Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


This first appeared in this month's Vintage Voice the newsletter accompanying the checks to retired Episcopal clergy.

Take a Day Off From Retirement

The cliché is so true: “I am so busy in retirement, I wonder how I got any work done when I was employed.” For me these past eight years have been delightfully busy with traveling reading exercising and occasional preaching. Then there is writing, entertaining, shopping and cooking, which I have always done in my marriage to Ann. The last twenty years of my now 54-year ministry was at Trinity Church, San Francisco, a lively downtown inner city parish.

After a couple of years of not working, I discovered I was too occupied to enjoy my new life. I was running, toing and froing, lurching from event to event, appointments, examinations, classes and lunches. I realized I was not retired, I was just busy. After a hard look at how I was spending my time I decided to take a day off, from my retirement. One day a week I make no medical appointments, lunch or dinner dates, shopping or library trips. I take a day of rest. Sound familiar?

“Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day.” I used to keep Sunday as a holy day by working at church, preaching, teaching, youth group, vestry meeting and celebrating Eucharist. It certainly was not a day of rest. While an active priest I took my day off but that was not a day of rest. Shopping, cooking, exercise, reading having to do with my work, house, yard and washing the car took up my day off.

Orthodox Jews keep the Sabbath as a day of no work. They go to great lengths to avoid work of any kind. No cooking, no traveling in a vehicle, no turning on or off lights, no dropping in at the office. Sex between spouses is encouraged. In this time of 24/7 and type A personalities we need to heed the wisdom of the Jews. Our bodies and souls need rest, quiet and a restoration to holiness and sanity. Some Mormons also hold Sunday as a day of worship and quiet. No cooking, no business, and even the children are excused from homework.

Taking a day off from work or retirement is difficult for the formerly busy parish priest. In fact we clergy pride ourselves on being busy. That notion smacks a bit of justification by works. It often carries over into retirement. Not me. In addition to taking a day off from retirement, I schedule only one or two major activities a day. I attend a weekly vigil for peace. It is near the library where I make a weekly stop for books and DVDs. That’s it for that day.

Yet it is important to note that people are different. We have different paces and styles. Traveling is a good example. My wife, Ann, and many of my friends like to get to London or Paris and visit as many museums, grand houses, gardens, castles, ruins, plays and churches as possible. They go from breakfast to bedtime stopping only for lunch and dinner. Others are more like me. Up in the morning, I go off to the café for coffee, croissant and some fruit. I get the English edition of the Herald Tribune, read for an hour, do the crossword puzzle and jaunt off to a museum to join my wife for an hour and then a bite of lunch.

She goes on to other venues while I wander back to our hotel or apartment for a nap and some reading. I love to shop and cook in foreign climes so I do that so dinner is ready when Ann returns. We enjoy good restaurants and often go out to eat. Sometimes we go to the theater but more often we read and go to bed early. I have any number of friends who have similar lazy ways of touring. I used to feel guilty that I did not get more out of my travel dollars. I now am clear that I travel the way I do not the way I don’t. We are all different in the way we travel and choose to lead our lives.

We Anglicans don’t have rules hovering over us to order our lives, traveling, work or retirement. We have the enormous freedom of choosing our own path and program. The bad thing is that we often are in disarray about our schedules. The good thing is that we have the freedom to order our own lives. We can learn from the Jews and the Mormons, the Benedictines and Franciscans and spiritual directors that have sprung up among us. But finally it is up to us to order and regulate our lives for enjoyment and refreshment.

The old story is that God rested on the seventh day. The ancients knew that their bodies needed rest from toil in order to be creative and productive during the rest of the week. Working or retired, we Americans, clergy and lay, need to learn to rest, keep quiet, listen to music, enjoy nature and feel the pulsing of our bodies. So take a day off from retirement.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Singing

Dear Jon Carroll,

Your column referring to singing reminded me of how I too love to sing. I can carry a tune and stay on pitch. I sing in the car, walking along and even when I am swimming, I sing in my head.

I get to sing regularly and loudly as I go to church on Sundays, one of the few venues for corporate singing in our time. I suspect some people sing the Star Spangled Banner when they go to baseball games. A few people who are really good singers join choral groups which are expensive and rigorous. There is not much singing in bar rooms anymore.

Once I lost a bet and had to go to a Grateful Dead Concert and was very impressed with how many people sang along with the late Jerry and the boys. Since there were no words displayed anywhere I was sentenced to listen. At Christmas time lots of people go caroling, some go to sing-a-long Messiahs and churches are pretty full of singers at that time of year.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, had his congregations sing a couple of rousing hymns to shake off the dust of the world, open their throats and hearts, deepen their breathing to prepare for the hearing of the Word.

One banker member of Trinity Episcopal where I was rector for twenty years said, “I sing in the choir because “I need a good shout at least once a week.”

Keep on singing, in the dentist chair and all,


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sermons, Preaching and Such

I have listened to many sermons on Sunday mornings since I retired in February of 2002. Visiting different churches each week gives me a wide picture of what goes on in worship. I have learned new hymns, prayers, liturgical dances, responsive readings and, I have looked at art on the walls.

I always eagerly await the sermon. I want to hear how other preachers relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to my personal, social and political life. Sometimes I hear a fine story or illustration. Other times I get an insight into human nature and a hope for spiritual development. But mostly I get little that relates to my daily life. I find that I listen best when I take notes on the sermon during the preaching time. I also time the sermon. Here are some observations I have made.

If there are four passages from the Bible – Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel, many preachers have the need to salute all four in the sermon. Now I have three years of Biblical training in seminary and have read the daily offices irregularly for 46 years. If you gave me a pop quiz at the end of the service, I could not tell you what all four or even two were about. This is Biblical overload.

When the preacher tries to tie them all together I get further confused. I am certain that the untrained lay person also swoons with too much information to assimilate. It is bad enough to have to listen to four Bible readings and worse to have to listen to them explicated.

There seems to be the desire of many preachers to do Biblical exegesis in the pulpit rather than in the study. When half the sermon is spent re-reading or re-telling the Gospel story and then explaining its social, political, archeological, Greek, Hebrew, theological and historical context, preachers have not done their homework. Taking one simple idea from the scripture and relating it to life today with a couple of good illustrations and stories is plenty. This will also keep the sermon within the 12-15 minute time slot that fits today’s liturgies.

Now I know we were all taught that sermons should have three points. If we can get our parishioners to listen one point well illustrated, we are doing quite well. An old friend used to complain when people told him he preached too long. He said, Sermonettes make Christianettes.

Another thing I notice is that too many sermons remain too theoretical and lack concrete illustrations or stories. If I find my mind wandering during the sermon it is always because theory and philosophy are being trumpeted. Lengthy discourses on the incarnation or the doctrine of the Trinity bore quickly. Illustrations of how the enfleshment of God applies to my life are exciting. The incarnation means our physical bodies are important. That discussion holds my interest.

When I hear that the Trinity means that the nature of God unfolds in my life in my head, heart and body, I pay attention. How these great doctrines of the church affect the personal life of the preacher make the sermon exciting.

I also note that few preachers are willing to take a stand on social and political issues. Preachers may mention Iraq, marijuana, abortion or homosexuality, but seldom state their own personal opinion. They may fear offending members of the congregation who disagree strongly with the preacher’s position.

The preacher can simply say, “My personal opinion is that a woman should have free choice about whether or not to have an abortion. This is not the opinion of God, Jesus, or the Episcopal Church. It is my personal opinion. I also believe that many of you in the pews may have a different opinion and perhaps we can talk about it after the service.” One can state an opinion strongly and not make the other people bad and wrong. The preacher can give others room for their own positions.

I think it is important for preachers to make their own positions clear. That is a quality of leadership. It helps people define their own opinions.

When I preach on a controversial issue, I usually say that all of us with widely differing opinions come to the holy table to eat and drink in the mystical presence of Christ, the true source of our unity. Our differences can be honored as we commune with God and each other.

Incorporating these ideas into sermons will help hold my interest and inspire me. I suspect that such an approach to preaching will sustain and excite listeners to a greater understanding of what preaching is about, and more importantly, nourish their spiritual, personal and political lives.

The Rev. Robert Warren Cromey

Fellow of the College of Preachers

Retired Rector of Trinity Church, San Francisco

Active preacher since 1956