Advent Comes out of the Basement
Dusk is sooner now
Candles are lit far earlier than the warm months
I make a yearly dig through boxes and containers which live
Near the foundations of my house.
The large granite stones whitewashed and stuccoed
Holding up this old house without complaint or motion
Like the “foundation of the world” they too provide a space for life to happen.
Finally my hands discern the round wire candle holder with four sockets
It is extracted and unwrapped, like Lazarus, from its tissue paper bindings.
It emerges a bit worn, but catches the fluorescent light that illumes my basement.
Unwrapped it is free once more.
A pile of evergreen, holly, helibore freshly clipped awaits its arrival on the kitchen counter.
These are woven into this wire ring and placed on the table with four fresh blue candles.
My reminder that no matter what happens around me, God is moving toward us, not away.
Advent comes out of the basement, the foundational dreams, desires and fears we all carry.
It is God’s annual reminder that all around us is passing away, including us.
The changes that confuse us, frighten us, anger us and depress us are not the last thing.
When I ask if God is watching this mess at all comes the words in the dark sky “Be not afraid!”
The Church year begins at the end ironically. Apocalypse and Eschaton.
At the threshold of the Church year we simply are asked to reach out of the chaos and place our hand in trust into the hand of the One who designed it all.
To light a candle against the encroaching darkness
And live in hope that comes from the foundation of all being.
To watch, to trust, how God comes to the world when it had lost its last hope.
Blessed Advent and Christmastide,
My Stuff My Spirit
As I think of my own stewardship story it is somewhat checkered, to be honest. As one who has been unemployed at a couple of points in my ministry (once after St. Elizabeth’s in Schnecksville closed—just prior to coming to St. Andrew’s)
I understand fully anxiety around money. What struck me in the lean times was not so much stress with figuring out where the mortgage, car payment and utility money was coming from (although those carried enough stress and concern), but the greatest frustration was my inability to be generous in a way which was satisfying. Both my kids were in High School and college during these periods and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t always provide “extra” things for them.
But also I was limited in being significantly generous to the mission of the Church. I also wanted to support charities and non-profits of which I felt supportive. It became a vicious cycle as I had to often put things on credit which hampered future ability to be generous. Through the discipline of debt counseling and a plan I spent five years (when I started making money again) freeing myself from debilitating debt!
I believe that everything in life can be a lesson in a spiritual way for our lives (good and bad). What I learned is that my lack of ability to be generous had an impact on my spiritual life as well. What God taught me is that increasing my capacity to be generous, actually made me feel healthier and more connected to myself and others. I think that is why Jesus calls us to serve the poor as they experience an alienation and isolation which is distorting of their humanity. For those of us with extra, or more than enough for our daily bread, God provides an opportunity to distribute it in supportive and life-enhancing ways. Our humanity, too, is enlarged as we give away to those who need the basics of life. We need not only material sustenance, but spiritual as well.
Each year the Church provides an opportunity for me to consider what I will give away for the Kingdom. Many groups vie for my give-away dollars. I support some and not others. I try and support public radio, the arts and poverty relief/social justice groups. But the Church has a special place. Our nation is suffering from a spiritual crisis I believe. Self-serving, secular, and unbridled consumerism has taken the upper hand. I see Churches closing every year.
The one place that has the antidote to the maladies of our age, the one place to have truly spiritual conversations and act for justice/ mercy and peace becomes less and less evident and available. It was sobering to hear, at this past Diocesan Convention, that out of 58 congregations in our Diocese, only 16 full-time Rectorships remained (I am an endangered species!).
I hope you, too, will see your generous commitment to St. Andrew’s as not just another charity, not just institutional support, but to ensure the firm continuance of an oasis for people who need a spiritual connection and spiritual community. This is needed now more than ever and the work of the Good News can be secured for yet another year. And may it be a spiritual blessing to you as it has been for me and countless others!
To seek and serve Christ in all persons is my vow
Retribution, violence, revenge, judgement is not
The very person I want to hate is my icon for whether I can love.
Speaking truth, advocating for justice and identifying societal ills
Is also what that vow calls me to.
Those who march with torches are repugnant to me personally
Yet I know they, too, seek love, community and deep connection even if misguided,
Ill informed, wounded by a lack of authentic love in their lives.
The Christ did not take up violence
The Christ did speak judgement, but said for us to leave that to him and his Father.
How do I negotiate these times in which we live?
How do I live against hate and racism daily?
How can my life become a safe space to those who seek shelter from bigotry and societal violence?
How do I engage and witness, and not return evil for evil?
How do I keep “them” from forming me into their image as a reaction to their deeds?
To have courage in my often fainting and fearful heart?
My primitive brain says fight or flight!
My vow calls me to something quite different
The life of love is not easy, idyllic or comforting most days
The life we partake with God should disturb us in radical ways.
To take responsibility for the hater and the hated
To root out the sin that lives in me that seeks out self-righteousness
That seeks out that savory banquet of self-justification
Let me gather all I have felt and witnessed into my hands
And hold it out to the awesome and terrible silence that is God
So that I may be formed, renewed, inspired to live my life as resistance
To all that corrupts and destroys God’s good seal on all creation.
Making a sauce for beef I am going to grill
Chopping parsley fine
Mincing garlic, adding olive oil, and lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Stir together and let set so flavors can “marry”
Cooking is sometimes a lesson in letting things set
Patience with ingredients, yeast, baking, low flame, long time
Some Asians tell you not to lift the lid on cooking rice as it makes the rice-God angry
Don’t open the oven door as to cause a draft on something that needs constant heat
The spiritual life is much like this
The flavors, textures, colors, of our experiences
The chopped, minced, sliced, crushed, and neatly cut strips of our hopes, dreams and aspirations
The acidic and soft, buttery and vinegary of relationships
That melt-in-your-mouth texture of love
The patience with rising yeast, melting butter, and cooling pies
All work together
All create a new flavor, new texture, new color
Which with the next few ingredients will shift the chemistry ever so slightly
Or, occasionally, dramatically!
It’s a never ending recipe we create with our lives
All we do, all we endeavor, all we attempt, all we love
Come together at any moment for God to stir into action
Raising a spoonful of each life to lip, God tastes to see what is needed in the recipe of you, me, us, and them.
We are placed as if a great potluck in a community of different foods
Partaking of one another in reverence and joy.
Pentecost shows us that the Spirit of God is always creating us
And a diversity of recipes that no cookbook can hold
The road seemed predictable
They had walked it many times before
Going to Jerusalem for festivals, religious events, shopping
That seven and a half mile trip had been trod many times
Just like the daily commute
The trip to the Mall
To the grocery store
To the doctor
To the restaurant
To the Church
They had passed the familiar
So many times they become unnoticed
A surprise companion appears
Another weary traveler who is on his way
Not knowing the day’s news
Maybe sensing heavy hearts he walks on
He sure did know the holy writings
He wouldn’t press on, but stayed with them
Not moving on to the next group of travelers
Invited for supper he stopped
As he broke the bread the truth was revealed
The crucified one alive and giving life
Hearts were changed, lives filled with unexpected hope
In death life could be imagined.
Then silence and void.
Moving on we are left to decide and act.
Lent begins in the compost bin
That place where things are returning to their basic elements
A place where death, decomposition, rot, mold and bacteria live
Ashes are our destiny
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”
Is its solemn warning for us to not forget that we are of the earth and
Are formed of that star dust when God formed the planets.
Easter seems a far off fantasy
Resurrection, new life, immortality?
I can’t get past the dust sometimes.
It invades my dwelling places.
It clings to my soul.
Yet , You took on our dust-- made it part of you
“And was made truly human”
It has never stopped being part of you since Bethlehem.
You made our dust holy and gave it possibility by submitting yourself to it
Your dust suffered like ours does, hoped like ours does, and died like ours does.
Your flesh raised our flesh above the compost bin.
Promised it immortality and eternal life.
My life is a constant reach to believe that and make it true.
Lent is a pause in my year to visit that possibility again
To meditate and reflect on the dust that is you and me.
On the dust I share with millions and with those who bear the sign of the cross
On the good this dust can do for a time, to reflect your dust.
Animate the soil of which I am made, enliven it, offer it immortality and hope
So that I can look again with hope to my own dust, other’s dust, your eternal dust
And welcome the dawn of resurrection.
This summer I began the process of re-doing my living room and dining room. What motivated me to do this was two things---1) I last wallpapered the dining room in the early 90’s when I was married and my wife and I at the time thought the paper was really chic for then. And since the house was built in the late 1800’s we were going for Victorian chic. Now it’s yellowed up near the ceiling, is outdated and looks (as one friend unkindly stated) “old lady like”. Ouch! And 2) the Duncan Phyfe sofa which was the apple of my grandmother’s eye and which I inherited when I moved back from North Carolina and which fit well into a living room which needed furniture is not really my speed, but I have kept it for 17 years. I was keeping it for when the kids got settled and was sure they would cherish receiving this piece of furniture from their heritage---well they don’t want it. No matter how much I told them that someday they would want it, no dice.
So, as hard as it is, I am dumping it with the highest bidder. I am stripping off wallpaper I truly loved at some point and putting the shreds of it in a trash bag---all the celebration suppers —Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters and good times gathered with friends and family sharing good food, good conversation, card games and laughter which it witnessed only to find itself in a landfill.
I found a new wallpaper, bought a 1920’s couch and am having it upholstered. Re-painted the room in white which was not the cream/beige color it used to be. And I am OK with all of it now. It took me some time to realize that I was keeping and preserving stuff my kids have no interest in (either now or anticipated) and that I was “curating” dutifully, but not enthusiastically.
Church is like that sometimes. We hold on to things and stuff that a younger generation doesn’t want—ever. It doesn’t have to do with the essentials---like the faith as stated in the Creed or The Book of Common Prayer, but has everything to do with how we who occupy the Church hold things that may not be essential to evangelism of a younger generation.
Part of St. Andrew’s gifts include an ability to let things go when it no longer really works, and to take on new ways of understanding ourselves. Seeing the Nursery School sold off was hard for many of us. It was part of our identity as a parish for 40 years. Thea has worked tirelessly to liquidate the Nursery School to the benefit of our parish, as hard as it undoubtedly must have been for her. The Nursery School Board is being responsible in seeing that all financial responsibilities and liabilities are met. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude for being realistic and forward moving, when nostalgia and holding on may have been easier.
As we enter our Stewardship reflection time leading up to New Consecration Sunday where we will decide how we will support this parish’s ministry in 2017 it is appropriate that we take stock, look at what needs to go and what needs to stay. Jesus said “behold I am making all things new” and that is a comfort when one is letting go. Our task is to take on the new with the trust that it is also the Lord in the newness. What are we hanging on to which, if we could only let go, will paradoxically bring us something new and energizing? May God’s spirit be with us in extra measure as we head into the Fall and onward to 2017!
A few weeks ago my cousin in West Virginia e-mailed me pictures of my grandmother (on my mother’s side after whom Olivia is named), uncles, aunts, great grandmother, cousins, and great aunts and uncles. Pictures from a family gathering in 1961 at which I was present and remember only dimly in detail, but the warmth and care everyone had for each other, the good food set on the table, and the laughter remain burned in my memory. Indeed, I came from good folks who valued relationships and connection. They mainly told stories about the past and each other.
Gatherings like this have never really happened for my children. My parents died while they were still fairly young and their memories of their great grandmother (my Dad’s Mom) were from a visit to a nursing home in Ashland, KY when Alzheimer’s had completely taken over my grandmother’s center of speech. I mourn the fact that they never knew these people when they were vital, witty, talented and strong. Perhaps because of our mobile society that is the case for many families today. We get dispersed for a variety of reasons. Stories get lost.
Christians are often called “the People of the Book” (along with those who share the story of Abraham — Jews and Muslims). Christians are called that because we hold as sacred our “story” as written in the Old and New Testaments. It is our “spiritual family” story — large, multifaceted, sometimes conflicting, nonetheless one about the love of God toward humankind. In our Nicene Creed we remember the resurrection of Jesus “according to the scriptures”.
Anglicans have always held scripture in tension with reason, tradition and experience All four are in a dynamic and truth-revealing relationship — one not subordinated to the others. We understand our family story as one which must be constantly read, discussed, preached on, meditated upon and written about. It is not neat sometimes, in fact sometimes it is quite messy, but Anglicans have always held that truth gets vetted in this way.
We often encounter other Christian faith traditions that do not approach the scriptures this way or interpret them in a narrow way that picks out a few verses from which a whole theology is created. It is confusing to be a Christian sometimes in the vast expanse of American and World Christianity. But we rely on the Holy Spirit working in the lives of this family of Christians we call Anglicans (of which Episcopalians are the American expression) to show us the way and reveal the truth to us.
The Book of Acts tells us that the primitive Christian Church met the first day of each week for the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the Prayers. The reading of scriptures and reflections on them, our Prayers of the People, and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist continues that tradition and connects us to what the first Christians did. When the “Apostles’ teaching” is read in our liturgy, it is a family story, a spiritual community’s remembering of our roots and, hopefully, that which inspires us to transform the world in the spirit of Jesus. It is a goodly heritage and one we should never discount. It is the story of this family that has the power to heal, renew, bless, transform and save.
All you need to know about formal affiliation with the Episcopal Church
and how to get there.
The Truth: if you Work, Pray, Give at St. Andrew’s you are a member of St. Andrew’s. You receive the newsletter, are listed in the phone directory, will be asked to support the parish financially, will be asked to bring desserts or host coffee hour (the 8th Episcopal sacrament) and are welcome and encouraged to participate in our many ministry opportunities. Simple and easy as that.
The More: For some people it is important to make a claim, perhaps a departure from the past, not denying, but embracing a faith community of your own. Denominational affiliation has fallen out of vogue in the current climate, but some need to make a public “turning of the corner” and embrace Christianity and the family of Christianity we call Anglicans (or Episcopalians) in more formal ways. Some retain old memberships back in their childhood churches and want to be accountable for their current spiritual journey and community in concrete terms. So here are your options:
1) Transfer In! If you are already a confirmed Episcopalian and your last parish has no idea what happened to you, you may want us to initiate what we call a “letter of transfer”. That is simply a form where we tell your last parish you are here for now, so they can stop calling the “Lost Persons” office. Just let the Rector know two things--a. that you want to do this and b. the name and town of your last known parish. We will manage the rest. Simple!
2) Be Received by the Bishop. Bishop Sean is visiting St. Andrew’s in October and if you are an already confirmed member of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches (there is a complicated explanation of why this is which you may not want to read about here). This simply is kneeling or standing before the bishop and he “welcomes” you into “this family” of the Church.
3) Be Confirmed. This happens at the same time the Bishop visits. Since the Bishop represents back to us the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” Church, he lays hands on you and gives you a “strengthening” or confirming blessing to you and your Christian vocation. If you have never been confirmed you might want to take advantage of this rite. If you have been confirmed in another denomination aside from the two listed above and feel you have already made a public profession of faith, talk to the Rector.
For those desiring Confirmation or Reception, the Rector will offer what we call an “Inquirer’s Class” which explains all things Episcopal in an organized and methodical way—history, liturgy, approach to scripture, liturgy, organization, etc. If you want to be Confirmed or Received attendance at these classes is highly recommended!
4) Reaffirmation Of Baptismal Vows. This is for folks who have already been confirmed and members of the Episcopal Church but may be experiencing a renewal of their identity as a practicing Christian. The Bishop will lay hands on you and bless you too!
5) Baptism. If you are an adult and have not been baptized with water and in the name of the Holy Trinity and feel you want to do so, the next dates for Holy Baptism are Pentecost Sunday (May 15) and All Saints Sunday (Nov. 6
Please let the Rector know if you intend to pursue any of the above so that instruction can be scheduled that works for you!
Depression. It affects most people at some points in their lives and for lesser and longer periods of time. Depression among the aging seems to be on the rise. I was listening to a radio program the other day where the guest made an interesting statement. She had written a book on aging and she said that meaning is the antidote to depression. If your life had deep meaning then that went a long way to head off depression and anxiety. And where did she suggest? One of the places was “your Church or Synagogue”.
A seminar I took many years ago which impacted my life put forth the theory that things happen and we decide/create what they mean. Human beings are innate meaning/story makers. We tell a story about what happened and we can either create the story in a way that empowers us or dis-empowers us. Always choose the story that empowers. And I find that to be true for my life. Even the most dreadful things can be created in the story as moving us to be a certain way which has power and gives us meaning.
At Easter we are given a challenge. We either say that Jesus was raised from the dead or something else—his body was stolen, the disciples had a group hallucination etc. It’s our decision and that decision has long range implications for our lives.
I believe that to make the resurrection of Jesus a story that empowers is the essential message of the Gospel. And it follows that we understand that the evil forces which corrupt and destroy are not the ultimate truth even though they seem to terrorize and inhibit us. The ultimate truth is self-emptying love. A love which does not fear death---because death has been marginalized and rendered powerless by Jesus. If death stops being a focus of fear, then we are freed up to do other things. Sure, we will pass away, but is that what we are called as Christians to spend a lifetime fearing and running from? We give death power when we fear it and that is what Jesus exemplified as not doing.
Easter presents a perpetual challenge to us who confess the faith: How will you live your life if you embrace resurrection? If you take Jesus at his word that eternal life begins now? Would we be more loving? More compassionate? More responsible for ourselves and not victims? Less concerned about what the neighbors think and more concerned that someone in pain and alienation gets included? To be empowered to empty ourselves of false pride and hypocrisy and risk something for love’s sake? Even when the odds seem not in your favor.
For many of us, the truth of the resurrection allows us to be truly free, to have our meaning not in what others think, but in the knowledge that we are loved and embraced by the Divine just the way we are. As the Eucharistic prayer states so simply “living among us, Jesus loved us”. He knew us—warts and all. And loved us. Loved us enough to show us in the most human of terms—giving his life in order to demonstrate that love. And his resurrection was a reminder that he was more than human and reaches out his hand to raise us up from death and meaninglessness.
It’s certainly something to be embraced, or at least pondered for your life. Your life can have meaning apart from just a role as parent, child, spouse, employee or friend. Jesus gives us meaning in order to continue his work in the transformation of the world. Warts and all, Jesus calls us to perpetual transformation through belief in resurrection. Alleluia! Christ IS Risen!
Whenever anyone says that they don’t come to Church because of the “ritual” being the same all the time I have to wonder what they see in their daily life? I seem to be a slave of ritual on a daily basis.
The day starts with the putting on of a “morning vestment” (aka bathrobe) and going into the bathroom for needed biological and hygiene rituals---I am a toilet paper over the top and hangs to the front of the roll person---I have changed the direction of toilet paper in public rest rooms much to my embarrassment to confess! (I hear that people with cats have to do it the other way to keep it from being a recreational object). Then down the stairs to do a morning ritual of letting the dog out of her crate and doing a good morning speaking and petting ritual with her while scanning the water and food bowls to make sure she is taken care of as her ritual is to eat and drink right after going outside for her morning constitutional. I grab the coffee filter, empty it into the compost bin on the porch rinse it out, scoop fresh coffee into it fill the carafe with the required amount of water and flip the “on” switch. I turn on the TV to watch the news and weather, tune in Mission St. Clare’s Morning Prayer web site---“Lord open our lips…” while the coffee is brewing. Check e-mail and Facebook. Get that first coveted cup of hot steaming coffee, grab the half-n-half from the fridge and away I go.
Just looking at the first hour I am awake I know that my morning is fraught with rituals I do automatically, without thought, with precise attention to the order of it and find that my day has a proper “begin” point before the rest of it crashes in. Even when I am away at hotels or staying in other people’s houses I try mightily to replicate most of this ritual. I know that and it is what locates me, anchors me in any given day. I can go on if some of it can’t happen, but it is not the same.
Lent is like that. Lent means spring and it locates me not only on the earth, but in a particular mood of the Church. A mood which broods over my life, my broken areas and my healthy areas. Where I need to be reconciled and where God’s grace is sustaining me in the darkness at times. Lent leads me to Holy Week and the Triduum. Triduum (a fancy Latin word for “the three days that act as one”) is one long service which begins on Maundy Thursday, goes through Good Friday and ends with the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night. All of it is powerful, all of it is needed, all of it is a blessing. You can go to one part or the other, but it won’t be the same spiritual pilgrimage if you make the commitment to be at all of it. I have told this to congregations in the past and I have never had anyone say that they did not get what I promised.
I want to encourage all of you to consider being at the entire Triduum (which contains Holy Baptism) as this is really the central liturgy of the Church from which all other liturgies emanate in the Book of Common Prayer architecture. It is the key ritual to open spiritual doors that always get opened anew each year for all of us in various ways. And it reverberates throughout the year. I promise you will be blessed by your presence in this faith community this holy time of year.
“Church is one of the last places left in American culture where people expect and, in fact, demand live music,” says the Rev. Andrew Barnett. “Where they expect to sing together, where they expect to tell stories—grownups telling each other stories that matter, that shape our visions, our realities, the way we act, and our relationship with God. Almost nobody else does that anymore and it's so powerful, and it is sacred and beautiful.”
The above quote is by The Rev. Andrew Barnett who is founder and band leader of Theodicy Jazz Collective, which incorporates jazz and musical improvisation into liturgy.
The telling of stories, the hearing of stories and singing in a group to live music is one of the many opportunities that often get missed by folks who are on the margins of Church participation. Learning the ancient hymn tunes and lyrics, hearing their poetry, being drawn into their metaphors, images and similes’ is in itself a path to deeper meditation and contemplation. If you are ever alone and in need of a meditative kick-start, pick up a hymnal and read it—yes, read it, you don’t always have to sing it. Hymnals are a collection of mini-sermons passed down from age to age. Some are very old and some are surprisingly new.
Find joy in singing. You do not have to be a Michael Buble or Aretha Franklin to sing in Church. If you are self conscious about singing, then don’t worry---the sound of others singing and the loudness of the organ will most likely keep people from picking your voice out in the crowd.
In my mission work in Haiti I would marvel at the congregational singing in the church as it was uninhibited. These people knew they were loved by the Lord and wanted to really praise God with all they had in their singing. There is nothing as disheartening to a celebrant than looking out during a hymn (because he/she has a perfect vantage point to do so and often does) and seeing dour faces with pursed lips looking at the ceiling or the stained glass windows during a hymn, or staring blankly forward. As if this is one of the necessary annoyances that one must endure to receive The Sacrament.
And sing out. Sing loud as you can!. Singing releases endorphins in your body that have the ability to heal and create a feeling of well-being. “The benefits of singing regularly seem to be cumulative. In one study, singers were found to have lower levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress. A very preliminary investigation suggesting that our heart rates may sync up during group singing could also explain why singing together sometimes feels like a guided group meditation. Study after study has found that singing relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life. Dr. Julene K. Johnson, a researcher who has focused on older singers, recently began a five year study to examine group singing as an affordable method to improve the health and well-being of older adults” (Stacy Horn ,Time magazine, Aug. 2013).
Liturgy in Greek literally means “work of the people” or “public work”, this means that while it is under the leadership of the priest and organist/choir director it is your work. The work of the People of God. I will say that the energy of liturgy is directly proportional to how much the congregation puts into it. The laws of thermodynamics certainly apply to Christian worship. I have heard so-so sermons that rocked because the unseen energy of those participating in the room was high. I have heard excellent sermons that fall flat because there was no energy in the room. Preaching (like singing) is a synergy, a back and forth of human energy---the “amens” which come from the listeners at an African-American church buoy not just the preacher, but the congregational energy.
So this begs the question – “What feeds you in liturgy?” “What does your soul need and usually receive at worship and how?” Do you maybe need to “pick it up” in order to get even more out of worship?
So the next time you are in worship, sing out---it may be the healthiest thing you will do that week!
As I sat looking out a window in a farm house in rural New Jersey on New Year’s day I watched horses graze in a field and play, a feral cat tiptoed softly by, a bird or two flew from branch to branch in a bare tree. I was reminded that the measurement of time is really only a human desire and invention. None of the creatures mentioned—horses, cats, field grass, birds and trees were interested in today being any different in importance than yesterday. We humans invented New Year’s day in our need to measure time and space.
But it also has a psychological impact on us by providing a ‘fresh start’, albeit somewhat artificial. We love the chance for a “do-over” or start fresh with a blank canvass. It appeals to our sense of ridding ourselves through sheer endurance the baggage we collected in the year proceeding. We resolve to end bad habits and start new healthier ones—losing weight, stopping smoking, drinking less, getting more exercise, decluttering the house---out with the old and in with the new.
We could have done these the third week of September or the fourth week of November, but we wait for the motivation of a new year to start at the beginning, at zero, to begin a change.
The Church does this as well. In our liturgical life, New Year is Advent I. This is because it begins again the story of Jesus Christ in our lectionary (Gospel lessons read each Sunday).
In our temporal life it’s the Annual Meeting held the third Sunday of January. It’s at the Annual meeting that we elect new Vestry members, decide our Diocesan Convention delegation and receive the Vestry’s budget for the coming year. It is also a time to take stock of the past by looking at the annual reports of the ministries we have in and through St. Andrew’s. A pot luck supper is shared for lunch with everyone bringing food to share.
I hope you will take stock of your involvement in St. Andrew’s and renew or start your commitment to ministries here at St. Andrew’s. Our bench isn’t deep in many areas and we need all hands on deck to assist with the many moving parts that makes a St. Andrew’s calendar year. Please consider, if not already doing so, committing to a year-round ministry at St. Andrew’s. We always need readers, liturgical assistance and hands to help for our major fund raising endeavors---Troxell Street Sale and Tricky Tray.
We are all called to ministry by virtue of our baptisms, what are you most committed to and where can you use your gifts and talents for the work of God in the world through the Church? We get a new chance each year to answer this question and take positive action for its fulfilment.
The feast of Saint Andrew (Nov. 30) invites us to ponder his response to Christ’s call: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets…" (Mt. 4:19-20). With his brother Peter, Andrew immediately left his fishing nets to catch souls for the Kingdom.
MAGNIFICAT Advent Collection
As I ponder the life and witness of St. Andrew on his feast day today as portrayed in the scriptures I am reminded that we know a few things about Andrew: 1) John reports he was a disciple of John the Baptist a 2) Matthew, Mark and Luke report he was a fisherman, the son of Jonah and the brother of Peter with whom he dwelt in the same house in Capernaum. 3) Andrew reported the presence of the loaves and fish at the Feeding of the Multitudes and informed Jesus of Philip’s “Greeks” who wanted to see Jesus. We also know he was born in the village of Bethsaida.
Andrew did not seek the spotlight, unlike his brother. Andrew seemed to stand back and observe, but act when needed. He was part of the “inner circle” of the 12, so he was a person of integrity and deep spiritual insight. Ironically, the East claimed Andrew (or Andreas) as the patron of Constantinople and the West claimed his brother, Peter, as the patron of Rome.
Aside from the many apocryphal tales told of Andrew we know that he became an effective witness to the gospel, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ from Scotland, through the Ukraine and Russia and down through Romania, Armenia and Asia Minor. So while he stood back, he also knew that he had a job to do and did it.
Advent invites us into an Andrew-type mode. Doing quietly and without much fanfare the hard work of spreading the Good News. Madeline L’Engle once wrote about “Episcopal style” evangelism ““We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” Certainly Andrew was this sort of person from all accounts, going about quietly doing his work of transforming the world in the midst of a world in great flux as the Roman empire was winding down and the Byzantine Empire was blooming. Much like our day, it was not an environment given to religion, least of all one that purported its founder was the Son of God and had been killed by the Romans but rose from the dead after three days and ascended into heaven. But that is what Andrew and his fellow apostles did anyway, and countless thousands heard and responded to that message.
Advent calls us away from the worries, cares and concerns that seem to weigh us down this time of year. To see clearly the need for a Savior and the human yearning that got Jesus here in the first place and to go about our work for the Gospel. To make incarnate a world which reflects the transformation we already experience in our hearts and minds. May Advent be this kind of place for you, and may you make the place better with your gifts, talents and love.
Blessed Advent and Christmastide!
A few Sunday’s ago we heard the parable of the Rich Man (read it again in Mark 10: 17ff) in which Jesus asks this man to go and sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor, and THEN to come and follow him. Jesus was satisfied that this man “followed the rules”, but his life lacked a generosity and practice that would enhance his experience of life now. The parable tells us that the young man was shocked and went away grieving (sad) as he had “many possessions” and was not inclined to do what Jesus asked of him.
When I read this story my compassion goes out to the young man. After all, he has worked hard, been ethical in the way he had earned his money, did not commit injustice to get it (unlike many sectors in our current economy). Like all of us at times, he has followed the rules of religion but was missing an essential element of religious practice. He had mastered the theory of religion, but not the practice of a life being transformed by God’s presence.
In my head I wonder what his life was like after this encounter with Jesus? I can’t imagine it was the same. Sadness is a good emotion sometimes. It moves us to reflect on our values and where our priorities are located, what we do wrong and how we can clean that up. Undoubtedly Jesus still loved the young man after the encounter as he did during it (as scripture tells us). Because Jesus loved him he asked of him the hardest thing to perhaps jump start him into a new way of being.
Did the rich young man/ruler start to live a more generous life? Did he start to become a different person as a result of his encounter with Jesus? Did he look at the poor in a different way? Did he volunteer more of his time, talent AND money to help them? (Time, Talent and Treasure are separate categories, not interchangeable). Did he live on less so he could give more for the work of God in the world? I don’t know, but I can imagine that his life was never the same after the directive given by Jesus in that encounter. Perhaps the young man became part of the early Church community --- supporting the mission and ministry of the apostles in the spread of the Good News. What I do know is that he could not be the same or keep the same relationship he had to his possessions.
Our stewardship of our possessions tells a great deal of what is going on inside of us. I know that I struggle with how much to keep and how much to give away. I know it’s never an option to keep it all. A God who gave everything is the God we worship. Love sometimes is a terrible master. When the Church reminds us of the scriptural 10% (tithe) as the minimal standard of giving many of us go away grieving as the demands of the economy seem to prevent that. We rationalize away any sadness that we may feel and miss the internal work this calls us to. But working that direction, understanding that it is an opportunity to be a better disciple, to experience the joy that can come of it is a worthy activity.
Its not about the money, its not about abiding by all the rules. Its about who we are and where our values are located. Our material offerings are sacramental---like the waters of Baptism and the bread and wine of Eucharist. The money is just the visible part, the important part goes deeper into our hearts, lives and commitments. It is about the “one thing we lack” that God invites us into deeper conversation and conversion in our hearts. May God bless you as you decide what portion of the time, talent and treasure with which you are blessed that you will give to the public witness of the Good News through the mission and ministry of St. Andrew’s in 2016.
Like many of you, I was drawn to watch the 24 hour coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Just having the title of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church lends itself to all sorts of expectations and historical references gleaned from all of our Western Civilization and Religious History classes from High School on up. There was much “bracing” for a critical lecture by Francis to the United States from many of the media pundits as they anticipated what the Pope would say. This fear was not realized. Instead the Pope spoke of love, reconciliation, compassion and conservation of the environment. While there is a political application for all of these, the Pope did not prescribe how it should be done and who was at fault. He told the Bishops in Washington to “listen to each other” and to listen to their priests and laity. He superseded the need to dictate with the need to listen first. All of the anticipatory fear did not materialize; instead we were all called to our better selves in listening and acting in courage, compassion and love by Francis.
God typically is far ahead of our fears, God calls us to live fearlessly as hard as that may be sometimes. In order to do this we often have to take the long view—not the immediate time which we often call “myopia” or short sightedness. The opposite of myopia is “hyperopia” or farsightedness. While both are eye disorders and need correcting, in our lives as Christians we are called to take the long view, not making our current situation permanent, but looking down the road (and also back down the road from where we came) to see God’s grace and love working in our lives and God’s dream of our future. It is often fear that keeps us myopic, focusing on that which is right around us also including that which lies beyond.
God calls us away from fear based action. Fear based compassion and giving manifests itself in doing acts of justice, mercy and compassion in order to receive heavenly brownie points or status (or affirmation) in a given community, rather than in gratitude for what God has done in your life and in the lives of others. I find that folks sometime participate in Church in that way—in a needy way. The Church, the community of the Baptized, the Body of Christ is not a service, or a merchant selling God, or a vendor that we are happy with until we are unhappy with it. God has redeemed us from many places and from many things that were unhealthy, unfulfilling and unspiritual. God did it for FREE in Jesus! We did nothing (and do nothing) to deserve it.
God “who’s property is always to have mercy” is ever standing with open arms and hands to assist us when in need. The Church is made up of people in process as well (even the priest!).
Our response to that unearned grace is to give of ourselves as God gave God’s self for us. It is a life-long journey to even approach this goal. We never have it down completely, but we progress, have set-backs, pick ourselves up and move forward again---looking to the horizon, not to the rocks and potholes in our immediate path. When we give of our time, talent and treasure for the mission of the Gospel and for the building up of God’s people we do so knowing that God has given so much more. And, further, calls us to more than we can ask or imagine.
This is “part one” of my religious story. I realized as I wrote that it was far more than the column here requires or far more than you would want to read in one sitting! I do not do this as an exercise in narcissism, but to encourage you to maybe put pen to paper and share your faith story here in the near future. Wouldn’t it be great to hear the stories of others and to share your faith journey for perhaps the first time?
Most of you know I was raised in an Evangelical tradition. Not one that was particularly expressive in worship. Mainline Baptists are more “high and dry” than anything. I was made to go to Sunday School---although Church worship was only required occasionally, maybe once a month. Since we lived close to the Church, my Mom would let me walk home after Sunday School while she attended Church.
My Dad rarely attended (a C and E guy until he got sick after my brother and I moved out started attending regularly—go figure) He insisted on my brother and I attending Sunday School. If we didn’t go to Sunday School, we were grounded for the day (“If you aren’t feeling well enough to go to Sunday School, then you shouldn’t be going other places outside the house!”). So there never was a time when God and Jesus were not in the conversation of my life-- coerced or otherwise!
My Dad was transferred to Bombay, India (now, Mumbai) with the chemical company for whom he worked in the late 60’s. THAT was a transition! West Virginia to Bombay. While in India I was exposed, for the first time, to a religious environment that wasn’t Christian---primarily Hindu. Although India is quite pluralistic in its religion---a good helping of Muslims, Zoroastrians (called Parsees), Jains (an offshoot of Hinduism who are vegan and live a very austere life of non-violence), Sikhs, and Buddhists among the largest groups.
Swimming in this religious soup I started to really engage religion. I saw how integral Hinduism was to the lives of the millions of Indians I observed. It seemed to be more a part of their daily life than Christianity was to Christians in the US. Daily temple attendance (if only for a prayer or lighting incense or placing a flower before the deity), shrines to various Hindu gods and goddesses in stores—the goddess Lakshmi was popular in retail establishments as she governed wealth.
I was drawn in by the sheer sensuousness of Hindu religious practice—incense, public processions with brightly colored banners and streamers, the other-looking deity draped in fresh flowers, drums, flutes, priests in bright colored saffron robes and incense, lots of incense!—all assaulted my five senses in away religion never had. I became very interested in the stories and epics of the Hindu pantheon—the many and various incarnations of Vishnu, Rama and Sita, Hanuman, Ganesh---all engaged my young inquisitive mind. I was attracted to religion this fun and interesting. I made a notebook on my own of pictures and my own understanding of the God’s and holy men and women I pasted carefully into this notebook (my version of baseball cards) ---I wish I had that notebook now, but alas it is lost in the detritus of life.
We tried to go to a Baptist Church in Bombay one Sunday---it was uninteresting (reminded me of home) and much of the music and service were just English translated into Hindi. So I did not have communal worship for three years of my young teenage life. Christmas and Easter were just workdays for the rest of the culture around me.
On our return from India in 1970, I experienced my first real crisis of faith that would forever change my path in life.
[Tune in next month]
“In order to really understand the Episcopal Churches approach to “church” one must look at its birth. Contrary to popular legend, it wasn’t merely a way for Henry VIII to get a divorce from Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. Back in the history of the Christian Church in Britain there was 200 years of an indigenous Celtic Christian Church centered in the Northumbria area of the English/Scottish midlands. It wasn’t until 664 AD that the British Church decided at the Synod of Whitby to join its practice and polity to the Roman Church and this led to establish the Archbishop’s Center in Canterbury. York was also established as a compromise to the Celtic Church, but was second to Canterbury.
There was always some dissention within the Church after the joining with Rome that persisted until the Reformation when what was happening on the continent of Europe influenced scholars, theologians and church leaders in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (yes it was still in England’s possession at that time). Some could argue that the Church used Henry VIII as much as Henry used the Church! The Church aspired to strike a “middle way” between Roman Catholic/Eastern Church and Protestantism. Retaining many of the polity (governance) forms of the Mediterranean Churches, while adding democratic election of Bishop’s and Rector’s as well as Lay Involvement in all Church policy matters. At our General Convention (which meets every three years) each Diocese has a delegation of half clergy and half laity.
The Church established the “three legged stool” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition in a dynamic relationship that decided Church theological and liturgical practice. The Book of Common prayer was established as the central liturgical document of the Church. It informs the theological positions of the Church in all matters. So that no matter how much church people disagreed, they must pray together using a common source for those prayers. Unlike Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, the Anglican Church (and by extension, Episcopal Church) does not have volumes and libraries of “dogma”. We have the Book of Common Prayer which conveys “lex orandi, lex credendi” (Latin for The way we pray is the way we believe).
The Episcopal church is neither fundamentalist nor fast and loose with scripture. We take scripture quite seriously which is why a high percentage of Prayer Book language is from the scriptures themselves and we read Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Gospel each week! Most Protestant denominations do not have this much scripture read on a weekly basis. However, scripture interpretation must also be in dialogue with Reason and Tradition! With any change in the Church all three must be in agreement. When that doesn’t happen the majority rules in a 2-1 vote!
This is why liturgy is so central to our identity in this family of the Christian Church. Liturgy well done, consistent with the Book of Common Prayer and other Authorized liturgies of the Church (we are not free to just “make up” liturgies!) is the hallmark of essentials to the Episcopal Church. No matter how we may disagree, what our politics are, how we were raised, what our gender, racial background, socio-economic group, sexual orientation, or any other way we divide ourselves, we are expected to come together each week and join together for prayer to the God who redeems all in Jesus Christ and who sends the Spirit to empower us for mission and ministry.
Next month I will tell you why I became an Episcopalian after being raised Baptist!
“Offer me that deathless death. Good God, let me give you my life” These words are by the current rock group Hozier from their song Take Me to Church. I am always pleasantly surprised when I find lyrics such as these being sung by and to our youth. They are not an explicitly Christian group, but convey the desire and hope of the human spirit. Holy Week is an opportunity for me to meditate on this idea of deathless death.
I am reminded of Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus is consoling Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus. They must have seemed odd words to her, as they do to us. The promise is life unending. Deathless death.
St. Paul often calls his readers to die to sin and be made alive in Christ Jesus. Die to ego needs. Die to assumptions about life and expectations. Die to misconceptions about ourselves and others. Die to taking judgment of others into our own hands. It’s hard to practice. But I believe we start in baby steps. It requires a certain humility about our own perceptions and biases. We never have all the information at any given time. To understand that the decisions and judgments we are required to make in our lives and work are always “through a glass darkly” as St. Paul reminds his readers in Corinthians. We get it right sometimes and sometimes we don’t.
It is probably the most mysterious paradox of Christian spirituality. To die to self, gives rise to new selves and newness of life. As I have lived as one who professes the Christian faith for all my life I know that my life is a constant experience of the Paschal Mystery—that dying and rising to life only to let go of that new life when it has become old at some point and receive new life yet again. Deathless death is what we are invited into; it is the precursor of salvation and redemption.
We will soon enter the “Triduum” or “the three days that act as one”. From Maundy Thursday through the Great Vigil of Easter we observe one action, one story, the quintessential story of the Christian hope. The living out of the Paschal Mystery is one that we claim as Christians—things die and we must let go, new things come into being and we reach out to embrace them. Until on our last day we will have to let go of life in this world with the promise and assurance of new life beyond this one. We someday will reach out to receive the fullness of new and unending life in God. That’s why we practice now. Marriages must die sometimes to live into a new way of relationship with that person you married. Friendships die in order to receive a new way of being friends. Sometimes we must die to vocation in order that a more authentic vocation can arise. And none of these are painless by the way. This constant Paschal Mystery in our life must be practiced and understood as just that---a cycle of dying and rising. We start seeing it modeled in ourselves and others, in events, in institutions. It is the promise at the end of Holy Week, but the truths of Holy Week must be experienced first. I invite you to walk the Triduum and receive in joy the Resurrection which most assuredly awaits us all.
St. Andrew's would not be growing and thriving today if it weren't for its laity. When churches leave ministry to the "professionals" they undoubtedly wither and fade. Clergy are not unimportant but their real job is to inspire, support, equip, empower and have a "birds-eye" view of everything going on. The heavy lifting, the power, the wheels on the Church in the world is the community of the baptized.
There is little room for spectators in the Church today. Indeed, if one chooses to be a spectator, much of what the Church does becomes irrelevant, misinterpreted and devoid of meaning.
One of the things we try and do at St. Andrew's is to get everyone involved in or more ongoing ministries. Indeed most of us have to "multi-task". This can be the altar guild, choir, food pantry, homeless ministry, education of children and youth, leadership councils, and the myriad of small one-shot tasks that each month affords.
Stewardship pundits tell us that a person's giving of time, talent and treasure for the work and mission of the Church directly correlates to that person's involvement in ministry.
So many small "unsung" tasks around here are done quietly and practically anonymously.
--Who puts the trash out each Sunday for the Monday pick-up? (not a paid staff member)
--Who shovels and salts the walks leading to the Church on a snowy or icy Sunday morning? (not a paid staff member)
---Who wipes down the tables after coffee hour or the homeless overnight? (not a paid staff member).
---Who stays in touch with homebound parishioners on a weekly basis and takes them communion on a frequent basis? (not a paid staff member).
---Who cleans the ovens and freshens the bathroom during the week? (not a paid staff member)
---Who faithfully shows up week after week to teach our children and youth about God's love? (not a paid staff member)
---Who puts in the time to change the altar hangings, prepare the linens and vessels for Eucharist and washes the communion linens? (not a paid staff member)
---Who bakes the bread and makes the wine for our weekly celebration of the Eucharist? (not paid staff member)
---who cares and tends the grounds in warm months so that flowers are always in bloom? (not a paid staff member).
---who prepares the monthly financial report for the vestry and parish? (not a paid staff member)
---who designs, produces and distributes colorful posters for our annual events like Cooke Sale and Tricky Tray? (not a paid staff member)
The list could go on and on. And none of these are run by committees or directed from the parish office. They happen because a group of laity, clear about their baptismal vows, walk the walk.
St. Andrew's will have a bright future because of these ministries performed by the laity and many others, too many to list here. In a parish the size of St. Andrew's we unfortunately have little room for spectators. But the good news is that there are few of those here! You will not always be asked personally to participate, but the opportunities are always listed in the newsletter and the bulletin. Thank God for all of you and the many ministries you do without coaxing or remuneration!
The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are seasons of dreams. God comes to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth and the Magi in a series of dreams. Dreams are clearly a vehicle for the Divine. Dreams are part of our common humanity I think. In fact I sometimes imagine death as going to sleep and being enveloped into a wonderful dream-consciousness that lasts until the Last Day.
I dream most nights. I am told dreaming is an indication of deep sleep. Most of my dreams are nonsensical, involving some people from the present or the distant past. My father once came to me in a dream and his words brought healing and resolution to our often complicated relationship. Some dreams are reoccurring—like the one where I am being pursued by Voo Doo priests beating drums on some Caribbean Island just before a Tsunami hits and I crawl under a bed for protection (which is a dopey place to go during a tsunami!). Perhaps my time as a Church volunteer in Haiti is behind this one.
Dreams tend to bring together the past and present. They are the steam valve for our psyche. A few years ago I took a dream workshop at Kanuga. We did dream interpretation method and group interpretation. One thing we always observed was not interpreting dreams for someone else, but noticing things about another’s dream with the phrase “If it were my dream I would notice this…” or “see that as…” . Because dreams belong to the dreamer. Sometimes dreams are scary and we call them nightmares. Some dreams are comforting and call us to health and healing. In all cases dreams carry with them something true and important about our internal and external life.
Last year the Vestry and other Parish Leaders went on a retreat to plan. The retreat was facilitated by the acting Archdeacon, Rick Cluett. What came out of that retreat was somewhat unanimous—our building was getting in the way of any expansion and enhancement of ministry. Our outreach, internal educational programs, and storage space for every activity is stressed. We have a lack of “soft space” for weekday small group activities as well as adequate Church School space for all ages. Our building has not been amended in several decades except for the addition of an elevette and handicapped bathrooms. Cosmetic changes are just that, we have the same space but in a different color or with some different furniture.
We need to dream about the future of St. Andrew’s in an intentional way. For some this dreaming may seem like a nightmare. But for others it is a path to a vibrant and enhanced future. If we do not make renovations and additions, then we may just be running in place. Although the truth is, parishes do not remain static—they are either going forward or going back—institutional Church studies show that there is no such thing as staying in place. Most people come to St. Andrew’s for the community, not the physical plant. And while that is good, I am tired of being apologetic about our Christian Education space with visitors with kids and youth. And we are growing, but I wonder if that has a limited lifespan if we don’t amend our physical plant to look more like a 21st century parish than one somewhat captive of the mid-20th Century.
To do this, we all have to step up and have the courage to dream big dreams that call us forward in faith. It’s no mystery why angels say “Fear not!” when delivering Divine news in a dream. If dreams aren’t a little scary are they really dreams or visions? Maybe we need to take their advice and dream dreams worthy of St. Andrew’s future?
The Church and Calendar year are coming to a close and it is time once again to begin again the dance of the lectionary. We will begin Mark’s year (year B) of the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary which is now just know as “the Lectionary” of the Episcopal Church). Your older Prayer Book will no longer be entirely accurate in the Lectionary sections, but new editions will be. If you want to know what lessons are coming up Sundays, bookmark The Lectionary Page (http://www.lectionarypage.net/) and it gives you the complete scripture line up for any given Sunday—it’s a handy tool to have always at your fingertips and dispenses with the need to buy heavy books!
Mark is the first Gospel as far as we can tell. It is also the shortest gospel. Mark’s Greek is not as sophisticated as Matthew’s and Luke’s. It is most likely taken from an oral tradition—stories that actual witnesses told about Jesus and later written down. For this reason, Mark is probably the most memorizable Gospel. Original Mark contained no Resurrection account. Scholars opine that this was because the gospel was one that arose during the height of Christian persecution and that he Resurrection story would be incriminating to those who were caught with a copy of it by authorities. Remember, for the civil culture at the time, the Roman Emperor was a God and took a dim view of anyone who claimed otherwise—including Jesus. It was a gospel for people for whom faith in Jesus Christ was the only hope.
It may not be so true of Christians now. We hope in Financial Systems, Businesses, Governments, The Medical Industrial Complex, maybe even our intimate personal relationships. We live with illusions about all of these. But there comes a moment when all of these fail us at varying levels. We wonder “now what?” The trust and promise of salvation from all of these were drilled into us by parents, the culture, educational systems and maybe even the Church.
An Advent moment is one in which you realize that even with all of our technology, advances and sophistication, our only hope is Jesus Christ. Those moments we can let go and let God are the moments we come to understand ourselves in a new way---paradoxically free of artificial and contrived sources of trust and security. We look for the end of the age not with dread but as the completion of creation by a loving and compassionate God where all tears will be wiped away, all fears calmed and joy at being united without impediment with the Lover of Souls is realized.
May you find Advent moments this season when retail and a sentimental understanding of Christmas subtely demands out attention and allegiance. May God grant you the courage and understanding to embrace a new way to be in this season, a way of expectation of love coming to embrace us and grant us harmony and an inner peace knowing the ending is a good one.
The title words are from “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” which is a popular Advent Hymn. Indeed as our liturgical years draws to a close in November our lessons and music end the Season of the Church begun at Pentecost and begins again the Seasons of God’s saving action in the world. The end connects to the beginning as lessons tell us both of Christ’s return and the culmination of salvation history in those of faith being unequivocally united with their Lord forever.
Beside this lofty thought stands us---frail, missing the mark and needy. I recall several years ago when I visited Chartres Cathedral in France the West door had a great stone carving over the door---Christ enthroned in royal robes, returning to claim his own at the end of the age. Surrounding him were concentric circles of smaller humans, too many to count in “tourist time”. But the visual was astounding. Hundreds of seemingly alike people, none with particular garb or ornament. Just the redeemed in all of their diversity, yet sharing a saved sameness.
When ever I feel less significant to God’s plan for the universe I remember this door. And I think of all those people who led me to the door of salvation in Christ---parents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, camp counselors, teachers, friends, parishioners, clergy and fellow travelers on The Way.
A few weeks ago a person from California with whom I have had several phone conversations asked me, “What are you about in your life?” Without much hesitation I blurted out “To transform the world”. He seemed to think that was a mighty lofty aspiration, and I told him that while it was a huge stand to take in my life it manifested itself in seemingly insignificant daily activity—but to everything with as much love as I can muster. I believe that God calls all of us in the Community of the Baptized to this mission. As we approach All Saints Day it is an occasion to not only be inspired by the witness of saints that appear in windows, on Church signs and in liturgical calendars, but to touch, reaffirm and renew our own somewhat hidden identity as those empowered by the Holy Spirit in Baptism to transform the world into the Reign of God.
This may look somewhat awesome in its audacity, but I think that’s what the Gospels point me to when trying to interpret myself through them. If you read the Baptismal Covenant you might start to see this mission for yourself---“To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” is a radical notion when you think about it. It is no less the mission we all share with those who sit next to us in the pew, but also those who are the subject of hagiographies, those who influenced us in our Christian pilgrimage, and those who have seemingly been forgotten, but contributed to a transformative culture because of Christ.
This is what we celebrate on All Saints Sunday (Nov. 2) it is what our time, talent and treasure is used on and what we do when we share communion as countless people “just like you” have done to strengthen them for the mission of changing the world for good.
I want to tell you a St. Andrew’s Story. It’s a somewhat amazing and most remarkable story. It involves a young man that many of you don’t know, although he comes to Church with his Mom and Grandma quite regularly. He comes to the altar rail and receives communion. His name is James Williams and he is 12 years old.
Last summer James decided to run a lemonade stand in his neighborhood. He decided (on his own) to make St. Andrew’s Church the beneficiary of his lemonade stand profits. He was not prompted or cajoled he just did it. No pressure from parent or grandparent.
Many people stopped by his lemonade stand to buy a cup of lemonade. They saw that he was raising money for the Church, and, impressed by his industriousness, some slipped him extra money saying “Keep that for yourself”. His generosity inspired others to give him more money for their lemonade than the cost. James smiled and said “thank you”.
After the day was over James counted the dollars, pennies, nickels, dimes, and dollar bills--$17.50. He knew the proceeds included the money “to keep for yourself”. He asked his Mom if it would be OK to give all the money to St. Andrew’s? I am sure there was a pause. You see, without knowing what James was actually thinking, it is an awesome impulse and one that we more life-hardened adults have a hard time learning. He found something at St. Andrew’s that was important to him. Something worth supporting, something about God and his relationship to God that resulted in generosity and self-giving action. James was working with that naïve idea of abundance rather than scarcity. This kind of naiveté is what Jesus asks of us when we are asked to receive the kingdom “like children”.
I am sure the adults who gave him the extra cash wanted to reward James’ industriousness and charitable impulses. They were inspired by his witness. You see that’s how our personal witness works. Our generosity and suspension of worldly considerations inspire others to the same.
So one Sunday in August James presented me with the whole amount and said that he wanted to donate it to my Discretionary Fund which goes primarily for direct aid for people in need (utility bills, prescriptions, transportation, rent, etc.). I was humbled, astonished and thankful to God for James who presented me with a tangible example of generosity and self-less giving.
The Gospel stories repeat themselves daily and we should all be in awe of this one that occurred under our own noses. The Widow’s Mite, the admonition of those “faithful in small things will be trusted with larger things” all come to mind.
As you reflect on how you give to the work of the Gospel through St. Andrew’s Church, think of James. If you can, it will be a blessing. If you can’t, then listen carefully to all that will be written and said to you in the next few weeks. Perhaps you will hear something you haven’t heard before.
It is baseball season and I am in the thick of hoping against hope that one of these days the Phillies will be drawn up into some space craft by an intelligence beyond our own and replaced by an alien team and start winning again. Sigh. But hope springs eternal. Yes, hope, its what every fan of every sports team eats, breathes and drinks during that team’s season—bar none (yes, even the Chicago Cubs!). I can’t imagine (except in bunt situations) that a batter up to bat hopes to hit anything but a “goner”. Home run, over the fence! A fantasy Grand Slam with bases loaded! Vague in my memory of my brief, but brilliant, Little League Career I recall a coach inspiring us to “swing for the fences”.
Hope, I live on it. Sometimes I think I am its captive, which used to bother me as I wondered if I wasn’t just in denial or something like it. But that is what one of our lessons said a few weeks ago—“We are prisoners of hope”.
Bill Lewellis in a post this week reminded us that in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King has one of his characters say that hope is a dangerous thing. Hmmm I thought, why dangerous? Maybe because hope enlivens us, doesn’t let us get overwhelmingly discouraged, doesn’t let an isolated incident color the whole landscape. Hope doesn’t leave us alone in our self-pity, our negative thoughts and calls us to bold and courageous action. Hope can make miracles happen through us in the lives of others.
The Fall schedule begins soon and it is my hope that you will take advantage of all the educational offerings and service opportunities that will be offered and needed. Tricky-Tray, Christian Formation for all Ages, and the Fall Stewardship Season are upon us. Some of us will be trailing off to Diocesan Convention in early October. I would invite you to renew your hope and swing for the fences of your spiritual journey. If we have teeny tiny expectations we will get just that portion of results.
God calls you and me to an indomitable hope and may our actions, energy and commitment reflect that commitment! Let’s continue to swing for those spiritual and communal fences…
Excerpted from a blog article by Thom Rainer who is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Some food for thought as we head into summer which yields our lowest attendance numbers annually, lets buck the trend!!--Scott+)
1. In most areas, it is no longer culturally expected for persons to attend church. I live in the heart of the Bible belt in the Nashville area. But when I leave for church services on Sunday mornings, I see numerous families out playing with their children, walking the subdivision, or just enjoying the day outside. They don’t feel the cultural pressure to attend church. To the contrary, they are joining the majority who opt out.
2. Congregational expectations of the attendance of members are lower. In the recent past, the absence of a frequently-attending church member was noticeable. He or she might get a call from another member to check on them. Today, if a church member attends three of four weeks, rarely does another member inquire about their absence. By the way, if every member, on the average, attends one less Sunday per month, the overall attendance of the church drops 25 percent.
3. Unchurched persons are often very demanding about the perceived quality of worship services. Though some of us bemoan this reality, the entertainment culture is now pervasive. If an unchurched person attends a perceived low-quality service, he or she may not return.
4. Many church members are less friendly to guests today. I understand that this statement is categorical and not statistically verified. But I can say, after over 25 years of doing surveys of church guests, I hear more and more about unfriendly church members. So either the expectations of friendliness are higher, or many church members are really not that friendly to guests.
5.Churches do not emphasize involvement in groups as much as they did in the past. Simply stated, if a person is only involved in the worship services, he or she is likely to leave the church within a few years or even months. But those involved in groups, such as home groups or Sunday school classes, have natural accountability. They also have stronger relationships to other church members that engender more frequent attendance.
6. Most churches have no clear purpose. An organization without a clear and poignant purpose will have members wandering aimlessly. And many of them will wander out the figurative door of regular attendance.
7. Most churches have no clear plan of discipleship. This factor somewhat overlaps with the previous issue. Church members are more likely to be faithful attenders if they understand how they can become a better disciple for Christ through the ministries of the church.
8. The typical church in America is a low-expectation church. I have written on this issue extensively. And the less you expect of members, the less you will get, including attendance.
Since Easter it seems like it has rained most of the days. I have to admit when the weather is inclement I either veg-out or get quite a bit done, as it happens I have done very little vegging and am getting Church and personal tasks done. The regional Confirmation and Troxell Street Sale have given me plenty to think about and do!
I can imagine what it must have been for the followers of Jesus after his crucifixion. Unsure of those rumors from a few women that Jesus was alive. A little afraid for their own futures as undeniable followers of this charismatic Rabbi. Not sure where to go or what to do.
Some just left the city and headed back to Emmaus where they had work, or family or both. And this mysterious guy joins them on that walk. Hardly remarkable, just joining in their conversation---a stranger in their midst, unrecognized but pleasantly conversational. On their agenda was eating a simple meal while feeling a bit sad in their processing of the weekend’s events.
Perhaps it is like that for us after Easter. All the chocolate has been consumed, the flowers have died and been disposed of, the clothes are washed or sent to the cleaners, remnants of Easter feasts either consumed as leftovers or in the freezer for later consumption.
Jesus knows this and comes to us in remarkable and almost imperceptible ways. In the smile of a friend, a look of a child, the help given by a stranger. Jesus is not content to let us veg-out, but is always coming to us as a person in need or a person who helps. That’s what I always have a hard time remembering and to remind myself to not be irritated by someone who needs something from me at an inconvenient time or someone offering well-intended uninvited help when I could do it myself.
The take away from Easter, if anything, is to allow ourselves to be possessed by love. To give and more importantly receive love is the daily task and challenge of our ministries for the Baptized. To know the Lord of Life in the simple act of breaking bread and to have our hearts warmed and fit for the daily ministries and mission before us.
Alleluia! He Is Risen!
Last night was trash night. Trash night is always a big deal at my house because I pay by the bag. I do this because it makes me more conscious of recycling. It provides a discipline of being present to what is in my hand that is being walked to the trash can and makes me ask in my head “Is this possibly recyclable?”
When I go back to my home in St. Albans, WV and see all the plastic, metal and cardboard that goes into the trash for the landfill it causes me a little private, quiet anxiety. My concern for the planet and how much trash that I multiplied my millions and millions could be generating makes wonder how we can go on this way? I see all the things that used to be reused, refurbished and fixed while growing up that now are designed to have a short life and be tossed. I am somewhat angered by the directions our manufacturing customs have taken. I may be one of the last people on the planet that remembers (albeit BRIEFLY as a young child) glass milk bottles set out on the porch for full ones to replace them by the milkman.
As I collect my daily recyclables (and there are ALWAYS recyclables) I see a little parable in them. The wadded up balls of aluminum, the plastic containers, the folded up and collapsed paste-board of cereal boxes and cracker containers all look like just refuse. A bunch of used up stuff. No longer good for anything but carting to a landfill. But now I see something else, something I didn’t used to see. I see resurrection.
All that formerly useless stuff can have a new life. Can be reformed, dissolved, ground up, melted and reshaped into new and useful things for my or someone else’s use. This translates into lots of other things and impacts the way I see the world and the humans which inhabit it. I see justice for emerging and poor areas in the “third” world who may get some badly needed energy, in some form, because my culture/country wasn’t consuming its full 48% of the planet’s resources. I see people in this country having jobs in the recycling industry; I see cleaner air and water for myself, my kids and grandkids. I see new and better life that could result in this seemingly mundane and daily task. I can’t exactly see it, but have faith that my efforts do make a difference somewhere for somebody.
As I pour the ashes of a beloved person in the hole made for what is left of their bodies after cremation I see seeds for renewed and resurrected life that they are enjoying even as we seem to dispose of them. I think of the day my own will go into my hole. And instead of fearing that day, I embrace the inevitability of that day and say to myself “This is the plan, Stan”. Because of God’s love for us, we are all more than we appear to be at any given time. We are the members of the resurrection whether we live or die. We live out the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection on a daily basis if we make ourselves available to it. May God bless you all as we conclude our Lenten Journey, descend into Holy Week and share in our yearly reminder of all of this in the Feast of the Resurrection! Peace, Scott+
Approaching Lent may be an exercise in dread for some, it certainly seems that way for me at times—extra work in liturgy, educational events, and programs seem to add unreasonable burden to a season which, in theory, is supposed to be simpler, austere, a time for quiet contemplation and preparation to receive the story of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.
While I understand that my experience of Lent may be vastly different from most of yours, there is the chance that Lent may seem like a burden to many of you as well. The giving up or taking on of something just for the mortification exercise may vex the imagination when we know God doesn’t need any of that, really. Making it to extra services and evening events and the attending pot-luck often needed (or asked for) may also stress the daily schedule and weekly rhythm. God does not make us “earn” our salvation--- that is an old heresy. So what’s in Lent for us? A new approach is probably in order for all of us!
The title words above are from hymn 145 in the hymnal (check out the words if you have a hymnal at home or the next time you are sitting in the pew). It calls me to a different place than the tradition has usually pointed to. It asks that the driving emotion in Lent be love, justice and drawing closer to the Lord of Love. Lent as primarily a season for practicing extra love could be the way to go. Showing love for God: for what God freely did and does for us; and showing love to neighbors, family and friends as a response to the gratitude we experience toward God.
So worship becomes an act of love, not just a task or holy obligation. Being with fellow Christians to walk the way of the cross together becomes an act of love for our community – the community for which Christ was willing to suffer and die. To discover some new things in our interior life which we had forgotten or never really received before is an act of loving the mysterious personality of God.
As we set out on our Lenten pilgrimage it is probably only about love of God in Jesus Christ. May this season be an extra special blessing and opportunity to “reply” in love to Love Most High.
This week the vestry will go on their annual planning retreat to set goals and create vision for the next three years of our life together. Please pray for them and for all those entrusted with leadership of our parish.
If there is anything the Church is in dire need of in this day and age is authentic, responsible and mature leadership. Business models lack the understanding of vision and spiritual concerns that Church leadership must embody. Traditional Church leadership also often lacks the big vision required by the gospel and the savvy in practical terms to accomplish it. What is needed is a Ministry Model to accomplish our mission with boldness, practicality, and daring without anxiety. Our mission statement claims that St. Andrew’s is about "Sharing Our Faith - Welcoming and Serving Others". We will revisit this statement and see if it still applies after all these years. We’ve been really good about serving others. We may need to reflect on how we share our faith, how we welcome folks who are not in any visible material need, but certainly have spiritual ones (like all of us!).
Also at issue is the transformational leadership present and untapped in the congregation. Some are reticent to take responsibility maybe fearing lack of qualification or skill. My experience of leading churches is that God calls many to lead but far fewer respond. Adding responsibility and accountability into our lives seems too hard sometimes. Church leadership requires vision, courage and belief in God’s Spirit guiding the church and its leadership. There are so many instances of abusive or corrupt leadership that it may not only make us suspicious of those “in charge” but also may dissuade us from being involved ourselves.
It is also an inconvenience. Ask anyone who has offered any sort of leadership in the Church in the past. You add duties, chores, concerns to what seems an already full plate in our private lives. But Jesus calls us nonetheless. Jesus calls and informs the Community of the Baptized on becoming better witnesses to the transformation of the Gospel. To do a task for the Church with a joyful heart is one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences that we can have in our Church.
Pray for our leaders—both lay and ordained. Pray for God’s Spirit to show you where you can participate and share in shepherding this congregation. I would be remiss in not acknowledging and thanking the many people at St. Andrew’s who do remarkable things on our behalf—from the business of the Church; to its physical plant; to its internal institutional functioning; to its raising resources to its worship life; to its outreach ministries; to its making good on the baptismal promise we make to nurture and support our young people.
It takes more than one priest to make a dynamic congregation—its takes ALL of us!
I have a desk in my second floor family room that is rather large and has a “return” or side section that makes it quite nice. I remember when my wife and I purchased it in North Carolina for a room in our large home on Salisbury Street in Pittsboro. It is/was a lovely desk when purchased and remember how proud we were when it was in the room that fit in North Carolina. It was brand new and cost around $600 back in the 90’s. It doesn’t fit in my second floor TV room, never has. The former apple of my eye has become an albatross. I don’t really use a desk anymore. Laptop computers and WiFi have made the kitchen counter, the dining room table, my knees, my bed into desks. It takes up too much room and doesn’t really serve a purpose anymore in my life and I do not anticipate it doing so ever again. I believed I was saving it for my children, who also don’t use/need desks! So I am donating it to the Habitat for Humanity Store so that they can make money on it and use it to give people shelter. My son, daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law who will arrive tomorrow are unaware that one of the tasks before them is to move the desk from the second floor to the porch (the Habitat haulers do not do stairs with heavy furniture).
As I age I find that so much that I thought would be with me forever is gone—just given away. And not in a bad way, but all it took was a release from me to go on to serve better needs. So it is with my coveted beloved desk.
One of the graces I receive is to yield things that no longer are really needed or serve my life purpose. I hope I can be that thankful when my physical capacities start to erode. Many of you are witnesses to that fact and operate under less than ideal circumstances in daily life.
The New Year brings with it not only new things, but the ability to change, to relinquish old ways. To cast out the old, outmoded stuff knowing that you will have room for new stuff, new understandings, new relationships, new realizations of God’s grace working in your life---The realization that justspace is a fine thing---room to think and grow. Extra area in which to stretch.
As we start the New Year we will say goodbye to chalice bearers and a vestry member or two. We will have new chalice bearers and vestry people. All of whom will bring new gifts and fresh energy (and yes, perhaps even change) to old tasks. Giving thanks for those who have so ably served and giving them time for renewal and refreshment. Our Annual Meeting will provide us with a new budget, new leadership. It’s the Church renewing itself. New people will be brought into the Body of Christ through Baptism in January, new faces and hands to assist with the ministry of St. Andrew’s.
May God grant you the grace to let go of old, outmoded things and the grace to see God’s unseen hand making new and useful things available. May God continue to bless us all with the ability to see in loss, the gaining of the kingdom…who knows, my old desk may still become the apple of someone’s eye and their delight!
I have been reading several commentaries by Church and secular pundits who bemoan the fact that many stores are opening on Thanksgiving and starting “Black Friday” a day early. My guess is that these are by people who are around my age or older. I don’t really hear younger people complaining about it. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have an experience of, for lack of a better word, Christendom.
Christendom began as a wedding between social, political and religious values going back to Constantine the Great who decided to make Christianity the glue which would hold his empire together. Many rulers particularly in Western Europe did the same. Our own Henry the VIII used his brand of religion to consolidate his power and reign in England at the Reformation. It seemed the thing to do by “princes” and it was a generally convenient thing for both Church and State.
The Church liked it because the state became the enforcer of Church law and custom. Also the citizenry were compelled to support the Church with their wealth. Affluent families asserted their affluence by building cathedrals and great churches and adorning them with the best art and architecture.
This system worked really well for both Church and State up until the late 50’s. Then things changed. American Protestantism became fractured with conservative fundamentalism taking a leading role and alienating mainline Christians and their clergy. Roman Catholicism became waxed very conservative and out of step with many American sensibilities around gender roles and social movements. So “Christendom” in the United Sates started to become unglued. Democratic rights were extended to Muslims, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists and Atheists---we started seeing our society as far more pluralistic than before. Courts ruled with a strict constructionist understanding of separation of Church and State—Ten Commandments in Court Houses were removed, publically funded nativity scenes disappeared from public places, prayers invoking only Jesus were not given in public schools or legislative bodies. And coupled with all of this, Church membership and attendance took a real dive. It certainly threw the Churches into a tailspin institutionally.
So now, back to Thanksgiving. Growing up in India, none of our Christian holidays were celebrated by the dominant culture—December 25 in Bombay (as it was called then) was just a work day outside our apartment windows. It didn’t stop us from our usual Christmas observances; I didn’t even notice that it seemed “less”. We were Christians and this is what we did. Some could argue that Thanksgiving is a national or secular holiday with religious over tones. I am sure that it was primarily (if not solely) Christian legislators who originally declared it.
Perhaps, as with every crisis we face, there is an opportunity. Maybe we will just have to practice our religion as if we find value and meaning in it rather than expect the social structure to enforce it. The opportunity is to be thankful as you have always been. Don’t go shopping that day. Eat a good meal, enjoy friends and family. Watch a parade. Play a pick up football game in the front yard and wave cheerfully to your friends heading for the mall. But most of all we can be thankful. Thankful to our God who gives us so much undeserved good. Being visibly thankful for our blessings without judging other’s choices that day may be the most powerful witness we can make. . We can lead by example. The Amish and Quakers (to name a few) have long understood this aspect of Christian practice and quietly practiced what they preached.
Blessed Thanksgiving to you all!
As I talk to people who aren’t Church members I always run into the “I am spiritual but not religious” self designation. I am usually unsure of what that means. Normally it is based on an ethical system that is derived from some source, usually Christianity. Love your neighbor as yourself, be kind, be just---none of which are at all bad.
The hard part comes in living that out. Having interaction with people who have the same commitment and understandings is crucial to accountability for being a “spiritual but not religious” person. You see, the hard part of all of this is figuring out how you will live your core commitments. What are the limits? Where are the boundaries? When does my love of neighbor become co-dependent or where do I just keep quiet when a real justice issue is at hand?
We need community. I cannot imagine even attempting the Christian faith and life without others who are journeying with me. Having others who claim the same values helps me see when my good intentions have become the macadam to hell. Community and weekly interactions with that community keeps me from turning God into an idol---a creation of my own head and ideas. Hearing scriptures read, hearing teaching on the same, listening to other Christians and responding with my own life and experience not only helps me put things in perspective, but also helps others do the same.
Jesus was clear that we need each other on this journey called life. We need each other to challenge, comfort, understand, affirm or just hug us. Spiritual but not religious is not a very authentic way to grapple with the very real issues facing our personal lives and our world today. I need the incarnational (visible, tactile, palpable) aspect of the Good News each week. The religious (or having a real spiritual practice) helps me be more spiritual. Otherwise my “spirituality” is my own concoction, my own wish-dream.
Most you of reading this understand this need. But sometimes we need to have the understanding of the value of weekly interactions with a community of faith striving to live our lives as authentically as possible. Having integrity in this society is difficult---promises, commitments, claims and relationships are easily broken for the sake of self.
This is all to say that participation in a faith community is valuable, healthy. Studies show that those who are engaged in a faith community (Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Christian) are indeed healthier and more grounded than those who do not, they also have less illnesses. Perhaps saying this to others is the most pastoral and helpful thing one could say to a person who seems adrift. Community saves us, and makes life much richer in the living….
Every Fall it falls to me to say something, new, compelling, or sexy about stewardship and its role in the Christian faith and life. Sigh. I have been ordained over 30 years and try and dig deeper and deeper each year to come up with something that fits the above criteria. Alas, it gets harder and harder not to be repetitious and banal. I can only look into the myriad of scriptures that speak to me and give me “dots” which somehow appear in my life and express how they get connected each year.
Money is a hard conversation in most areas of the culture. Countries go to war over it, families split over it, spouses fight over it, people go to jail for it, people die for it, and children soon learn that it gets them some pretty nifty things and the more the better. You either have more-than-enough, enough, or less-than-enough of it. There is a disturbing trend in income distribution in our country and in the world that the richer get richer and those who aren’t rich have less.
In last week’s gospel, Jesus said you cannot serve God and Mammon (wealth). Money demands a lot from us, hours of contemplation, paying people to manage it, watching it, worrying about it, saving it for old age, budgeting it, logging into your checking account daily or a myriad of other activities that money demands of us. It has the real potential of becoming an idol (just as in Jesus’s day).
One of the ways I try and lessen the obsession in my life is to have a Church pledge. A pledge reminds me that I am first and foremost striving to be a disciple of Jesus. It also helps if the amount I pledge is a significant amount of my monthly income. I make sure that it at least competes with the utility bills. But the Bible gives us a more helpful measure---the tithe. 10%. A dime of every dollar. Moving toward the tithe is one of the most significant spiritual exercises I get each month.
As we move into our period of intentional reflection on stewardship of our individual time, talent and treasure, I hope you will consider it a tangible way to express your core commitment to Christ and his Church and find it a joyful and richly rewarding experience.
It seems right to remember Janice Mitchell in my first newsletter column to you since her death. Janice lovingly and competently tended these pages for most of my tenure here. Janice was an inspiration to us all in so many ways. Janice had what the medical community calls “multiple morbidity” or in layman’s terms there were many organs that were not functioning properly and others were aﬀected due to the low function of the others. But Janice did not live her life as a sick person, she lived fully human yet with illnesses and limitations that she knew would claim her long before her time was up.
Thinking of Janice, I think about the minor things that aﬄict me on occasion…those “medicatable” things we find out from occasional doctor’s oﬃce visits. But I think what I will always remember about Janice is that she lived fully, contributing a great deal to our parish life even with physical disabilities. She did what she could and did it well and with integrity.
In all instances of life we have a choice on how we will live our lives. Will I live my life as a victim of chronic illness, sexual/ physical abuse, recovering addiction, physical limitations, my own unmet expectations, my own opinion of myself which negatively aﬀects me, my own neediness? Or am I going to live my life as a human person fully doing what I can to be a partner with God in the mending of creation? There is a big diﬀerence in the witness of your life if you live it as a sick person who happens to be human, or as complex, gifted, fully human person who happens to have an illness or challenge.
Whenever Jesus encountered a sick person he always asked a rather odd question—“Do you want to be healed?” Over the years I have come to understand this as Jesus’ way of saying the above thought. Of course the person wanted to be healed, right? But maybe not. Maybe their illness and limitation had been so incorporated into their self-understanding that they became their illness, letting it run them and not the other way around.
As we all age and face the challenges and limitations that will invariably come, let us remember Janice and remember there is always something we can do, someone’s life we can enrich, a kind word that can be said, a huge contribution that can be made. As one person once said about saints “Saints aren’t always those who do great things, but are those who do small things with great love”.
Open in Us the Gates of Your Kingdom!
“The Kingdom of God is Justice and Peace
And Joy in the Holy Spirit
Come Lord, and open in us
The gates of your kingdom!”
I recently discovered this wonderful chant on YouTube and have used it to “listen myself” into a meditative and reflective place. I like the way in which it invites God to come into my life as the Holy Trinity and to “open the gates” of the kingdom within me. I like the image of opening the gates of the kingdom that presently remain unknowingly closed or locked within me.
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Kingdom as a state of being or consciousness which we experience here and now in the process I call conversion. My life is in constant need of conversion and amendment and I have found that the greatest place of spiritual growth and breakthrough has been in how I approach my possessions---my time, my gifts and skills and my material goods and money.
It may come as a surprise that this has been a journey with many twists and turns for me. I attained the tithe when I was in North Carolina serving a Church there, but a season of unemployment and underemployment challenged my personal wealth---commitments to my kids and attending debt closed in on me. It would seem that it would be as easy the second time as it was the first, but it’s a journey which is new each time. It is fraught with concerns and “What ifs?”.
No one is more sensitive to the economic pressures that parents experience in this day and age than I am. Yet God’s request of me to give 10% of my income to the work of God in the world remains. It is a gate which God allows me to unlock each year and experience the kingdom on the other side of that gate which I never knew existed. Whenever I make a larger commitment which will stretch and move me I find that I am larger, not diminished. A phrase I have always lived by is “Small commitments yield small results”.
We will soon be asked to make a commitment to God through St. Andrew’s Church. I hope that this will be a spiritual and prayerful consideration for us and not just a “What do I have left?” conversation. I am glad God doesn’t bless me with what is left, but from the abundance of God’s grace. I hope that my response to God from my frequently stretched personal resources of time, talent and treasure is at least in some meager proportion to God’s grace toward me. Each year I am amazed at this congregation’s ability to make this a spiritual activity and not a purely charitable-giving one. We have not arrived at full independence yet as a congregation, will this be the year? I pray that our New Consecration season opens gates of the kingdom in all of us!
In Our Endings, New Beginnings….
Signs of endings all around us---darkness, death and winter days
shroud our lives in fear and sadness, numbing mouths that long to praise.
Come, O Christ and dwell among us! Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness. Show us what there yet may be.
(From the Episcopal “Wonder, Love and Praise” hymnal; Words by Dean W. Nelson (b. 1944))
Just last week my daughter, Olivia, called and announced that she was engaged. I wasn’t really surprised. After all, she and her fiancé, Sam, have been sweethearts since High School and it has been an 11 year romance (don’t rush into things!). I have several pictures of Olivia as a little girl in my house---in her ice skating outfit at age 10, waving a baton at 7, on a skateboard when she told everyone in our new community in North Carolina her name was “Chris”. My “little girl” has now decided she will start her own household.
We love Sam. Believe me, I have tried to find something wrong with him for the past 11 years and can’t. So I must yield to this new man in her life and be joyful about it. But I have to tell you, I am not so good with endings, I can accept new beginnings much better. I have done many weddings in my career and often look at the father, not the bride, and wonder how he does it. Searching his face for some hint of what it takes to “give your daughter away”. I suppose I will find out soon enough. I have no choice but to let her go, its right and the way the circle of life works. But I don’t always like it.
When she was here for Thanksgiving, I went over my newly minted Will along with the “Advance Medical Directives for Health Care” document which gives her the authority to end my life if the need arises and I cannot make the decision myself due to incapacitation or dementia. At 55 I need to make these provisions for the end of my life. My daughter protested that this was a long way off. I hope she’s right but to say I am “middle aged” is somewhat hopeful---how many people do you know who lives to be 110? She wasn’t any more comfortable with the prospect of my ending either. It must be a human thing. We are all hopeful for the new beginnings, but have a hard time with ending that often must occur in order for the new to begin.
Speak O God, your Word among us. Barren lives your presence fill.
Life from death and from our rendings, realms of wholeness generate?
Take our fears, then Lord, and turn them into hopes for life anew.
Fading light and dying season sing their Glorias to you.
Advent invites us to become friends with endings as well as to know that when God ends something, God brings forth something new. Our liturgical year begins with the end--- with the expectation of the end of the age and the anticipation of a saving God protecting and providing for those who can embrace that ending in hope, faith and expectation of something unusually new. Amid the blair of Christmas music, we are called to contemplate the return of Jesus---which seems annoying at times. We want the trees, the lights, the wrapping paper, the smell of sweet treats in the household air. But God asks us to first consider why a Savior is needed. To consider the brokenness of humanity and why we need to maintain hope in the midst of the changes and chances in a world that alienates, divides and is often violent. It is both a season of knowing the center cannot hold, and to live in the hope of God’s salvation in spite of that first fact. Advent’s gift is to bring us to our senses and consider how God’s saving action in our lives and in our world is the only real answer.
Can it be from our endings, new beginning you create?
Swell our hearts with songs of gladness, terrors calm forebodings still.
Let your promised realm of justice blossom now throughout the earth;
Your dominion bring now near us; we await the saving birth.
We Aren’t Big, We Aren’t Small
Every year the Standing Committee of the Diocese submits a “State of the Church” report to Diocesan Convention which contains a statistical analysis of the Diocese for the preceding year. The figures are derived primarily from the Annual Parochial Reports submitted each March by all parishes in the diocese.
In 2012 St. Andrew’s had a total Communicant strength of 165 (which includes children under 16). Our Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) was 70-73. When I looked at the report I was somewhat surprised that we are categorized as a “Medium-Large” Church in the diocese.
An interesting statistic from the Episcopal Church nationally says that the majority of Episcopalians go to a large Church (200 ASA or bigger) yet the average Episcopal Church is 100 or less! This means that the “smaller” parish is more usual, yet most Episcopalians experience a larger “program or corporate” size Church.
This has implications for us in that we aren’t a large Church with lots of parishioners and human resources which translates into more monetary resources as well. However we are not small in the scale of most Episcopal Churches in this diocese.
I have heard many of you call St. Andrew’s “our little Church”, yet sometimes this has the effect of keeping us small and struggling. If we go to a small church because it’s small, we tend to do unconscious things to keep it small. Things like bumbling newcomer interactions or ignoring them completely. Holding back on time commitments thinking there is someone else to do the job—thus burning out the relatively small cadre of people who take the ball and run with about everything. Taking the ball and running with about everything so no new people get to get integrated into leadership or not always looking for people to invite to be part of the action and develop new leadership. I can tell you of specific incidences and people that illustrate all of these at St. Andrew’s.
It also impacts our financial life as the less a person is involved the less seriously they take their personal financial stewardship commitment.
Our goal may not be to become a BIG Church in the sense that we want hundreds of parishioners. But we do need to be larger than we are to ensure that the future St. Andrew’s isn’t struggling with part-time clergy (which rarely if ever leads to growth but ironically works a Church in the opposite direction) and so that we can maintain and even expand/remodel existing space as we are out of room for new and comfortable program space. Our increase in St. Matthew Society membership indicates that future generations may have an easier go of it at St. Andrew’s.
These are just a few things to help you see where you fit in to the mission picture and what changes you may need to make in your head in understanding St. Andrew’s.
How we Lead…
The next Diocesan Renewal Assembly focuses on Leadership in the parish---both lay and clergy. It is the singular most important issue of our day in my opinion as the way a parish understands leadership will have a great deal to do with its success in fulfilling the Baptismal vows we claim as our identity as Christians called “Episcopalian”.
A bit of history may be in order here. St. Andrew’s had a difficult time in the past due, in part, to circumstances beyond their control. But there were some aspects of St. Andrew’s leadership tradition that hadn’t changed much in its 60 years of life (we are a fairly young congregation as congregations go) and which were not helpful to the future of St. Andrew’s. The late Canon Cal Adams was brought in as a consultant to help sort through leadership with the Vestry of the time and brought some helpful new insights to the governing body of the Church. Among these were “mutual ministry” which sees that Rector and Vestry as a team with circumscribed powers and activities so that ministry at the “grass roots” could work better. The vestry spent an inordinate amount of time “micro-managing” things which were better done and executed by a committee. It took discipline for this new style of leadership—it required the vestry to hold off inserting themselves into every activity, trusting the committee to make good decisions and be competent to shape their own aspect of ministry for their particular task. A vestry liaison is assigned to each committee, not necessarily as a committee member themselves (although they could be and, in a Church our size, needed to be in some instances) but simply to serve as a link to the canonical authority of any Episcopal parish—the Rector and Vestry. If vestry needed to be asked for advice the liaison talked it over with the chair to make sure it was something that needed vestry input—otherwise they were encouraged and supported to move forward with their best judgment on how something was to be done in their area. This also involved building the confidence of leaders to lead and to seek outside resources available to inform their particular ministry (Rector, Diocesan Staff, the myriad of resources available on the internet). But the committee chair was encouraged and empowered to perform that ministry to the best of their ability and skill.
The Vestry and Rector have been using a book called “Beyond Business as Usual---Vestry Leadership Development” by Neal O. Mitchell, Canon Missioner for Development in the Diocese of Dallas (TX). In it he says the Vestry is primarily a community of disciples following the early Church example of Church governance, The Vestry’s job is to grow into being a Learning Community. That is one which embraces the following principles:
This is a change from what many are used to and expect. When you tell a vestry member about an issue you have with the web site, you will be directed to the Web Master. If you have an issue with pastoral care, you will be directed to the Rector or Lay Eucharistic Visitors, if you don’t like the way the Friday night homeless ministry is operated, you will be directed to the appropriate authority who actually executes this ministry. These will not automatically appear on the vestry agenda and take up Vestry time to manage these ministries. The Vestry’s role is to oversee that the many parts of congregational life are functioning and have the support they need. The Rector and Vestry trust the leadership of those actually executing that ministry to lead in that area.
So for those who understand the Rector or Vestry micro-managing everything and willing to step into triangular communication (that is, telling someone who does not have primary leadership in the area of your concern to tell the one who does about your concern), then you will find this leadership style frustrating. But it is a far healthier way to be a Church and yields better congregational life than the former system, which may have worked years ago, but is no longer useful. As we live into this style we will make errors and inadvertently take on things which we do not intend without knowing it, but it depends on you being part of one or two aspects of grassroots ministry execution and not looking to the Vestry to be a committee of the whole on the details of all aspects of parish life. The benefits of this style places ministry where it should be---at the grassroots and not in a distant governing body. The results will produce a better self-definition of all the baptized being responsible for the ministry of the Church.
“Why I Make My Teenager Go To Church”
By Mallory McDuff, Ph.D originally published on the Sojourner’s web site and Jim Wallis’s blog named “God’s Politics”
Making an ultimatum about church attendance to a sleep-deprived teenager may be my own version of hell on earth.
“We are leaving for church in 10 minutes,” I said, summoning my most authoritative voice before the lifeless lump under the covers.
My seven-year old Annie Sky watched the tense exchange between me and my 14-year old daughter Maya, who made periodic moans from the top bunk. With furrowed brow, my first grader sat on the couch, as if observing a tiebreaker at Wimbledon with no clear victor in sight.
For a moment, I wondered why I had drawn the line in the Sabbath sand, announcing earlier in the week that Maya would have to go to church that Sunday morning after an all-day trip to Dollywood with the middle school band. Somehow I didn’t want Dolly Parton’s amusement park to sabotage our family time in church. (The logic seemed rational at the time).
When Maya lifted the covers, I glimpsed the circles under her eyes and sunburn on her skin. But I repeated my command, with an undertone of panic, since I wasn’t sure if I could uphold the ultimatum.
When she finally got into the car, I breathed deeply and turned to our family balm, the tonic of 104.3 FM with its top 40 songs that we sing in unison. As the drama settled, I realized one reason why I made my teenager go to church: I want my daughters to know that we can recover from yelling at each other (which we had) and disagreeing. We can move on, and a quiet, sacred space is a good place to start.
In the pew at All Souls Episcopal Church, Maya leaned her head onto my shoulder, either in penitence or fatigue. “You can close your eyes in church,” I whispered. “It looks like you’re praying.” I made her come to church because I want my daughter to know that sometimes you have to show up, even when you are exhausted.
When I opened the bulletin, I realized that Sunday was the “Senior High Service,” that day when a high school senior from the church gives the sermon. With her long brown hair and sincere gaze, Miranda Nolin walked to the pulpit after the Gospel reading and told us that when she reads the Nicene Creed, our profession of faith, she often doesn’t believe any of the words she says. (Well, she got our attention).
But she repeats the Nicene Creed each week: “Because they are an act of community, a binding tradition, they have value.”
From the pulpit, Miranda assured us that traditions “allow us to have faith, to show up, to be present when we don’t know what to believe. I might be able to write a creed that said, exactly the right words, what I believed in that moment, but it would probably be outdated by the next week. Instead I come to church.”
Baptized and confirmed last year, Miranda shared that she comes to church with her family because she is welcomed as a questioner in a community where no one hesitates to reveal their doubts. She comes because of the community, the Holy Spirit. “Most of you are here, I’d guess, because you believe this component of the human experience is important and because it is something that is hard to access alone,” she said.
By this point in the sermon, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and spilling down my cheeks. I looked across the church and saw other adults wiping tears from their faces. I made Maya come to church because I want her to know that she can question and feel vulnerable and cry – and she doesn’t always have to do that all alone.
In her essay, “Why I make Sam go to church,” Anne Lamott writes: “The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by.” I want Maya to know that those people working to confront poverty, inequality, and environmental injustice in our church are vulnerable souls, but they are acting for the greater good in spite of their questions. I want her to know that church is not a social club, but she has to take actions to ensure it is a foundation of justice for all.
In this age when the “spiritual but not religious” seem to have more relevance than churchgoers, it’s easy to wonder why church attendance matters at all. But I believe that we need common spaces, more grounded than the corner Starbucks, to discern right actions in a world faced with crises like climate change and stark economic disparities.
Our teenagers and our children must shape these sacred spaces where we can grapple with our questions but act in faith through practices of forgiveness, feeding, hospitality, and care of creation. As Diana Butler Bass notes, “Right now, the church does not need to convert the world. The world needs to convert the church.”
To that end, after making Maya go to church, I took my daughters to an interfaith creation care vigil that night in downtown Asheville, N.C. (By that point, I had nothing to lose). When we arrived, one of the volunteers gave Maya a basket of candles, which she helped to distribute to the 250 people gathered for the vigil.
That evening, a film crew was documenting the vigil for a Showtime movie, produced by legendary filmmaker James Cameron. As she passed out candles at dusk, the videographers followed Maya with their cameras and asked her, “Do you know why you are here?”
“I’m not really sure,” she said, laughing. “I’m just the candle person.”
I made Maya go to church because we may not know why we are here, but we can pass along a little light to others on the journey. And maybe that’s what we need to create a little heaven on earth.
Mallory McDuff, Ph.D., teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She is the author of Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth’s Climate and Natural Saints.
The Urgency of the Gospel…
While it seems that the cob webs haven’t had time to form on our Christmas decorations in the attic or basement, the liturgical year moves us forward at a break-neck pace this year. This newsletter will most likely be the last one you receive before Easter! Our Lenten program begins in two days, and we just finished washing the ashes off of our foreheads. Ready or not, here comes Easter on March 31!
Mark’s gospel makes frequent use of the word “immediately” when connecting narratives of Jesus’s ministry. Mark conveys an urgency that the world be redeemed, repair of the rupture that happened un Eden. So maybe there is a spiritual lesson in urgency. We like to take our time and slowly think about things when sometimes the Gospel demands an immediate and energetic response. Maybe our liturgical calendar in 2013 reminds us of this. One of the phrases the vestry encountered in our book on leadership was “either lead, follow, or get out of the way”. Maybe that is what this year’s breakneck cycle tell us.
Triduum is a Latin word for “three days that act as one day”. And it describes the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil since there is no dismissal given from Maundy Thursday to the conclusion of the Great Vigil of Easter. All three of these liturgies act as one liturgy—beginning with its opening on Maundy Thursday and ending with the Alleluia of the Easter Vigil dismissal.
These three liturgies form the core of the Book of Common Prayer 1979. All of other liturgies of the Prayer Book use the Triduum as a reference point. I will go so far as to say that the liturgies of the Prayer Book don’t make sense unless you have a firm grasp of the Triduum, it interprets all the rest and all the rest are rooted in it.
Unfortunately many Episcopalians do not walk these three days—opting for either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I guarantee that your Easter will be far richer if you walk this “day” with intentionality and faithfulness. I have the experience of many former parishioners who agreed after they did it, that this changed their understanding and experience of Easter.
Finally, I believe that walking the Triduum helps us grow into our Christian identity in deeper ways. There are many options vying for our attention and loyalty in the world—money, career, family, friends, possessions. The Triduum helps us get to the core of who we are and what we are about so that we may attend to those other things with purpose and a “center”.
Have a blessed Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide!
The Sound of Silence
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
---Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
I went to certain seminary to sit at the feet of a certain professor. His name was Henri Nouwen and he was a professor at Yale Divinity School. I wanted to study with Henri for a variety of reasons. His book "The Wounded Healer” was transformative to me and opened up an identity in me that resulted in seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church.
When I first met him we were both at a picnic for entering students and current faculty in late August of 1980. He was just standing there talking to a group of students and I joined the group listening, in awe that here he was! The guy I imagined so many times meeting and talking to. When the group broke up I remember saying something stupid to him like “Professor Nouwen, I loved the Wounded Healer” (like no one ever said that him before!). He smiled and was kind but quickly sped off to another engagement---Henri was in great demand and was always off to another thing. But by my second year I was able to actually take a class from him—his classes were popular and filled fast. It was a class on the Desert Father and Mothers---they were hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mt. Athos and the western Rule of St. Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert. They left behind writings and sayings that remain to this day.
During this class I was introduced to silence as a form of prayer. It was hard for me. It was actually hard for Henri as well; given his frenetic persona and schedule. But I keep returning to that class and the things the Desert Fathers and Mothers said when I find parish ministry too much about doing than being. I remember Henri saying that if silent prayer was so great, then why isn’t everyone doing it? He stressed that we need to submit to the discipline of silence when it is offered, and find a way to practice it when it’s not.
Coming out of all of this was my confronting (in myself) an actual fear, anxiety and avoidance about silence particularly in conversation and in group worship. As I recently told the lay intercessors, 10 seconds of silence can seem like an eternity during the Sunday liturgy.
Silence allows God to speak to us. We sometimes spend so much time praying petitions, intercessions, and supplications that we don’t stop to let what we just said to God to hang in the space between us. My experience of the Prayers of the People in the Episcopal Church is that just about the time my mind lets go of previous petitions during the period we are asked to pray individual prayers out loud, just when my mind settles and my sick, needy, and dead friends “float to the front” of my consciousness, the intercessor moves on. Maybe I’m one of the only one like that, but a good silence when petitions, thanksgivings or intercessions are requested allows them to come to speech.
So this Lent, in the basement of the Church, on Wednesday evenings, twelve of us spoke of a greater need for prayer in and among the congregation---balancing it with our outreach, internal activities. One of the ways we hope to start this is to leave more silences of significant length for us (say, 10 seconds for starters! J).
I hope you will start to enter with trust the silences--- even if at first silence causes you some anxiety. I believe that we will all benefit from a little bit more group silence in our Sunday liturgy. For people like me, it allows for the “ants in my spiritual pants” to quiet, and to hear the voice of God speaking back to me.
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
1900 E. Pennsylvania Ave.
Allentown, PA 18109-3187
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St. Andrew's has two services on Sunday: 8 AM and 10:30 AM
Christian Formation - Christian education for all ages is held on Sundays from September through May.
Education for all begins at 9:15AM
All are welcome!
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However, if you leave a message at any time, someone will get back to you as soon as possible.
The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe,
The Rev. T. Scott Allen,
The Rev. Dr. R. Jane Williams,
The Rev. John Marcantonio,
The Rev. Abraham Valaith
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