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!



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.



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 

Our "Chapel of 'Suppose...'"

      Sometime over the next two weeks, you’re going to see a small chapel appear in our worship space. It’s going to take the place of the “Kidz Zone,” though at my request, the giant panda will remain sitting somewhere in the congregation. Preaching to a panda every Sunday helps to remind me not to take myself too seriously.

     Initially, this will be the Chapel of Repose, where the consecrated host will rest following the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, and where our all-night vigil will take place.

     But after that, if we like it, we can keep it there. If we don’t like it, we can return it to the room in the basement where it has been sitting unused for a very long time.

     There is much to commend the idea of having an upstairs chapel. Depending on how we configure it, it will contain an altar and two or three small pews, able to seat six to nine people. That would be an ideal space for our Wednesday noon Eucharist. It would be a good place to say Morning or Evening Prayer. It might also be a spot conducive to private prayer. And of course it’s much more convenient upstairs than it is downstairs.

     On the other hand, until we actually get it moved upstairs and set up, we don’t really know how it will look or if it will feel crowded or in the way. Or perhaps there will be better ways to configure it, and that might take us awhile to determine. It’s okay to conclude that it’s fine for Holy Week, but not for the other 51 weeks of the year. You never know until you try.  

     In any case, I welcome your feedback. Please let me know what you think of the chapel, and how we could best arrange it. Also, if we do decide to keep the chapel upstairs, that would open up a room downstairs for a new use. Maybe a library? Maybe a St. James Heritage Room? A meeting room? We have multiple options. Put on your thinking caps and let’s see what we can come up with. 


Double the clergy, double the fun!

    By the Rev. Becky Jones

 I haven’t been this excited for our parish since our choir debuted. We’re getting a deacon!

     By now, many of you know Joe Mazza. He and his wife, Carol, have been worshipping with us for over a month now. But you may NOT have known that he’s a vocational deacon. He and Carol moved from Florida to Westminster in the fall to be nearer to a certain young grandson, and for most of that time they’ve been worshipping at Holy Comforter in Broomfield. But Joe began to miss actively serving as a deacon, so he approached the bishop about getting assigned to a parish.

     The bishop told Joe to look around, visit some churches, and see if he found a place he might like. That’s what he did. Then, one Sunday he and Carol visited St. James, and Joe knew in his heart that his search was over. This was the place he wanted to come.

     We couldn’t be luckier to get him. EVERY parish needs a deacon, but there simply aren’t enough to go around. I’m very grateful that the bishop has agreed to Joe’s request to come to St. James, because parishes many times our size have been waiting for years, and still don’t have a deacon. It’s testament to the hospitality and vibrancy of St. James that we have been able to attract one.

     The role of the deacon is quite different from the role of the priest. Joe’s main job is to serve outside the church, to bring the cares and concerns of the world back to the church, and to carry Christ’s love out into the world. Joe will be a prod to us. He will prick our conscience. He will open our eyes. He will help every member of our parish live into our own baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

    He will also help to be the face of St. James in our community, representing us and taking some of us with him to various gatherings, so we can come to better understand just what the true needs are in our community, and how St. James can help to meet those needs.

    Joe will begin serving at the altar this coming Sunday. The deacon’s role in the liturgy is to proclaim the Gospel, to bid the faithful to confess their sins, to set the table, to serve at Holy Communion, and to offer the dismissal. He will also preach regularly, probably monthly. He’ll take over the training and scheduling of Eucharistic Visitors. And his special mission is to revitalize our men’s group.

     As a deacon, Joe’s ministry is non-stipendiary – meaning we don’t pay him! Nor does he answer to me or to the vestry. He answers to the bishop. Deacons truly are special ministers in the church.

     Please join me in welcoming Joe and Carol into our midst. God continues to bless this parish, in ways large and small. And this? Blessings don’t get much larger than this. Thanks be to God.

Becky +

Meet Deacon Joe

By the Rev. Joe Mazza

Greetings to everyone at my new church home, St. James Wheat Ridge.

First, let me say that I feel blessed and energized to have been assigned to serve as deacon at St. James Wheat Ridge. Your kind welcoming of my wife, Carol, and me as we visited St. James, while we waited for our bishop to discuss my candidacy with Mother Becky, was part of why I wanted to serve here.

Seeing and learning how much Mother Becky has added to St. James in a short time – enriching and adding opportunities for worship, creating opportunities for fellowship and learning – definitely made me want to be a part of St. James and serve our Lord with her and with all of you.

I must say, the Elvis Fool’s Gold peanut butter, jelly and bacon sandwiches helped a lot too.

 I am honored that Mother Becky and Bishop O’Neill chose to have me serve as your deacon, and I do apologize to those of you who were somewhat shocked to suddenly see me in my collar the afternoon of Mother Becky’s Celebration of New Ministry.

Now for some nuts and bolts about Carol and me:  I grew up in New York, on Long Island, about 45 minutes from New York City.  Carol grew up in northern New Jersey.  It is a second marriage for both of us.

We met and married while I was living and working in Memphis, Tennessee.  My career, before retirement and diaconal ministry, was in television sales management and station management, which took me to many cities across the country over 30 years.

My two children are grown.  Joe Jr., his wife, Theresa, and our 12-year-old grandson JJ live in Broomfield, and, after very little coaxing (okay, after no coaxing whatsoever), they got Carol and me to move to Westminster, about 10 minutes from them.

Daughter Natalie lives in Carmel, Ind., with our other three grandchildren – Patrick, 10;  Will, 8;  and Amelia, 6.  Amelia is without a doubt the pint-sized ruler of the crew!  At this time, unfortunately, Natalie is going through a divorce, and we support her in every way possible.  We look forward to their visits this spring or summer.

Carol and I have spent quite a bit of time at JJ’s hockey games, and we’re looking forward to baseball later this spring, which I will help coach.  JJ has also successfully auditioned for the Denver School of the Arts as a percussionist and will start in the fall.

Carol and I are avid baseball fans and loyal to the New York Yankees (who else?).  No doubt we will also spend some summer evenings at Coors Field rooting for the Rockies.

After three years of study in The Diocese of Southern Ohio School for Diaconal Ministry, I was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in June, 2009, at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati.

While doing my field work at Trinity Church in Columbus, I was led by the Holy Spirit to start a homeless ministry for folks living on the land in downtown Columbus. The ministry, which I called In The Garden, began with praying for and having lunch with six to 10 homeless folks.  Today, through the dedication of faithful volunteers, the ministry is still going strong and serves between 120 and 150 people every Sunday.  Actually, all I did was plant a seed and God has blessed that ministry and made it grow and grow.

I have also served as a deacon in Jacksonville, Fla., and now God has blessed me again by bringing me here.

There are several Bible passages that influence and challenge me in my life as a deacon. I will mention three which, if you like, you may look up and maybe be challenged by them as well:  Galatians 3:28, Matthew 25:35-40, and Luke 10:27.

I look forward to getting to know each of you better and working together in service to our Lord Jesus Christ.  There is much that you can teach me about my new home, and I hope that through me you will see that the work of a deacon is never about the deacon, but always about being a humble servant.

I live with the knowledge and faith that God will open new doors with work for us to do together.

In His Service

The Rev. Joe Mazza, Deacon




One Holy Pretzel and 10 Commandments: A guide to understanding our liturgy during Lent

By the Rev. Becky Jones

I hope you have noticed and have appreciated the several changes to our liturgy for Lent.

There was, of course, the Great Litany, which we sang on the first Sunday of Lent. That long, circuitous route around the church that the choir and altar party took during the chanting of the Great Litany is commonly known as "the Holy Pretzel," a name that seems curiously appropriate. It seems that took a number of you by surprise, since it apparently has not been our parish's custom in the past to do this. I, on the other hand, have never been in a parish that didn't do it on Lent 1, so I didn't warn you in advance that it was coming, and for that I apologize.

But the Great Litany and the pretzel was just a one-time thing, not to be seen again until Feb. 18, 2018. (Fair warning!) Some other changes to the liturgy will last throughout Lent. These include beginning the service with the Ten Commandments and the confession; then chanting the Kyrie ("Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy"); saying the psalm responsively rather than in unison; substituting the song "All Things are Thine" (from the 1940 Hymnal) for our usual doxology at the presentation of the offerings; using Prayer C, a more penitential prayer for the Great Thanksgiving on Rite II Sundays; and a blessing that bids worshippers to "bow down before the Lord." 

If all these changes have left you feeling just a little unsettled, that's a good thing. We intentionally strive to make the season of Lent feel unlike any other time of the church year. It should be a time of feeling just a little uncertain, a time to be taken out of our comfort zones. But I hope that the overall effect remains a beautiful, worshipful experience. If you have any questions about why we're doing what we're doing during Lent, please don't hesitate to give me a call or drop me a note. Knowing the reasoning behind things can only help us appreciate them more. 


Becky +