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

 

 

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