Taking time to see the extraordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A royal eye-opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Bishop Curry’s royal wedding address.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Things I Learned from our Spring Tea

Top 10 Things I Learned from Saturday’s Spring Tea

10. People who haven’t been to St. James in awhilecan’t believe how great the place looks! I heard this repeatedly on Saturday. Those of us who are here every week don’t tend to notice all the incremental changes that have taken place. But the difference between the St. James of six months ago and the St. James of today is noteworthy to folks seeing it all at once. We’re brighter, neater, more pleasing to the eye. This is a direct result of the fine work done by our indefatigable Tuesday Work Crew. 

9. A pint jar can hold 205 peanut M&Ms. This is way more than I would have thought! 

8.  Cathy Loomis is a creative genius.There’s just no disputing that now. That tree! Amazing! Guess what: We’re talking about keeping it and entering it as a float in the Wheat Ridge Carnation Days parade. The theme is “Deep Roots.” How perfect is that? 

7.  The actual number of English words you can make using the letters in “TEA PARTY” is 123, including five that contain six letters, but none that have more than six letters. If you count the word “a” – which I think you should given that it’s a commonly used article even if it’s illegal in Scrabble – that raises the count to 124. Who knew?

6.  Episcopal Punch is pretty darn good punch. I don’t know what Ginny McColm put in it, but it was delicious. I drank more punch than tea. 

5.  A full parish hall is a happy parish hall. I want to see our Parish Hall that full EVERY week. It was loud. It was filled with laughter. It was so crowded, you had to turn sideways to squeeze between the tables. It was absolutely glorious. 

4.  The men of St. James are the best.Ever! Honestly, I never thought we’d top the Easter Pageant, when so many of our men agreed to put on bathrobes and sandals and be part of a play. But the guys in their bow ties, serving tea to all those ladies … I could not love them more. Thank you Harry Johnson, Matt McColm, John McCormac, Mark McFadden and John Applegate. You are awesome! 

3.  The women of St. James are the best. Ever! Shirley Mosher and Rita Lord spent untold hours setting things up. Rita and Cathy Loomis never sat down, as far as I could tell. The food was outstanding. Do sandwiches always taste better when they’re cut in little triangles? 

2.  If you want an event done right, put Karen McCall in charge of it. I don’t know how she keeps straight all the things she has to do. But she does, and she makes it look effortless. All I can say is, her retirement from the postal service was a gift to Saint James. 

1. NEVER underestimate the power of this congregationto do the extraordinary when we all pull together. One hundred and twelve tickets sold. More than $1,600 raised. Dozens of visitors coming into our parish hall and feeling welcomed. And loads of delicious leftovers for the staff to munch on this week. This was a sweet success worth savoring for awhile. 

Coming this summer: An audacious plan for all-ages Sunday school

In the midst of all the joy that was Easter Sunday at St. James, there was one comment made that’s been causing me to lose sleep. 

It came from the grandmother of a child who was baptized here, but whose family no longer attends. “The only reason we left,” she said, “was because you have no Sunday school program for children. We’d come back here if you did.”

I would give anything to offer a Sunday school program for children. I believe regular exposure to Bible stories and age-appropriate discussions of the basics of our faith are among the most important gifts we can give our children. But how do we offer a Sunday school program for children when we only have one child who regularly attends St. James? In a time of limited resources, shouldn’t we focus on our core constituency, which is decidedly older? Who would lead a Sunday school for kids? 

We are certainly not the only church to face this dilemma. It’s a problem in many places. And the success record of places who’ve tried to turn things around is mixed at best. Let’s face it, it would be far easier just to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.  

And then that grandmother’s words come back to me. So I toss and turn and ponder this some more.

Friends, I think we have to try. So it is with excitement mixed with just a touch of anxiety that I announce the upcoming launch of “Cherish & Nurture: Godly Play for All Ages,” beginning Sunday, June 10. This is to be a pilot program for the summer, and at the end of summer we’ll assess whether to continue it into the fall. 

Some of you may be familiar with Godly Play. It’s a teaching method that many parishes use in their children’s classes. It engages children’s imaginations and invites them into Bible stories in new ways. But like the best animated movies, Godly Play can engage adult minds right along with children’s. Done well, Godly Play is suitable for all ages. And that’s what we want, at least over the summer. We want to offer a class that is inviting and enjoyable for children from toddlers right on up to their older siblings, and to their parents, and to their grandparents, and to all the members of our congregation, regardless of age.

The class will be held in our Parish Hall, beginning at 10:45 a.m., right after Coffee Hour. We don’t normally have adult Christian formation classes during the summer, so it won’t be dislocating any other class. We may set up the room a bit differently, with an area for kids to be seated on mats on the floor, and adults in chairs encircling the kids. 

Because it’s summer, and because many churches don’t offer Sunday school classes during summer, we will be able to borrow not only the necessary Godly Play materials, but also trained Godly Play instructors. The class requires two instructors, and we plan to use two guest instructors for the June classes. In July, we will pair a guest instructor with one of our parishioners each week. The guest instructors will mentor our homegrown teachers. By August, we should be able to provide both instructors from within St. James and not rely on guest instructors. 

Meanwhile, we’ll begin publicizing the class, in hopes of enticing families to come to St. James to check us out. And this is where YOU all come in. No new family wants to be the only ones in class. How awkward would that be? So please do come and sit in on this class. Help us create a warm, welcoming kid-friendly environment where everyone feels comfortable, and to which newcomers will want to return.

I’m pitching this to you as an opportunity to help us grow St. James. But you know what? I’m betting that if you come, you will actually enjoy it. We’ll spend the summer immersing ourselves in the great stories of the Bible, starting with creation, the flood, the exodus, the exile and return, the prophet Jonah. As the season progresses, we’ll talk about baptism, about Easter, about some of Jesus’ parables. We’ll ask questions and encourage wonderment. It’s the Bible as you may not have heard it read before. It’s playful and engaging. It may touch your imagination in new and unpredicted ways. Yes, it’s meant for the kids, but adults may be absolutely charmed as well. We are never too old to play.

And here’s a really big ask: Would you be willing to learn how to lead a Godly Play class? Because if this works and we get a passel of kids in here, we’re gonna need teachers! But first things first. For now, would you be willing to be paired with a trained instructor this summer to learn the basics of Godly Play? If so, please let me know ASAP. No previous experience necessary. What you need is a playful heart, a desire to pass along your faith, and a willingness to try.

We’re still working out all the details about this pilot program, so stay tuned for more updates. And please keep St. James in your prayers as we attempt this audacious project. We’ll be counting on more than a little help from the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe heaven looks like a well-stocked library

Among the many wonderful things that have happened at St. James during this glorious Eastertide, this one could have passed virtually unnoticed. It’s a little thing, really, but big oaks start as little acorns, so I think this is a story worth sharing, and we’ll see what sprouts down the road. 

Those of you who were here on Easter Sunday know there were a lot of people here that day. We had almost 50 visitors that morning. Indeed, the visitors outnumbered the regulars – a pretty common Easter Sunday phenomenon. There were so many new faces it was hard to get around to greet everyone personally, and to remember names and stories about why folks chose to come to St. James on that day. 

In the midst of the commotion, one young man I had not met before came up to me and handed me a visitor’s card filled out with nothing but his name and his phone number. “I probably won’t ever be back, and I don’t want to be on the mailing list,” he told me. “But call me. I want to talk to you about something.”

I feared that we had somehow offended him, though for the life of me I couldn’t think how. What was not to love about our Easter Sunday? What’s not to love about US? Still, you just never know what might get under some people’s skin. So a couple of days later, bracing myself for some onslaught of criticism at a perceived lack of hospitality on our part, I called him.

He could not have been warmer. He greatly enjoyed Easter Sunday at St. James, and felt very welcomed. We did nothing wrong. It’s just, well, organized religion doesn’t fit him very well these days. And that’s too bad, because at one point he had invested pretty heavily in it. 

It seems the young man has a theological library he’s no longer using. (I know the feeling! I have thousands of dollars worth of seminary textbooks I keep around on the off chance I might one day need some obscure nugget of theological wisdom contained in one of them. Can I interest anyone in an 1,100-page tome of commentary on Leviticus Chapters 1-16 that I paid $60 for, and have not even cracked open the biblical Book of Leviticus – let alone the commentary – ever since? I have another priest friend who swears he has a 1,000-page textbook of commentary on the book of Obadiah, while the actualbook of Obadiah is exactly 1 page long. At 21 verses, it’s the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible.)

Anyway, this young man had also invested in a theological library, but his life trajectory has led him on a path far different from what he earlier imagined it might be. He no longer needs these books, but he wanted to find a good home for them. Some place worthy of them. 

On Easter Sunday, he found us. And he decided he would like his library to go to us if we wanted it. 

I told him we’d take it. I don’t know exactly what’s in his library, but it doesn’t sound as if there’s anything there that is incompatible with Anglican theology. (Note: I once found a copy of one of the “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – the epitome of bad theology!!! – in the library of an Episcopal Church that shall remain nameless. The rector had no idea it was there, donated, no doubt, by a well-meaning parishioner. That taught me the value of library-related vigilance.)

Our new friend will be bringing the library over sometime in the next few weeks. He expects it will fill a couple of bookcase shelves. For now, we can store it in the bookcases in the parish hall. But eventually, I hope we have a nice library/reading room/Heritage Room downstairs. We’re working on that vision. Vestrywoman Cathy Loomis has taken it on as her project this year. It will happen.

I know that libraries are a luxury, and printed books are disappearing as we move into a digital culture. But still, there’s something marvelous about curling up with a good book. Having a nice cozy reading room downstairs can surely be a blessing to us. And this gift may lead to others.

As I say, it’s just a small thing. A few books. An affirmation of our hospitality. A little dream we can make happen this year. Yet small step by small step, we are building up the Kingdom of God. Maybe to some folks, heaven looks just like a well-stocked library. If so, come check out ours. 

 

Let's pick one and stop going back and forth

Change is hard. Most of the time, I don’t much like it.

Like this coming Sunday, when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. This is my least favorite Sunday of the year. Every cell in my body feels the loss of that hour of sleep, and no promise that I’ll get it back sometime in November takes the edge off the resentment I feel. Worse, I know that it will take me a whole week to fully acclimate to this new time change. I’ll go around all week feeling sleep-deprived. The older I get, the harder it is to adapt to changes that probably wouldn’t bother me at all if I were younger.

I just wish we’d pick one time and stick with it, and stop going back and forth.

But the imminent time change isn’t the only back-and-forth change that’s been on my mind lately. There’s another one that’s been on my mind – and in my heart and in my prayers – since soon after I arrived at St. James almost a year and a half ago. It involves our worship service and how we switch back and forth between Rite I and Rite II every week.

I understand the reasons for this. I know that, long before I came here, we had two Sunday morning services, and that Rite I was used at the early service and Rite II at the later service. Our parish leadership judged – wisely, I think – that a church as small as ours ought not be splitting itself in two. Better to have one combined service than to offer two smaller services, neither of which is large enough to really reach the critical mass needed for sustainability.

To accommodate the preferences of both groups, we opted to alternate between the beauty of the traditional language of Rite I and the more expansive and inclusive language of Rite II. That way, nobody got to keep everything they were comfortable with, but nobody was forced to give up everything either. That was a well-meaning and pastorally sound compromise.

But it was not a good strategy for growth. And from a liturgical perspective, it is cumbersome to keep switching back and forth.

I love Rite I and its beautiful language. But that’s because I’ve heard it for much of my life. For years, I served as an acolyte at the 7:30 a.m. service at St. John’s Cathedral, at which Rite I was said weekly. The language became second nature to me. I can recite it from memory. I even know what most of it means!

But I fear that many people do not. People who didn’t grow up in the church – or even those who did, but who came of age sometime after the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – don’t speak that language anymore. The meaning of the phrases, though undeniably beautiful, is unclear to them. The words don’t easily roll off the tongue.

When visitors come on Rite I Sundays, they may be charmed, viewing us as a quaint throwback to a bygone time. But I fear it’s more likely they find the language confusing and off-putting, and, rightly or wrongly, it signals to them that we are church stuck in the past, unwilling to move forward.

Is that who we are? I don’t think it is.

Thus, at our vestry retreat in late February, we made the decision that, beginning with Easter, we will cease alternating between Rite I and Rite II, and will use Rite II or the supplemental liturgical materials from Enriching Our Worship on most Sundays.

During Lent, however, we will go back to using Rite I exclusively. That is the Lenten practice of many churches, and there are sound spiritual reasons for doing so. In addition, we will plan regular “Throwback Sunday” services, at which we will intentionally lift up and honor some facet of our history. These, too, will be appropriate times to use Rite I. But it won’t be every other Sunday.

I am mindful of the disappointment this will cause some of you. That’s why this was such a difficult decision, and not something the vestry undertook lightly. The only alternative we could see was to go back to two services. And maybe one day in the not too distant future, when we are bigger, that will be a viable option. But for now, we don’t feel we can launch a second service without doing damage to the principle service. So for now we’re sticking to one service at 9 a.m.

I welcome your conversation around this. I welcome your suggestions for ways to make our liturgy more beautiful and more meaningful – for newcomers, for cradle Episcopalians, for everyone who walks through our doors. I even welcome you to call me just to vent your frustration or disagreement.

What I don’t want you to do is simmer in silence or feel your desires are unheard. Please know that every one of you is important to me, and I would tailor our service to suit each of you if I could. I can’t do that, but what I can do is hear each of you, cherish each of you, and honor each of you. And to humbly beseech our heavenly Father so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.

 

 

Not your average vestry assignments...

Lots of good things came out of our vestry retreat this past Saturday, not the least of which was the sure and certain knowledge that our parish is led by some of the smartest, most creative and hardest-working individuals I’ve ever met. What a pleasure this group is to be around. I think it’s going to be a good year.

 

We talked about a lot of things, but the thing we spent the most time on was figuring out the best ways to organize ourselves for action in the coming year. Ideally, each vestry member has some area of parish life over which he or she takes charge. Last year, we had an outreach chair, a parish life chair, a hospitality chair, a pastoral care chair, an evangelism chair, etc. Now, I’m not saying that last year’s structure didn’t work, because we accomplished a lot. But I wondered if there might not be a still better way to tap into people’s passions, further empowering them.

 

So rather than assign the usual jobs, we flipped the process on its head. Instead, we began by brainstorming a blue-sky vision of what we would like to see happen at St. James this year.

 

Among the ideas:

  • Participating in the Carnation Festival
  • Repeating the success of last year’s St. James Day, St. Nicholas Party and Mardi Gras
  • Finally getting our Heritage Room created
  • Developing a better way to provide care to members who are sick, including meal delivery and regular phone check-ins
  • Sponsoring a refugee family
  • More hands-on outreach projects, including St. Clare’s and Project Angel Heart
  • Better incorporation of newcomers
  • Reviving our spring tea
  • Sending out email reminders to folks of upcoming events

 

There were more. Our vestry has no shortage of good ideas. This is just a sample.

 

After brainstorming for awhile, we shifted to the nuts of bolts of what is actually doable. ndividual vestry members were able to lay claim to those ideas that energized them most – always with the understanding that the job would not be theirs and theirs alone to do. Rather, they are empowered to reach into the congregation and build teams to work on every project.

 

The result is some pretty diverse portfolios of responsibility. Thus, John McCormac, our new junior warden, finds himself not just in charge of work days and fixing broken things. John is also the chair of our 2018 Saint James Day planning committee. Carol Johnson, our new senior warden – and, technically, an ex officio member of every committee – is taking on the task of organizing our library AND our outreach projects.

 

Karen McCall, our new treasurer and verger-in-training, has agreed also to head up the revival of our Spring Tea and the Mardi Gras party.Helen Masterson is putting her communications and networking skills to work to increase our profile in the community, She’s also overseeing the creation of our St. James Legacy Society.

 

Rose Applegate, who already has a finger in virtually every St. James pie, is going to start sending out email reminders.Pearl Oppliger wants us to do a better job of staying in touch with the families we adopted at Christmas – and those we hope to adopt in the future. She’s making that her mission, along with other acts of hospitality.

 

Newcomer Carol Cozart is going to look out for the needs of other newcomers. She’s going to focus on growing our membership, then helping new members feel right at home.

Cathy Loomis wants to see the Heritage Room become a reality, and she wants to see us do more to provide pastoral care to those in need. And she and Pearl are going to look into how we can help a refugee family.

 

A couple of vestry members – JoAnn Hamm and Ginny McColm – are out of town and weren’t able to be at the vestry retreat. But I have no doubt that both will have some definite ideas about what they’d like to see in their portfolios as well.

 

Now that the vestry is organized in this way, the next step is to empower every parishioner in the same way. Is there something YOU would like to see happen at St. James in 2018? Is there some job or project or idea about which you feel great energy? You don’t have to be on the vestry to step up and take charge of it. Or, if you’re reluctant to assume responsibility, is there something you’d like to help someone else do? See me. I'm ready to empower you to do it!

 

Every single person in our parish brings special skills, talents and experiences. We each have something unique and wonderful to contribute to our common life. And in a small parish such as ours, nobody gets to coast. Each of you is vital to the continuing mission and ministry of St. James. Thank you all for your willingness to live into that call.

It's not just the killers who are crazy

I had barely finished putting the ashes on the foreheads of the folks who came to our noon Ash Wednesday service, barely finished reminding them that they were dust, and to dust they would return, when the news from Parkland, Fla., began to emerge. Another school shooting. Multiple fatalities. Many teen-agers killed and wounded. Others spared through the actions of heroic teachers.

 

That familiar old sickening feeling settled in. The horror. The anger at our government’s inability to respond. The memories of the devastation that enveloped our own community nearly 20 years ago, and the overwhelming sense of injustice at seeing lives cut short so needlessly.

 

With that came the realization that, down deep, I didn’t really mean it when I told young people to remember their own mortality. Children ought not have to contemplate their own deaths. Not yet.

 

And on the heels of that insight came another: What a privilege to live in a culture where we feel children should be exempt from the ever-present awareness of the fragility of life, the suddenness with which it can end. Especially when we consider that for most of human history – and for most of the world still today – the death of a child is hardly unexpected. It’s commonplace.

 

Then again … it’s never been commonplace for children to die like this, not through gun violence. It’s not commonplace anywhere in the world except right here in 21st century America. This time and this place, alone, stand out in human history as a time and place that allowed its children – and other citizens – to be murdered with gut-wrenching regularity, and we do nothing except mumble something about prayers and mental health.

 

It’s not just the killers who are crazy. The true mental illness here is thinking that anything is going to change without radical action on our part.

 

Prayers? You bet they’re needed. But not just prayers that God comfort the grieving, though we certainly desire that. We also need to be praying that God will forgive us for making an idol of our guns, and for putting the Second Amendment ahead of the Sixth Commandment. We need to pray that God will free us of our fears and give us the courage to stand up to the evil that envelopes us.

 

Mental health? It would be wonderful to see some meaty funding put into expanding access to mental health care. But I’m not holding my breath.

 

We are one week into Lent. Now is the time for self-reflection, for prayer, for serious examination of our shortcomings and failures. It’s a time to take stock of ourselves as individuals and as communities.

 

I’m inviting each of you to help hold me, as a leader in our faith community, accountable. What am I doing to make a difference? What am I doing besides offering platitudes? Likewise, I will help to hold you accountable as well. What are we all doing? What CAN we do? It’s easy to slip back into old, ineffectual patterns. Something’s got to change.

 

What can we do? The answer varies for each of us, depending on what we have or have not done in the past. Have you ever written or called a public official? If not, that’s a good place to start. And if you have, keep it up, only moreso. Have you ever attended a rally? If not, try attending one. Have you ever taken steps to limit violence as entertainment in your home? Might give that a try.

 

Have you honestly, earnestly prayed about this? Prayed that God will show you a path out of this violent, gun-obsessed morass in which we find ourselves? Never, ever doubt the power of prayer. We just can’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing else. 

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.