Getting ready to throw a feast fit for James

It’s July, so that means our thoughts are inevitably turning to the Feast of Saint James, which technically is July 25, but which we’ll be observing on Sunday, July 28. 

 A small corps of parishioners has been diligently working for weeks now to make our patronal feast memorable. Initially, John McCormac was chair of the event, and he had the good sense to name Carol Cozart as his co-chair. Thus, when illness felled John last month – and continues to keep him laid up for awhile longer – Carol stepped in to take on much of the planning. And Carol had the good sense to name Cathy Loomis as herco-chair. Fortunately for us, we have a deep leadership bench around here these days, for which I am grateful. 

 This year, we’re tweaking our Saint James Day worship just a bit. As in the past, we’re moving our worship service start time back one hour, to 10 a.m. But unlike the last couple of years, when we worshipped outside, this year we’ll keep the service itself inside. That saves us the effort of moving all those chairs and an altar outside, AND the traffic noise from 44thAvenue won’t drown out our worship. We’ll still be outside for our cookout, but worship itself will remain in our sanctuary.

 Our music this year will be a little more gospel-y and a little less bluegrass-y than in the past. We haven’t yet determined just which gospel group will be providing the music for our service, but we’ll be singing traditional spirituals, such as “Swing low, sweet chariot,” “Down by the riverside,” “Standin’ in the need of prayer,” “Peace like a river,” and songs of that ilk. It will be memorable and lively. 

 After worship ends, we’ll move outside for a cookout and potluck, and more singing and festivities. I CAN tell you the group that will perform outside: It’s Dragon Mouth Stew, a group of four friends – including our own Chris and Cheryl Netter – who love to make music together. They play old time fiddle tunes, old time gospel, “and whatever else we happen to like,” Chris says. The group features Cheryl on accordion, Chris on hammered dulcimer, Ellen Baranowski on mountain dulcimer and Bob Elieson on ukulele, bass ukulele  and banjo. Once again, this is a Sunday not to be missed. 

 I bet that just about now you’re thinking, “Wow! That sounds great! I wonder what I can do to help?” So glad you asked! Here’s our wish list:

 1.     Show up at church on Saturday, July 27, about 10 a.m. and help us get ready. Rather than carrying all our chairs out of the parish hall, as we have in the past, this year we’re renting 40 plastic chairs, which will be much easier to carry. We’ll set up a staging area in the east side of the sanctuary, where we’ll place tables, chairs, tents, etc., so we can quickly and easily haul them out that east door on Sunday morning. 

2.     On Sunday, bring plenty of food to share. The church is providing the meat for the grill, plus buns and condiments, but we’re looking to parishioners to provide side dishes, salads and desserts. Last year, we had so many visitors, we very nearly ran out of food. That’s a good problem to have, but just to be on the safe side, let’s all bring lots to share. If you have any questions, see Shirley Mosher, who again is coordinating the meal. 

3.     If you have folding chairs, please bring them. Or if you would like to picnic on the ground, bring along blankets or quilts. We’ll have our picnic tables set up, and they can seat 30, plus we’ll have those 40 rented chairs, but we’re trying to avoid hauling any more tables and chairs out of the parish hall than we absolutely have to. (Because they’re heavy and we’re old!)

4.     Invite your friends! We’ll be sending out email invitations to folks on our mailing list, and putting up announcements on Facebook and other social media. But the most effective invitation is one friend inviting another. It’s going to be a fabulous day in the life of Saint James, so let’s not be shy about sharing it!

 

 

 

Volunteers keep parish office humming this summer

We may be without a paid parish administrator for the summer, but an amazing group of volunteers is keeping things humming along in our church office. I am humbled and gratified by their hard work. 

 Kathy Lehmanhas the Monday morning shift, and Pearl Reuterhas the Wednesday afternoon shift. Between them they’ve taken on the project of updating our Parish Directory. They’ve been calling, emailing and cornering people at church, seeking to make sure we have all the appropriate contact information, correct spelling of names, and photos. And they’ve just about completed this labor-intensive task. You’ll be hearing more about the new directory – which will be available online, as an app for your smart phone, or in old-fashioned printed versions – within the next couple of weeks. I think you will be amazed, as I am, at how nice it looks and how easy it will be to use and to keep updated. 

 Lynnell Harkinshas the Monday afternoon shift. Lynnell has made it her mission to create hard copy files for every member at Saint James. This is in addition to our digital data base. Into these hard copy folders we’ll put emergency contact info, funeral plans, Legacy Society gifts, certificates showing completion of Safeguarding training, Eucharistic Visitor Training, etc. This is a project I’ve been trying to get done ever since I arrived, and only now am I seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to Lynnell’s hard work. 

 Rose Applegateis our all-day Tuesday volunteer. She has taken on the thankless and challenging job of creating our weekly worship bulletins. We have software that helps with this, but there’s quite a learning curve and this is no small task. And when a mistake is made, it’s right out there for everyone to see on Sunday. This job is, of course, on top of everything elseRose does for our parish, including directing the Altar Guild, directing our corps of Eucharistic Visitors, serving on the vestry and heading up our pastoral care team. And being an acolyte and a lector. Rose says she has this medical condition that somehow causes her hand to go up every time we ask for volunteers! 

 Diane Sunstrumis our Wednesday morning person. Her task – provided Rose has finished creating the bulletins on Tuesday – is to fold them and get them ready for distribution on Sunday. FYI, our bulletins – indeed, everything we printed – had been looking awfully splotchy lately, with what looked like smears on virtually every other page. I’m pleased to report we’ve finally gotten that fixed, and everything should look much more pristine going forward. 

 Susan Clemons– who’s here just about every day for one reason or another – has taken on the project of reorganizing our storage room. It looks fantastic! Susan and Ginny McColm took on my office while I was away back in May, and I can attest to their superior organizational skills. Susan’s other regular job, by the way, is making sure the toilet paper dispensers are always full. It’s those little things that bespeak hospitality, you know. 

 Karen McCallhas taken over the task of bringing in the mail, sorting through it and taking care of any bills that she finds.  Rita Lordpulled a Thursday morning shift, answering the phone and helping out with the directory. Karen Gillespieand Denise Gonzaleshave also offered to help out. I’m just figuring out what devilishly challenging tasks I can come up with for them as well. 

 In addition to all this, Rose and Pearl have begun cleaning and rearranging the office to make it more efficient. And the last time I saw Pearl, she was taking a whack at our filing system, getting it better organized. 

 In short, all I can say is that I feel sorry for our next parish administrator. That person’s gonna have a hard act to follow, because our summer office volunteers are so awesome. Thanks be to God. 

Chillin' in Ordinary Time

With Hot Sauce Sunday – also known as Pentecost – behind us, we now move into that long church season known as Ordinary Time. It’s the season of the church year that stretches from now to Advent.

 This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the one holy day on the church calendar that celebrates not a person nor an event in the life of our Lord, but a doctrine of the church. It took theologians some 300 years to work out the Doctrine of the Trinity as stated in the Nicene Creed. And, to be honest, it’s still a source of great puzzlement to many. 

 In any case, we get to see our white vestments and paraments one last time this Sunday, and then we’ll put them away until All Saints Day in November, and we’ll move to our green paraphernalia.

 Usually, with the coming of Ordinary Time, we’d make a few seasonal changes to our liturgy. We’d move to a different Eucharistic Prayer (We’ve been using Prayer A from the Book of Common Prayerthroughout Eastertide); and we would choose some different musical settings of the Mass, meaning we’d sing a different form of the Gloria, the Sanctus, and the Fraction. 

 But this year, for the time being, we’re NOT going to make those changes. We’re going to continue using the same liturgy we’ve been using, at least until we get a new permanent choir director in place. Hopefully, that will happen within the next few weeks. Once that person has been hired, the choir director will have some input into what our liturgy will look like for the rest of the summer and beyond. But there’s no point in changing it now, only to change it again in a few weeks. 

 In the meantime, we WILL move to a more casual approach to worship for the summer. We won’t ask our choir and acolytes to wear those heavy cassocks – at least not until we achieve our goal of getting the church air conditioned! And I will avoid putting on that heavy chasuble, which easily raises my ambient temperature a good 10 degrees or more. I invite you all to also dress cool and comfortably for the summer. Nice shorts are fine.

 The choir won’t attempt to schedule mid-week practices this summer. But anyone who would like to sing in our “pickup” choir on Sunday is invited to arrive at 8 a.m. for a quick run-through of the songs to be sung that day. The music will be simpler, not requiring as much practice. If you’ve ever considered joining the choir, this is the perfect chance to try it out without making a major commitment. Just show up a little early on Sunday, and if you enjoy it, we hope you’ll decide to take the next step and officially join the choir come fall. 

 Our Christian formation program will take a break for summer, so there will be no more regularly scheduled Adult Forums until fall. We may, however, plan one or more Parish Round Tables in coming weeks as we continue the process of discerning our vision for St. James and its leadership. The Children’s Sunday School class will continue to meet as there is demand for it.

 So let’s all chill out and enjoy this laid-back season of summer Ordinary Time. May it be to each of us a time of rest, refreshment and renewal.

 

 

When that which is old is made new...

Have you gotten a load of our narthex lately? Maybe I’m biased, but I think it’s spectacular. That red wall that you see when you first walk in serves as a beautiful backdrop to some of our collective treasures. Many, many thanks to Ginny and Matt McColm, Susan Clemons and all those who had a hand in the painting.

 

One of the treasures we now proudly display on that wall is the large wood and ceramic crucifix we obtained from Saint Martha’s, when that parish closed. Matt McColm just last week succeeded in hanging it right at the point where the two diagonal walls meet, literally making it the centerpiece of the narthex. 

 

I’m happy to report that our persistence in researching the history of that crucifix has at last paid off. We have now determined that the piece, which for years hung in the kitchen in St. Martha’s parish hall, was the original altar crucifix, dating to the days when the church was located at 3900 Shaw Boulevard in Wesminster. It was donated as a gift by St. Martha’s first vicar, the Rev. David M. Warner, in 1955. The Rev. Warner died on Jan. 1, 2017 at his home in Virginia.

 

And here’s a bit of history on one other item we received from St. Martha’s: a set of sanctus bells. Those bells originally belonged to All Saints Episcopal Church, back when All Saints was located at 32ndand Wyandot in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. In the 1960s, All Saints moved a couple of miles west to a new building at 33rdand Yates, and the old building became Chapel of Our Merciful Savior, and clergy from All Saints served both churches.

 

In 2005, All Saints closed. It’s Senior Warden at the time was our own Nancy Herrera, and she oversaw the disposal of All Saints property.

 

“The bishop didn’t want me to sell anything, but wanted me to give away whatever I could,” Nancy recalled. “Father Steve (Wengrovius, then-rector at St. Martha’s) admired those bells and said St. Martha’s didn’t have any. I offered them to him, and he said he would treasure them.”

 

Fortunately, St. Martha’s parishioner Judith Helton – who frequently worships at St. James as part of our Wednesday congregation – knew the story of where the sanctus bells came from. So when St. Martha’s decided to close last month, Judith made sure those bells were set aside to come to Saint James, where Nancy could again enjoy them. 

 

“I love it,” Nancy says. “They’ve really made the rounds. It gives me goose bumps to hear them again. They sound different than our other sanctus bells. You can tell in the clarity of the sound.”  

 

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite prayers, which we pray each year on Good Friday and also at every ordination: “O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on  your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one god, for ever and ever. Amen. 

A place of safety for all

I confess I was sort of taken aback during our “Visioning” session this past Sunday when, given the opportunity to explore in some greater depth three questions about our future as a parish, we opted to make one of those questions be about safety and security. I didn’t see thatcoming.

 

I know, the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings are still fresh on people’s minds, and the painful memories of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, and of course Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. are all recent examples of just how vulnerable places of worship can be.

 

Still, I was greatly relieved that when we opted to talk about security, we did so in the context of “How can we be moreopen and welcoming to strangers and to the homeless while alsoproviding a place of safety and security for all?” I would hate to think that we would let our fears – understandable though they are – dictate a lessening to our commitment to outreach, welcome and hospitality to all. 

 

It’s true, we did have a theft recently, and that has led to some tightening of security here. As far as I know, the only things taken were a $10 bill from the church office and my green stole from the sacristy. A stole is quite an odd thing to steal, and I especially lament the loss of that particular one because it was handmade, a gift to me from my former parish, St. Andrew’s, Denver. 

 

But stoles can be replaced, so I’m not going to spend too much time dwelling on that one. The incident led us to begin locking the sacristy, and doubling down on locking church offices when they are unoccupied. These are prudent steps. They need not be interpreted as fearful or reactionary. They’re just smart. 

 

Let’s be on our guard, however, that we not wrongly ascribe devious motives to those who show up at St. James looking bedraggled or anxious. These are the very people our Lord mostly hung out with, and commands us to do the same. Let us remember that we are the very place the bedraggled and anxious of the world oughtto come.

 

On that note, let me share with you a letter I got last week from Ted Roggenkamp, who visited our church on Thanksgiving and took part in our feast. Ted is on the vestry at St. Paul’s, Lakewood, is a member of the board of directors at the 32ndAvenue Jubilee and a regular volunteer at St. Clare’s Ministries, though he didn’t mention any of that while he was here. He was, by his own admission, “traveling incognito” that day. 

 

“I’m writing to thank you for your genuine and kind greeting and conversation during the Thanksgiving feast on 11/22,” Ted writes. “I brought two men to the event and they were made to feel welcome …You were a shining example of ‘friendship to strangers in a foreign land.’ I could tell my new friends, James and Puma, appreciated it as I did…. It makes me proud to be an Episcopalian when I see others serving ‘the least of these’ with such heartfelt kindness as you displayed.” 

 

There. That’s the kind of safety and security we need to be striving for. I was proud of us that day, and continue to be proud today. We could spend tons of time and effort guarding our doors and protecting our stuff, or we can throw open our doors and freely give ourselves away. 

 

When beloved doors close

Our community is getting close to a heartbreaking anniversary: It was almost 10 years ago, on Feb. 27, 2009, that the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. And not a day has gone by since then that I haven’t missed that venerable Colorado institution.

 

I spent 24 years there as a reporter and editor. Losing the Rockywas like losing an old friend who had seen me through good days and bad. It was the steadiness of my Rockypaycheck that allowed me to buy my house, to take vacations, to enjoy a secure lifestyle, and, when the time came, to fund a seminary education. 

 

Hard as it was for me to see the Rocky die, I know it was much harder for others. I already had a change of vocation in mind. But I know lots of folks who would happily have stayed at the Rockyuntil they retired – or until they died. The closure of the Rocky sent people who’d known each other for decades scattering in many directions, and while most eventually landed on their feet, this was something no one wanted. 

 

I am certainly grateful for the kindness people showed to me in the months and years following the Rocky’s closure, the words of solace and encouragement, the help finding new outlets for my work. 

 

This month, our Colorado Episcopal community lost another venerable institution: St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in Westminster. Nov. 4 was that congregation’s last Sunday.

 

They were a congregation much like us: Founded around the same time, about the same size as us, with demographics very similar to ours. What did them in was a huge plumbing expense they simply didn’t have the resources to cover. The same thing could easily have happened to St. James when our boiler failed a few years ago, were it not for Sue Lewis, whose legacy gift to us provided us with the cushion we needed to survive that monstrous expense.

 

In the weeks to come, we may see some St. Marthans visiting us here at St. James, as they scatter and seek to find new church homes. When they come, let’s make them feel especially welcomed and cared for. They have been through a traumatic experience, and let us hold them in prayer, encourage them, be gentle and compassionate to them, and above all be welcoming and gracious to them. 

 

Some tangible reminders of St. Martha’s are already here with us. We purchased their refrigerator, and it’s now in our kitchen. We also received a portable stereo from one of their classrooms, their sanctus bells and, perhaps most significantly, a stunning wood and porcelain crucifix, which will be installed on the red wall in our newly painted narthex. 

 

I hope that seeing their things being put to loving use – particularly the crucifix – will be a comfort to the people of St. Martha’s. I hope some of them will choose to make St. James their new home. But whether they come here, or to some other Episcopal parish, or some other church altogether, please do keep them in your prayers. And keep the church in your prayers. Like newspapers, there are many churches that will be forced into closure in coming years. May God be with us all as we seek to become the church we are called to be. 

 

 

The sermon you WOULD have heard if we hadn't been back in 1968 on Sunday

I think there’s a reason that church stewardship campaigns generally begin in October. It’s because our lectionary readings this time of year are so amenable to talking about money.

 

That’s particularly true for the gospel lesson appointed for the 21stSunday after Pentecost in Year B – which is the lesson we would have heard this past Sunday had we not been celebrating 1968 Throwback Sunday. The gospel lesson we heard on Sunday (Matthew 22:1-xx)  wasn’t at all about money, it was about an underdressed wedding guest and the terrible fate that befell him. And troubling as that particular lesson is to nearly everyone, I don’t think it bothers us nearly as much as the lesson we didn’t hear, Mark 10: 17-31.

 

It’s sometimes called the story of the rich, young ruler, and it’s found in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. That’s the one where the man comes running up to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has, he says, kept all the commandments since his youth. Jesus says he just needs to do one more thing: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man went away grieving, because he had many possessions, and it’s clear he didn’t much want to part with them.

 

All of which leads Jesus to conclude, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and he enigmatically compares it to a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

 

I confess, it didn’t break my heart not to be asked to preach on this particular passage. I don’t enjoy this story any more than anyone else does. I don’t like being reminded of how far I fall short of the gospel mandate, and how much I have in common with the rich, young ruler, even if I’m not rich, or young, or ruler of anything.

 

Still, it’s good for us, as individuals and as a community, to be reminded of this from time to time, particularly as we are asked to take stock of our own needs and resources, and what our obligation is to the church, to our community, and to the world. 

 

Here at St. James, we aren’t actually starting our annual stewardship campaign until the last Sunday of October. Sadly, we won’t be having a visitation from John Travolta again this year (though you can watch that memorable performance from last year here). But we will be distributing stewardship campaign materials, and challenging each of you to step up and give from the first fruits of your labor, not merely sharing from what’s left after other bills are paid. 

 

Had we not had Throwback Sunday last week, and discussed the importance of appropriate attire for the wedding, the sermon would have been a precursor to this. It would be a way of softening you up to be receptive to this, to start letting you marinate in stewardship-friendly scripture. As it is, we’ll just have to start that marinating process this way, in Gleanings. 

 

One way or the other, it’s all about getting ready for the banquet.

 

 

VERY off-Broadway

We are nothing around here if not ambitious. But really, do you want to be part of a church where they just sit around and watch each other get old? I don’t either. 

 Thus, we’ve undertaken quite a few things of late that have caused us to stretch, both literally and figuratively, but always in a good way. There’s our Wednesday morning fitness dance class, which is proving enormously popular. The installation of a new verger last month. The launch of our children’s Sunday school. Our pet blessing service this past weekend. The ice cream social we hosted for the neighborhood in August. Our St. James Day Homecoming service in July.  The weekly efforts of our Tuesday work crew to put some sparkle and shine in this place. The gradual coming-together of our Heritage Room. 

 And coming up, we’ve got our “Throwback Sunday” service this coming Sunday, where we’ll re-create a service as it would have been in 1968, in celebration of the 50thanniversary of our magnificent pipe organ. And I hope everyone will return Sunday afternoon for the organ concert. It promises to be a memorable event in the life of our parish.  

 Yet for all this record of achievement and willingness to try something new, I was still a little taken aback when Kate Marshall-Gardiner proposed that we put on a Broadway musical revue. Could we dothat? Do we have that much talent? Some Sundays, we barely have enough singers to field a choir. But a Broadway musical? It seemed a little over-optimistic to me. 

 But I should have known better than to question. Kate was willing to take the ball and run with it. She recruited Steven Nye, a legendary local musical talent now serving as organist at St. Peter & St. James Episcopal Church in Denver, to be the musical director. She’s secured commitments from several top-notch singers to sing the solos. Now she’s recruiting others in our parish who just enjoy having a good time to come and be part of the fun. 

 And FUN is exactly what it’s going to be. We’re calling it “God meets Broadway,” and it’s going to happen on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 3 p.m. It will include presentations of songs from such well-known classics  as Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, and other religiously-themed show tunes. 

 Rehearsals started last week, but even if you missed the first rehearsal, it’s not too late to get in on the action. Come be part of the chorus. Upcoming rehearsals are Thursdays, 6-7:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:30-11 a.m. 

 If we can’t talk you into being part of the performance, please do come and watch the show. It will be delightful. If you enjoyed our Easter Pageant, you’ll love God meets Broadway. Afterward, we’ll have a celebratory wine and cheese party in the Parish Hall. 

 Got questions, or still need to be talked into it? Give Kate a call, 424-216-2111. Who knows what stars are waiting to be born at St. James? 

 

 

1968, here we come!

As years go, 1968 was a biggie. Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King were assassinated. There was rioting in the streets at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and poor people marched on Washington. In Vietnam, there was the My Lai massacre and the Tet Offensive. Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant. The first Big Mac was served, and it cost 49 cents. The Beatles released the White Album. 

And here at St. James, we installed a new pipe organ in our 1-year-old worship space. 

Now, 50 years later, we want to celebrate that anniversary, and that remarkable year.  

Thus, we are declaring Sunday, Oct. 14, to be “Throwback Sunday.” On that day, we will celebrate like it’s 1968 once again. For our worship service that morning, we’re going to re-create, as best we can, what a worship service at St. James would have been like in 1968. That means we’ll be using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and singing songs from the 1940 Hymnal. And I am so in hopes people will dress the way you did in 1968. Mini-skirts and bell bottoms are totally welcome that day! 

I confess, not being a cradle Episcopalian myself, I don’t believe I have ever seen a service from the 1928 Prayer Book, and have only the vaguest of memories of hearing a priest announce the “Banns of Marriage” between so-and-so and so-and-so, back when I was in college. As I began putting the service together last week, I kept stifling gasp after gasp:

“What?” 

“Why on earth are the announcements between the gospel and the sermon?” 

“Where’s the Old Testament lesson?”

“When do I break the bread???” 

I DO sort of remember seeing the priest turn his back to me a lot, and wondering what was causing all the arm-flapping underneath the chasuble. I guess what I’m saying is, there are no guarantees we’ll get this exactly right, but we’re going to try. And whether seeing a service from the old Prayer Book will bring back fond memories for you or will just be a strange and confusing experiment, I hope you’ll enter into this with an open mind and joyful heart.

After our very old-fashioned worship service, we’ll adjourn to the Parish Hall for our monthly potluck breakfast, and have as our guest speaker someone who would have been here in 1968. Hazel Heckers is the daughter of John Heckers, a former Senior Warden of St. James. She’s now a Victim Advocate for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and she’s accepted our invitation to come and talk to us about Identity Theft, a problem far more acute today than it ever was in 1968, I suspect. Hazel can offer us some valuable advice on how to avoid this scourge. 

Finally, at 4 in the afternoon on the 14th, we’ll have an anniversary organ concert, and will bring back some of our former organists to show us what that baby can still do when the right fingers are tickling her keys. In addition, Rick Morel, president of the company that installed the organ, will share his memories of accompanying his father to St. James, to watch while our organ went it. The concert will be followed by a wine and cheese reception in our parish hall. 

And if anybody has a lava lamp or a bean bag chair, please bring it. 1968, here we come! 

 

 

My best-spent Friday, ever

Not much in this world mattered more to Fred Wright than his garden, and the homemade salsa that came from it.

Chris Minich, his beloved life partner did. I believe that St. James did. But beyond that, I’m not sure there was anything that Fred took more pride and more joy in than his pepper plants, his tomatoes, his onions – and the secret spice mixture that made Fred Wright Salsa some of the finest salsa in the land. 

Fred spent nearly all day in our parish kitchen on Friday, teaching a ragtag band of would-be salsa makers how to do it the right way. Fred was a perfectionist, and he expected the tomatoes to be sliced just so, the peppers to be diced just so, the jars to be handled just so. It’s a time-consuming process, and when we ran out of time well before we ran out of peppers, Fred determined to come back the next day, to complete the job. 

He and Chris spent much of Saturday back in our kitchen, engaged in the tedious task. Even then they didn’t use up all the bounty of Fred’s prodigious garden. Fred’s plan was to preserve another batch of salsa on Sunday, after church.

But that was not to happen. Fred died in his sleep early Sunday morning, apparently of a heart attack. On Sunday afternoon, Chris and her sister, Holly, were busy in the kitchen, preserving jars of salsa in between tears and fondly-told tales of Fred’s life. It’s what he would have wanted them to do. He hated to see a pepper go to waste.

Fred was just over a month shy of his 60thbirthday. And while his death came much too soon, we can all take comfort in knowing that at last Fred’s pain is gone. He had struggled with overwhelming health problems ever since a construction-related accident in his early twenties crushed much of his body. In the following years, he endured 27 surgeries, including five on his back and two on his brain. 

A brain abscess in 2014 left him in a coma for five weeks, and he had a difficult time coming back. He grew progressively weaker, and struggled with chronic severe pain. Chris reports that last year, they spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. “We were so happy to get through Easter without a trip to the emergency room,” she said. 

During his most recent hospitalization, Fred and I talked at length about his love for Chris, and his love for our parish. He recalled with such fondness the time he and Deacon Bobbie Girardin had stayed up half the night preserving jars of salsa for use at St. James. He said then that he wished he could do that again. I told him we should plan on it. But I confess, I never reallyexpected it to happen.

Which just goes to show that no one should ever have counted Fred Wright out. He was a survivor who more than once battled back from the brink of death. Fred called me two weeks ago and said his salsa garden was coming in fine and dandy, and when did I want to make some salsa? 

We decided to do it sooner rather than later, and I am so very grateful that we did not delay. Fred died doing what he loved, and I can’t help but think that the heavenly feast that awaits each of us will include some of Fred’s salsa. 

Thank you, Fred, for all you shared with the people of St. James. You presence among us was a gift, and your salsa was but a token of the love you bore for us. Rest in peace, dear friend. Rest in peace. 

 

Changes coming for fall

Ah, fall! With the promise of the blessing of cooler temperatures, it’s time for us at St. James to pull out our heavy vestments that we’d packed away for summer and return to bit more formal look during worship. In fact, starting this coming Sunday, you’ll notice quite a few changes to our worship service as we settle into our autumnal routine.

The first thing you’ll notice is the vestments. The choir, which begins practicing this week after taking a summer break, will again don their cassocks and cottas. So will our acolytes. And I’ll resume wearing my chasuble, the poncho-like vestment traditionally worn by priests presiding at the Eucharist. (Let’s hope for cool Sunday mornings!)

The liturgy itself will also change for fall. During August, we surveyed worshipers to see what changes you’d appreciate, and our new fall liturgy reflects your responses. Some of you indicated you would like to return to saying – rather than chanting – the psalm, so that’s what we’ll be doing this fall. You also indicated you preferred shorter Prayers of the People, so for fall we’ll be using Form VI from the Book of Common Prayer, which still allows us to personalize our prayers, but isn’t as wordy as some other options.

The language for the other prayers in the service this fall will come from Enriching Our Worship, an approved alternative that is more inclusive and gender-neutral in its references to God than the language in our Book of Common Prayer. It’s nothing we haven’t used in the past, but ever since Epiphany we’ve been using prayers straight out of the BCP. The Enriching Our Worshipprayers will just sound a little fresher to us. 

The biggest change involves our service music. We heard loud and clear that people profoundly missed singing the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Fraction anthem on that Sunday that we didn’t. So we’ll keep singing them, and we’re going to learn a new Gloria and a new Sanctus. The first couple of weeks with the new music may be daunting, but I think you’ll learn them quickly, and will love, love, love them.

Ever hear of John Rutter? He’s one of the most acclaimed composers of our day, and he’s the founder of the Cambridge Singers. He composed the version of the Gloria (“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth …”) we’ll be singing this fall. You can hear a little snippet of it here.

Our Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy…) comes from the Freedom Mass, written by Betty Carr Pulkingham, based on extensive travel and experiences in South Africa. This Sanctus is based on a South African protest song. Again, a snippet.

And our Fraction anthem will be an old familiar one, a setting by David Hurd that we’ve sung many times. Here it is.

As always, I hope that our worship service is beautiful and meaningful and glorifies God. But as I like to tell the acolytes, who worry when they forget to do something, or make a little flub that may or may not be noticeable to the congregation: “There’s no such thing as a mistake in liturgy. Only variations!” Hope you’ll like the variations we have planned this fall. 

Like a warm sweater on a cold day

Today, I just wanted to give a shout out to a wonderful little sub-group within our parish that most of the folks who gather here on Sunday morning don’t know. They’re our Wednesday congregation.

Our Wednesday group is an eclectic bunch. Some weeks we’re just three or four in number. Some weeks we’re eight or nine. Some of our Wednesday regulars are also Sunday stalwarts. But others are folks you rarely or never see here on Sunday morning. Some are members of other churches. In fact, a couple are in leadership roles in other churches, but they like to come here on Wednesdays because … well, because it’s different. 

“No matter how I feel when I enter, during the service I find a peace that I can’t find anywhere else,” says Judith Helton, a parishioner at St. Martha’s, Westminster, who has been regularly attending here on Wednesday for over a year. “It’s wonderful. It’s like putting on a warm sweater in cool weather. It’s just very, very comforting. It’s just an uplifting experience, and you don’t get that everywhere.”

On Wednesdays, we gather in our chapel. (Sometimes the stuffed panda joins us; sometimes not.) The service is quite informal. I don’t vest, though I do usuallyremember to put on my stole. We take turns reading the lessons, and if it’s a saint’s day, I’ll give a brief homily about that particular saint’s life. I’ve learned a lot of church history in this way. Whatever else they are, saints are invariably fascinating, and hearing something of their back story is worth the time it takes to dig it up. 

We go through a litany of prayers for healing, praying specifically for the sick, for the disabled, for sick children, for those awaiting surgery, for those who live with chronic pain and illness, for the weary, the dying, the anxious and lonely, for those struggling with mental health issues, for health care workers and all who minister to the sick, and those who search for the causes and cures of disease. It’s a litany taken from the Church of England, adapted for use here at St. James. 

Then one by one, people come forward with specific prayer requests, and we all lay hands on each individual and we pray. It’s incredibly powerful. Then we pass the peace.

During Communion, we communicate each other, passing the bread and wine from person to person until all have received. While that wouldn’t be practical on Sunday morning, this is a luxury that a small, intimate group can enjoy.

After the service, the meal continues. We adjourn to the Parish Hall or one of the downstairs classrooms, and eat lunch together. Officially, this is a brownbag lunch. But often as not, we raid the refrigerator to see what’s to be found in there and turn it into more of a potluck. 

In short, it’s a supportive, wonderful community to be a part of. If you’ve never come to our Wednesday service, give it a thought. You might find that the fellowship and intimacy of our healing service is just what the doctor ordered. 

Getting serious about children's formation

Seeing with fresh eyes. I think that’s the best gift that Godly Play for All Ages gave me this summer. It was a chance to hear the great stories of the Bible told in a simple, easy-to-understand way, without a lot of baggage. 

My years of adulthood, especially those years spent in seminary, have taught me to view Bible stories with a certain post-modern lens, to think in terms of metaphors, of textual analysis, of the deeper meaning behind the literal meaning of the words. And that is, of course, as it should be, particularly for someone who wears a collar and attempts to preach the Word of God every Sunday, every Wednesday and sometimes in between. 

But it was also nice to step back and, like watching an animated film with a child, just enjoy the story for the story’s sake, and draw from it some simple life lessons. We never get too old for that.

But now our pilot program with Godly Play has ended. And we, as a parish, have some decisions to make. What do we do now? 

Despite our fondest hopes, Godly Play for All Ages did not bring in any new families looking for a church home. By that measure, we cannot deem the program to have been a success. And to be honest, it wasdisruptive for our coffee hour fellowship. Every week, I had to assume the role of bouncer, forcing people still sipping their coffee either to join our class, or hush talking, or leave. That was awkward. 

On the other hand, it was readily apparent how beneficial the class was for Amaya and for the other children who occasionally took part. I never left class thinking “Well thatwas a waste of time.” So it seems to me we need to do something, but Godly Play for All Ages is not the answer. 

Whatever we do, it’s gonna be a mountain to climb. Near as I can determine, we have not offered regular Sunday school classes for children at St. James since the early to mid 1990s. But on the survey conducted at our Annual Meeting in January, it's something the congregation indicated is strongly desired. 

Of course, offering regular Sunday school classes for children takes a big commitment. Not only do we need children - something that's often in short supply - we need teachers, at least two for every children's class. Those teachers must be trained and receive the appropriate Safeguarding God's Children certification. We need to invest in a curriculum and teaching materials. Staffing a children's class will necessarily draw resources away from other activities. And it’s a commitment that must be met every Sunday, not just when it’s convenient. 

I’m happy to report that we do have the start of a children’s formation team. People have come forward and offered their time and talent. But this isn’t something that two or three people can pull off alone. Teachers need backup. And a successful children’s formation program really needs someone thinking about it every day, devoting time to making it a success, exploring curriculum options, making sure we have supplies, and getting the word out to the community. In other words, a children’s formation program needs a parent. 

Is this something you’d be willing to do? If you have an interest, please contact me this week. Our parish leadership will be discussing this week how to move forward. In short, it’s time to stop playing, and get serious. 

That time we all came home to St. James ...

Few people are better able to see the theological significance of food than my friend Adrian Miller. 

Adrian, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, is a culinary historian, as well as being a lawyer and public policy advisor. He’s the author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, an award-winning look at the way the food culture of the Southern Black Belt has evolved as it has spread across the country. 

His research for that book led him to publish a second book last year, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas.It, too, has been nominated for a literary award.

I haven’t seen Adrian since I left the bishop’s staff three years ago, so I was delighted to come across an essay he recently wrotefor Faith & Leadership, a publication of Duke Divinity School. In the essay, “Toward a theology of barbecue,” Adrian traces the rich history of barbecues as a tool for evangelism in the black church. 

“In many ways, the challenges that evangelists faced in the days of the camp meetings are the same challenges that churches face today,” Adrian writes. “How do we spark someone’s interest in God? How do we hold together a sacred community? What are the best ways to keep someone coming back?”

“Barbecue may not be the perfect answer to all of these questions,” he concludes. “But I can vouch for its success in bringing people together to embrace a faith-filled life. Barbecue, at its theological and culinary best, reinforces a church’s important social role; it enhances the communal experience of God, sharing in his bounty through a delicious meal.”

Mind you, I read this Sunday afternoon, shortly after we had wrapped up our own Feast of Saint James / Homecoming celebration. We may not have had barbecue, but the mouth-watering smell of our hamburgers and hotdogs roasting on the grill drew in more than one hungry visitor to our lawn.

People came because of the food. They came because of the bluegrass music pouring out of the amplifiers. They came because someone invited them. They came because it was a chance to renew old friendships or to start new ones. 

They came and they came and they came. And wasn’t it glorious! We think we had 78 folks present for worship, but the numbers got real fluid after that because people kept pouring in, so I honestly have no idea how many came in total. I’m guessing it was close to a hundred. And no one left hungry. I pray that people were filled spiritually as well as physically.

How wonderful to take the Lord’s Supper that we share every Sunday, and extend it into the bountiful spread that we were blessed to share on our lawn on Sunday. 

Good food. Good music. Good fellowship. Good weather. It was a good, good day, and a great day to call Saint James “home.” I hope all who attended felt closer to God by meal’s end. And maybe some of our new friends, or our old friends, will come back again, will “come home to Saint James.” 

When we are at cross-purposes with Christ

Narcissists have been in the news this week, and it’s probably not who you’re thinking of. No, the narcissists of which I speak are clergy. Anglican priests, to be exact.

A story from the Religious News Service last week noted that the Church of England is stepping up its psychological assessments of candidates for ordination in response to concerns about the kind of priests the church is attracting. 

A lot of this has to do with growing awareness of child sex abuse at the hands of English clergy, but part of it also has to do with certain mental pathologies, particularly narcissism, that seem to be especially prevalent among clergy.  

The story cites the work of researchers R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls, authors of  “Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It.” (Cascade Books, 2017) Their 2015 study found that about a third of mainline Protestant clergy in Canada showed signs of a narcissistic personality, which ultimately gives them too much confidence in their own abilities, to the disparagement of others. “There is a temptation to bully and demean,” the authors write.

At the same time, Church of England officials fear that newly ordained clergy seem to be growing increasingly conventional and less inclined to be innovative in their approach to ministry. This, too, is worrisome to the church. The church needs risk takers as well as caution keepers.

I pondered this as I thought back over the rigorousness of The Episcopal Church’s vetting of candidates for ordination. Trust me when I tell you it is so hard as to be almost impossible to become a priest in the Episcopal Church these days. There are countless hurdles and places to wash out along the way. For every person eventually ordained, I bet there are at least 10 who once thought about it but were either rejected or dropped out of the process, for whatever reason. I’m guessing those who stay in are blessed with a pretty healthy ego, which helps us withstand all the scrutiny and assaults on our sense of call. It could be that the whole process ensures an over-representation of narcissists, though I hope that is not the case. 

Not everyordained person is going to have topnotch people skills, and even the best clergy have their bad days when their responses to others are harsher than intended. And I know, too, that one person’s toxic narcissist is another person’s charismatic leader. It all depends on your point of view.

But here’s a line from the story that really struck me: “Narcissists often come to apprehend God as a rival, not a loving presence, and eventually may see themselves as God.” This seems like a good cautionary question for all of us, clergy orlay. Is God getting in our way? Are we growing impatient with the slow work of God? Are we letting efficiency or expediency trump compassion or loving-kindness? Are we just a little too concerned with our own sense of importance and the value of our time, and a little too blasé about the impact of our actions on someone who is vulnerable?

I can certainly recall times I fear I’ve been at cross-purposes with my savior. I think the key is for all of us to own those times, not deny them or get defensive or try to justify our own boorishness. Rather, we should confess, receive absolution, and move on, striving to do better.

Rest assured, the opportunity to improve on a poorly-handled situation will not be long in coming. Every day is a new chance to get it right. As the meme making its way around Facebook these days says: “In a world where you can be anything … be kind.” 

 

Accretions

Accretions.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a certain lightness, a certain roominess around St. James that didn’t seem present before. Then again, maybe not. Not unless you spend much time prowling around our closets and storage rooms and the like. You know, the places where we put stuff that we don’t really need, and don’t know what to do with, but we hate to get rid of. 

It’s those places – the places that are easy to ignore – that are emptying out lately. That’s due to the diligence of our Tuesday Work Crew, especially Matt and Ginny McColm, who are particularly adept at identifying things long past their expiration date. 

The Crew has been undertaking a systematic assessment of the things we’ve been holding onto in the various nooks and crannies of Saint James and leading us in a general parish purge.

Among the things that have found their way OUT of our building in the past month or so:

30-40 cans of old paint (recycled)

4 shelving systems in the Parish Hall (recycled)

1 old, extremely heavy television (recycled)

an indeterminate number of broken picture frames

several broken kneelers

8-10 uncomfortable metal folding chairs (recycled)

2 metal file cabinets (rehomed)

2 damaged folding tables (recycled)

odd carpet pieces that didn’t match any current carpet

pieces of an old Carnation Days float

non-working light fixtures

used fluorescent tubes

enough scrap wood and metal to fill the dumpster

And they haven’t even started on MY office yet. I know there’s lot of stuff there that we can certainly do without. And I’ll be happier when it’s gone. I don’t think there’s any outright junk in there; there’s just a lot of stuff that belongs to another era, but simply does not reflect who we are now. 

I’m grateful to the Work Crew for taking the lead in this project. I just wish we could be as successful in identifying and tossing out the emotionaland spiritual accretions that build up in our church – and in ourselves as individuals – over time.

I think it’s good to sometimes take a mental inventory of our own beliefs about ourselves and about others, and see if we can identify some old things whose time is past, things that no longer serve us. 

We might discover that we’re clinging to some broken things. Maybe years ago we came to believe X about ourselves, but the truth is we’re now Y, maybe even closer to Z. We’ve moved on. So why is keeping the façade of X important to us? A person can spend a lot of fruitful time pondering questions such as this. There is spiritual gold to be mined in questions like this. 

This may require some rooting around in the deeper recesses of our psyches, which – like the church furnace room – is a place we may shy away from. No telling what’s in there or how messy it is. But if we can shed some useless old mental junk, we may begin to feel lighter, roomier, fresher. 

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got some tossing out to do. 

 

Of symbols and shells, pilgrimage and baptism

The pilgrims have come home.

Many of you were here in mid-April and heard Deacon Linda and Jesse Brown tell us of their plans to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route through northern Spain, arriving at last at Santiago de Compostela, the Cathedral of St. James. 

Since St. James is our patron too, they came here to receive a blessing for their journey, which we, as a congregation, bestowed on them. We also bestowed something else on them as well: two scallop shells.

Linda and Jesse carried those scallop shells with them throughout their long journey. And when they arrived at the Cathedral, they dipped them in holy water. Now they have returned them to us, just in time for the baptism this coming Sunday of Amaya Vezina.

We hope to have Linda and Jesse back here soon to tell us first-hand of their adventures along the Camino and what spiritual lessons they took away from their pilgrimage. But in the meantime, it’s worth knowing a little bit more about the shells they carried on our behalf.

The Sacrament of Baptism has long been symbolized by the scallop shell, sometimes called the cockle shell. Often, a shell is used to pour water over the head of the person being baptized. Many churches have lovely silver shells they use for the occasion. Others have natural shells, such as we now have. 

Here’s a bit of trivia about our shells: I ordered them from a seafood company. They’re actually marketed as a beautiful way to serve baked seafood. They were harvested from the off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland, and are microwave-safe.  And since they came in a set of four, I have two in reserve. The next person from St. James to set off on pilgrimage can have one.

In addition to symbolizing the Sacrament of Baptism, the shell also is a symbol of pilgrimage – especially pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. That’s why we have a shell in our stained glass windows. It is the symbol of Saint James the apostle and our patron saint. 

These two meanings are linked. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born to new life in Christ and are cleansed of sin. Our life becomes a pilgrimage through this world, and union with God in heaven becomes the goal of our journey. 

Some of us have been on our pilgrimages for many, many years. Some of us may have strayed off the path a time or two, but through God’s grace we’ve found our way back. How wonderful that we’ll be there on Sunday for the start of Amaya’s pilgrimage. 

What they're saying about Godly Play

The biggest new initiative around here since bringing back the choir got launched this past Sunday, and I was not here to witness it. God’s just got a funny sense of humor that way.

No, I was a thousand miles away on Sunday morning, relaxing with old friends in a cabin by a river near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was a much-appreciated Sabbath time for me. But if I could have been in two places, I most certainly WOULD have been here too, watching as we began our experiment with Godly Play for All Ages.

I can’t give you a first-hand report of what went on, but I invited others who took part to share their observations and reflections. Here’s what they said.

“I loved it,” said Carol Cozart. “In fact I woke up this morning (Monday morning) thinking about it. If somebody had done that story for me that way as a child, I would never have forgotten it. I will never forget it, being as old as I am now. It was a wonderful way to do that story. I’d recommend it to anybody.”

“I liked the way they structured it,” said Sharon Kestrel. “I liked the sacred circle, creating that sacred space. The story telling was fantastic. Slow and measured. It’s so obvious that this has been very carefully thought out. I was really impressed.”

I liked the presentation, which was very calming,” said Pearl Oppliger. It drew you in to really listen. The story was simple, and I can see how it can work with both adults and children. Afterward, we made a little craft thing about our feelings, and everybody seemed to enjoy that. I think adults don’t play enough, so this was very good overall. I hate to say it, but this is probably the first time I’ve really sat and listened to a story from the Bible. I was just drawn in to the story. I will definitely be there for the other classes.”

Here is Rose Applegate’sdescription: “It’s different. It draws you in, especially the way Tracy did it. Her voice was quiet, and you got involved in what she was saying. To me, I think it’s going to be a good thing for the adults. It will teach us all. I really liked it, and I think I’m going to learn a lot from it.”

And Ginny McColm’s: “t was lovely. I’d seen it before, at St. Joe’s, but this was a little bit different. It’s a refreshing way to do Sunday school. I liked it.”

This from the Rev. Deb Angell: “Everyone was really engaged. I think the holy thing with Godly Play is that it forces you to slow down to be in a sacred space. And I think people enjoyed the art time. That’s something most adults don’t get to do. My best takeaway was just the opportunity to slow down and focus on something that’s not real complicated. Those of us who did that lesson will think about the creation story in a different way, and I think that’s very helpful.”

And this from Bev Thomas, our parish administrator, who raced over from her own church Sunday morning just so she could witness our first Godly Play session: “I was very impressed. The story teller was excellent and had a very soft and calming voice as she told the story of “Creation.” There were 13 adults, including the story teller and her husband, and a 2-year-old. All appeared to be very engaged during the story telling and questions asked of them. Because the story was told in a very slow pace it was easy to feel very relaxed and able to take in the story.  I believe that this type of storytelling will be remembered and not forgotten.”

If you didn’t make it to Godly Play last Sunday, please consider coming this Sunday. Storyteller Tracy Methe and her husband, James, will be back, and this Sunday we’ll be hearing the story of the flood. There are a lot of ways to tell that story, and a lot of ways to think about that story. 

Come see what the buzz is about. Better still, see if you can’t lay your hands on a child or two and bring them along. This could be a transformative step for our parish, but it will require the efforts of every one of us to make that happen. So if you’re one of our “dashers” – folks who dash off before coffee hour, or who have time for coffee hour but not for Christian formation – let me urge you to reconsider and make some time in your schedule for this. It’s important. I don’t think you’ll consider it time wasted. 

Taking time to see the extraordinary

Altar Guild member Cathy Loomis was in the building last Friday morning, getting things set up for our Sunday worship, when she saw a most marvelous sight. 

She was standing back by the organ. There’s a plexiglass pane in front of the pipes, presumably to protect them. As she looked, she realized that when you’re standing right in front of that pane of glass, it captures a beautiful reflection of the sun streaming through the stained glass window in the wall opposite it, behind the altar. 

The image of the cross and the stained glass superimposed on the organ pipes took her breath away. In fact, she was so moved by the sight, she took a photo of it. 

Why, she wondered, had she never seen this before? How could she have missed it? It’s true that you have to be standing in just the right place, and when you’re in that place, you have to remember to look. But now that she’s seen it, she won’t forget to pause and enjoy the sight again and again. There’s something about seeing the reflectionof the cross and window, as opposed to just turning around and seeing them directly, that is imminently satisfying. 

I had a similar experience once myself. I was, for many years, a parishioner at St. John’s Cathedral, and spent many hours in St. Martin’s Chapel there. There are two very large paintings on the wall in the chapel, but from my preferred pew – and yes, I nearly always liked to sit in the same place – the sunlight streaming in through the windows cast such a glare on the paintings, I had no idea what they were paintings of. I just couldn’t see them clearly.

One day, on a whim, I moved to a different spot in the chapel. It was a spot in the shadows. And to my amazement, I discovered from this new spot I could make out precise details about the paintings. 

When I was in the sunlight, I couldn’t clearly see the paintings. When I was in the shadows, I could. The paintings themselves never moved. What changed was my perspective.

That is so often the way we experience God’s love. It is there all along, unmoving. But we are either blind to it, or we forget to stop and look for it. Or it only really becomes clear to us when we’ve moved into a shadowy place. In the darkness, we can see some things we cannot easily see in the light. 

This week, let me encourage you to pay attention to the shadowy places and to the places on the periphery. Take notice of what you might have overlooked before. You may see something that will take your breath away. Enjoy, and know that you are loved. 

 

 

 

 

A royal eye-opener

Like many Anglophiles, I was up before dawn on Saturday to watch the royal wedding. I stayed transfixed to the television through much of the morning, relishing every happy and glorious moment.

And yes, my heart did swell with pride when the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, delivered the homily. I’ve heard Bishop Curry preach a number of times, and I think he’s one of the best preachers in the world. He always gets the crowds fired up. 

FYI, I have a note from Bishop Curry on the bulletin board in my office. He sent it to me a couple of years ago to thank me for my years of service as Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Colorado. I thought that was extraordinarily gracious on his part, given how busy he must be. It means the world to me, and I keep it there as a reminder of the importance of saying thank you to people, and recognizing the milestones and transitions in others’ lives. A little kindness can go a long way.

As I say, I was not at all surprised that Bishop Curry preached a good sermon. But what hassurprised me is how surprised the rest of the world seems to be. Commentators have gone on at great length about how engaging and impassioned Bishop Curry was, how he invoked civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King, and how stunned some members of the congregation appeared to be while listening to him. 

Good heavens, what did they expect? That he would drone on in a monotone, offering a few platitudes and quoting a few Bible verses while the congregation zoned out? That it would be dull and stuffy? That it wouldn’t really be worth listening to?

The fact that it was none of those things seems remarkable to a lot of people. Which begs the question: Is that why so few people come to church these days? Because they assume the service will be stuffy or irrelevant and – unless there are members of the royal family involved - not worth their time?

If so, boy are they in for a surprise! We’ve just gotta get ‘em here so they can see how mistaken they are. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting myself in Bishop Curry’s league when it comes to preaching. Not even close. But here’s the thing: That sermon Bishop Curry preached on Saturday to worldwide acclaim wasn’t even his best sermon. It was just a little wedding homily. You ought to hear him when he really gets going! And he is the ideal to which many Episcopal preachers aspire. 

Now let’s talk about church music. Many commentators were delightedly stupefied when they heard the recessional at the royal wedding: “This little light of mine.” May I remind you all that that was our recessional at St. James one Sunday last year? You’ll remember we also did a conga line one Sunday. And I bet you haven’t forgotten the Sunday we piped in “Soul Train.” 

I’m not advocating we get carried away. After all, we are still The Episcopal Church. But to me, that just means we do liturgy as beautifully and compellingly as anybody. The Episcopal Church ought to be synonymous with beauty, with glorious music, with ancient prayers; with stateliness and dignity, yes, but also with joy and with spirit-filled preaching that touches people where they are and addresses the very real concerns of modern life. 

Stuffy? Boring? Irrelevant? That is sonot the church I know and love. I’m just glad the rest of the world got a glimpse on Saturday of who we really are. Of who we are called to be. Inclusive. Progressive. Joyful. Hospitable. Engaged with the world.

We may not get to host a royal wedding here at St. James, but we do host a royal banquet. Every Sunday. So come and be fed. Bring along a friend who’s skeptical. Let’s keep on defying expectations. As Bishop Curry says, we’re the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. God bless you, and keep the faith!

Watch Bishop Curry’s royal wedding address.