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

 

 

Rivers of Grace

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There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. Psalm 46:4

Dear Friends,

Down below, at the bottom of this newsletter, you will read of the efforts being made to ensure that the dirt basements “down below” us stay dry and free from any accumulation of water. For years, after heavy rains and wet seasons, there have been occasions when streams of water have been running beneath us. Not good, as everyone knows, for the general health of the buildings – or for those who work and worship in them!

I’m grateful for these efforts, but it made me think about the fact that upstairs, in our classrooms and in our church, we are seeking to do quite the opposite – seeking to increase the flow. It’s not water that we are seeking (unless you consider the waters of baptism). Rather, we want to create channels for grace – the means by which we can experience more fully the abundant and outpouring love of God.

Channels for a river of grace: we create them every time we introduce a parable or biblical figure to our children in Living the Good News or Godly Play classes. In the Word spoken, we hear afresh the Spirit speaking to us, and we are changed.

We create riverbeds for God’s grace every time we lift our voices in song, or listen to one of our choirs offer an anthem. “The one who sings, prays twice,” St. Augustine once wrote. How many times has a moving piece of music enabled us to hear and glimpse God’s beauty in a new or deeper way?

Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, we receive the grace of God – the church traditionally refers to the sacraments as “means of grace.” I love the way my Eucharistic theology professor spoke of what happens at communion: “The miracle at the altar is not so much that bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, but that ordinary human beings like you and me are being transformed into the living body of Christ,” – and, I might add, being nourished to go from the altar to go out into the world and to act in love.

This Sunday, we will be introducing one more means of grace: the sacrament of healing. If you wish to have prayers of healing for yourself, or for another, after receiving communion you may proceed to the back of the church (on the organ side). One of our priests will ask for your prayer intention, and then pray with you, anointing you with the healing oil that was consecrated by Bishop Gates at our anniversary service.

We are introducing this sacramental act on this Second Sunday of Advent. During Epiphany, it will be offered twice a month, and then during the seasons of Lent and Easter, it will be offered each Sunday.

I am praying for no more rivers in our basement. And I am praying for more and more rivers upstairs where we want to see them – in our classrooms, in our church, and in our lives.

Faithfully in Christ,
Tom

One Voice

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Dear Friends,

Several of you wrote to me or spoke to me about the letter I sent out on Wednesday. It seemed important then, and important now, to continue speaking with each other about how we can move forward as a nation. Of course, the recent election reminded us that each of us has but one vote and one voice. And that voice may seem inconsequential.

When I doubt the capacity of my own voice to make a difference, I hear another voice. It too was only one voice. But it was so powerful, and so compelling, that it resonated even from a tomb. The Spirit of the risen Christ is still heard. Jesus Christ is still transforming lives, and giving us the power to speak and act, especially in times of anxiety, uncertainty, or doubt. We hear that voice through prayer, yes, but also through those conversations with each other, and in our willingness to reach out to those whom we see as an opponent or even an enemy.

I’m not sure I can change a nation. But I can let the Spirit’s voice resonate in my life – especially when I feel I have lost hope. I can  let my choices and my actions be guided by all that Jesus has taught me – and continues to teach me. I will l listen for that voice in my heart, but also in each of your voices – voices that I cherish. Together, may we hear the Spirit.

Faithfully,

Tom

A Post-Election Message

St. John’s Episcopal Church

A Post-Election Letter from the Rector

November 9, 2016

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, our nation elected Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. As the election approached, we prayed for an end to the rancor and division that has characterized the campaign. Now that the results are in, we have before us an opportunity.

One of you sent me an email this morning, expressing your faith in the Constitution and in our country. Those words reminded me that we have the opportunity, and indeed the responsibility, to be faithful citizens, always working for the common good. If you supported Donald Trump, doing that work may seem easier today. If you supported Hillary Clinton or another candidate, the way forward may seem much more challenging. And yet we commit ourselves to working for the common good.

We commit ourselves, not only as citizens of the United States, but as citizens of another realm, the realm of God – the gracious reign of God which Jesus proclaimed, and in which we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, have promised to be faithful servants. What does it mean to be faithful in that realm? Among other things, it means being faithful to our baptismal vow – to always strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being, with God’s help.

Bishop Alan Gates, who so graciously led us this past Sunday in the celebration of our church’s anniversary, sent a letter to the clergy and lay leadership of the diocese this morning, and I believe his words speak very much to this moment in our nation’s life:

“Now is not a time to live out habitual behaviors of winners or losers. Now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the Christian ideal of breaking down the dividing walls of hostility which divide us (Ephesians 2:14). Now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all.

Forbearance is a virtue tested not when we are in harmony, but when we are divided. Sacrifice is a discipline called for not in the face of prosperity but in the face of adversity. Hope is a manifestation of faith rendered meaningful not by certainty but by anxiety. Christ calls us, in this moment, individually and communally, to forbearance, sacrifice and hope.”

Forbearance, sacrifice, and hope – all part of a faithful response. All part of what it means to be a Christian, at all times and in all places.

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday, as we gather to praise God, to share our joys and sorrows, our gratitude or our lament, to be nourished by Christ’s presence, and then to go forth as faithful citizens of our country, and of God’s realm.

Faithfully,

Tom

The full text of Bishop Gates’ letter can be found here.

The Rededication of a Church

Easter Day at St. John's

Dear Friends,

A little over five years ago, before I was called to be your rector,  I was preparing for my first  interview with the Search Committee. I did what I could to learn about the parish. I was told by more than one person that St. John’s was a beautiful church. Through my interview, and then my after my arrival, I certainly discovered the truth of that statement. I also noticed right away that you had a beautiful building.

“A beautiful church.” Each of us may have an image of St. John’s that comes to mind when we hear those words – perhaps the stunning stained glass image of Jesus behind the altar, perhaps the nave lit by candlelight at a Lessons and Carols service, perhaps the way the morning light streams through the Victorian windows creating dancing patterns of color on the walls.

When we use the word “church” so often we think of a building. In the New Testament however, the original Greek word often translated as “church” is “ecclesia,” – an assembly of people. Long before Christians ever constructed and set apart buildings for worship, they gathered as “the church” – a body of people gathered in Christ’s name to worship God and serve the world.

This Sunday, we will be rededicating the sturdy and beautiful building that is our inheritance – a 175 year old structure that still inspires us today. But in so doing, we will also be rededicating ourselves. Giving thanks for the faithful before us, we will commit ourselves to living as Christ’s disciples – hearing the Spirit, seeing God’s beauty, and acting in love. We will recognize and give thanks for the beauty of this community – persons old and young, strong and frail, devout and doubting, who gather week after week, offering their worship to God and their service to the world.

We will welcome Bishop Alan Gates, who will lead us in our worship and in the celebration of the Eucharist. And as we look around, yes, we will see a beautiful building. But even more beautiful will be the gathering of God’s people, united in our gratitude and praise.

Faithfully,

Tom