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

From a Refrigerator Door…

A lit candle in the Advent wreath Nov. 29 at St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick, Md., marks the first Sunday of Advent. The wreath, which holds four candles, is a main symbol of the Advent season, with a new candle lit each Sunday before Christmas. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) (Nov. 30, 2009)

Dear Friends,

With the approach of Advent, I am happy to make available this year’s Advent devotional calendar. We will have copies on cardstock available at church this Sunday and in the weeks to come. You can also download it below if you would like, and make copies on your own.

In 1988, it was about this time of year when I was visiting with a friend, Merry Watters. I noticed a whimsical Advent calendar on her refrigerator door, placed there in anticipation of Advent. As pastor of the Essex, Vermont United Methodist Church. she had designed the calendar for her congregation. Using a typewriter (remember those devices) she listed a scripture reading for each day, and a suggested devotion. I asked if I could use the calendar for my congregation. A year later, we decided to collaborate – I  created a design, and she chose the scriptures and devotions.

Little did we realize at the time that we would still be working on this annual endeavor over 25 years later. And what was once shared with two congregations, now goes far and wide to many people and many congregations. It has been a discipline of joy, and yes, sometimes frustration when the words of a poem will not come or I cannot think of a new design. Ultimately, it is a gift we seek to share each year, and one that we hope enriches the season of many.

Once again, I will be offering a daily email devotional based on the calendar during the season of Advent. If you received the devotional last year, you will be on the list for this year. If you did not receive it last year and would like to this year, or are unsure i you are on the list, you can respond to this newsletter with the word “yes” and I will add you.

Advent approaches. May we see signs of God’s grace wherever we look – even on a refrigerator door.

Faithfully,

Tom

Click below to download this year’s calendar:

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A New Way of Seeing Ourselves: A Mission Statement for St. John’s

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Dear Friends,

Hear the Spirit. See God’s beauty. Act in love.

Those words may be new to you. I hope they will become familiar in the next few months, and that you will be able to share them joyfully with others.

Over the last few months, we have been taking time as a parish to assess where we are in our life together, discerning how it is that God is calling us to be the Body of Christ in this time and place. Many of you filled out a parish survey this summer. The questions and answers were meant to help us collectively draw a portrait of what we value at St. John’s, as well as identify our hopes and dreams for what God is doing in our midst.

In September, your vestry took the results of those surveys, along with other comments and insights gathered over the last few years, and met on retreat. Our hope was to create a Mission Statement, as well as an accompanying vision for our parish in the years to come. As we prepare to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the consecration of our church, I am delighted to share with you the Mission Statement that the vestry has just adopted. Read these words again:

Hear the Spirit. See God’s beauty. Act in love.

The Mission Statement is meant to express what we believe God is calling us to be  in the world: a community that is always listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that continually sees and celebrates the beauty that God has created, and joyfully responds to what we have seen and heard by acting in Christ’s love.

You will be hearing much more from me and your leaders about the meaning of these words in the months to come. And in the weeks to come, we will be sharing with you the accompanying vision of what our parish and its ministries will look like as we embrace and embody this mission.

For today, I simply invite you to read and reflect on these words in your own heart and mind. What will it mean for you, and us, to hear the Spirit, see God’s beauty, and act in love? I can only begin to imagine how we will answer those questions together in the days to come.

Faithfully,

Tom

Acting In Love: a Report from Maureen Lavely

img_1892I was privileged to spend October 7th through October 9th at the Mexican/Arizona border area as part of a gathering of hundreds to express our concern over the many reports of abuse of human rights. Absorbing the history and trying to understand the reasons for the numbers of folks trying to enter the United States was also part of my goal. Some of what I heard was difficult and so very sad. However, I left hopeful and pleased to have been there.

Our first event was a vigil at the Eloy Detention Center, which is a privately owned, for profit institution in which “survivors” say they had spoiled and inadequate food, poor health care, and were treated very roughly, including beatings. They can be held there for months or even years awaiting a hearing. Along with the first-hand witnessing there was chanting and singing led by leaders of the event. These include Tom’s sister-in-law Chris and behind-the-stage support by Tom’s brother Craig.

Saturday was a march from the headquarters hotel to the border wall (a few miles). It was wonderful to be part of this long line of folks along the sidewalks of Nogales bearing banners and chanting and singing, while horns honked in support. Some of the group went over the border and walked along the wall for a few blocks and past the corner where a young boy was shot by a border guard for suspicion of throwing a rock. My buddy didn’t have her passport with her so we stayed on the U.S. side and progressed on our side of the wall to the point where there were stages set up opposite each other along the wall. It’s possible to see through the wall and to get your hand through. It was coordinated that speakers and performers alternated from one side to the other and there was a positive feeling of connection. Some on either side of the wall had long poles with huge cardboard hands on the end and they dramatically “came together” and touched high above the wall.

The afternoon was seminars at the hotel covering many issues relative to mass incarceration in the U.S. and Mexico, unequal economies, the human rights crises and increased militarization of our borders.

Sunday was the vigil at the wall with more speakers including Roy Bourgeois, who began the School of the Americas Watch with a hunger strike at Fort Benning, GA. He had been a Maryknoll priest in El Salvadore when four nun friends of his were murdered by graduates of the School of the Americas. Finally, there was the haunting reading of the hundreds of names of the known and documented killed or “disappeared” people of Latin America. From the stage would be chanted a victim such as “Louis Garcia 27 years old”…. and the masses would raise their right arm and chant back “presente”…. meaning we were recognizing our togetherness and they were with us. Very moving.

Please check out the website: SOAW.org for pictures and other reports.

Maureen Lavely

A Time for Prayer

Dear Friends,

As I mentioned several weeks ago, the bishops of the Dioceses of Massachusetts and western Massachusetts are inviting us to participate in a prayer vigil just prior to the election. The vigil will last from noon on Sunday November 6 through noon of Election Day, Tuesday, November 8th. Parishes throughout our diocese will be participating in a variety of ways.

Here at St. John’s we will hold a vigil service, primarily of silent prayer, on Monday evening, November 7, from 6-7 pm. The church will remain open from 7 to 9 pm that night, and then will be open for individual prayer and meditation from 8 am to 5 pm on Election Day.

Of course, you can pray wherever you are throughout this time, and for particular concerns that are borne in your heart. Regarding the election, our bishops are asking us to  keep before God three particular concerns:

-that there will be a peaceful transition no matter what the outcome
-that there will be no further stoking of demonizing language
-that all who are elected be moved and strengthened to lead us all through this fractured time

I know that for myself, as much as my prayers may be directed outwards toward and for others and for situations that concern me, there is an inward transformation that blesses and sustains me. Whatever the distractions and challenges of life, whatever burdens are weighing upon me, when I pray I discover that I am brought to a place where I can hear, see, and act more clearly. And for that I am always grateful to God.

Faithfully,

Tom

The full statement from the bishops can be read here.

 

 

Funeral for the Rev. Brian J. P. Murdoch

 

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A funeral service for the Rev. Brian J. P. Murdoch will be held at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Tremont Street this Saturday, October 22, at 4 pm. In addition, Visiting Hours and a Vigil will be held on Friday, October 21st from 6 to 8 pm at the cathedral.

Brian died at his home in Vineyard Haven on October 16th.  He served St. John’s as its eleventh rector, from 1985-1989. Recently, he had been appointed Priest-in Charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. His ministry touched many people both in the parish settings where he served, and in ministries beyond the parish in prisons and with the homeless community.

Contributions and gifts in lieu of flowers can be sent ,”In Memory of Fr Brian Murdoch” to the Fr Brian Memorial Fund, Grace Episcopal Church, PO Box 1197, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. Contribution may also be sent to the “Fr Brian Fund” at Boston Rescue Mission, PO Box 12009, Boston, MA 02112, or go online to donate at BRM.org.

 

Pastoral News from St. John’s

Dear Friends,

I am writing to inform you of news that affects our parish life.

Kelso Isom Funeral: I shared in church on Sunday the news that Kelso (Sonny) Isom, brother of Marie Hubbard and Marion Wood, died on Sunday morning. His funeral service will be held on Friday October 21, at 10 am, here at St. John’s, with Visiting Hours at 8:30 am at the Carr Funeral Home.

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The Rev. Brian Murdoch: We also received the sad news that the Rev. Brian Murdoch, who served as the eleventh rector of St. John’s, died on Sunday. Brian served here from 1985-1989. Brian had been serving as Priest in Charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. Visitation will be tonight in Vineyard Haven, with a memorial service there tomorrow. There will be a Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral this Friday night, with a funeral service at 4 pm at the Cathedral on Saturday the 22nd. Information about these services, as well as an account of Brian’s ministry, may be found here:  Brian Murdoch Services

May Brian rest in peace and rise in glory.

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Funeral Planning Seminar Postponed:  The seminar scheduled for Saturday, October 22 is being postponed and will be rescheduled for another date before the end of the year. Thank you for your understanding.

 

The Significance of Things Large and Small

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Dear Friends,

Have you seen the news reports this week about the design and scope of our universe?

A new paper in the Astrophysical Journal claims that there are ten times as many galaxies in the universe as was once thought. That would bring the total number of galaxies to about two trillion. Most of you know that I am no scientist. I cannot even begin to comprehend what this means – except that it reminds me of how small and insignificant I am. And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

There is a story told about Teddy Roosevelt, who certainly had high selfregard. It is told that when camping out under the Western skies with his friend the naturalist William Beebe, he used to engage in a kind of ritual chant before going to sleep.

“That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda,” Roosevelt would declare, pointing to the sky to a small patch of light near the constellation of Pegasus. “It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” The president would then turn to Beebe and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Given  the size and scope of the universe, we are small and insignificant indeed. Yet the news of the universe for some reason brought to mind words of Dame Julian of Norwich, the great English Christian mystic of the 14th century. She once looked at something very small and insignificant, a hazelnut, and yet saw much:

th-3“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”        —  Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

In the smallest of things, Julian saw the fullness of God’s creation. In every human life, the beauty of God is fully present. Julian had eyes to see that. My hope is that we do as well, whether we gaze upon a hazelnut, into another’s eyes, or even look into the depths of our sometimes anxious or fretful hearts.

God made us. God loves us. God keeps us. Thanks be to God.

Faithfully,

Tom

Fear and Faith

Dear Friends,

As Election Day approaches, the bishops of both dioceses in Massachusetts have invited all Episcopalians to participate in a 48 hour prayer vigil, beginning on Sunday November 6 at noon and concluding on Election Day, Tuesday November 8, at noon.You can read their full statement here. Some parishes are already planning services or vigil periods in their churches during that time, and information will be forthcoming about how our parish will be participating.

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Time and again as we approach  presidential elections, we are  told that the particular election before us is the most decisive election in a generation. The prospect of momentous change can fill us with anticipation, and also with fear. I know this is not the first election in which some people feel anxious and uncertain about the outcome, and it will not be the last. Our bishops are calling for us as communities of faith to ensure that all we do, and the choices we make, are rooted in prayer.

I am a great admirer of  Marilynne Robinson, a writer whose fiction and nonfiction works are imbued with her deep Christian faith. Last year In an article entitled “Fear” in The New York Review of Books, she commented on the palpable anxieties present in our national life:

“First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind. As children we learn to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” We learn that, after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”

“Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” Those words have come to me again and again  when I find myself growing anxious or fearful.  Fear is not a Christian habit of mind, because, as Robinson writes, “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality.”

I encourage us to keep those words in our minds and hearts as we move through these next few weeks, as well as in the days after the election. Whatever the outcome, some of us will be disappointed and some of us will be excited. We will seek ways to work for the common good, and we will do so as a community of faith, knowing that Christ is present in all reality – in both our fear, and in our faith.

Faithfully,

Tom

Note: The article “Fear,” by Marilynne Robinson, is from the September 24, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, and can be found here.

 

A Mission and Vision for Our Life Together

Dear Friends,

Last Friday evening, our vestry gathered for prayer at Evensong, and then dinner hosted by Fay Donohue. The next day, we met again for a day-long retreat, seeking to articulate the mission and vision of this community. We paid attention to the words you wrote and spoke – in parish surveys, at past annual meetings, and also kept before us the vows of the Baptismal Covenant and our understanding of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.

We are excited by the work we did, and after the October vestry meeting we will be sharing more about what we envisage for our future together. Among other things, we hope to introduce a mission statement with accompanying vision, and at least two practical goals. One of the goals we set is already under way – a feasibility study for a capital campaign – and others focus on ways we can reach out beyond our walls to our neighbors.

Even as we were planning for our future, I was struck by the degree to which we were being the church we are called to be this weekend. While leaders were meeting in prayer and planning on Saturday, other parishioners were greeting guests from Charlestown and beyond, opening our doors to the larger community. Later that day, a number of you assisted and attended at the funeral service for the mother of one of our members, extending Christ’s love and care. And then of course, on Sunday we gathered for worship and formation, and welcomed newcomers to join us on our journey.

Please continue to pray for our vestry. And as we share the fruits of our work, I hope you will pray to see how God is calling you to be a part of this marvelous community, called together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in many and profound ways.

Faithfully,

Tom