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Two Decades of Daily Devotions, and Still Going

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With the launch of TLC‘s new website, you can now subscribe to Covenant, receiving it every day right in your inbox. — Editor.

Just days before 9/11, Bishop Bertram Herlong parachuted me into a recently founded and now foundering congregation in the Diocese of Tennessee. I was supposed to be there a few months, which stretched into four years — difficult years both for our nation and for the Episcopal Church, the consequence of whose roiling reached down to where I was at the tender grassroots.

The majority of worshipers disappeared, but some of the finest people had stayed put as we started again. I quickly discovered that personal devotion, even the most basic reading and study of Scripture, was barely on the agenda of even spiritually mature congregants. I had also become aware that everyone had an email address, still something of a novelty at the turn of the century.

Coming to faith as I did from what can only be described as a post-Christian home, I was certain from my personal and pastoral experience that intimately engaging with the Bible would be transformative. Something had to be done about the devotional life, prayer, and Bible study of this struggling fellowship, the Church of the Apostles. So, after prayer and seeking counsel, I set about devising a Scripture-focused devotion delivered daily to every worshiper, as well as anyone else who might want to join in.

Hoping for encouragement, I explained to Bishop Herlong what we were doing. While he liked the idea, his response drenched me like cold water — “You’ll never be able to keep that up.” Saying nothing, I gave an awkward grin, while thinking, “Bishop, don’t underestimate how stubborn I am!”

So, on January 1, 2002, we launched Daily Devotions to be delivered online Monday through Friday. To my surprise, over time it did as I intended and helped people mature in the faith. Gradually, we gathered subscribers from way beyond our congregation. Some who were there at the start are still taking the devotions, and they are being used in various corners of the world. Of course, there have been ups and downs. The first major crisis came a couple of years in, when Internet providers began blocking mass emails sent from individual accounts. Then, beginning in late 2012, they hiccupped when I experienced two spells of significant ill health that led to my “retirement.”[1]

When my wife and I were returning to our home in Tennessee after a spell working in Cambridge, England, the Rev. Leigh Spruill, then the rector at St. George’s, Nashville, invited me to join the clergy team. Of course, the Daily Devotions came with me, and at St. George’s they have found a permanent home.

During the 16th-century information revolution, Martin Luther translated the Scriptures into German because he recognized the potential of placing printed Bibles into the hands of an increasingly literate population. The Internet in its infancy offered similar promise. There have been times when my resolve has wobbled, and I have wondered if the time has come to bring the Daily Devotions to an end. Surely they had served their purpose. Yet when such temptations reared their heads, plenty of people were telling me what a mistake that would be. (Just before I wrote that last sentence, I received one such call.) With the help of calendar and calculator, I estimate that by now we have distributed around 7,500 daily editions, and there are no repeats — a fresh devotional is composed for each day of the year.

The onset of COVID was its own challenge. Social isolation was stymying worship, and church life was in confusion just at that moment when people genuinely needed daily spiritual encouragement. As part of St. George’s dynamic response to the pandemic, we geared up the Daily Devotions from five to seven days a week. This made more work for me, but has garnered new participants, many of them embarking on serious daily Bible reading for the first time. I cannot pretend producing a daily devotional is undemanding, but for me it has with each passing year become ever more significant to my spiritual discipline.

Now that I’m a “retired” priest, the preparation helps fills the gap left by the near-disappearance of a half-century dominated by weekly preaching and its preparation, something I truly loved. I would never describe myself as scholarly — more a fairly intelligent pastor who loves the Bible and is privileged to opening the Scriptures for others. The Daily Devotions require continued study and digging into the text, but I am also drawing on more than a half-century of “reading the holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same,” to which I committed myself when ordained by the Bishop of London in 1970 (“The Ordering of Priests,” 1662 Book of Common Prayer).

The menu for each day’s devotional is simple:

  • A short passage of Scripture
  • 200-300 words of exposition/explanation
  • Thanksgiving for the day
  • Intercession for the day
  • Collect, short prayer, hymn, poem, etc.
  • Additional Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel from the Lectionary for that day

This can then be put alongside or into the framework of the morning “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” (BCP, p. 137).

The Revised Common Lectionary Lesson Calendar of Sunday and Weekdays provides the skeleton for the devotions, but it is only partially adequate. Huge chunks of Scripture and entire books are either missing or have been edited according to compilers’ presuppositions, and significant biblical doctrines are assiduously avoided.[2] To resolve this, I occasionally stray off the lectionary reservation. The Daily Devotions respect the lectionary without being its slave. We honor red-letter saints’ days and do our best to present to readers with the whole counsel of God. During 2024, for example, we are occasionally taking a few days to explore the lives of some of the magnificent women who cross the Bible’s pages.

Over the years circulation has varied. We started with 38 in 2002, and in our heyday, we were sending out over a thousand. Now our numbers are 350-400, with around 70 percent opened daily. A surprising number of subscribers pass on the devotions to others, while there are parishes that circulate them to all their members each day.

What began as a stopgap measure to nurture a struggling congregation has, in the evening of my life and toward the end of my active ministry, turned into something unexpectedly significant. The Rev. Dr. Alec Motyer, former principal of Trinity College, Bristol, England, my dearest Irish friend and mentor, talked of the pastor and preacher needing to always be “in the Scriptures.” These devotions have been one way I do this, and there has seemed no good reason to slack off now that a major chunk of our income comes each month from the Church Pension Fund.

I will keep going as long as I can. Meanwhile, my eyes are open for individuals who might in due course pick up the ball and run with it, taking the Daily Devotions into their next chapter, perhaps even developing the work so that it fits the ever-changing kaleidoscope of communications technologies.

[1] It is 30 years since I realized retirement was not for me. I wasn’t quite sure how that would work out, but God in his providence made a way for this to happen within the context of the congregational family of St. George’s, Nashville, and the Daily Devotions are part of that.

[2] N.T. Wright writes, “The merest mention of final judgment has been squeezed out of Christian consciousness in several denominations, including my own, by the cavalier omission of verses from public biblical reading. Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment” (Surprised by Hope, p. 190).

Richard Kew
Richard Kewhttps://www.stgeorgesnashville.org
The Rev. Richard Kew is priest associate at St. George’s Church, Nashville. He was born and raised in England, was educated at the University of London and London College of Divinity, and was ordained to the priesthood at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 1970.


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