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

 

 

Inheriting a Tradition

Dear Friends,

If you look around your home, you may have a cherished object that once belonged to a parent or a grandparent. Perhaps it has even been passed along through several generations of your family Whether it is a chair, a vase, or the family silver, such objects come to us associated with the persons who once used them, and we treasure them.

This week, we will be hearing again the story of Jesus’ passion. It is a story that has been cherished by each generation, and handed from one to the next. Along the way however, the story has been interpreted and used, and at times abused, to bring harm to others.

The gospel stories themselves, written decades after Jesus death, already reflect growing tensions between the emerging Christian community and the Jewish faith from which it sprang. In Matthew’s gospel, which we will hear tomorrow, at one point the crowd in Jerusalem is heard shouting to Pilate, calling for Jesus’ death in these words: “His blood be upon us and on our children.”

Tragically, words such as these and the portrayal of the Jewish community in the Passion narratives contributed to a destructive strain of anti-Semitism in the Christian Church,  resulting in persecution, discrimination, and oppression against Jews in centuries to come. Jesus’ death came at the hands of the Roman authorities, not the Jewish people.

We receive and proclaim a cherished story this week. With it, we also inherit a tradition which must be examined and rejected, accompanied by our own repentance. The tragic mistakes of the past serve as a warning for us about the demonization of any group of persons or of any faith.  We do indeed receive a cherished “family treasure” in this coming week. Even as we receive it with gratitude, let us hold it and use it with care, that in it we will hear only the liberating and life giving message it was meant to convey.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s Gift Matters

Dear Friends,

I hope by now you have received information about our Capital Campaign, “See God’s Beauty.” Some of you have already made a pledge to the campaign, and I am delighted to share the news that we have now have $102,500 in commitments. That is exciting news, but we still have quite a way to go to reach our goal of $175,000.

We have already begun work on two of the projects that will keep our buildings in good condition for years to come. The Building Committee has been addressing drainage issues in the Parish House basement, and is now making plans for repairs and painting of the exterior of the Parish House. And there are more projects to come, including more welcoming office space.

I hope each of you will consider making a pledge for the campaign. The vestry and I know this will involve sacrificial giving; we hope that campaign pledges, made for a one, two, or three year commitment will be made beyond the annual pledge that people make for our stewardship  campaign. You know best what you will be able to say “yes” to, and we make this invitation not to add a burden to anyone’s life. The best gift you can offer is the one that can be made with a glad and generous heart.

Some of you met Brian Raiche from Cornerstone Fundraising at one of our receptions. He has worked with many churches like ours to achieve their goals. He shared two stories at the reception that describe that kind of joyful giving. The first was of a woman who reflected on the fact that she was paying the mobile phone bills for three of her children. When she calculated what a three year gift might look like broken down to a monthly gift, she realized it equaled one more phone bill. She decided she could make that pledge, almost as if she were adding one more phone bill to her commitment to her family.

Brian also told of a Unitarian church where a young girl who was present to hear about the campaign  was inspired to fill out a pledge card. She proudly pledged $1 to the campaign. Her total commitment and enthusiasm energized and inspired others.

No gift is too small, and no gift is too large! This Sunday, we will invite you to place your pledge card in the offering plates as they are passed for the offering. Please prayerfully consider your gift, and join others in helping us all to see God’s beauty.

Faithfully,

Tom

Hear the Spirit: Consider your Call

Dear Friends,

On each of the last two Sundays, we heard stories from scripture in which Jesus heard the words of the Spirit, “This is my beloved Son, with whom  I am well pleased.” The stories suggest a voice that rang out with clarity. As we listen for God’s guidance in our lives, the voice is not always as clear or convincing.

Nonetheless, as our Mission Statement suggests, we are invited to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as discern how we are to respond to Jesus Christ’s call to be a disciple.
I know that my call to ordained ministry did not come as a result of one clear voice or vision, but rather from an accumulation of voices – from friends, mentors, and others, as well as the interior and repeated promptings I was hearing in my own heart.

As I or others at St. John’s invite you to consider engaging in particular ministries, I hope you will be attentive to how the Holy Spirit is moving in your life. Yes, sometimes coincidences are just coincidences. It is also true that there are times when we cannot ignore the number of people who have addressed us about a particular gift we have that could be shared; it is more than a coincidence. The Spirit also may be  speaking to us when we have a thought or impulse to offer ourselves, especially if we keep tucking it away  but keeps returning. The Spirit may be speaking to us when we hear an invitation and discover a strange combination of fear and joy stirring in our hearts.

This week, there are several invitations below for ministry, here and beyond the parish. I hope you will hearing in  them whatever the Spirit may be saying to you as you consider how to respond.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Capital Campaign: See God’s Beauty

Dear Friends,

When our vestry adopted a new mission statement last September, one of the primary statements that emerged was a call to “See God’s Beauty.” That statement emerged in part from conversations about the legacy of beautiful and historic structures that we have inherited from those who have come before us. On many occasions, a newcomer or visitor will comment to me about the spacious inviting beauty of our sanctuary, or of the quiet serenity of our garden. Yes, our buildings are beautiful.

God’s beauty shines through more than our stained glass windows, however. The vestry was also well aware that we behold God’s beauty in many other ways: we see it in a family gathered around the baptismal font as we welcome a new member into the Body of Christ,  in a 12 step recovery community gathered to support one another each week in the Parish Hall, or in our young children learning about the “ten best ways” to live in Godly Play – these are all windows as well in which and through which we behold the beauty of all that God has made.

Our new capital campaign, with a goal of $175,000 is designed to enable our parish to preserve and improve our church and parish house so that they will be places that help us to carry out God’s mission in the years to come.

I hope you will join us for one of our two remaining receptions: Wednesday, March 15 at 4 pm or at 7 pm. There you will learn more about our plans for improvements, and how you can participate. It will also provide you with an opportunity to have your questions answered and to share your thoughts. Each reception will be about an hour in length.

Together, we can do more than see – we can also help to create the spaces and community where people will continue to hear the Spirit, see God’s beauty, and act in love.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Living Stones

 

Iyad Qumri, presenting pilgrims with an overview of Jerusalem

Dear Friends,

Many of you know that I recently returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Traveling through Israel and Palestine, we saw places both ancient and modern, visiting sites associated with the stories of the Bible, all the while seeing and experiencing how this region is deeply divided.

Our guide for the tour was Iyad Qumri. Iyad describes himself as a Palestinian, an Arab, and a Christian. He is accustomed to people being surprised that he is both Arab and Christian. Our preconceptions and stereotypes are often broken apart when we travel, and that is one of the great benefits of a pilgrimage such as this.

The challenges faced by Christian communities in the Middle East has caused many Christians to leave. Many Palestinian Christians live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and opportunities for work and freedom to travel, which we take for granted, are limited. Bethlehem, which in 1947 had a population that was 85% Christian, is now only 15% Christian.

What so impresses me about Iyad, his family, and others we met who are living under such challenging circumstances is their deep faith and resilience. Christians in the Holy Land are sometimes referred to as “the living stones.” Their faith is indeed alive, and a witness to us.

I look around us and see the divisions within our own country. I wonder if we can overcome them. And then I remember Iyad, and the way he faces even greater challenges,  faithfully bringing the Gospel alive for pilgrims with patience, confidence, and even laughter. And I am given hope.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Seeing God’s Beauty

Church StepsDear Friends,

On Saturday evening, St. John’s offers a wonderful gift to the larger community, our Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. It is a St. John’s tradition, and also part of the larger tradition of the Anglican Communion. Each Christmas Eve, persons all over the world listen to the service that originates from Kings’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England.

The beauty of such liturgical offerings is one of the gifts that the Anglican tradition offers to the larger church. We see God’s beauty in all the elements of this service, as the scriptures, anthems, and carols reveal once again the mystery of God’s love made known to us in Jesus Christ.

There are times when one may wonder if our efforts to create such moments of beauty should be directed elsewhere. I remember that four years ago, our service took place just days after the shootings at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. Today, the reality of the suffering in Aleppo and so many other places around the world is before us. At such times, it may feel that  stepping into the beauty of a candlelit church can be more an act of denial than of worship.

The poet Mary Oliver reminds me of how our efforts to see beauty are essential in such times.  The writer Parker Palmer recalled being at a reading by the poet several years ago. After the reading, someone in the audience asked her, “What is the purpose of beauty?”

Mary Oliver replied, “We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.”

Our coming together in candlelight, our listening and singing, are  all ways of evoking that poignant ache – to be worthy of the beauty and love that God has already given us. We gather, knowing in the words of the carol that “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in this person of Jesus Christ.

I hope you can join us to hear again the wondrous story of the One who himself is the embodiment of God’s beauty, and who awakens in us the ache to be worthy of love and life.

Faithfully,

Tom