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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VERY off-Broadway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

1968, here we come!

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” 

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

“Where’s the Old Testament lesson?”

“When do I break the bread???” 

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

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

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

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

 

 

My best-spent Friday, ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Changes coming for fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a warm sweater on a cold day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting serious about children's formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we are at cross-purposes with Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Accretions

Accretions.

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

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

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

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

30-40 cans of old paint (recycled)

4 shelving systems in the Parish Hall (recycled)

1 old, extremely heavy television (recycled)

an indeterminate number of broken picture frames

several broken kneelers

8-10 uncomfortable metal folding chairs (recycled)

2 metal file cabinets (rehomed)

2 damaged folding tables (recycled)

odd carpet pieces that didn’t match any current carpet

pieces of an old Carnation Days float

non-working light fixtures

used fluorescent tubes

enough scrap wood and metal to fill the dumpster

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Of symbols and shells, pilgrimage and baptism

The pilgrims have come home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What they're saying about Godly Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking time to see the extraordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

A royal eye-opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Bishop Curry’s royal wedding address.

 

 

 

 

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.