Having sacred – not scared – conversations

This is a conversation almost no one ever wants to have. I know that. I’ve avoided it plenty of times myself.

 

Talking about race and racism, about judging others – or being judged – based on skin color (or accent or food or music preferences) can be mighty uncomfortable. We’re afraid we’re accidentally going to say something that will offend someone else, or will open us to ridicule. We’re afraid we won’t be politically correct enough, or too politically correct. We see such conversations easily going off the rails and resulting in hurt feelings, becoming enmeshed in politics and winding up with disharmony that, frankly, we don’t need.

 

And for what? I’m certain not one soul at St. James is an out-and-out racist. I’m equally certain we’d all prefer to live in a colorblind world. So why even raise the topic, let alone devote four Sundays to it? Better to play it safe and say nothing at all, right?

 

Wrong.

 

We MUST talk about it because we are the church. And the church simply cannot be silent on this. We cannot be silent at a time when Nazis and Klan members feel emboldened to march down the streets spewing their vile hatred. We cannot be silent when families are being torn apart by our immigration policies. We cannot be silent when people of color fear that a simple traffic stop will end in their death.

 

But before we can be an effective witness for the Gospel of Christ in our nation and in our community, we have to figure out how to talk about these things. They can be personal. They can be subconscious. They can be painful. I know. I’m still brought to tears every time I recall a certain swimming pool incident from my childhood. We all carry baggage.

 

And we all have stories to share. During Lent, we have an opportunity to share them. And we have the chance to listen to others’ stories.

 

Let me encourage everyone to take part in our Coffee Hour classes, beginning about 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 18 and 25 and March 11 and 18. (We won’t have class on March 4, the Sunday of the Bishop’s Visitation. We’ll instead spend class time with him, over breakfast.) Even if you don’t normally participate in Christian Formation classes, please, please plan to join us for these sessions.

 

We’re calling the class “Becoming the Beloved Community: Sacred Conversations about Race, Ethnicity, Culture and the Church.” I mean it when I say these conversations will be sacred. We’re inviting people to open themselves up and share their stories. Some stories may not be pretty. Some may be hard to tell. But we’re going to listen without judgment, and be to each other the supportive, loving family we’re always telling visitors that we are. And maybe we’ll all learn a thing or two about biases we never realized we had, and about privileges we never realized others lacked,.

 

Know that St. James is not alone in this endeavor. At the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a resolution was passed encouraging ALL Episcopal churches to begin this work. “We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus Movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation … across the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God,” says our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. “This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing. It’s about God.” 

 

This coming Sunday, we’re privileged to have Lelanda Lee as our guest preacher and facilitator for our first class. Lelanda, a parishioner at St. Stephen’s in Longmont, is a former member of the National Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, and she has been a longtime advocate for racial justice. Lelanda is a dear friend, and she has taught me many, many things, always in her gentle, encouraging way.

 

The following Sunday, Feb. 25, we’ll have Bishop Curry himself. Not in person, I’m afraid. But he has recorded a video class, “Spirituality and Racial Justice.” The format involves short video snippets of Bishop Curry discussing various aspects of spirituality and racial justice, then we’ll break into small groups for guided discussions.

 

In subsequent weeks. the format will be similar, with video presentations by the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, an Episcopal priest and professor; and Duke University professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. These presentations will be grounded in scripture and prayer.

 

During Lent, we are invited to carry out the disciplines of fasting, prayer and works of love. I urge you to let this engagement with a difficult, scary topic become one of the disciplines you take on during his holy season. With effort, we can take something scary and make it sacred.

 

 

Adopting a Lenten – and year-round – recycling habit

Starting this week, you’ll notice some blue recycling bins popping up around our parish, and a large bin in our parking lot. This visible reminder of the need to be good stewards is just the first of what I hope will be a long-term commitment to make St. James a greener place.

 

We have already begun to take some less obvious steps toward this goal. We’ve had an energy audit conducted, and we have installed programmable thermostats to help us better regulate our heating. This has resulted in a marked savings in our energy costs.

 

We’ve also begun to wean ourselves off the convenience of paper cups and plates in our kitchen. Last week, Shirley Mosher hit the thrift store to come back with plenty of low-cost washable plates to match our mugs. That’s what we’re going to start using during Sunday coffee hour.

 

There’s still much more we can do. We could plant a garden. We could get more energy efficient lighting. We could use more biodegradable products. We could organize ride shares. We could move toward zero-waste. There are dozens of steps, big and little, we could take.

 

But it will require intentionality on our part. And, honestly, it will require a group of committed people to make it happen. I’d like to form a “Saint James Green Team” to take this ball and run with it. Might this be a ministry you feel called to? The opportunity to make a huge positive impact in a short amount of time is great.

 

One week from today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are invited to observe a Holy Lent through self-examination and repentance, through prayer, fasting and self-denial, and through reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. Let me especially invite you to consider making creation care practices – both here at church and in your own home – part of your Lenten devotions.

 

By making small changes during Lent, we can become more aware of our own wastefulness, our dependence on God, and our need to become better stewards of God’s creation.

 

Step One is to be intentional about recycling. Please pay attention to what you’re throwing away, and please don’t put trash into the recycling bins. We’ll have them clearly marked, with reminders about what can and can’t be recycled.

 

And if you’d be willing to serve on our Green Team, to help us turn St. James into a better, more mindful steward of creation, please let me know. Think about it, pray about it, and together let’s act on this. 

Let the good times roll!

When I first heard the suggestion that St. James not only host a Mardi Gras party, but one in which people come in costume AND that we also have a parade and a float contest, I fell into uncharacteristic pessimism. I thought that, at last, we – world’s most nimble and ready-to-try-anything parish – had run into something too monumental for us to pull off.

 

Adopt 24 kids for Christmas? Sure, we can do that.

Plan massive fund-raising dinners on short notice? No problem.

Organize teams to drive downtown to serve dinner to the homeless? Piece of cake.

 

But a costume party? A parade? Building floats? I had far less certainty about that. Memories of college Homecoming floats built using chicken wire and hundreds of rolls of crepe paper came flooding back. Would people actually do that? And wouldn’t we need a parade permit?

 

“No, no, not BIG floats!” Rose Applegate assured me, seeing my puzzlement when the topic first arose at a recent staff meeting. “Little floats. Pulled on wagons. And the parade would be around the Parish Hall!”

 

Turns out, this miniature float thing is a real thing. School children do it all the time in New Orleans. They pick a theme, then build little floats illustrating that theme. They can be modestly small floats pulled on a child’s wagon or some other wheeled contraption, or even tiny little floats built using a shoebox.

 

At last enlightened as to what was actually required, I decided this is entirely within our powers. In fact, this is something that has St. James written all over it!

 

I’ve already picked my theme. It came to me in a sudden flash of insight, and I’ve been chuckling over it ever since. A matching costume was easy to put together. And I recruited Kate Marshall-Gardiner to be my partner. She has excellent float-building skills.

 

So here’s my challenge to each of you: Do this! Come to our Mardi Gras party on Friday, Feb. 9. Come in costume. Or, if not in costume, wear a mask. You can get a cheap one for almost nothing in just about any store this time of year. Or for a little more, you can get a more elaborate one, with feathers or fur.

 

And enter a float in our parade. It need not be elaborate. It just needs to be something you can roll, push, pull or march around the Parish Hall. It can be in a wagon or a shoebox or a wheelbarrow or even a suitcase with rollers. Pick a theme that you like. Could be something to do with sports or music or getting old or something in the news or something going on in church or something in the Bible. Whatever tickles your fancy!

 

Then look around you and figure out how to represent that. Maybe use dolls. Maybe use stuffed animals. Maybe borrow a grandchild. Recruit a friend or fellow parishioner to join you in the project. Just have fun and be imaginative.

 

Then come out on Feb. 9 for our Mardi Gras party, and invite friends. We’ll be serving jambalaya and other Cajun concoctions. We’ll have Dixieland jazz playing. We’ll crown a King and Queen of Mardi Gras. We will laugh and sing and enjoy ourselves and this wonderful community God has seen fit to make us a part of.

 

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

 

New lay leaders coming to St. James

Saint James has been very blessed to have an outstanding vestry this year, led by the sure and experienced hand of Senior Warden Nancy Herrera and energized by the non-stop efforts of Junior Warden Carol Johnson. But with the approach of our Annual Meeting and vestry elections at the end of this month, it’s time for us to be looking to the future and considering who can provide the leadership we need going forward.

 

We know there will be some changes. Nancy has indicated she is ready to step down as Senior Warden, and Phyllis Sharla will be rotating off the vestry this year. In addition, Martin Mooney, who has served us so ably as treasurer for these past few years, is ready to hand the church books over to someone else. These are all big shoes to fill. But I’m excited about the folks who have agreed to step up and take on new responsibilities.

 

First, let me tell you about our new treasurer. Karen McCall has been training with Martin for the past three months, and has actually already taken over the office as of Jan. 1. Following Martin is no easy task, but I have complete confidence in Karen, and have no doubts that she will do a fine job.

 

Beyond that, here is the slate of warden and vestry candidates, pending a vote of approval by the congregation on Jan. 28.

 

·      Carol Johnson has agreed to step into the Senior Warden position.

·      John McCormac has agreed to take on the responsibilities of Junior Warden, and become a part of the Vestry Class of 2020.

·      Rose Applegate, who came on the vestry last year to fill a one-year unexpired term, now seeks a full three-year term as part of the Vestry Class of 2020.

·      Ginny McColm, who recently transferred to St. James, is also up for a three-year term as part of the Vestry Class of 2020.

·      Carol Cozart, another new member at St. James, but someone with extensive vestry experience elsewhere, is up for election to fill the two-year unexpired term of Nancy Shepard, who was elected to the Class of 2019.

·      Cathy Loomis seeks election to fill the one-year unexpired term of Stephen Anthony, part of the Class of 2018.

 

Of course, anyone who wishes to submit another name for consideration to a vestry seat is welcome to do so. 

 

You can read the bios of our warden and vestry candidates here.

 

I’m excited about our incoming new leaders. They bring a range of skills and knowledge that we haven’t always had available to us, and I expect our vestry to continue to be a strong, well-functioning board. These incoming vestry members join existing members Helen Masterson, Pearl Oppliger and JoAnn Hamm. 

 

Thanks to all the those who have so faithfully served our church in the past, and those who will continue to do so in the future.

 

Hug an Altar Guild member today

If I had to choose, I guess I’d have to say that, prior to my ordination, I actually learned far more about being a good priest from the Altar Guild than I ever did from clergy.

 

You see, new priests tend to arrive at a parish intent on making a big splash, put a lot of effort into remaking the place into something more closely resembling their ideal, change this, change that, issue liturgical directives that may or may not be followed, then deal with the resulting chaos and confusion with varying degrees of grace and good humor.

 

Members of the Altar Guild, on the other hand, are rarely newly arrived. They tend to be the backbone of any given parish, the ones who have been there through good times and bad. They’ve typically served under multiple priests, and know that they’ll probably still be preparing that altar long after the current priest has moved on. And no matter how much chaos and confusion might follow in a given priest’s wake, the Altar Guild invariably responds graciously. They know where all the keys are hidden and where all the skeletons are buried. They embody wisdom and faithful service.

 

At least, that’s always been my experience. I’ve heard tales – apocryphal, no doubt – of determined Altar Guild members who actively set out to sabotage clergy. But I’ve never actually witnessed that first-hand. If it DOES happen, I have no doubt who the winner in that battle would be. I’d bet on the Altar Guild every time.

 

We priests are focused on immediate results. But the Altar Guild plays the long game. They know that today’s annoyances are simply fodder for tomorrow’s cherished memories and tales told over Coffee Hour. I treasure the time I’ve spend in sacristies, soaking up that Altar Guild ethos.

 

In short, without the Altar Guild, the church would pretty much collapse. Yet much of the critical work they do is done beneath the radar. Like the acolytes who move wordlessly around the church during services, making sure everything happens when it is supposed to, the Altar Guild ministers under a cloak of near-invisibility.

 

But show up here on a Saturday, and you’ll see Altar Guild members busily at work, making sure all is ready to go for Sunday’s worship. Or poke your head into the sacristy following the Sunday service, and you’ll see the Altar Guild scurrying to clean up while the rest of us are settling down to the pleasures of coffee hour.

 

Theirs is a ministry of taking the mundane and making it sacred. It’s a ministry of laundry. And ironing. And polishing. And pouring. And counting. And folding. And cleaning. And mending. Yet in those quotidian tasks, they honor God, and make God’s house as beautiful as human hands can make it, a place worthy of a king.

 

We are blessed to have a strong and growing Altar Guild at St. James, ably headed by director Rose Applegate. Rose ensures that new members are trained in correct terminology and proper procedures, and periodically conducts refresher lessons for the veterans.

 

Medieval traditions, St. James-style

A number of you have asked me what goes on at a Twelfth Night party, and I have to admit, I’m not really sure. I’ve never been to one before! But we’re gonna have one at St. James this Saturday night, so I think we just get to make it up as we go along.

 

Rules about Twelfth Night traditions are remarkably loose. As a church, we can’t even really agree on exactly WHEN the Twelve Days of Christmas begin and end. If Day One is counted as Christmas Day, then Twelfth Night is celebrated on the eve of Epiphany, Jan. 5. On the other hand, if you don’t start counting until the day AFTER Christmas, then Twelfth Night is celebrated on January 6, the evening of Epiphany itself.

 

I don’t know which is correct, but I do know that having the party on Saturday rather than Friday worked better for us, so we’re going with that.

 

Liturgically, at Epiphany we celebrate the visit by the wise men to the baby Jesus, and a change of seasons in the church year, from the white of Christmas to the green of Epiphany (though we won’t actually pull out our green vestments and paraments until after Jan. 7, when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus). On Saturday, we’ll begin the evening at 6 p.m. with a Service of Light, done by candlelight. It will be worshipful and, I hope, inspiring and beautiful.

 

Then we’ll move into the Parish Hall for our party. In medieval times, Twelfth Night parties included feasting, drinking wassail, the singing of Christmas carols, and the choosing of a king and queen for the night.

 

At our Twelfth Night party, we’ll feast on heavy appetizers, have some wassail (a fancy name for spiced cider), and enjoy a White Elephant present swap. If you’d like to participate in that, just bring a wrapped present. It can be a gift that you received that just isn’t right for you but might be perfect for someone else, or it can be something else you’ve just been trying to get rid of for awhile. Everyone who brings a present will get to leave with a different present. Maybe you’ll get lucky!

 

Mostly, we just hope Saturday evening will be a time to come together as the community of St. James, invite friends to join us, to worship, to feast, to sing, to laugh, and to joyfully be the people of God. Please plan to join us!

Old feet in new slippers

I’m always grateful when the end of the day arrives, and I can slip off my shoes and tuck my feet into my favorite pair of slippers. They’re so warm and comfy, and they fit just right.

 

True, they’re a little bit tattered. Taggart couldn’t resist chewing the leather laces when he was a puppy, and even now, at 2, he still sometimes gives in to temptation and chomps on what’s left of them. And I routinely have to go looking for one of the slippers because Dillon, the golden retriever, has raided my bedroom and carried one off. They’re HIS favorite shoes, too.

 

I could never have predicted this. I remember well the day the shoes arrived. I had ordered them online to replace another pair of well-loved slippers that had finally been retired because they’d grown so unsightly. I couldn’t find any that were just exactly like my old pair, but these seemed like they’d be pretty close.

 

What a disappointment the first time I put them on. They were so … tight. They felt so unfriendly, so uncomfortable. Not at all like slippers ought to feel. But I decided to wear them awhile, in hopes they’d stretch.

 

They stretched. In all the right places. Now they feel like I’ve had them forever and they bring me such comfort and security.

 

New things are like that, you know. Often, you’ve got to try them out, give them a little bit of time to conform to your expectations.

 

It’s the same way with church. We’ve put a lot of new things on our calendar lately – things that at first might seem unfamiliar and ill-fitting. For example, I don’t recall hearing of St. James ever adopting multiple local families for the holidays, shopping for enough presents to fill Santa’s sleigh and planning a massive St. Nicholas party. The threat of that whole project turning into a huge, disappointing mess was ever-present. But it didn’t. Instead, it became one of the most satisfying things we’ve done since I’ve been here.

 

There are more new things still to come in the next couple of weeks. When is the last time we had a Christmas Eve service that began at 10 p.m.? When have we ever celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name on Jan. 1? When have we ever planned a New Year’s Day parish brunch? When is the last time we had an evening Service of Light to celebrate Epiphany? When have we ever had a Twelfth Night Party?

 

These are all new things, right out of the box, and they may strike some of you as ill-fitting. But I hope you’ll give them a try anyway. Come on out and take a chance. You may find they’ll grow on you, and bring you comfort and security, just like an old pair of slippers.

 

Blessings

 

Amazing transformations

Some amazing transformations happened here at St. James this weekend. They happened during our Saint Nicholas party on Saturday afternoon, at which the five families we are sponsoring during this Christmas season were the guests of honor.

As the families began arriving, I watched with joy as names on gift tags were transformed into real boys and girls.

We met the little charmers who are asking for bikes and dolls and Legos. We met their big brothers and sisters, who were invariably polite and protective of the younger kids. We did some mental calculations about shoe size and shirt size, and hoped our purchases would fit. We met moms and grandmas, and heard first-hand accounts of their lives and their struggles. We bonded over pizza and cookies and bingo.

We fell in love with these kids, and the one sentiment I heard expressed over and over was how much we wished we could be there with them on Christmas morning, to see the joy in their faces. Oh, how we’d love to keep these kids!

As the party went on – as Chris Minich donned mitre and crozier to become St. Nicholas, and a seemingly impregnable piñata at last yielded its treasures, and stockings were distributed with much glee – we also were transformed. I think for awhile we shed our veneer of maturity and put on something we hadn’t worn for awhile: youthful joy and excitement.

It was wonderful to hear the sounds of children’s laughter filling our parish hall, and I couldn’t help but think of Christmases past when earlier generations of St. James youth must have screeched with joy at one holiday event or another.

My Christmas wish is that this transformation continues, that life continues to flow into St. James in loud, messy, joyful abandon. May all our parties be so filled with wonder. May we continue to shower love on everyone who walks in our doors. May the generous spirit of St. Nicholas continue to inspire us. And may the Christ child find a home here, in our midst. 

On your Mark, get set ...

Sometime around the year 70, about 40 years after the crucifixion, someone first put the events of Jesus’ life into writing.

 

We don’t know who the author of that account was, because he (or she!) didn’t sign a name to it. But early Christian tradition ascribed authorship to John Mark, a friend of the apostle Peter. Thus, that first written account eventually became known as the Gospel of Mark.

 

Mark differs from the other gospels in a number of ways. It’s surprising what’s NOT included in Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who begin with stories of Jesus’ birth, Mark opens with a fully-grown Jesus. Mark’s gospel ends with an empty tomb, but without any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. These are found only in the later-written gospels. And the stories in between sometimes feel rushed, lacking the polish of later gospel writers.

 

Mark is a “just-the-facts, ma’am” kind of writer. There’s an urgency in Mark. He uses the word “immediately” more than 40 times, far more than any other gospel. But remember, this is a “wartime gospel.” This was written near the time of the Jewish revolt that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans. It was a catastrophic time for Mark’s community, a time of massive suffering and death. Things were happening fast, as the world they had known crumbled about them.

 

It’s good to know all this as we move into Advent and the beginning of a new church year. We’re going to be hearing a lot from Mark this year, as we move from Year A, when our gospel lessons tend to come from Matthew, to Year B, Mark’s year on the church calendar. Year C is Luke’s, and John shares time in all three years.

 

In January, we’re going to offer a four-week Coffee Hour class on the Gospel of Mark, just as we did this past year on the Gospel of Matthew. We’ll look at major themes in the gospel, delve more into what’s known about Mark and his community, explore his understanding of discipleship, and try to figure out that puzzling ending.

 

But that’s down the road. For the next four weeks, we’re going to be focusing on Advent. You’ll notice quite a few changes to our liturgy in the coming weeks, and that’s appropriate. We should feel a little bit unsettled, a little bit tentative in these weeks leading up to Christmas. After all, this is a time of waiting – joyous waiting, to be sure, but waiting nonetheless.

 

If you think our gospel lessons for the past few weeks have been a bit on the dark side, just wait until this Sunday. Jesus goes into full-on apocalyptic mode, sharing a vision of the end of human history, and urging us to be on the alert for the Lord’s coming. Understanding Mark’s historical situation may help put that in some perspective.

 

Beyond this, you’ll notice changes to our music, the presence of our Advent Wreath, and, most importantly, a change in the way we enter into worship during Advent. There will be an added emphasis on silence: Silence as we enter the worship space, and longer periods of silence in the course of the worship service.

 

And speaking of silence, let me commend to you our Advent Quiet Day this Saturday. (Technically, it’s a pre-Advent Quiet Day.) Brother Scott-Michael Pomerenk will be leading us in praying with several Advent-related scriptures. If you’re familiar with the practice of lectio divina, you know what to expect. If you’re not familiar with it, you will leave the morning newly equipped with a valuable new addition for your spiritual toolbox.

 

We’re going to be introducing some new music, including new settings for the Sanctus and the Fraction, and we’ll abandon the Gloria altogether and begin singing the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.”) We’re also going to begin singing “the Great AMEN” at the close of the Eucharistic prayer. Gretchen has something truly marvelous planned for our entrance hymn throughout Advent. I predict you’re going to love it.

 

 

 

 

 

Random thoughts around Thanksgiving

Whenever I start counting my blessings, I begin right here at St. James. That I have been entrusted with a parish that is filled with such a sweet, sweet spirit is a constant source of joy to me. I could not love a group more than I love this one.

 

Of course there are things I’d like to tweak. I wish we had more members. More money. More children and youth. I wish we had newer computers. I wish I knew the secret to enticing folks out after dark.

 

But really, those wishes are minor compared to the extraordinary level of abundance and blessing we enjoy as a parish. For instance, we have a choir and a music program that didn’t even exist a year ago. We have a stellar vestry. World’s hardest-working staff. We have a deacon! We have a new roof and new stained glass windows. We have a new bathroom, and a building that’s paid for. Our outreach program feels like it’s finally kicked into high gear, and we are transforming lives. We are growing, at a time when many churches aren’t. I know it often feels like it’s “one step forward, one step back.” But we do keep taking those steps forward.

 

I am grateful to God for bringing me here to be part of this, and grateful to each of you for your love and support.

 

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Charles Manson, the greatest bogeyman of my childhood, died this week at age 83. It’s hard to imagine him as an old man. Every picture or video I’ve ever seen of him shows him as wild-eyed and, frankly, crazy. He always seemed angry and was always spouting narcissistic nonsense that made you just want to smack him and tell him to shut up.  As far as I know, he never repented of his actions.

 

But his so-called “family” members did. All those involved in the gruesome Tate/LaBianca murders in August, 1968, later became devout Christians while in prison, though they’ve all repeatedly been denied parole. They’ve all talked about Manson’s mesmerizing effect on them when they were younger. I don’t understand, because he always made my skin crawl.

 

All of which begs the question: How is it Charles Manson could successfully recruit multiple people to go out and commit cold-blooded murder, then later shave their heads and carve Xs into their foreheads … and I can’t seem to recruit a single person willing to serve as usher one Sunday a month? What’s wrong with this picture?

 

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If you ask people what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, most of us of a certain age can not only tell you what happened, we can tell right where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news: President John F. Kennedy was killed.

 

But he was not the ONLY renowned person to die that day. The world suffered another profound loss on Nov. 22, 1963 when author C.S. Lewis died of renal failure at his home in England, just about an hour before President Kennedy was shot. Later that afternoon, the great English philosopher and novelist Aldous Huxley, suffering from advanced laryngeal cancer, died from an overdose of LSD.

 

Of the three, only Lewis is commemorated on the church calendar. And what a gift he gave us with his writings, especially his “Chronicles of Narnia,” a seven-part fantasy series for children that is the most beautiful and engaging re-telling of the story of Christ you can imagine. If you have not read them, I commend them whole-heartedly. I try to re-read the novels every year, because they are, hands-down, my favorite work of literature.

 

 

An audacious St. Nicholas Day plan

If you’re tired of shopping for Christmas gifts year after year for the same people who neither want nor need anything, have I got a deal for you.

As I have mentioned in the past, St. James has recently partnered with Wilmore-Davis Elementary School in Wheat Ridge. It’s the school closest to us, just a few blocks away at 7975 W. 41st. We hope, soon, to display some of their students’ artwork on our walls, and we’re also hoping to host a concert put on by their music students.

But beyond that, we’d like to play a role in the lives of their students and the students’ families, however and whenever we can.

The principal, Janace Fischer, told me that almost 60 percent of the 340 students at Wilmore Davis qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, meaning they come from families whose income is at or below the federal poverty level. That’s a lot of kids whose families may be struggling to survive.

Heaven knows we are not a wealthy congregation. But God has blessed us with a degree of abundance – enough to share our blessings with some folks less fortunate.

So this holiday season, we are adopting four Wilmore-Davis families whose needs are great. We’re still working out the details with the school, and should have things firmed up in the next week or so. We'll find out exactly what these families need, and what sizes of clothing the children need. My hope is that we at St. James can provide these things.

To accomplish this, here’s what we plan. In the very near future – even before we have our “Greening of the Church” party on Dec. 2 – we’re going to set up a “Giving Tree.” The “ornaments” on this tree will be paper tags, each with a name and an item that person needs. If it’s clothing, we’ll include sizes.

We’ll invite every parishioner to take one or more tags from the tree and shop for that item, then return the wrapped item, with the recipient’s name on it, back to the church.

Our hope is that we can have all these items bought, wrapped and returned in time for a St. Nicholas Day party at the church on the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 9. We’ll invite the families to attend that party as well, so we’ll have a chance to meet them, and hopefully form relationships that extend long after Christmas has come and gone.

That’s the plan. I realize that’s a lot to do between now and Dec. 9, especially for a project we’ve never undertaken before, ending with a party like we’ve never had before. But let us not limit ourselves by failing to dream big enough! Let’s be bold, not timid, when it comes to sharing God’s love with the world. We can do this, if we work together.

JoAnn Hamm – who recently outdid herself planning our spaghetti supper fund-raiser – has agreed to chair our St. Nicholas Day party. She may be calling on you to take on some party-related task. And I’m definitely calling on you to help do some shopping for this family. It will be a lot of work, but what a joyous challenge we have set for ourselves!

Stay tuned for more information, as the Holy Spirit begins to reveal to us more ways we can be of service to our community.

 

 

Embracing our musical heritage

I have an embarrassing confession to make. When I first came into the Episcopal Church a goodly number of years ago, I loved everything about the liturgy except for one thing: I was pretty sure the songs we sang were chosen specifically either to torture me or to put me to sleep.

There were a lot of them I didn’t know, and a lot I didn’t like. I thought it was ridiculous that the songs didn’t have names, only numbers. “Unsing-able,” I deemed a number of them. I remember one in particular that earned my wrath: No. 57. It begins “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending.” Craziest tune I ever heard. And for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why we were singing clunkers like that so close to Christmas, when by rights we should have been singing Christmas carols!

Now, a lifetime later, I’ve definitely changed my tune, so to speak. Songs that once stymied me I can now sing by heart and love doing so. I now understand why we don’t sing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve; and the aforementioned No. 57, sung during Advent, has become one of my all-time favorites, especially since I heard it sung by the choir of Trinity College Cambridge. Heavenly!

We have 720 hymns in our blue Hymnal 1982, easily at our fingertips every Sunday. And that doesn’t even include the 288 different settings available to us in the Service Music section. These are things like different versions of the Sanctus, the Fraction, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. – things that can be either said or sung. We have an additional 185 hymns available to us in Wonder, Love & Praise, the 1997 supplement to Hymnal 1982. There are another 316 hymns in Lift Every Voice and Sing II, the African American hymnal that we are increasingly choosing to use.

That is more than 1,500 musical possibilities open to us on any given Sunday. And when I was in seminary, I had to learn them all.

I’m not suggesting that out of 1,500 songs, there aren’t a few stinkers. There are a handful of tunes that still fall harshly on my ear, and I find challenging to sing. And though I loved it growing up, we’ll never sing #562 (“Onward Christian soldiers”) in any church where I have a say in the hymn selection.

But what I am saying is this: As Episcopalians, we are the inheritors of an incredible musical legacy. Our hymnals are arguably the finest available to any denomination, filled with timeless, beautiful music and profound lyrics espousing sound theology – just the opposite of some of the vapid drivel

Which is why I’m delighted that our music director, Gretchen Timmer, is leading a three-week Coffee Hour class, “A User’s Guide to Episcopal Hymnals,” beginning this coming Sunday. I commend this class to everybody! You won’t be required to learn every hymn, as I had to, but you’ll still get a glimpse of some of the amazing treasures these books hold.

Beyond that, I hope the more time we, as a congregation, spend with the music in these hymnals, the more we will come to appreciate this resource, and the songs therein will become more and more familiar and beloved. Our musical heritage as Anglicans is glorious. Let’s embrace it.

 

Remembering our baptism

We’re soon going to be installing a couple of small fonts for holy water in the doorways leading from the narthex to the nave, and this Sunday we’re going to be blessing the fonts before installation.

Such fonts are common in most Episcopal churches, but since it has not been the practice in the past to have them at St. James, I thought some explanation and history might be helpful.

Each week, the fonts will be filled with holy water – that is, with water that has been blessed by a priest. The blessing of the water typically takes place in the sacristy before the service. Traditionally, a little salt is added to the water, and the priest may say:

“Almighty God, who through the water of baptism has raised us from sin into new life, and by the power of your life-giving Spirit ever cleanses and sanctifies your people: + Bless, we pray you, this water for the service of your holy Church; and grant that it may be a sign of the cleansing and refreshment of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Or words to that effect.

A member of the Altar Guild will see to the filling of the fonts each week.

It is customary, when entering or leaving the church, to dip the fingers of the right hand into the water in the fonts, and make the sign of the cross. This is meant to be a reminder of our baptism, and all that that implies. So as we cross ourselves we might silently say “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” – the words said over us as we were baptized.

Personally, I like to say to myself “Remember your baptism.” I really DO remember my baptism because it happened when I was 11. I realize that folks baptized as infants will not have that memory, but it’s still an opportunity to remember what it means to be baptized, and to ponder the gift of new life in Christ.

Let’s be clear about something: Holy water is not “magical.” It is rather a physical reminder of God’s transforming presence in the sacraments, in our lives, and in all creation. Holy water is blessed because it has been offered to God as a symbol of our desire for God’s presence.

Like all such devotional tools in our tradition, no Episcopalian is required to touch the Holy Water, nor required to make the sign of the cross, nor required to do anything you do not understand or appreciate. This is purely optional. But for those who are familiar with this practice, I hope it will be a comfort and a gift, a regular reminder of who you are and whose you are.

And many thanks to Rose Applegate, director of our Altar Guild, for suggesting this addition and for making it happen.

Blessings,

Becky

"Stayin' Alive" is not a bad metaphor

I’m pretty sure I’ve never enjoyed a Sunday morning service more than I did this past weekend, when we launched our 2018 Stewardship campaign with a surprise visit from John Travolta and friends. I think watching so many folks doing the “Brooklyn Shuffle” dance was even more fun than that time we all formed a conga line and danced out of church to “We Are Dancing in the Light of God.”

Many, many thanks to all who were involved in the morning’s festivities. The dancers came in twice to learn and practice the dance steps together, under the tutelage of Con Apostolopoulos, a friend of mine who used to be a dancer on a cruise ship. Con readily agreed to coach our dance team. The dancers also put in time practicing at home, and it showed. Thank you Gretchen Timmer, Mary Tinker, Rose Applegate, Harry Johnson, Leah Orr, JoAnn Hamm, Rita Lord, Robyn Stephens and the incomparable Martin Mooney!

Thanks, too, to Helen Masterson, who has agreed to chair our Stewardship campaign. Helen has put in much time herself crafting a message to convey just how important it is for all of us to step up as faithful stewards, and how critical it is that our 2018 pledges at last put us on a path to financial sustainability as a parish.

In that regard, I think our “Payin’ Your Tithe” routine has already demonstrated just how much we can do when we put our minds and hearts to it. When the idea was first broached about doing a disco dance in church, with Martin in the lead, I’m going to venture to say virtually no one thought it would actually come to pass. It was just a fun thing to think about happening, a fantasy.

Not surprisingly, Rita Lord was actually the first person to agree to take part. There’s nothing that woman won’t do for this place! And then Martin agreed, and set about with single-mindedness of purpose to find a John Travolta costume. Then Gretchen got on board and she brought the rest of the choir. Then Rose spoke up on behalf of the acolytes. Then Con agreed to come and teach us the steps.

So the will was there. But that first dance class was discouraging. Though you’d never know it from Sunday’s performance, we’re NOT a bunch of born dancers around here. We struggled to get the steps down. But we found a teaching video on YouTube, and folks promised to keep working on it at home. By the second class, last Thursday, we were substantially better – as long as Con was there out front, calling out the moves for us. What would happen on Sunday morning without Con?

I may be biased, but I couldn’t have been prouder of us. I thought we were great, and the dancers had fun doing it. I hope the congregation had fun watching. We pulled off something amazing, something past experience said would never happen. But it did.

It happened because a small group of committed folks dug deep and found themselves able to do something they never would have imagined. What a great metaphor for our whole stewardship campaign. Yes, the challenges before us are real, and it will take hard work and some sacrifice to accomplish what we want to accomplish. But we can do this. 

Imagine us as a vibrant, growing, financially secure parish, a beacon of hope for our community and an example for other small, struggling churches of what’s possible. Imagine us “Stayin’ Alive.” We can do this with your help

Stewardship Fever campaign poster.jpg

The one direction we must move in together: OUT!

Out.

In a church often divided by sharply opposed political loyalties and differences over questions of theology, there is still one – and only one – direction in which are all called to move together: Out. Out into the world, to engage the world and transform it with love.

That was the chief message delegates to the 130th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, meeting last week in Grand Junction, heard over and over again. Nancy Herrera, Rose Applegate, Karen McCall and I were there representing St. James.

“You can’t stay where you are if you want to follow Jesus,” Bishop Rob O’Neill said in his address to delegates. “The church becomes the church, the risen body of Christ, when it is out in the world … The disciples learned they could not go back to their boats a dnets and simplicity of life. They couldn’t stay in one place, in that gated room with the windows and doors locked, protected from the world but of no use to the world.”

“We have a choice,” he said. “Will we be crippled and paralyzed by fear, or will we trust, have courage, and move out to embrace the world?”

Some other takeaways from the speakers:

Our former Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, challenged delegates to look at the current realities of climate change and predictions of the future that vary depending on our responses. She helped us identify attitudes and practices that people of faith can cultivate that can truly make a difference. “Gratitude begets awe,” she said. “Awe begets careful behavior.”

The Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, spoke of the church’s work welcoming refugees. “Yes, nations have the right to set immigration policy,” he said, “but as Christians, our call is to be the voice of welcome. We are all aliens in this land, yet we are all one in God.”

Dr. Samuel Mampunza, dean of the medical school at the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, spoke of his angst at leaving his comfortable life in Europe to return to his native country, where health and medical care has been very limited. “Belgium was the best place for my family, but how could I stay in a place like Belgium when God let me be born in Congo?” he asked. Where does God call us?

The Rev. Tawana Davis and the Rev. Dr. Dawn Riley Duval, founders of Soul 2 Soul Sisters, shared their experiences doing racial justice work, and talked about practical approaches for working to eliminate white supremacy. “A community that says ‘We don’t talk politics here’ is a community that won’t take our wounds seriously,” Davis said.

Hearing Davis and Duval had a profound effect on the St. James delegation. “Some of the things they said just blew me away,” said Rose Applegate. “I never thought of the anger, that they’re angry, and that anger has filtered down through the generations. And I can see why they’re angry with all the shootings, the killings of black people. They’re angry that this is happening to their young people. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s a waste of human beings.”

Nancy Herrera was struck by a presentation given by diocesan Communications Director Mike Orr on making our churches more welcoming. “He talked about welcoming our neighbors. He said to just keep trying to do things to bring them in with games or food, like we’ve been doing. Don’t give up. He said to keep trying different things and eventually you will find something that works.”

Added Karen McCall: "I think the ideas presented by other parishes were unique, such as the idea of placing a small food storage unit outside the church, where people could help themselves if they need food, or leave food if they have some extra. I also like the idea of a Spanish Mass, because it speaks to the information presented by the two ladies from Soul 2 Soul about being more inclusive, not just a white church."

We hope to incorporate some of these ideas and strategies here at St. James as we go forward … and as we go OUT! Out to engage the world and transform it with love.

Becky +

The people of St. James have spoken

You love the choir.

No, let me take that back. You don’t just love the choir, you LOVE!!!!!! the choir and everything associated with our music program at St. James. You loved Cliff McPhaden, who got our choir started, and now you love Gretchen Timmer, who succeeded Cliff as music director. You love the new music we’ve introduced on Sunday mornings, and you want to see more of the same going forward. The only thing better than our choir would be our choir twice as big.

That’s one thing I heard loud and clear at our Parish Round Table on Sunday. Of all the new things we’ve undertaken in the past year, our increased emphasis on music has been the thing most people have noticed and are happiest about.

We talked about a lot of things at the Round Table, and I invited you all to put in writing three “joys,” two “wishes” and one “fear” regarding St. James. I’ll summarize what I heard you say, and what you chose to put in writing.

Besides the choir, another unqualified success of this past year has been our emphasis on bright, lively, inviting communications. A number of you mentioned how much you enjoy Gleanings from the Wheat Field, and others mentioned our new website.

Another point of great pride is our new relationship with St. Clare’s, the Tuesday evening ministry to the homeless and hungry in Denver’s Baker neighborhood. St. James has taken over the “fifth Tuesday” slot, meaning whenever there are five Tuesdays in a month – as there are in October – we’ll be there to staff the kitchen and dining room and serve dinner to St. Clare’s guests. This is a new ministry for us, and we’ve only gone once, in August. But the people who went called it a life-changing experience, and are committed to going again and again.

And for those who attend, our Sunday evening Dinner Church has become a much-loved time of fellowship, sharing and fun.

Another highlight for multiple people was the Inquirers’ class this spring, a 10-week class that culminated in 10 people being confirmed, received or renewing their baptismal vows. I’m happy to say we’ll be offering that class again next year, and yes, Mike Koechner will be coming back to co-lead it. Mike ranks only slightly behind the choir in popularity!

People also loved the St. James Day festivities, our ethnic dining group, our all-inclusive bulletins, our chapel, the Blessing of the Animals, our pastoral response to the Las Vegas shootings, the Thanksgiving service and feast, our coffee mugs, our deacon, our parish administrator, and the impressive efforts of our junior warden to restore everything damaged in the May hailstorm.

Folks were reluctant to identify too many things they do not like, and it’s hard to know whether that’s because everything’s really hunky-dory or you’re just too polite to complain. But I did hear some consternation over the rubric suggesting that worshipers stand during prayer. I think we can fix that easily enough by just removing that rubric altogether. If you prefer to kneel during prayer, by all means, do so. If kneeling is difficult and you prefer a sort of half-kneeling, half-sitting posture – I think scooch is the verb we’re looking for, though it’s not in the Prayer Book – please do so. And if you want to keep on standing, that’s fine too.

There’s also some dismay about the Prayers of the People on Rite II Sundays. We’ve been writing our own, but some folks miss the standardized language, miss hearing the same words week after week. We can return to one of the forms in the Prayer Book. We’ll try this for awhile, and see how it feels.

As far as wishes for the coming year, seems like most folks really do want the choir to continue to expand. This is my goal too! We’re searching for enough funding to make that happen, and are hoping we get a grant to help with the costs.

Others want to see us continue to expand our outreach to vulnerable populations, especially the homeless, children, and the LGBT community. You would like to see us interact more with other congregations, and maybe establish a relationship with a sister congregation in another country.

Finally, most folks fervently want to see St. James grow, and several believe that to do that, we need to move exclusively to Rite II, rather than alternating between Rite I and Rite II. That, or we need to go back to two services, because Rite I at our principle service is seen as off-putting to newcomers.

As far as fears go, we are pretty much of one mind: We can’t bear to see disharmony lead to people leaving St. James. We’ve had a bellyful of people leaving in the past because they could not simply agree to disagree, and we want that to end. We also fear that our lack of finances don’t just limit our prospects for growth, we are actually on a trajectory that will ultimately be unsustainable.

So these are the conversations we’ll be having in the coming year. We’ll need to look long at hard at fund-raising and stewardship, at where we want to invest our resources and where we do not. We’ll need to talk about more ways to reach out to our community and bring in new members, including potential changes to our service. And we need to have these conversations in ways that are respectful and grounded in the love we bear for one another.

Many thanks to all who took the time to attend the Round Table, to speak out and to make your feelings known. It is a gift to be part of such a community as this, and I pray that God continues to bless St. James.

A time to weep: That would be now

We weren’t even done mourning last month’s tragedies when this latest unspeakable atrocity intruded upon us. As I write this, they’re still counting the casualties in Las Vegas, but more than 50 are known dead, hundreds more injured.

At times like this, words simply fail us. Our hearts are broken for the families who will never be made whole again, for the lives shattered, for the pain that now engulfs that community, indeed the whole nation.

Our emotions are raw, as they need to be for a little while. We need to sit with this grief in order to process it. We need to recognize that this fresh wound to our psyche isn’t just about Las Vegas. It will also peel back the scars of earlier traumas: Orlando; Sandy Hook; Virginia Tech; San Bernadino; and, especially painful for Coloradans, the Aurora and Columbine shootings. And maybe some of you have experienced gun violence in even more personal ways. If so, expect those old memories to start bubbling up this week too.

The temptation is to move on too quickly, not to stay in this dark place one second longer than necessary. That’s especially tempting now, when each new day seems to bring us some new catastrophe. We cannot carry them all. But tempting as it is to simply change the channel, to set aside the profoundly troubling in favor of the mindless and soothing, let’s not leave behind our sorrow before we have tasted it fully. If we don’t deal with this now, we will most surely have to deal with it later.

So give yourself permission to mourn this week. Mourn Las Vegas, and all the other losses that need mourning in your life. Speak to God of your grief. Cry if you feel like it. Wail, even.  Don’t bottle it up. Instead, give it to our Lord in all its rawness and ugliness. Fortunately, we have a Savior who understands the depths of human misery. He’s been there.

On Wednesday, in place of our usual Noon Eucharist and Healing Service, we will have a Service of Lamentation. That’s just one more way of getting in touch with those deep, deep sorrows. And if you need to talk to someone this week, don’t hesitate to call. Together, we’ll get through this.

What we've accomplished in the past year

O God, our times are in your hand: Look with favor, we pray, on your servants as they begin another year. Grant that they may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen their trust in your goodness all the days of their lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We pray this prayer nearly Sunday for those who are celebrating birthdays; but since this Sunday marks the start of our second year together as priest and flock, it seems an appropriate prayer for us as well.

And what a year it has been! There have been lots of changes, not all of them welcome, I’m sure. We’ve seen our share of heartbreak this year, as we’ve lost a number of our St. James family. We’ve overcome some challenges, not least of which was a devastating hailstorm in May that we’re only now putting behind us. But we’ve also met with lots of success– far more than I could reasonably have predicted a year ago. 

Every week at our Tuesday staff meeting, we always begin by assessing the previous Sunday’s service: What went well? What didn’t go well? What could we do better? Then we look at the coming Sunday to see what we need to do to prepare. I think that’s a good practice, and it’s something we should regularly do as a congregation.

That’s what I’d like us to do together next Sunday, Oct. 8, following our parish breakfast. Let’s assess our first year together and honestly ask ourselves: What went well? What didn’t go well? What could we do better? And what do we need to do to prepare for the coming year?

I have my own personal list of highs and lows and goals for the next year. But I want to make sure that my thinking aligns pretty closely with yours. I don’t want to head off in a new direction if no one is willing to follow. And I don’t want to linger in a place that no one else likes.

So I’ve got a homework assignment for you: Between now and Oct. 8, please give thought to this, and be prepared to speak up at our Round Table. To help spur your memory, I’ve attached a list of some of the new things we’ve implemented this year. Which ones do you like? Which ones do you not? Which ones left no impression on you whatsoever?

Then, think about where you’d like to see St. James one year from now. Be realistic. What is an attainable goal, and what would we have to do to reach it? What would you be willing to do, personally, to see it happen?

Our times really are in God’s hands. But often as not, God uses our hands to accomplish the divine will. May God give us the wisdom and grace to become the church we are called to be.

Blessings!

What have we accomplished in the past year?

Worship

1.     Brought back our choir

2.     Got new choir robes

3.     Began singing certain parts of the service

4.     Added a Sunday evening Dinner Church

5.     Revised the service bulletin to be full-text

6.     Brought the old children’s chapel upstairs

7.     Updated the Wednesday noon Eucharist service

8.     Expanded ministry of lay readers

9.     Baptism of Colton Trommeter

10.  Altar flowers sponsorships

11.  Services every night of Holy Week, including Easter Vigil

12.  Never on Sunday concert

13.  Morning Prayer Tuesdays and Thursdays in Lent

14.  Becky’s installation

15.  Addition of a deacon, first Joe, now Anthony

 

Outreach

1.     Began serving at St. Clare’s on 5th Tuesdays (about 4 times a year)

2.     Raised $1800 for Colorado Haiti Project

3.     Raised $1500 for Episcopal Relief and Development hurricane relief

4.     Collected hot sauce for St. Clare’s

 

 

Formation

1.     Began offering adult formation classes almost every Sunday following coffee hour (Exodus; Books that Didn’t Make the Bible; Mary Magdalene; Seeing Ourselves in Those Confronted by Jesus; Gospel of Matthew; Advent: Season of Hope and Anticipation)

2.     Wednesday night “Soup and Songs” during five weeks of Lent

3.     Offered 10-week Inquirer’s class that resulted in 10 people being confirmed, received or renewing their vows

4.     Offered an Advent Quiet Day

Building and maintenance

1.     Recovered from destructive hail storm, got a new roof, repaired stained glass windows

2.     Accessible bathroom almost done!

3.     Expanded wi-fi access throughout building

4.     Steve Lord took over parish garden and landscaping following Becky Buckley’s death

Pastoral care

1.     Updated training for Eucharistic visitors

2.     “Attendance” logs for keeping better track of who is missing

Parish life

1.     Offered a Thanksgiving Day worship service, followed by a Community Thanksgiving feast in the Parish Hall

2.     St. James Day / Homecoming celebration with blue grass band

3.     Formed Ethnic Dining Group to eat at different restaurants every month

4.     Started game night (Bunco)

5.     Altar Guild Games

6.     Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner

7.     Veteran’s Day observance

Communications and evangelism

1.     Revamped web site

2.     Brought back Gleanings from the Wheat Field, made it digital AND print, weekly

3.     Obtained services of professional photographer Fred Mast

4.     Staffed booth at Pride Fest

5.     Created new marketing brochures

6.     Letters to visitors and to new Wheat Ridge residents

7.     Expanded Facebook presence

Things that didn’t work out so well

1.     Farmer’s market

2.     May tea

3.     Fund-raising projects

 

Is it ever okay to skip church?

There were 17 races in Colorado this past Sunday: Everything from the Be Ovary Aware 5K in Colorado Springs to the Hermit Pass Marathon in Westcliffe to the Farmers 5000 right here in Wheat Ridge. This last, I’m pleased to report, did not impact my drive to church in any way.

 

This has not always been true – especially back when I was attempting to get to worship services near downtown. I’ve lost countless hours of my life trying to get to church through race-related detours and road closures. More than once, it has been utterly impossible.

 

Why, I’ve often wondered, do they always schedule these things on Sunday morning? Do they just assume that no one leaves home on Sunday morning, therefore no one has need of the streets before noon? Grrrrrrr.

 

Alas, I fear we churchgoers have been complicit in this corruption of our Sabbath. It’s not just the non-churchgoers who don’t see the value in regular Sunday morning worship. Even the faithful have allowed the culture to convince us that going to church on Sunday morning is optional, that it’s something we do when it’s convenient but are willing to forgo when it’s not.

 

I fear we are losing sight of what commitment really means, and what is required of a faithful Christian. Regular church attendance – and by regular, I don’t mean once month; I mean every Sunday – had been the normative expectation for generations. Now it’s not. I don't think the results of that shift are anything to be proud of. I think all we’ve really done is taught our children that God is just one among many competing demands on our time. We ignore our Lord’s command to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” We forget what a Sabbath is, let alone how to keep it holy.

 

Here’s my challenge for us for the rest of the year: Next time someone invites you to take part in a Sunday morning activity that doesn’t involve going to church, just say, “I’m sorry. I already have a Sunday morning obligation.” And remember, you do have a Sunday morning obligation. Somebody (and I do mean SOMEBODY) is waiting for us, and it’s a date we need to keep.

 

All this is not to say there are NO exceptions to the always-be-in-church rule. And to help you decide whether that alternative activity rises to the level of good-enough reason to skip church, I’ve created a little decision-making flow chart. Always happy to be helpful!

 

See you on Sunday!

Becky +

 

 

Choir robes symbolize unity, negation of self

My heart was full to overflowing on Sunday as I watched – and heard – our St. James choir process in wearing our new choir robes. I could not have been more pleased if I’d been standing in Westminster Abbey!

It’s hard to believe that this time a year ago, we didn’t even have a choir, let alone a choir that looks exactly like a proper Anglican choir should look: black cassocks, white surplices, faint glow of God all around them.

Lord knows that when our choir debuted last December, they would gladly have worn virtually any robes they could have laid their hands on. Anything, that is, but the old choir robes we found stored downstairs, left over from the last time St. James had a choir. The years in storage had not been kind.

Multiple attempts to track down hand-me-down robes from other congregations proved equally fruitless. Thwarted at every turn, we set our sights on getting our own. It took several months of fund-raising, but eventually we had enough to purchase exactly what we wanted, and in sufficient quantity to robe our choir even as it expands in size. This is a vote of confidence that we’re going to need extra robes before long.

I’ve been pondering, too, just why churches feel that choir robes are a good investment. After all, robes don’t affect how choirs sound, and there are always competing demands for how each dollar is to be spent. . I think that, as much as anything, besides being pleasing to the eye, a beautifully robed choir is symbolic.

It’s a symbol of conformity, a symbol of individuals voluntarily setting aside differences or assertions of self, and subsuming their own voice into the greater unity of the choir’s blended voice. And this greater voice – formed of the many parts into one beautiful harmony – resonates through the house of God.

Isn’t that a marvelous symbol of what we are all called to do? To set aside our own self-interests and self-will and instead stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow believers, clad in oneness with each other and with Christ, each singing our assigned notes as we take our place in that great cloud of witnesses.

Glory to God in the highest!

Becky