president for all Americans.”

I hope that we’ll turn our attention to the great work of healing that lies ahead of us. Civility and graciousness are much needed now as we look forward to addressing the problems of our country in this new political landscape.

Please pray for our country in the days ahead. May God watch over our nation and guide us, so that we might be “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”


Poem for the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Two men went to the temple to pray
Was either sincere? I’m unable to say.
For the temple itself is a stage in a way,
where people strut, elbow, hawk, kneel, beg and bray.

And what’s in the heart – can anyone say?
Was either man searching his soul on that day?
Did the innermost man confess or portray
the angels who guard and the demons who slay?

When daily I stand on the stage of my life
flinching, exposed and thrown into the strife,
may I act with integrity, speak from the heart
may the outer and inner be all of one part.

by Bill Fulton

Street preacher and his hecklers

Today I watched a stubborn street evangelist and his hecklers when I got off the bus at Seattle Central Community College. The preacher had a megaphone and a big banner that said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.” He was in his twenties, tall with a beard, and was staunchly quoting from the Gospel of John while two young guys cavorted around him like jackanapes, poking fun at his rigid, judgmental attitude. A big crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle.

I couldn’t decide if I was more saddened by the caricature of the Gospel that the preacher represented, or the meanness and emptiness of his tormenters.

I felt some empathy for the preacher, being a preacher myself, knowing that he was doing his best to fulfill the charge Paul solemnly gives Timothy in this Sunday’s Epistle, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage.” On the other hand, I don’t think his interpretation of the Gospel is accurate or helpful.

As I watched the spectators – mostly college students – I wondered what they got out of it. Entertainment, I suppose. I wonder if any of them saw the preacher and thought, “At least he believes what he’s preaching.” And I wonder, were any hearts or minds changed? Is God at work here? Or is God just shaking his head in frustration? What do you think?

In my life

In My Life

It’s strange to think how many people I have known in my life that I’ve lost touch with. Good friends have come and gone, and I regret now that I didn’t keep up with them better. I guess I was always moving on to the next big thing in my life.

I got a message today that a friend of mine from 1976 died two years ago. I completely lost touch with her ages ago, and now I find that she’s gone.

Mary shared an old wooden house with Nolan Thornberry and me in the summer of 1976, when we all worked for the Forest Service in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. I remember her as a short young woman with long brown hair, usually wearing a peasant blouse and overalls. I guess that was pretty typical back then.

She was quiet and gentle and quick with a smile, but intense when defending her opinions. I picture her putting flowers in a vase on the table and warning me not to knock them over. She was proud of her Irish name and you could see her firm Irish Catholic upbringing.

I always wondered what happened to her. Her obituary says she went to law school and became a fierce advocate for the rights of children and the disabled. That sounds right, just like her. She got married, had a daughter, and lived a rich life. I discovered all that at the same time I heard she had died. How could the years have flown by like that? In my mind she’s still twenty-one.

Rest in peace, my friend. I’m glad I knew you.

In My Life by the Beatles

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all


Five days in Olympic National Park

Vicar’s Voice
September 2016

Last week I spent five days backpacking up the Hoh River in Olympic National Park. The scenery was magnificent: enormous towering trees, the broad sweeping river, vast glaciated valleys, jewel-like alpine lakes, abundant wildlife, trails created by geniuses, and the looming presence of Mt. Olympus and its mantle of glaciers whenever you’re high enough to see it.

When I go up into Olympic National Park, I find it a source of refreshment and renewal. My soul is revived because I’m surrounded by the wonders of God’s creation. It’s just natural to slip into prayer as you’re walking along, because God’s presence is everywhere. “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.”

Everyone needs spiritual renewal, and the beauty of the parks is one of the best ways I know to find renewal. When Henry David Thoreau said, “In wildness is the salvation of the world,” I think what he meant was that our souls need the quietness of the natural world and the mystery and wonder that we find in solitude. It returns us to our original source of peace, the peace of God.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park system, a true national treasure. Our ancestors had the foresight to set aside pristine areas for the enjoyment of future generations, and I’m thankful they did. Our national parks are available for everyone to visit and learn from, and millions take advantage of this privilege every year.

The parks remind us of the bounty we enjoy, the vast wealth of natural resources and beauty that we’ve been given stewardship over. Our national park system is severely underfunded with a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. I hope that Congress will see fit to restore the funding needed to preserve our parks and make them accessible for future generations. And I hope that you will have a chance to enjoy our national treasures this fall and find God’s glory in them.


Letter to the Editor of the Kitsap Sun

Published July 27, 2016

To the Editor:

Rutted trails. Crumbling buildings. Washed-out bridges that aren’t replaced. Leaning signposts. When I hike into the wilderness at Olympic National Park, I’ m dismayed to witness the continual deterioration of the trail system. Although trail crews cut out most of the logs that have blown down on the trails, little more is done to repair the ravages of nature. Trails need maintenance!

These trails were built long ago when there was a vision for every American to have access to the renewing power of wilderness, but lack of funding by Congress has left our National Park system starved for ordinary maintenance and upkeep. The National Parks are truly our national treasure, the crown jewels of our bountiful environment, and the remaining islands of our legacy of wilderness.

So I was relieved to read in the Kitsap Sun that REI and Mike and Sue Raney have combined to donate $3 million to help restore the trail system in Olympic and Rainier National Parks (Link to article). Not only will the donations help rebuild washed-out trails, the work will be done by young people working in a service corps. As one who worked on trail crews many years ago, I can testify to the character-building effects of this kind of work.

The crews in Olympic National Park will help restore damage to the trail to Enchanted Valley, one of the premier destinations for hikers in the park. Thanks, REI and the Raneys. May our trails never end!

Bill Fulton