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

 

Some people may have seen Christ last night

I don’t believe I’ve ever been prouder of St. James than I was last night.

Thirteen of us turned out to serve a meal to the hungry and homeless at St. Clare’s Ministries last night. Believe me when I tell you there are churches five times our size who can’t convince that many people to come out for an evening spent among those who live on the streets.

For me, it was a wonderful sort of Homecoming. I spent many years volunteering every Tuesday night at St. Clare’s, a ministry that is located at the Episcopal Church of St. Peter & St. Mary, 126 W. 2nd Ave. in Denver. I still have many friends there, both among the volunteers and among the guests. It thrilled me to be able to introduce my old gang to my new gang.

It thrilled me even more when one of the St. Clare’s regulars came up to me and said, “I can’t believe this is the first time your group from St. James has been here. You all swung right into action like veterans. They’re all such hard workers. It feels like you’ve always been here.”

Yep. It sure did. And we fed 108 people, most of whom came back for seconds. Some came back for thirds. 

“I have really enjoyed being here tonight,” said Jo Ann Hamm, despite the fact she claims her hands shrank from the heat of wearing sanitary gloves all night while scooping up well over 200 servings of beef stroganoff. “The people were all so polite and so appreciative. And so hungry!”

While some were in the kitchen, others were out in the dining room, wandering from table to table, making sure everyone had enough to drink or got their dessert. Allison Walstad – Steve Driftmier’s daughter – served as “hot sauce lady,” rolling a cart of hot sauces from table to table for those who like their stroganoff seasoned with rocket fuel.

Meanwhile, Harry Johnson and Rita Lord never stopped washing and drying dishes. They were an awesome team. In fact, WE ALL were an awesome team. Many thanks to St. James superstars Rose Applegate, Deacon Anthony Christiansen, Dustin Eisler, Jo Ann Hamm, Nancy Herrera, Carol and Harry Johnson, Cathy Loomis, Rita Lord, Chris Minich, Pearl Oppliger, and Allison Walstad. Plus me. I spent most of the evening just trying to stay out of the way. 

Last night may have been our first time at St. Clare’s, but it won’t be our last. We’ve agreed to serve there every time there’s a fifth Tuesday in the month. The next time that happens is in October. Doing anything special Halloween night? If not, why not plan on spending it at St. Clare’s? Talk to the folks who volunteered last night, and see what they tell you about their experience.

They might just tell you that at some point in the evening, they looked up and saw Christ standing there. 

(17) People of faith, working together

There are 32 churches in Wheat Ridge. On Monday, 12 of them came together to meet with city officials to talk about homelessness, human trafficking, lack of affordable housing, and other issues confronting Wheat Ridge. We wanted to talk about what we, as people of faith, could do to better meet the needs in our community.

It was eye-opening for me to hear what some nearby churches are already doing. At least four of the 12 have on-site food banks. One, Healing Waters, partners with Wheat Ridge police to distribute free car seats to parents. Others have community meals. Others have ministries to assist elderly residents in shoveling their walks, pulling weeds or otherwise bringing their homes up to code.

The representative from Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church indicated that his parish has about 800 youth that are always in search of meaningful service projects. The very idea of that many young people in a single church left the rest of us gasping in disbelief, so I googled it. Sure enough, that’s what they’ve got there. Of course, they draw Vietnamese kids from across the entire state, but they come every Sunday for worship, followed by Sunday school and Vietnamese culture classes. And mandatory charitable service projects. 

This is a conversation that’s going to continue. The churches are committed to sharing ideas and resources with each other. We hope to put together a catalog of assistance that we might share with those who come to our churches seeking help. Where can they get food? Where can they get a hot meal? Where can they do some laundry? Where can they get school supplies? What’s available here in Wheat Ridge, that won’t require a trip into Denver?

This leads to my next question: What do we here at St. James have to contribute? What can we do, beyond collecting food and clothing for Family Tree, the Arvada Food Bank and Saint Francis Center? What resources do we have that could be brought to bear in addressing our community’s greatest needs?

One thing we have is space. Lots of it, both indoors and outdoors. We have a good kitchen. We have parishioners who, for the most part, are retired and so are available during the day. We have time. We have deep connections to Episcopal-affiliated ministries across the state. We have experience.

That’s just the top of MY list. What’s on YOUR list? What do you know about that we might share? What’s our human potential? How can we place ourselves in service to God in ways that we are not yet doing, maybe never even thought of doing? What is a need that we can address?

These are some of the questions I hope we can begin asking ourselves as we start gearing up for fall. God is surely leading us somewhere. I invite you to think, ponder and pray about this. We don’t have to have 800 youth to pull this off. We just have to be the church God is calling us to be.

Our cup ran over on Saint James Day

It took a village, but we did it.

Sunday’s St. James Day/Homecoming celebration was all we could have asked for and then some. The weather was picture perfect. The band was delightful. There were scores of people and mountains of food. And the fellowship went on well into the afternoon.

We had 79 in attendance – 81 if you count the two dogs, and 87 if you count the folks who arrived after the service ended but still in time to eat.

And what a great assortment of folks it was! In addition to our usual parishioners, we had friends of parishioners; we had kids and grandkids of parishioners; we had former parishioners who came back for the day; we had first-time visitors; we had out-of-town visitors; we had folks who live in the neighborhood who decided to drop in; we even had a pretty large contingent of Rocky Mountain News alumni who came out to watch two of their own in action together!

In short, our cup of blessings overflowed on Sunday. I hope you agree.

There are many, many folks to whom we owe thanks, including:

·      Martin Mooney, who chaired the event

·      Shirley Mosher, who organized the food, and who was here just about every day last week making preparations, and her ever-ready kitchen partner, Rita Lord

·      Stephen Anthony, who organized the set-up and take-down of all the tables, chairs and liturgical needs

·      Harry Johnson, Stephen Anthony, John Applegate, Ford Demming, Steve Lord, Martin Mooney, Robyn Stephens, Tommie Stephens, Donna Hallewell, and at least a dozen other people who hauled heavy loads out and then back in

·      Ford Demming, Nancy Herrera and Karen McCall, who sweated over a hot grill

·      Harry Johnson, who drenched himself repairing a flood in the men’s room before the service began

·      Carol Johnson and Bev Thomas, who scoured countless computer files to come up with a list of accurate addresses for former parishioners. At the service, they both worked overtime to greet visitors and keep track of who was here.

·      The members of Retro Grass, who were phenomenal

·      Chris Minich, who secured such fabulous desserts for us

·      Mark McElwain, the owner of Sound Town, who came by early Sunday to ensure our outdoor speakers were set up and functioning properly

·      Rose Applegate who made sure the outdoor altar was properly dressed, and who donated the altar flowers

·      Fred Mast, who shot photos throughout the service

·      All the folks who brought food in such abundance

·      All those who invited friends and loved ones to join us

For me, one of the most endearing moments – in a day filled with special moments – came near the end, when the band had us circle up, join hands and sing “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” It was a poignant reminder that we are all part of a great and unending circle of love. And on this day, St. James’ part in that circle was especially strong.

 

 

 

Meet Deacon Anthony Christiansen

Last week, I reflected upon the necessity of trusting in the slow work of God, and I still stand by every word I wrote. The divine timeline will not be hurried, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise.

This week, however, I am marveling in just how quickly God sometimes acts. My head is still spinning with awe and delight.

It was just a little over two weeks ago that I learned Deacon Joe Mazza would not be able to continue in his parish ministry here at St. James. I greatly regret his departure, as Joe brought many gifts to us. And, given the scarcity of deacons in Colorado, I did not expect we would find another … not for a long time, anyway.

Yet within less than four days time, I got an unexpected email from my dear friend, the Rev. Anthony Christiansen, a newly ordained deacon. “Just a quick one,” he wrote. “Would you like me to deacon for you?”

Talk about gob-smacked! At one point back in the winter, Anthony and I had discussed just such a possibility. He and I have been friends for years – I am unofficially “godmother” to his dog, Boo. But his ordination was still months away, and life intervened to take us both down different roads. I hadn’t seen Anthony since his June 13 ordination – and even then it was only long enough to pass the peace at the service, certainly not long enough to get an update on his plans. But I figured he would be snapped up in a heartbeat the minute he went on the deacon market, so to speak.  

As it turns out, however, Anthony’s permanent assignment to a parish needs to be delayed while he deals with the pressing matter of finding a full-time job. As you may know, deacons are not paid for their service to the church. That’s part of the reason there are so few of them! Anthony put his paid career on hold to go to seminary, but now he needs to begin recouping those lost wages. He may or may not find the full-time work he seeks in Colorado, so he’s looking everywhere. Until that is settled, he can’t make any long-term commitments to a parish.

But in the meantime … I asked the bishop – who has the ultimate say on where deacons are placed – if we could have Anthony here temporarily. He said we could.

I don’t know how long Deacon Anthony will be with us. It could be a few weeks or a few months. Should he get a job in Denver, I hope we’d be in the running to lay claim to him longer-term. But whether our journey together is long or short, I know that we will be blessed by his presence. He will begin functioning liturgically as our deacon on Sunday, and I hope to get him in the pulpit soon after that.

Anthony is still a brand new deacon, and has much to learn. But I seem to recall a nearly-new priest arriving here last October and being readily embraced by the people of St. James, who were – and still are – incredibly forgiving and willing to overlook rookie mistakes. This is a good place for novice clergy.

And so begins our season with Anthony. Thanks be to the god of endless love and endless surprises.

 

Laughter in the flush of time

It was mid-November, 1998, when I finally found the courage to actually say out loud the words that had been bubbling in my heart for some time: “I think I might be called to the priesthood.”

It wasn’t until Nov. 15, 2008 that I actually WAS ordained, and then it was to the diaconate. My ordination to the priesthood didn’t come until six and a half years later, on June 13, 2015.

So that’s 16 ½ years to achieve a goal that, if all had gone smoothly, could have been been accomplished in as little as five years. But those years were anything but smooth. There was delay after delay after delay. Some of the delays were the foreseeable consequences of my own actions. Other delays just came out of nowhere to blindside me.

Yet in retrospect, I can see the value of all those bumps in the road. The journey is at least as important as the destination itself, even if we do seem to be plodding along at a snail’s pace when we’d rather be racing. God isn’t bound by our human timetables. As theologian Teilhard de Chardin famously said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

I’ve been reminding myself of this all week as I think of our bathroom project here at St. James. As those of you at church on Sunday heard me acknowledge, we’ve encountered yet another excruciating delay. This, despite my announcement in last week’s Gleanings that construction would begin on Tuesday. We got so close. We have the funds. We have submitted all the required paperwork. We have the construction permit. We just could not have foreseen the unexpected and last-minute hiccup in our contractor’s licensure that may take up to six weeks to address.  

It is tempting to think of this bathroom project as cursed. If our storage closet had aspirations of becoming a priest instead of an accessible bathroom, it would be halfway through seminary by now!

But let us not give in to defeatism. Eventually, that bathroom will get built. And all these delays? They’ll just be fodder for great stories handed down from one vestry to the next. Somewhere in the struggle, there’s a gift for us. And in the flush of time, we’re all gonna laugh about it. Right?

- Becky +

 

 

Ahh, feel the breeze ...

The first time I felt the cooling breeze blow through the Parish Hall, it seemed to me like a miracle, like the Holy Spirit coming not as a violent rush of wind but as a gentle current. Definitely a gift from Heaven.

I don’t know exactly when the vent fan motors were installed in the Parish Hall, or exactly when they stopped working. But I’m guessing the answer to both questions is sometime long before air conditioning became commonplace in Colorado. I remember a time when few buildings here were air conditioned because it only ever really got hot enough to need it on a handful of days in July and August. Fans were usually sufficient.

Now, of course, with global temperatures rising and development causing Denver and its suburbs to heat up, those of us without access to air conditioning spend more than a few days in too-warm discomfort.

Which brings us to the vent, located in the wall above the piano in the Parish Hall. No one seemed to know why it was there or what purpose it served. The button and timer below it didn’t do anything.

Then along came John McCormac, who had agreed to take on oversight of our bathroom construction project. He crawled around in places above the ceiling I didn’t even know existed and discovered the long-dead vent fan motors. He called on his friend Bob Cec, an electrician, to come take a look and see if they could resurrected.

It took some doing, and both men emerged dirty and sweaty from their above-the-ceiling efforts, but they succeeded in getting the motors running again. It’s old-fashioned cooling technology, but now, when the windows are open, and the motors are turned on, the vent will draw air around the room. Not cold air, mind you. It’s not air conditioning. But it’s fresh air, turning a stuffy, uncomfortable room into a much more pleasant place to be.

As some of my clergy friends are fond of saying, “That’ll preach.” There’s more than one metaphorical lesson here. How many times do we bemoan our lack of resources, when all we really need is a fresh breeze to blow out the stuffiness, to help us learn to enjoy what we already have? How often is the answer to a problem sitting right there in our midst, unnoticed and unappreciated? Often, I suspect.

So when we’re in a place of discomfort, we might be wise to look around and see what unexpected gifts God might have placed at our disposal. We might just discover the Holy Spirit, blowing through like a fresh breeze. Thanks be to God.

Becky +

Following where nudges lead

Thank goodness the Holy Spirit sometimes leads us to do the right thing, even if it’s for the wrong reason.

Take, for instance, my decision to become an Episcopalian. Some of you may have heard me tell the story. It happened the first year I was away at college.

My first few weeks away from home, I dutifully got up every Sunday morning and drove across town to go to church. That’s what I was raised to do. Skipping church was never an option when I was growing up.

My route took me past a strikingly beautiful church. I thought it was the most perfect church I had ever seen, with an exterior of river rock, a stately bell tower, stained glass windows, Tudor siding and bright red doors. It looked like something right out of medieval England.

It was an Episcopal church. I knew nothing about Episcopalians. But the church was just so pretty outside, I wondered what it looked like inside. I wanted to stop and take a look, but week after week I drove right on past, too shy to investigate further.

Then, one Sunday, I did. I just wanted to take a peek, then leave. As I walked in, I was awestruck. It was breathtaking. As I stood there gawking, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, and there was Martha, one of the sisters from the sorority I had pledged a few weeks earlier. “Hey, what are you doing here?” she asked. “I didn’t know you were an Episcopalian.”

“I’m not,” I started to say, “I just …”

“Well come on over and sit with us,” she said, pointing to a pew on the other side of the nave. I looked, and there sat five or six Delta Zetas. I happily joined them. They showed me how to use the Prayer Book, when to sit, when to stand and when to kneel. I was thoroughly confused, and didn’t know ANY of the hymns. But I enjoyed myself. And after church, we all went out to lunch together. That became our weekly routine, and I never went back to that other church.

This week, I’m taking a few days off to head out of town. I’m going back for a sorority reunion. We’ve rented a cabin on a lake near Roanoke, Va. And some of the girls who were sitting in that pew that day will be there. On Sunday morning, we’re all going to be worshiping together again for the first time in a very long time.

Somehow, I think the Holy Spirit will be smiling. 

Finding our core vocations

If you had to draw up a list of what makes St. James unique, what would you put on it? Then, looking over your list, what things would you say we can point to with pride, and what things might we wish were different?

That, in a nutshell, is what the clergy of the diocese spent last Wednesday and Thursday talking about during out annual clergy conference. We explored the idea of “core vocations” for our individual congregations.

Try as we might, churches really can’t be all things to all people. Rather, we must identify what we are most deeply passionate about, then allow the energy generated around these clearly articulated ministries to inspire people to give their time, energy and financial resources to the church.

There’s a three-step process for doing this. Step One is to determine what really matters to us. What would you put in that category for the people of St. James? Which of our ministries to you believe we really care about? To get at that, we might ask:

·      “What do we do well?”

·      “What are multiple people willing to commit their time and energy to?”

·      “How does a given ministry serve the wider community, so that if St. James disappeared, it would leave a hole that could not easily be filled?” 

Step Two is saying “no” to ministries that pull us away from our core vocations. Where do we fritter away time, talent and treasure that could be put to better use elsewhere? Where do we need to employ more discipline?

Step Three is evaluating, strengthening and ending some ministries. So what ministries here would you say are not really bearing fruit? How might we end them? Which are bearing good fruit, and what steps might we take to “prune” them so as to bear more fruit?

I, of course, have my own set of priorities, but if my priorities don’t align with the congregation’s, then little will be accomplished. Throughout my eight months here, I’ve been trying to listen closely, to see and hear what the people of St. James really care about.

Let me invite you to ponder this, and share your thoughts with me. What really matters at St. James? What would you, personally, be willing to invest energy and financial resources in? And what would you not miss at all if it went away? Then, let’s all keep building St. James into the parish Christ calls us to be.

Thoughts on cornerstones, living stones and hail stones

I’ve been thinking a lot about church foundations this week. And church windows. And church roofs. We really got hammered here at St. James this week, as you can see from our boarded up windows.

When the hailstorm struck I was here alone, and it was like being inside a drum that was being pounded. I stood back there by the door to the Parish Hall and watched in horror as the shattered glass went flying across the room. Every window that broke was like a smack across the cheek to me. It was as if someone I loved was under attack, and I wanted to protect St. James.

Because while in one sense it’s true that this is just a building, and that’s just glass, which can be replaced, in another sense, this is a holy place. It’s a holy structure. It’s a place we love and care about.

And in the midst of hailstorm and all its aftermath, I’ve been meditating on our Sunday's text from 1 Peter. "Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious..."

Christ is our cornerstone. I pray that Christ is woven into the fiber of this church. Woven not just into the building, but into its teaching, its worship, its work in the community. And you and I have been offered the wonderful honor of being part of this holy structure as well. We are the living stones that are placed on top of the sure foundation that Christ has laid.

Together, we build the church. Together, we ARE the church. 

Sometimes, like our stained glass windows, we get shattered. Sometimes, like our roof, we get beaten and battered. But those conditions are temporary. They don’t have to define us forever. Because we have a sure foundation, no hailstorm – whether literal or figurative – will ever overcome us.

We have been chosen by God to do God’s work, to speak out for God, to tell others of the difference God has made in our lives. Who needs to hear that message this week? It’s our job to share it.

Amen.

 

The faith to sing always ... alleluia!

Dear Friends – It saddens me to tell you that Cliff McPhaden, our phenomenal choir master and music director, is leaving us.

In fact, has left us. Not being one for long, sentimental goodbyes, Cliff decided that our glorious Easter Sunday was exactly the note on which he wanted to leave. And so far, I’ve been unsuccessful in my efforts to convince him to come back for at least one more Sunday, so we can give him a more fitting sendoff. But then, Cliff always has been one to do things on his own terms.

Though we had him just a short time, Cliff has been a precious gift to St. James. And to me, in particular. When I was interviewing for the job of priest-in-charge last summer with the vestry, I told them that the first thing I wanted to do was bring back the choir at St. James. Of course, at the time I had no idea how. I just knew we needed a choir.

I could not have foreseen that on Oct. 2, my very first Sunday here, we would have a visitor … a visitor who just happened to be a retired choir director, looking for a new church home. Coincidence? I think not. Cliff and I went to coffee that next week, and I asked him if he would consider helping us start a choir.

Cliff Mcphaden

Cliff Mcphaden

He warned me that he was a known troublemaker. He told me that I would have to let him do things his way, and that he could be persnickety. And he reminded me that he was 82 years old, and wasn’t sure how long his health would permit him to carry on. I agreed to all his terms. He immediately took over as our music director – at a salary of $0 per week – and he began recruiting a choir.

By the first Sunday of November, we started having special music each week. On the first Sunday of Advent, our choir debuted. Cliff coached and mentored them, now and then recruiting a guest singer to join them. The results were astounding, and the pride he instilled in our choir remarkable.

Most of Cliff’s warnings to me were unwarranted. He never caused trouble. Well, not much anyway. He never was persnickety. In fact, it was Cliff’s years of experience that week after week proved a lifesaver to this inexperienced priest, and it was his reassurance that steadied me when I wavered. But one warning proved prescient: Age-related health issues are preventing him from doing all he wants to do. He’s now weighing some major decisions, including a possible move out of state to be closer to family.

“This is not as I had planned nor hoped for,” Cliff told the choir members. “My heart aches at the necessity to leave with the growth and development just happening in a healthy solid beginning.”

So Cliff may be gone, but his legacy at St. James will continue. Gretchen Timmer, our organist, will step up to take over as music director and choir master. The choir is committed to continuing on the path that Cliff envisioned. We will keep growing, keep singing, keep making the worship experience at St. James sound lovely.

Come summer, the choir will take a break, but we’ll endeavor to continue to provide special music as often as possible. And in the fall, the choir will return, hopefully bigger and better than ever.

All in all, I’m pretty sure we’ve witnessed a miracle here at St. James. You might even call it a resurrection or sorts. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cliff McPhaden. Without him, none of this would have happened.

So Godspeed, Cliff! Our prayers are with you. You are a gift and a blessing.

Love, Pray, Eat – It all begins May 7

We’ve planned. We’ve experimented. We’ve beta-tested. We’ve revised and revised some more. And we’ve done a lot of praying about it. Now, we’re ready to move forward.

St. James will officially launch a new Sunday evening service – Dinner Church: Love, Pray, Eat – on May 7, starting at 5 p.m. in our Parish Hall. It will be every week.

 We’ve done three trial runs of this experimental new liturgy, all with hand-picked volunteers. We wanted to get it right because we didn’t want to invite the public to something that fell flat. But now, we’re going live and we’re going to invite everybody.

 We don’t know what will happen. I fantasize about it being a huge success, drawing in dozens of new people, especially those who can’t or won’t come to a traditional Sunday morning service. Nothing would make me happier.

 It’s also possible that, despite our best efforts, we’ll fail to attract any newcomers with this service. If that’s the case, then we’ll know this just wasn’t the ministry God intended for St. James to undertake, and we’ll keep looking for the path we’re meant to follow. But we’ll give it at least a season to see how things go.

I hope you’ll come and experience Love, Pray, Eat for yourself. Really, it’s nothing like what we do on Sunday morning. And it’s not meant to be a substitute service for our existing parishioners. The last thing we want is to draw folks away from our principal Sunday morning worship. I want you to come to both services. Come on Sunday mornings to be fed and to nurture your own spirit. Come on Sunday evening to help us reach out to others, and to help provide a critical mass that will be inviting and enticing to newcomers.

 Meantime, please help us spread the word. Please repost information about the service to your Facebook page, or help us pass out postcards, or email details to friends who might enjoy this, or invite a friend to come with you to see what this is all about. We have a wonderful story to tell here at St. James. Let’s use all the means at our disposal to tell it. 

A candle, a sermon, and a serendipitous discovery

It was pure happenstance that I stumbled upon the historic significance of this Easter Sunday for St. James.

I was working on my sermon for the Easter Vigil, and wanted to talk about the significance of the Paschal Candle, since it plays such an important role in our Easter Vigil rituals.

Last Easter, when I was still the curate at St. Thomas, I had the good fortune to find, buried deep within the bowels of the Altar Guild’s candle closet there, the remains of a 49-year-old Paschal Candle. Since St. Thomas had just bought a new wax Paschal Candle for the first time in many years, it seemed like a good artifact around which to link old and new. And thus a sermon was born.

This year, at a new parish with a different history and different customs, I wondered if I might be able to once again uncover some especially pertinent link to the past. Because, really, if ever you want to talk about history of a place, the Easter Vigil is the best time to do it. The vigil is nothing if not a night for stories from the past.

Surely, I thought, with all the emphasis we’ve placed recently on preserving our parish’s heritage, there’s got to be something lying around that just cries out to have its story told afresh. I found some old candles, but knew nothing of their story. Next, I was prepared to dig up some of the history of the statues in our chapel. But almost on a whim I decided first to look at some of the photo albums stored in one of the bookcases in the parish hall.

I flipped open the first album I pulled out, and there was a picture of our altar, adorned with Easter lilies. Then I read the caption: “First service in our beautiful new church, Easter 1967, March 26, 7 a.m.” With a jolt, I realized that was 50 years ago.

Then I came across the bulletin for the dedication of the new church building, held April 30, 1967, and in reading through it discovered that the first services in the old church building – now our parish hall – were on Easter 1957, 60 years ago.

A double anniversary. I’m grateful to have discovered this before it happened, rather than after the fact, so we could properly make note of the anniversary and celebrate it. And I’m beyond pleased that both Steve Driftmier – senior warden in 1967 – and Bob Snyder – on the vestry in 1967 – were here on Sunday to celebrate that milestone with us.

And I’m reminded, once again, that so many of the good things in our life are serendipitous. We may set out looking for one thing, but find another, far more precious than anything we could have asked for or imagined. I’m convinced we are surrounded by unseen blessings. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to discover them.

 

The strength to keep on walking

At some point, Jesus got off his ass and started walking.

(Off his four-legged Palm Sunday taxi! What did you think I meant?)

He knew what he was walking into. He knew that before the week was out, he’d spend a harrowing evening praying that God would let a certain cross-filled cup pass from him, and that the friends he’d asked to wait with him would fall asleep instead. He knew how frustrating that would be. But Jesus kept on walking anyway.

He knew that one of his closest companions would betray him, and that he’d be handed over to authorities who would torture him, mock him, spit on him. But Jesus kept on walking anyway.

He knew that the crowds that had hailed him upon his grand entrance into the city would turn on him and call for his death. But Jesus kept on walking anyway.

He knew about the cross and the nails and the humiliation and the pain and the final sense of abandonment that awaited him if he continued on the path he was taking. But Jesus kept on walking anyway.

What sheer determination and faith it must have taken to keep on walking into the face of all of that. What must it have cost him emotionally and physically? How do you make your feet keep moving, keep taking one step after another in a single direction, when in your heart you’d rather turn and run?

During Holy Week, we are asked to take those frightening, terrible steps alongside Jesus. We are invited to share the frustration, the fear, the pain and, hopefully, taste also the determination, the indomitable spirit that fueled our Savior during his life week of life.

So let’s get off our asses too, and walk with him.  –  Becky +

Let's plan on seeing a lot of each other next week

As we prepare for the exhilarating and exhausting observances of Holy Week, it’s worth noting that things might look very different if not for a certain fourth century nun with an eye for detail and a penchant for travel writing.

Her name was Egeria, and during a three-year pilgrimage through the Holy Land – from 381-384 – she regularly sent postcards home to her convent in Spain. In them, she described in great detail all that she saw, including how she witnessed people worshipping. Those long-ago travel diaries became the basis for our modern Holy Week liturgies.

All these centuries later, we’re still doing the same things Egeria described, still re-creating the events of the last week of Christ’s life, to summon forth the sacred story of the past and make it our own. There are liturgies every day during Holy Week, and I urge you to take part in as many of them as you possibly can.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll have Communion services, and guest preachers each night. Monday’s preacher is John Putnam, the assistant director of formation at St. John’s Cathedral, and my former Episcopal Service Corps intern. John is an extraordinary young man, and you won’t want to miss hearing this future leader of the church. On Tuesday, our own Stephen Anthony will go from the silent and invisible ministry of the verger to featured preacher. Stephen draws from a deep spiritual well, and I cannot wait to hear the word he gives us. On Wednesday, parishioner Mona Blandford will provide the message. Mona’s book, “Flowers Boom in Arid Soil,” is a combination memoir and spiritual guide, and just as in her book, she’ll be sharing some of her own story of her walk with God.

The final three days of Holy Week – the Triduum – is marked not by three separate services but by one single service that spans three days. The Maundy Thursday service – at which Deacon Joe will preach for the first time – begins in the usual manner, but ends in silence and the stripping of the altar. The silence continues through the night with our prayer vigil. It continues with the start of the Good Friday liturgy. As that liturgy ends, there is no blessing or dismissal, because we’re just pausing until Saturday.  

The Easter Vigil, beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, has four parts: the Service of Light; the Service of Lessons; the Renewal of Baptismal Vows; and – finally – the first Eucharist of Easter. It’s sort of like staying awake to ring in the New Year, only we’ll ring in Easter a lot earlier in the evening. And I do mean ring! Bring your bells! If you don’t have bells, you can jangle your keys. Regardless, it’s a thrilling and spectacularly moving service.

I guess what I’m saying is, whatever you do, don’t go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without drinking deeply of the stuff in the middle, especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s not optional stuff for extra credit. These rituals are at the very heart of Christianity and have been for a very, very long time.

If you’d like to come, but are worried about driving after dark, call me. We’ll arrange a ride for you. If you have company visiting, bring them. If you think it’s just too much church for one week, try it, then talk to me afterward and we’ll see if you still feel that way.

Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week. Let’s plan on seeing a lot of each other next week, okay? - Mother Becky