Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18, 2018

Clothe your ministers with righteousness (redux)
Suffrage A, Morning and Evening Prayer

Last Saturday the Vestry gathered for their annual retreat. These retreats have a different look in every place: some are done in-house (so to speak), some are held off-site; some are led by a parishioner or the Rector, some bring in outside speakers; some last one day, while others are overnight affairs. Ours lasted most of Saturday and was held in one of the meeting rooms at St. Mark's.

We gathered at 9:00 and had time for some morning coffee, juice, and a snack, and then began the day with Morning Prayer. Using a format that Lou and I picked up at the anti-racism training held a few months ago, we lined up chairs in pairs facing each other and asked everyone to share what attracts them to the Episcopal church and St. John's.

Following that exercise we divided the group up into what I am now calling Juniors, Middlers, and Seniors – first-year vestry, second-year vestry, and third-year vestry. In those groups they discussed experiences and thoughts about being on the Vestry, and then we re-gathered to share what was discussed.

After those stories and thoughts were shared we looked at both the spiritual and temporal roles of the Vestry, discussed guidelines for listening, and reviewed Vestry norms (how we as a group are expected to act). A reminder about the Safeguarding courses and which ones were required to be taken wrapped up our time before breaking for lunch.

The rest of the day was spent looking at our mission and vision statements. We did some creative work together and worked out a mission statement for the parish as well as recognizing and upholding the vision statement for St. John's that a previous Vestry had put together. I will be saying more about the mission statement in the upcoming issue of Soundings, but I will point out here that a mission statement revolves around the verbs, the actions, of what we DO as a parish. And it should also be phrased in such a way that anyone but the very youngest of us can recite.

I bring all this up because Vestries are ministers of the church. What they do is vital to the well-being and functioning of this parish. I read a comment on an article recently by a priest in England. To paraphrase, he said that “the role of the Vestry is one of contagious vision.” Yes, both the Vestry and I have certain duties that we must perform (budget, personnel, reports, etc.), but we are also ministers of the church who must never forget that we need to help create and develop a “contagious vision” that keeps St. John's holy, vital, and relevant. We're working on that.

I would also remind you that you also are a minister of the church. You also are asked to help keep St. John's holy, vital, and relevant. May we all, as ministers of the church, be clothed in righteousness as we work together to make this parish a place of holy worship, a place that welcomes all, a place that serves a variety of people, and a place that encourages everyone to grow in the love and knowledge of Christ.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April 11, 2018

Clothe your ministers with righteousness
Suffrage A, Morning and Evening Prayer

This past Sunday we heard the story of the risen Christ encountering the disciples on the evening of the Day of Resurrection; “but Thomas, who is called 'the Twin,' was not with them.” In that first encounter, Jesus tells the gathered disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In the sermon I pointed out that the disciples represent us. As the Father sent Jesus, so are the disciples sent. As the disciples are sent, so are we sent. We are sent to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. We are sent to help reconcile all people to God through Christ. We are sent to preach, teach, proclaim, and heal. We are Christ's ears and mouth, his hands and feet. As the disciples have become apostles, so have we become apostles.

This apostolic aspect is reflected in that charge of being sent to carry out Christ's mission to all people. It is the corporate body of those who are sent, all of us, that make up the corporate body of the Church. And it is this body that is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Unified in Christ, consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the faith to all people, being sent to carry out Christ's mission, this is who we are. By virtue of our baptism, by virtue of living into our faith, by virtue of participating in the life of the church, we are all ministers with a variety of ministries. The ministry of the church can't be done by one person, so we are all called and we are all sent.

Which brings me back to Suffrage A.

We offer Evening Prayer every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, at 5:30. Most of the time we pray Suffrage A. When we pray that prayer, and specifically the line above, I tend to think that Episcopalians' brains default to equating “ministers” with “people who wear a collar.” I tend to think our brain defaults to the Archbishop of Canterbury, our Presiding Bishop, our Diocesan Bishop and/or Assistant Bishop, and our parish clergy.

But based on the fact that we are all part of the body of Christ, that we all make up the church, and that we are all being sent as Jesus himself was sent, we must remember that the ministers of the church are us. We are all ministers in one way or another. So when we pray that God's ministers are clothed with righteousness, we are praying for everyone in the church.

Know that every evening between 5:30 and 6, when I pray that God's ministers are clothed with righteousness, I am praying for you.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

April 4, 2018

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who made this past Holy Week such a great experience. It always seems that the second Holy Week of my tenure in a parish is one of the more memorable. The first one is usually a time of figuring things out in the new place, getting used to how the new priest does things (“Is he REALLY going to make us start at 6 a.m.?”), and just sort of seeing/learning how things will go.

But that second one . . . that second one seems to be when it all comes together for the first time. Oh, there were still a few glitches here and there, but it was a wonderful week, even if it did start out a bit chilly on Palm Sunday.

People participated in the Stations of the Cross and the other services. We shared a meal and washed feet. We once more endured the emotional turmoil of betraying and crucifying Christ. Holy Saturday was an amazingly somber and meaningful liturgy as we wept over Jesus in the grave. And both Easter Day services should have made us all happy to be Christians.

Thank you to Mark King and the choir for their dedication and beautiful music. Thank you to Joyce Chabot and the altar guild for their hard work in preparing the church for all the services. Thank you to Kristy and Chad Gross for their work with the acolytes. Thank you to Jennifer Sealing, Tracey Happel, and Betty Markle for coordinating the Maundy Thursday supper and Easter breakfast. Thank you to the Lectors and LEM's who performed their jobs admirably. Thank you to Melonie who prepared the bulletins. And thank you to everyone who participated in the various liturgies – because without you none of this could have happened.

On this Wednesday of Easter Week, and throughout the Easter season, let us not forget those mighty acts of Jesus' Passion, nor let us become indifferent to the power of his Resurrection. May we continue to celebrate with awe the Paschal feast, abide in his presence, rejoice in hope, and open our eyes to all his redeeming work in the world around us.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 28, 2018

From pride, self-sufficiency and the unwillingness to admit our own need of your compassion; Savior, deliver us. -- Litany for the Mission of the Church

Yesterday I was at the cathedral in Baltimore for the Reaffirmation of Ordination Vows. This is an annual service done in the early days of Holy Week at dioceses across the church. For the most part it is a time for clergy to gather, to say, “Yes,” once more to this calling we have answered, and to talk with each other about the positive things happening in our various congregations and ministries.

We are in the middle of Holy Week. The Triduum begins tomorrow evening with a meal, a foot washing, an arrest, and the abandonment of Jesus. That is followed by a crucifixion, a burial, and, God-willing, a resurrection.

As I was praying this litany during the service yesterday, I was thinking about everything going on in the world and everything to come in the next few days. It seems appropriate at this time that the troubles of the world and the events to come seem to mesh together so well.

In the world, we have become polarized over every issue. There seems to be no middle ground, only my way. It appears, also, that there are no discussions between sides, only attacks, counter-attacks, name-calling, and attempts to defame and marginalize those with whom you disagree. If we follow this course of action, people on Side A will only be happy when those on Side B are eventually annihilated.

Over the next few days we are called to observe and participate in a liturgy that spans three days. During that time we also become involved in a polarizing event – the world vs. God. And in a strange twist of fate, we ourselves represent the world. For a time, we cannot abide the notion of Jesus and all that he represents, so we call for his crucifixion in an attempt to annihilate and remove him from our lives.

For a time in this three-day liturgy we suffer from pride, self-sufficiency and the unwillingness to admit our own need of Jesus' compassion.

Unfortunately it is not just these few days in which we suffer that way. Pride prevents us from having meaningful conversations and searching for consensus. Self-sufficiency causes us to ignore our need for the saving presence of Christ and feeding us the lie that everything revolves around me. And both of these harden our hearts, like those who called for his crucifixion, to the understanding that we are called to show the same compassion to others that Jesus did.

As this week and this liturgy unfolds, let us be willing to confront our own pride, challenge our desire for self-sufficiency, recognize our need for compassion, and risk being compassionate to others.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

March 21, 2018

If you do not have love, you cannot build a good society.

My latest edition of The Anglican Theological Review has as its theme the issue of water justice. Every article in this edition revolves around clean water: who has it, who needs it, who controls it.

Bawili is a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the article and quote referenced above comes from her efforts to ensure everyone in her community had a toilet, and the communal response to her efforts. She is convinced that communities must be built on love, and not just some nice, frilly idea of love, but the kind of self-sacrificial love that drives you to build and install toilets for your neighbors.

This idea goes beyond the Water Justice Project and into almost every area of our lives.

Over the past four days, I read about yet another school shooting, this time in Great Mills, MD, and the story of Kentucky Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Carl Nett, tweeting that he would like to use Democratic Representative John Yarmuth for target practice. I met with a woman who is being forced to choose between buying necessary medicine and paying for groceries, rent, or electricity. I sat in on a meeting where we discussed the problems of homelessness (including homeless children) and how we might help alleviate that.

As I look around, it would seem more and more that our society is not built on love but on greed. The greed of corporations who value profits over human lives. The greed of lobbyists and special interests to protect their privileges while denying basic rights to others. The greed of those so afraid that they will lose their piece of the pie that they don't realizing there really is enough to go around. And the greed of those who demand everyone live into their standards of morality while ignoring their own immoral behavior.

At times it's overwhelmingly negative. At times I feel as if I can do little to nothing. At times I feel like the old man on the beach watching the young boy throw the starfish back into the ocean, “Why bother, it doesn't matter.”

But then I remember the young boy's response: “It matters to that one.” And I remember that big things often start small. So if we want to build a good society, we must have love. And I remember that within our greater society lies a smaller society named St. John's.

May the words of Bawili inform how we live and operate in this place.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14, 2018

This is fun . . . Really

Over the course of this past Sunday and Monday I have spent 24 hours on the job, as both were 12-hour days.

On Sunday I arrived at the church at 7, as usual, in order to get ready for services. Between the 8 and 10:15 services I spent time with the J2A group as they worked through some issues of social justice, activism, and community organizing. When finished there I went back to the sacristy and prepared for the second service. Following that there was time spent at coffee hour, an Evensong rehearsal, and a bit of sermon prep. Then I spent time with 15 other women at a paint party in the parish hall to support the J2A's New York excursion. When that was over, it was time for Evensong. The service was beautiful. If you didn't get to attend in person, I highly recommend watching it on our Facebook page. And then there was time spent at the reception (which was wonderfully catered by Bruce Massey and his crew).

I got home just after 7:00.

Monday at 7 I had breakfast with the Dijano group at Bob Evans over by the mall. Again, as usual. This is a group of people who gather once a week to talk about what needs to be worked on at the church. Their list is formed by people telling them, “Dijano there's a light out above the choir stall? Dijano the sink in the bathroom is dripping? Dijano the lock in the sacristy door is causing problems?” They are a dedicated group who love their church and I'm glad to know them.

After breakfast I head over to the office to put together a visitation list and go make, or attempt to make, house calls. I had lunch with my wife and then it was sermon work, Evening Prayer, and the Bible study class.

I got home just before 7:30.

I write all this not to make you feel guilty for any lack of church attendance, nor to boast in an attempt to show you how hard I'm working, but to reinforce that we are a very active parish and that our people care deeply about St. John's. There are a variety of opportunities for worship. There are many ways to participate in that worship. There is an active youth presence. We are (getting better at) broadcasting our services out across the world wide web. There are many unsung heroes who do many wonderful things. And there are a variety of opportunities for learning.

I don't want all my days to be twelve hours long, but when they are, I am grateful for how we reflect and present the spirit of God to those around us (he said in his best “Most Interesting Man in the World” voice). I hope that you find this place to be as fun, energizing, informative, and spirit-filled as I do. Because, really, this is fun.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March 7, 2018

Bit by bit

This past weekend I drove down to the Kanuga Camp and Conference Center just outside of Hendersonville, NC, for a church leadership conference. It was a good conference and I was able to reconnect with a person from Oregon, got to know another person from Bozeman, MT, and came away with a variety of ideas.

The keynote speaker was the Rev. Bonnie Perry, from All Saints in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. Theirs is a story of a complete turnaround and revitalization. Shortly before her arrival about 25 years ago, the bishop met with the parish for the specific purpose of closing it. But the Spirit was working that day and they decided to call a part-time priest and see what would happen. That priest was Bonnie and the turnaround has been miraculous.

A building that was literally falling down around them has been repaired and refurbished. A congregation that self-identified as “dead,” has been resurrected. A congregation that once only looked inward now raises well over fifty thousand dollars for outreach annually. They feed over 100 people a week. Their youth group holds a bake auction in which the prime cake went for $1075. They collect so many boxes of paper to donate to local schools that, for a Sunday, they construct their altar and lectern out of those collected boxes. And this is just some of what happens at All Saints.

In some respects this is all overwhelming and it may cause someone to think, “We can't do all that.”

But here's the thing – they didn't wake up one day with a refurbished building, a budget of $50,000 for outreach, and hundreds of pounds of paper for the local school. What they suddenly realized was that they could do something, and that something was focused on what their surrounding community needed. In other words, their resurrection story is based not on focusing on themselves, but on focusing on those around them. Resurrection, it seems, isn't about us; it's about others.

In her keynote address, Bonnie made a statement that was meant to both comfort and challenge the rest of us in the room, and that was this:

We didn't wake up one day feeding hundreds, donating paper, organizing a fun run, and auctioning cakes that sell for $1000. But this is where we are now. And we got here bit by bit.

We have it in us to do great things. We have it within us for St. John's to do great things. But whatever we do, however great we will become, it will be accomplished bit by bit. We just need to be willing to take an initial risk, an initial step, be not afraid of either failure or financial restraints.

What little bit can you do or give that will show St. John's to be a place of resurrection?