Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November 15, 2017

At least five women have come forward to state that they were victims of sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, Republican Senate candidate and Alabama Chief Justice, while they were teenagers and he was an adult. He was also, according to reports, well-known for trying to pick up teenage girls at an Alabama mall, from which he was apparently banned.

Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.” – Jim Zeigler, Alabama state auditor, in defense of Roy Moore.

This is the current abuse scandal making its way through the news cycle. A few weeks ago it was Harvey Weinstein. President Trump has openly bragged about how he has treated women in the past. President Bill Clinton was brought up on charges of sexual misconduct. President Kennedy was a womanizer. Comedian CK Louis was recently accused of sexual misconduct, as was Kevin Spacey. The list, unfortunately, goes on and on and on and on and on.

That list knows no party affiliations or boundaries. It infiltrates faith communities, crossing denominational and religious lines. It includes rich and poor alike. It doesn't discriminate by sexual orientation. And, although much lower in numbers, it also crosses gender lines where men are the victims of abuse at the hands of women.

Abuse, sexual or otherwise, is based on power – who has it and who doesn't. And the only way we can begin to curb this problem is to make victims feel safe, to make reporting it normative, to publicly call out and prosecute abusers, to stop using religion and faith as behavioral excuses, and to stop making victims feel responsible for the actions of the abuser.

Our faith tells us we are not to abuse widows or orphans. Our faith calls us to care for and protect the most vulnerable of our society. Our baptismal creed mandates – MANDATES – that we love our neighbors as ourselves and that we respect the dignity of every human being.

Abuse is neither a sign of love or of respect. Preying on vulnerable people in order to satisfy personal urges, or simply because we can, is wrong, illegal, and antichrist.

How much better would we be if our “deeply held religious beliefs” caused us to work for the safety and care of those in vulnerable positions rather than driving us to fight for the right to discriminate and abuse all while hanging the 10 Commandments on a courtroom wall?


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

November 8, 2017

In the words of Kool and the Gang . . . “Celebrate good times!”

This past Sunday was All Saints' Sunday, the day we transferred the celebration of All Saints' Day to the Sunday following (the only major feast on a fixed day that can be moved like that). And we celebrated.

We celebrated the lives of the saints who have gone before us and with whom we are knit together in the communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.

We celebrated the lives of loved ones who died this past year as we remembered them by name in the opening procession.

We celebrated and renewed our baptismal vows.

We celebrated one year together as parish and priest.

And we closed out the day with the celebration of our annual Choral Evensong service.

It was a good day. It has been a good year. None of it has been perfect, but it has been good. And good is good; after all, God ended creation on a good note.

On this Wednesday, I simply want to say thank you to everyone who helped make all of those celebrations possible. Thank you to everyone who participated. Thank you to everyone who wished me a happy anniversary. Thank you to everyone who has offered prayers, support, and kindness over this past year. You have been a blessing in more ways than you can possibly know.

As I said in the sermon, I am proud to be a part of this congregation. I am grateful to be your priest. I am thankful for all you do as ministers of the church and saints of God.

It has been a good year, and I look forward to celebrating many more with you.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Sermon; All Saints' Sunday 2017; Year A

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my first Sunday at St. John's, of my first experience of this congregation at worship, and of your first experience of me as the incoming Rector of this parish. I say it this way intentionally because the role of rector is position-based, while the role of priest is relational-based. One year ago I did not arrive as your new priest, I arrived as your new rector. And I say it that way because any fool with a degree can be a rector, but it takes a special kind of fool to be a priest.

A rector is defined within the Constitution and Canons as a person elected to have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop.

The Rector shall also at all times be entitled to the use and control of the Church and Parish buildings, together with all appurtenances (that means, “accessory;” I had to look it up) and furniture, and have access to all records and registers maintained by or on behalf of the congregation for the purposes of all functions and duties pertaining thereto.

In other words, it is a necessary position in this church so that we can function as a church. You don't necessarily need ME as much as you need the position.

A priest, though, is something different. A priest is one who is called to not only proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but is one who will love and serve the people among whom the priest works, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. A priest is to preach, to declare God's forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God's blessing, to share in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, and to perform other ministrations entrusted to him or her.

During the course of 2015 and 2016 the parish and Search Team did their due diligence and decided that a guy from Oregon should be the 28th Rector of St. John's Parish. And I'm sure they hoped that I would become your next priest. Of course, they may not have known there was a difference; but maybe they did. That search ended with an offered and accepted call, a cross country move, arriving in the office on November 1, and our first worship experience together on All Saints' Sunday.

Over this past year I have officiated at several funerals, baptized three children, led one confirmation class, and officiated at one wedding. I have tweaked the Sunday liturgy and I have added daily Evening Prayer. Which reminds me, tonight is the annual solemn Evensong service at 5 and you are all welcome to come back and worship again in that ancient service. I have made uncounted hospital visits, dropped in at homes both announced and unannounced, called people on birthdays and anniversaries, Rambled 13 or 14 times, and generated 52-ish Wednesday Words. Some of this I got right, some of it I've gotten wrong, but I've always tried to give it my best shot.

There are other things that have happened over this past year that we have shared and which we may or may not remember, but the point to all of this is that being your priest is much more than being the Rector of St. John's. As I said, it takes a special kind of fool to be a priest; and Mrs. Ref, The Kid, and I were probably more than a little foolish when we agreed to live on the other side of the country. But it has been good, there have been no regrets, and I will be happy to continue to be considered your fool.

I've touched on a few things about this past year, but it's important for you to know that the three of us have enjoyed getting to know the area, the people of this parish, and people in other walks of life. The Kid found a job, has met some people, and made a few friends along the way. Mrs. Ref also found a job and is making friends in and around church. I, as you know, got hooked up with the local officiating group and have spent the fall working games with a good bunch of guys. And, most importantly, I'm getting to know you all better every day.

One way this “getting to know you” manifests itself is at the Communion rail. I realize that I can now call most of you by name without seeing your name tag (that doesn't mean you can stop wearing them). But I'm also learning more about you in deeper ways. As I move down the rail I know who has been sick and or hospitalized, who is having family difficulties, who has been hit with tragedy, who is experiencing good times, who has just received a blessing, who is happy, and who is sad. I carry all of these joys, sadnesses, trials, tribulations, celebrations, and sometimes more, with me every day. And on Sunday morning I see all of this played out at the Communion rail.

It can be a burden, yes, but it is also an honor and blessing to be let into your lives in such a way. This is the role of a priest. If you want a visible symbol of that role and of the office of priest, look at the stole. The stole is used to wrap the hands of newlyweds at the marriage blessing. The stole is used to cover the sins of the penitent. The stole is worn like a yoke. So when Jesus said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” the stole is the visible symbol of what he meant.

But it is not only personal, family, or spiritual issues that identify you to me; it is also what you offer to the life of St. John's. When I move down the Communion rail I also see fellow ministers who feed the hungry, visit the sick, show hospitality, sing out joyfully, help to maintain this beautiful house of worship, and so much more. We are, all of us, the ministers of St. John's Parish and the face of God in this place.

We are all in this together, you and I. We all stand with, support, and encourage one another. We are not only the face of God in this place, but we are also the physical representation of all the saints of the faith, of those who came before and of those who will come after. As the Collect says, “We have been knit together in one fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.”

And today this brings up a question: Who are the saints of God? Well, you could look at our opening hymn – one was a doctor, one was a queen, one was a soldier, and one was slain by a fierce wild priest. You could also run down a list of them: Ambrose, Benedict, Cecilia, Francis, Hilda, Julian, Laurence, Perpetua, Polycarp, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and more. Great people of the faith who dedicated and sometimes lost their lives for the sake of Christ.

A friend of mine who is also a priest and a USAF chaplain had a quote up on his Facebook page in honor of All Saints' Day. It's a quote by Br. Robert L'Esperance, SSJE, and it gives one of the best definitions of a saint that I've seen:

Saints were men and women who understood the challenges of living the
gospel in the context of their own places and times. They are remembered
because they lived it with imagination and devotion. They used what they
had been given to live their lives into the freedom of the kingdom.

Men and women who understood the challenges of living the gospel in the context of their own places and times. I would like to think that is us.

We have particular challenges facing us today in the living out of the gospel that weren't there 25, 50, 100, or even 10 years ago. Our challenges today will not be the challenges of our children. What are some of those challenges facing us today?

In the midst of the pledge drive, Fred would want me to mention finances. But that is always the case. What other challenges do we face?

Some challenges include: How do we effectively communicate with people who live within our sphere of influence? Do we know what God wants us to do? How are we spending our time? Do we have an adequate level of outreach? Do our neighbors know we are here? Do we offer deep, meaningful worship? Do we offer worship other than Sunday morning? What is not our Average Sunday Attendance, but what is our Average Weekly Impact?

These are some of the challenges facing us today. Are we up to the task? Are we ready to live as a saint of God in today's world? To co-opt and paraphrase a lyric from Sir Paul, “I look around me and I hope that it's really so.”

Over the past year we have come to know each other a little more deeply. Over the past year I hope I have come to be seen not just as the 28th Rector of St. John's Parish but as your priest. Over the past year I have hoped and prayed that this trend will continue for many more years.

This is a holy and good place that I'm proud to be a part of. This is a holy and good place that my family is happy to call home. This is a place that is learning to live life as a saint of God.

And really, that's what the celebration of All Saints' is all about: Remembering that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and remembering that we have been knit together in one fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.

Today we celebrate All Saints' Day. We remember those who came before and those who are among us now. We are all saints of God. Let us face our challenges together, let us live with imagination and devotion, let us live our lives into the freedom of the kingdom, and let us never forget that we all bear the image of Christ on our souls and that we are God's representatives and messengers here and now.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November 1, 2016

Our pledge presentations continue this week as we hear from Steve A. about his experience with St. John's and why he pledges.
Good Morning, Family.
Our journey with the Episcopal Church started 5 years ago in a rural town in Southeastern Indiana.  We were invited by a friend to attend a presentation hosted by PFlag on the LGBT community and religion.  I shared my story of being told by a church when I was 13 years old to wear a rubber band around my wrist and that every time I thought about someone of the same gender I should pull the rubber band away from my wrist as far as I could and let it snap back to help break me of this habit.  I told other stories of rejection I experienced in the church growing up as well and that I had not attended a church for over 25 years due to this rejection. 
The lady sitting in front of us was the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Madison, IN, and she turned around with tears in her eyes, handed us a business card and said, “You are welcome at our church."  This was said with such love and acceptance and genuineness that we went to church there that Sunday.  We were confirmed a year later with a group of people that included a lesbian couple and a transgendered woman who cried when the Bishop laid hands on her head.  This was rural Southeast Indiana.  The healing we experienced by being welcomed into a faith community was transformative beyond words. Being in a church as myself was something I had never experienced before and missed it more than I knew. 
When we left Madison and moved to Hagerstown, we were sure we could never have that experience again.  Kyle coined a term for this fear called, “Parish relocation anxiety” and we talked on the phone with our rector as she encouraged us to try the local Episcopal church.  Three years ago we walked though those doors and, almost as soon as our back sides hit the pew, Sara Ann and Will  appeared out of nowhere and the welcomed us with love.  They took us all over town to show us the best restaurants, Krumpe’s Donuts, and made sure we knew where to go to get what we needed.  They welcomed us to this church and to the community.  In an instant, the love we felt in Indiana was multiplied ten-fold.  What a God we have!  This was truly a place of love and kindness.  The liturgy here continues to bring me to tears at times.  The choirs and this magnificent organ are beyond beautiful and choke me up every Sunday.  We love this place.  As I look out today, I see some of the best friends we ever had.  I can’t tell you what that means to us. 
But that welcome, love, healing, and grace shown to us these past five years was just the beginning for me.  I found quickly that what I received, beyond measure, only multiplies exponentially as it is given away.  So, quickly, my work as a psychologist had new meaning and almost limitless joy.  Working on the search committee and watching God bring Father Todd, Joelene, and Cece to be part of this grand cause was a breath-taking and joyous experience for me.  Giving time, treasure, and talent with you, together, as a family, through love, has been the most beautiful experience of my life.
Someone reached out and connected with me, with love, and that love and grace changes lives.

While we all are different and arrived here today from different places and experiences and backgrounds, we move forward together as a family by reaching out to others and working together to share this most beautiful of gifts with all.
Thank you, Steve, for your words this past Sunday to all who were present, and thank you for allowing us to publish them to a wider audience. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October 25, 2017

As you are probably very aware, we are in the midst of our annual pledge drive here at St. John's. By now you have received my letter, along with the letter from the Stewardship Commission that included a pledge card, a proportional giving chart, and a return envelope. The goal is to have as many pledge cards as possible returned by November 12, when we we close out the pledge drive with a Celebration Sunday and coffee hour hosted by the Vestry.

In my letter I encouraged you to be bold in Christ. Whether that was by adding St. John's to your personal budget, giving on a regular basis, or becoming a pledger or tither. Another aspect of being bold in Christ is being taken on by several people whom I have asked to present a short talk about their life at St. John's. This past Sunday, Tammy Martinez boldly stepped into the lectern and told us (briefly) about her life in the church.

Today's Wednesday Word is presented by Tammy M:

Praise the Lord, church?!!
Church responds: Praise the Lord!
(**Note: This took a couple of times, but we got it – Fr. Todd)

My name is Tamara. My husband Allan and I have been members for almost four years. My Christian background is uncommon yet interesting, and I don’t believe I’m just here by mere coincidence; so I’d like to share my story on stewardship and why it’s important for me. To illuminate on stewardship's importance I have to tell you a little about myself… I’m from Frederick. I grew up in a Pentecostal church. Yes, we believe in speaking in tongues and the HOLY GHOST. Not the just the Holy Spirit, but THE. HOLY. GHOST. My foundation was rooted in going to church and I loved it. We had the best choir and band, we could sing and we praised the Lord! It was at my little church named “Open Door Christian Community Church of God” where I truly fell in love with God. The Spirit was alive and contagious and it resonated in my soul.

My mother is a holy woman who loves the LORD and she made sure her children did too. We were the kids who were always at church: we were in the choir, we were always at the 1st and 2nd service, we were there when other churches visited, and we even stayed to clean up. So tithing, or in Episcopal terms “pledging,” was as common to me as singing in the choir. My mother always paid her tithes no matter what she had or what she didn’t have. I remember when I was a child I asked her why she did it, and she said that when she pledges her rewards are multiplied, and that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). At first, I didn’t understand. I thought that it meant we would receive money back from God; but as I became older I realized it meant in all ways my rewards would be multiplied …peace, happiness, job security, wisdom, grace … And so I support all our stewardship endeavors because all my help, my happiness, my blessings, this amazing church family of St. John's are not a mere coincidence, and my foundation is the church. Amen.

Thank you, Tammy. And may you and your family continue to both bless and be blessed by the people of St. John's.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18, 2017

For the past two days, late Sunday afternoon through early Tuesday afternoon, I was away at the annual diocesan clergy conference which was held at the Claggett Retreat Center just outside of Buckeystown. This was my first in the Diocese of Maryland, as last year at this time, according to Facebook, I was hanging out with a group of friends in Ann Arbor, MI, four days out from our arrival in Hagerstown. It was a couple of days of fun, fellowship, learning, and relaxation.

Our keynote speaker was Bp. Andy Doyle of the Diocese of Texas and his topic, which was unnamed but if I had to title it, was, “Do we know what we are doing?”

Some questions he asked: Do I know what God wants me to do? How am I spending my time? What are our goals? What things do we cut out of church that don't fit our understanding or desires?

Some statements he made: Ferris Bueller's Day Off is really a gospel story about a guy who hangs out with the wrong people and challenges the status quo. A focus on ASA (average Sunday attendance) drives who we focus on as a parish/rector. Are we remembering to focus on people outside of our building – namely the neighborhood around the parish? Jesus' parables weren't meant to be nice morality stories, they were meant to shatter commonplace ideas. We need to constantly look for new ways to communicate with and engage people outside of our walls (Facebook, live streams, twitter). Technology isn't a tool for those under 30, it's an appendage; so stop griping about it.

I'm hoping to use some, or maybe all, of these snippets as a starting point for discussions with the Vestry and various Commissions. What are some new and creative ways we can be the Church? How else might we engage our neighborhood? Do we have a driving mission?

But it wasn't all work.

I got a chance to take a 2-1/2 hour nap on Monday, and then took a walk down to the family graveyard where at least one confirmed but unknown slave was buried. I was able to connect with some people who are becoming friends. I played a card game called Exploding Kittens. I shot some pool, winning three out of four games. And I watched as several of my colleagues sang karaoke and danced, of which both Bp. Eugene and Bp.Chilton, participated. There are photos, and at least one person has video.

And we worshiped. Compline on Sunday, Morning and Night Prayer on Monday, and Eucharist on Sunday were all times to gather and worship. It was good to be part of a community that worshiped on a regular basis, and it reminded me of why I offer Evening Prayer and Wednesday Eucharist during the week – because while Sunday Eucharist is good, it's also good to have regular daily worship.

So, what did I take away from all of this? 1) We need to do the hard work of continually questioning, challenging, and reaching out if we are to bring God's presence into the lives of those around us; 2) We need to remember that this IS hard work and it's vital to get some rest; 3) We need to remember those who have gone before; 4) We need to find ways to stay connected; 5) We need to remember to have fun; and, 6) We need to worship often.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October 11, 2017

But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. – Luke 5:16

Depending on how you count, there are at least seven instances where the gospels record Jesus as going away either alone or with the disciples to pray. It is generally accepted that the earthly ministry of Jesus lasted three years; so we can extrapolate that these times of prayer, either in solitude or with his companions, happened roughly twice a year.

I bring this up because life can be hectic. We get involved in work, or school, or our children's activities, or this or that, and, before you know it, it seems like we have no time for ourselves. I remember as a young child seeing visions of life in the 2000's with images of relaxation, ease, and leisure. Technology and the upward swing of society in general was supposed to make life easier and more fun. That hasn't turned out to be the case; and some might argue that we are more busy than we have ever been. Gone are the days of riding bikes or spending time in the park as long as we were home by dinner. Now it seems that every moment of every day is scheduled with some kind of activity.

I'm not necessarily calling for a return to simpler times, although that would be nice, but I am calling for us to pay attention to our lives – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Like Jesus, we can get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our lives; but unlike Jesus, we probably have a tendency to forget to spend time in intentional prayer.

I hope we all pray something at some point every day. Whether that is a rule of morning prayer, prayers over our meals, prayers for safe travel to and from work, or prayers at bedtime, we probably all pray something some time. But is it intentional? Do we make time to “withdraw to deserted places and pray?”

I'm guessing not.

With that in mind, I invite you to come away to a quiet place this Saturday, October 14, for the DOK-sponsored Quiet Day. Like Jesus, these happen roughly twice a year. Like Jesus, it is a time of reflection and quiet prayer as we spend some intentional time with God.

I know life is hectic. I know our schedules are busy. I know it's hard to carve out some time away from all of that to just sit and “be,” but it's also necessary. As Christians we claim to follow and try to emulate the life of Christ. Yes, this is all of the stuff about loving God, loving neighbor, bearing good fruit, and so much else; but it is also about following his example of carving out time away from the rush and crush of our everyday lives to spend time with God.

I invite you therefore, to follow the example of Jesus and withdraw to St. John's this Saturday for some intentional time with God.