Advent Approaches

Dear Friends,

I have been eagerly hearing your stories of all that has been accomplished while I was away on my sabbatical. At the same time, I find myself looking forward. Advent approaches! For the Christian community Advent means, among other things, the beginning of a new liturgical year.  On the first Sunday of Advent, December 3, we will begin a new cycle of scripture lessons in our Sunday liturgies. Our gospel lessons will be drawn primarily from the Gospel of Mark.

Advent is also considered a season of preparation. Familiar to many of us is the idea of preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The readings and hymns of the season, however, will also ask us to anticipate and prepare for the return of Christ, not as an infant, but as the one who comes to fulfill God’s reign, addressing us all with his profound and mysterious combination of judgement and mercy.

For me, a longstanding tradition of the Advent season is the creation of an Advent devotional calendar, which has been a collaborative project with my friend and colleague, Merry Watters, for over 25 years. You can find and download this year’s calendar at my website here.  It will also be available on cardstock at the church over the next several weeks.

As I have done for the past several years, I will be sending out  by email a daily reflection on each day’s scripture and suggested devotion. If you have received it in the past, you will be getting it this year, and I will be sending out the parish email list as well.  My hope is that it will be one way in which we can make the Advent journey together. On that journey, we will approach both the babe in the manger and the one who, “in such form as none would guess, will surely come to judge and bless.”




Support The Harvest on Vine Emergency Food Pantry Thanksgiving Basket Distribution

Harvest on Vine, Charlestown’s Emergency Food Pantry, will be distributing all the fixings for  Thanksgiving dinners to families in need on Tuesday, November 21 at 2 pm.  It costs $35 to create a dinner, and you are welcome to make contributions to Harvest on Vine for these dinners.  Donations of any amount are welcome, and checks can be mailed to: Harvest on Vine, 46 Winthrop Street, Charlestown, MA, 02129.


Clergy Leadership During the Sabbatical

If you are in need of the services of a priest during our rector’s sabbatical, please contact our Senior Warden, Douglas Heim, at:
or by phone at: 860-978-2338.

For the months of  September and October, the Rev. Luther Zeigler will be our part-time sabbatical supply priest. He will be with us on alternate Sundays as well as once a week in the office. During the month of August, worship will be led by our priest associates, and other clergy providing supply.

For the last six years, Luther was the Episcopal Chaplain to Harvard University. He completed his work there this spring. Among the students for whom he was both a pastor and mentor are Emily Garcia and Rachel Pfost. Luther currently serves as the priest at  Emmanuel Church in Manchester by the Sea, a seasonal parish, and will be there through Labor Day

You can learn more about Luther by visiting this page of Emmanuel Church’s website:



God’s Goodness Blessed

The Sabbath teaches us in time
to find the rhythm of life’s rhyme.
God’s goodness blessed,
a holy sign,
Come, learn to love
the sabbath time.

Dear Friends,

The words above are part of the last hymn we will sing this Sunday at the 10 am service. They come from a text I composed years ago, when I was preparing to take some time away from parish ministry.
I know they are an invitation for me, as I embark on a sabbath time. I also know that for our wardens, vestry, staff, and clergy leaders, the months ahead may seem like anything but a time of rest.

I so appreciate their willingness to lead all of you over these next three months. I do hope that people will step forward to continue or even initiate new ministries in my absence, if they are so inspired. But I also hope that you hear those words as an invitation to you, and that these next three months can provide opportunities for true sabbath. Some of the rhythms of parish life may be different while I am gone, and such change may be unsettling. Sometimes however, the very changes which are unsettling reveal  that deeper rhythm of life which is unchanging – the steadfast love of God. Like the very beating of the heart, it can often go unnoticed, but is essential to life.

I will pray for you as I hope you pray for me during this time. My prayer will not be focused on hoping things “go well” while I am away (for I’m confident they will). Rather, I hope  that you and I will hear more clearly  God’s very heartbeat, so that the rhythm of our own lives resonates with that pulse of love which is steadfast and sure.





A Time Away

Dear Friends,

A friend sent me an email this morning with a clip of Fred Rogers listening to the Empire Brass Quintet play a piece for him – “Central Park Morning.” It was a lovely way to begin the day. Included with the clip were some quotes of Mr. Rogers, and among them was this:

“It’s important to know when we need to stop, reflect, and receive. In our competitive world, that might be called a waste of time. I’ve learned that those times can be the preamble to periods of enormous growth.”

I’m so grateful that the parish is providing the opportunity for me to have such a time during my sabbatical. Creating the time to “reflect and receive” means that I will be away for the whole sabbatical. It also means that I will not be returning for any occasions or pastoral needs, such as baptisms or funerals.

During sabbatical periods or transition times in the life of a parish, the senior warden takes on the leadership role normally held by the rector. We are fortunate to have Doug Heim serving as our senior warden. He and I, along with Bridget Nyhan, our junior warden, have been meeting to prepare for this time. Questions or concerns during the sabbatical can  always be brought to the wardens, even as people already look to them throughout the year.

The three of us will be meeting this week with Lyn Brakeman, Dick Simeone, and Liz Senft, our priest and pastor associates, and Luther Zeigler, our sabbatical supply priest.  Together, they will ensure that pastoral care continues while I am away.

We are fortunate to have such leaders, both lay and ordained, and I am grateful for all that they already offered in preparation for this time.

I do hope there have been at least moments this summer when you have had the chance to stop, reflect, and receive.  Such moments can be a form of prayer, when in the quietness of waiting, God’s whispers and guidance can be heard more clearly.




Sabbath Time

A Watercolor From 35 years Ago

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, on Monday July 24th, I will begin my sabbatical. For three and a half months, I will be away from parish life, returning on the Feast of All Saints, Sunday, November 5th.

The purpose of this leave-taking is to rest, to renew a sense of call and vocation, and to do things that I would not otherwise be able to do without such an extended time. The goal is to return to St. John’s prepared for another extended season of ministry together.

A theme of the sabbatical will be to spend time on creative endeavors, familiar and new, to which I have given too little time in recent years. It has been a life-long dream of mine to learn to play the piano. Having already started lessons, I am eager to spend more time at  the keyboard, and look forward to returning being able to play at least a few hymns! Still, Douglas has nothing to worry about.

Over 30 years ago, I explored watercolor painting  and pen and ink drawing. I have not lifted the brush or pen in quite awhile, and will be taking watercolor classes at the beginning of the sabbatical.

One region I plan to paint images of is the Thousand Islands. I am fortunate that my spouse, Thomas Brown, will have a sabbatical at the same time. While we each will be doing some different things, we will spend a good two months of the sabbatical, from mid August until mid-October, at Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence River. Over the last fourteen years, it has become a place of  sabbath rest and spiritual renewal for us both, and I am grateful to have more than a few weeks there this year.

I’ll share a bit more  about my plans in in next week’s News and Notes. I know another important question that my sabbatical raises is “What about St. John’s?”  You will be receiving a letter from the wardens before my departure about clergy leadership and the life of the parish during the sabbatical. Do see the news below about our clergy leadership in the fall.

I am so grateful to the vestry for their encouragement and support for this sabbatical, and to the Diocese of Massachusetts for its provision of sabbatical grants for clergy.   My prayer throughout this time will be that everyone of us finds ways to incorporate sabbath into the rhythm and rhyme of our lives.



Think About These Things

Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Dear Friends,

As a sophomore in college, I spent a semester as an intern working in a  parochial school in Jersey City. St. Bridget’s was located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and a dedicated staff of Roman Catholic nuns and lay teachers worked for all too little pay and with all too few supplies to create a community of learning, and of love.

There was a very small staff room – to call it a “teachers’ lounge” would be wildly overstating its comforts. Back in those days, in addition to that new invention, a coffee maker named “Mr. Coffee,”  there was the ubiquitous haze of blue smoke, as it was the one place in the building where teachers could smoke.

But one thing was missing. I thought that given the challenges and stresses the teachers faced each day, the staff room would have been a place where people would blow off steam, expressing their frustrations about this particular child or that particular class. We all know of “gallows humor,” jokes and comments that persons in high stress professions make to get through the most difficult moments. Yet never once did I hear a teacher in that room make fun of a child, or suggest that a class might be “acting like animals” today. Yes, jokes were made, but it was usually at the expense of the teacher telling the joke, rather than the students he or she served.

On my first day in that school, Sister Barbara, the principal, handed the interns a statement of the mission of the school. I don’t remember the exact words, but it emphasized treating each child with profound respect and love, and honoring his or her dignity as a child of God. Sister Barbara cheerfully, but in all seriousness, asked us as interns if we could agree with the statement. If so, we were welcome to work there. If not, she would do what she could to help us find another placement.

I came to realize that the commitment of the nuns in that school affected everyone, and their values permeated every place. Yes, that respect for each child was lived out in the classrooms, but also in the rooms where children never set foot.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure…. think about these things.” In this time of our national life, I find myself thinking often of St. Paul’s words, and of my experience at St. Bridget’s. I think also of Sister Barbara and that dedicated staff. And I know that as citizens, and as leaders, we can do better.

Just like those children in Jersey City, our children are watching and listening.  What are they learning about us, and our nation? Think about these things.






Campaign Update… Painting the Parish House

One of the first projects being undertaken with funds from our See God’s Beauty Capital Campaign is the painting of the Parish House. It has been a long time since the upper level has received a fresh coat of paint, and the project will include scraping, painting, and the repair of siding and trim. The Building Committee has been creating the specs for the project,  a so that bids can be made and work can progress soon.

The upper level of the Parish House was originally designed as a first floor chapel, by noted Victorian architects Ware and Van Brunt in the 1870’s. In 1900, the chapel was raised to create our current Parish Hall, and the classrooms, offices, and kitchen were created on the first floor.

Sara Chase, a historic preservation consultant, was hired to examine the woodwork to see if we could determine the original color scheme. While the original colors could not be discovered, Ms. Chase created three historically accurate schemes.  Below is a depiction of the colors chosen by the Vestry.  It is hard to see all of them in this one picture – larger samples of each of the colors will be on display in the Parish House for the next few weeks.






While we do not know the original colors, these colors will be similar to those Ware and Van Brunt might have chosen in their day  and will be a vibrant reminder to Charlestown that we are here and thriving in our own day.

Thanks to Mike Mickelson for taking a rendition of the Parish House created by John Freeman and “painting” it.

A Magical Evening

Amazing magic was part of the evening.

Magic was afoot on Saturday evening of June 3 at the parish’s Spring Fling. Thank you to all who donated food and beverages, who gave of their time and gifts, and to those offering dinners so that the fund of one evening can continue. We are grateful to our younger members who worked as servers, and wasn’t the magician amazing? To all who contributed in any way. We raised approximately $4000, and as is our custom, 10% of that will go towards mission in the community beyond us. This year, the 10% will be shared with Harvest on Vine Emergency Food Pantry, the Harvard-Kent Leadership and Scholarship Partnership, and the BSAFE program at St. Lucas/San Lucas Church in Chelsea.