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.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

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.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

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.

Faithfully,

Tom

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.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

 

There’s a Parade in Town

Dear Friends,

Yes, there is a parade in town this Sunday – the Bunker Hill Day parade. It is a cherished Charlestown tradition. But I am thinking about another parade. It is the parade we participate in every Sunday as we  worship. I know most of you don’t process – at the 8 am service it is usually just one person, the presider, and at the 10 am it is at the most 12 to 15 of us processing to the first hymn.

Still, I want you to picture our worship each  Sunday as part of a grand procession of people who throughout the ages have gathered, in formal procession or not, to bring their praises and prayers before God. Ideally, all of us should be a part of the procession.

The Bunker Hill parade is a long one. But the parade of worshipers of which you are a part is an even longer one. It includes those who sang the psalms when they were first written as they made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. It includes those who sang under cover of night in slave quarters or other places where Christians were persecuted. It includes all the people of God in every time and place. And it includes all those how have gone before us and now sing a new song.

We are one incredibly small part of that parade. Nonetheless, it comforts me to think that whether there are 200 of us or 2 of us at a worship service, we are part of a much greater procession. I hope to see you at the parade this Sunday, and every Sunday.

Faithfully,

Tom

Promises to Keep

Dear Friends,

Will you cherish the wondrous works of God, and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation?

That is a question we will be asked at the 10 am service this Sunday. It is one of a number of questions that make up the Baptismal Covenant, questions asked of those being baptized, or of parents of children being baptized. For those of us already baptized, it is asked of us as well  so that we might reaffirm our commitment to promises we once made.

For most of us, however, it is a new question. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015 added this question for trial use in the Sacrament of Baptism – you won’t find it in the Book of Common Prayer.

“New occasions teach new duties” are  words from a hymn I used to sing in my days as a United Methodist. Deputies and bishops at the General Convention discerned that the care and repair of creation is a crucial issue  for Christians to address in the 21st century. Climate change is a new occasion. We have new duties to learn.

I thought of that baptismal question listening to President Trump’s remarks announcing his intention for the United States to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. As I listened, I realized the he was following through on a promise he made in his campaign. He was keeping a promise he had made.

On Sunday, we will be asked to keep to the promises we make. We will not be asked to make those promises as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. We will not be asked to make those promises as Americans, or even as global citizens.  We will be asked to make those promises as disciples of Jesus Christ.

We will be asked to serve Christ, not only in the intimate circles of those we know, but “in all persons.” We will be asked to strive for justice and peace, not just among some, but among all people. We will be asked to respect the dignity of human beings, not just of Americans, but  of every human being. We will be asked to care not only for the beautiful property of our church that we blessed last Sunday, but for all creation.

I know that I fall far short of lkeeping the promises I have made. I know that given my 21st century American lifestyle,  I am doing little to  protect the beauty and integrity of all creation, and actually doing much to harm it. I need your help. And you need mine.

Will you respect the wondrous works of God, and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation? I look forward to hearing from you how you are striving to keeping that promise.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

A Sabbatical Season

Dear Friends,

It is hard for me to believe that I have been serving with all of you for over five years now. September will mark our sixth anniversary of being in ministry together. As announced at the Annual Meeting in February, I will be taking a three month sabbatical this year. Combined with two weeks of vacation, it means I will be away from St. John’s from July 24 through November 2.

The wardens and vestry have been working with me to arrange coverage during the sabbatical. We anticipate hiring an interim priest to be with us two or three days a week, including Sundays. Our priest and pastoral associates,   Lyn, Dick, and Liz, will continue with their regular assistance in preaching and presiding, and their engagement in the pastoral life of the parish. We also anticipate that many of you will participate in carrying out ministries that are important to our life together.

A sabbatical after five years of service is part of my  Letter of Agreement, and the vestry has supported my decision to take it at this time. I am sure there are many questions people may have about the sabbatical, and in the coming weeks, the wardens and I will provide more details about what this three and a half month period will be like.

This will be a time of renewal for me. A theme of my sabbatical will be to focus on creative endeavors, including oil painting and piano lessons. The sabbatical will also be a time for the parish to more clearly identify the strengths and opportunities of its members. You will hear more about that as well in the weeks to come.  I’m grateful for the vestry’s support, and confident that under their leadership, we will continue to be a community where people can hear the Spirit, see God’s beauty, and act in love.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

 

 

Read Esther

Dear Friends,

This week, I call your attention to the biblical book of Esther (and not for a reason some of you might think). You will see in the article below that the presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are inviting us to undertake disciplines of fasting, prayer, and advocacy on behalf of those who suffer from hunger in our country.

What does that have to do with Esther? I won’t say more. Rather, I encourage you to read the bishops’ messages (or watch their videos) and read the book of Esther. You never know when you might be called “for such a time as this.”

Faithfully,

Tom

 

On the Road Again

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday, in preaching about Luke’s story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I concluded the sermon with a poem. Several of you asked about the source of the poem and for a copy of it.

I composed the poem a few years ago at a diocesan clergy conference. There was an afternoon workshop with a poet, and we were encouraged to write poems in response to the Emmaus story. There were any number of evocative poems, some in free verse. As someone who loves to sing hymns, my poems inevitably take on the structure of a hymn text.  So here  is the poem.

Whatever road you are on this week, I invite you to be listening and watching for the presence of Jesus Christ illuminating our hearts and minds  with resurrection life.

Faithfully,

Tom

EMMAUS

Upon the road we often walked
You joined us, stranger, as we talked.
And bid us, “Tell me of your loss-”
The meal, the garden, then the cross
A dulling grief, a piercing pain
Beloved, never seen again.

But on that road, and then with bread
We met the living, not the dead.
No shrouded corpse within a tomb
|But radiance that filled the room.
And hearts ignited by the fire
Of you, our love, and life’s desire.

 

Anything But Low

Dear Friends,

The Sunday after Easter is sometimes referred to as “Low Sunday.” It is not unusual to see a dip in attendance after the full pews on Easter. One can understand if the energy of the many lay ministers, choir members, staff, and clergy who create our liturgy each week flags a bit after all of the good work of Holy Week. My experience teaches me however, that the Holy Spirit does not keep time as we do, and that fresh expressions of resurrection joy are not limited to one Easter day.

This Sunday, I will be in a place where I suspect there will be lots of energy. I will be spending the first part of the 10 am service with our Godly Play class, which is led so ably by Rachel Pfost. I won’t be there to teach, but rather to listen and to participate as we continue to wonder about the Easter story and all that Jesus’ resurrection means to us. I have a hunch that the energy level in that room will be anything but low on Sunday.  I will then join the rest of you at the sharing of the Peace.

If you have never sat with Rachel and our children in a Godly Play session, I encourage you to do so. In our community, it is as crucial a circle of formation as any Sunday liturgy or sermon. You will see and hear our children doing what we are all encouraged to do – to hear the stories and parables of scripture, to wonder and reflect on what they mean for our lives, and in so doing, to encounter Jesus Christ.

I also invite you to join us anytime on Friday mornings at 10, where a growing group of children, parents, and caregivers gathers each week to sing and pray and hear stories from the Bible. You most certainly do not need to be a toddler or preschooler to participate!

Wherever you are this Sunday, may it be anything but “low.”

Faithfully,

Tom