Giving Thanks for Leaders in Our Midst

Dear Friends,

Tonight, our vestry will be joining those who gather each month for Evensong at 6:30 in the church. Vestry members will be there to pray and prepare for a retreat the following day. We will be meeting as a vestry for most of the day on Saturday to plan for our parish’s future. Our hope is to emerge from the day with themes for a mission statement and a vision for our parish as we look ahead to the next few years.

Vestry members have been reading the results of the parish survey, along with other materials that provide a glimpse of what has been important to us over these last five years. We are excited about all the ways we have been blessed, and yearning to discern more clearly who God is calling us to be.

We will be meeting at Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester from 9 am to 3 pm (it is often good to meet in a different place to get some perspective on the parish we know so well). Our facilitator will be the Rev. Nancy Gossling, a priest in our diocese who has considerable experience leading such retreats.

How can you help? Many of you already have by answering the questions on the parish survey. You can also pray – on Friday evening, even if you cannot join us for Evensong, and on Saturday. Among your prayers, please give thanks for these leaders, who give of their time, talent, and treasure in so many ways to serve God.



Members of the 2016 Vestry:

Maureen Lavely, Senior Warden
Bridget Nyhan, Junior Warden
Charlotte Maynard, Treasurer
Jake Sterling, Clerk
Fay Donohue
Matt Haldeman
Whitney Hayden
Doug Heim
Steve Spinetto
Jane Struss
Tom Mousin, Rector


Good Advice for the Fall

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week, I sent out to our vestry the agenda for our meeting. It included the topics we needed to cover, as well as the regular calendar of upcoming events. Our Junior Warden, Bridget Nyhan, responded in an email and suggested that we needed to add one more agenda item: “Breathe!”

She noticed that there is much going on, starting tomorrow with the Sidewalk Sale. Don’t forget to take a breath in the midst of it all, she was suggesting. And so I will. And if I needed a reminder, it was provided for me on Thursday evening. I was upstairs in the Parish Hall, getting ready to welcome the Choir back. Last spring, Jane Struss graciously offered to lead the Choir in some breath and movement exercises before each rehearsal, and she was there again this Thursday night. And so I joined in, becoming much more aware of the air I was breathing in and then sending out. I became more aware of the power of breath.  It was a gift, even as Bridget’s reminder was.

It is no small thing the the Hebrew word, ruach, is used in the Hebrew Scriptures for both “breath” and “spirit.” And it is not small thing that Paul in his letter to the Romans can describe the Holy Spirit as interceding for us with “sighs too deep for words.”

I do want to remember to breathe as the fall schedules of work, home and church, are upon me. And I want to remember that with each breath, I can trust more deeply in the Holy Spirit to be present, to guide, to support, and even to cause me to stand still, to stand straight, and to simply, breathe.




Corners of Holiness

IMG_4336Dear Friends,

Several of you mentioned how much you appreciated the memorial created on Sunday at church for the police officers and young black men who died in acts of violence in our country last week. Sadly, we have had to create too many of those memorials. The Sunday before, flags of Iraq, Turkey, and Bangladesh commemorated lives lost in terrorist attacks in major cities in each of those countries. And just a few weeks before that 49 candles and photographs helped us to pray for the victims of the shootings in Orlando.

While I regret having to create such shrines, I am also struck by how that side corner of the church has become a place of true devotion. Most weeks, three icons – of Jesus, John the Evangelist, and of Mary the Mother of God – provide the central  focus of this side altar. You may pass them unnoticed. Or it may be that  you have been drawn to this corner before or after church for a brief prayer of thanksgiving or petition, before the icons or before the faces of those who have died.

Yes, the main altar in the chancel is a central focus for our worship. It is where we gather each week to meet Christ in the Eucharist. But there are other places of holiness and devotion as well. Just a few years ago, the side area by the door to the garden  was a storage place – a shelf for candlelighters and other things that might be needed in worship. Now the words that once were inscribed over our “high altar” – Holy, Holy, Holy, have become the base of another altar that has transformed a cluttered area into a place of devotion.

It makes me think about corners of my own life that God is seeking to transform. And I wonder if there are parts of your life -neglected areas, or a corner or aspect of your being that has grown cluttered. What is God seeking to make more holy in your life?

As you walk by that side altar in church on Sunday, consider that question. And give thanks that God is continually making all things new, even in the places in our lives where we may least expect it.




Summertime, and the Livin’ Is…..

IMG_0449Dear Friends,

With summer upon us, schedules often change. George Gershwin suggests that come this season, the living’ is easy. It may not always be easy. At times, commitments to family vacations or projects can make us feel as as busy and over scheduled as ever. At the same time, it is not unusual to find ourselves moving to some different rhythms in July and August. Here at church, it is a quieter time, with no formal formation programs for our children or adults.

But maybe, just maybe, the summer months can open a door to doing something new. If you happen to have a Monday morning free, perhaps you have the time to join Maureen Lavely at the MANNA community. Or wander over to the Cutler Memorial Garden on a Monday evening. If you have never put your fingers into the dirt or tended to a growing plant, you just might discover that you love it. Our B-SAFe ministers, who have created marvelous lunches for the last two summers at St. Luke’s/San Lucas in Chelsea,  would love to have some new persons join them during the last week in July.

And what about Sunday mornings? Maybe the summer is a time to “flip” for a Sunday – if you are a faithful 8 o’clocker, try attending the service at 10. Likewise, if all you know is our worship life at 10 am, discover what it means to worship in the Garden on a sunny Sunday morning at 8 am.

Summertime, and the living’ is……. perhaps easy, perhaps challenging, and just maybe a little different.




The Bread of Life


Dear Friends,

Every Sunday, we come to the altar and share a meal. It is the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the last night of his life. It is a meal in which we believe that Christ continually gives himself to us in the consecrated bread and wine. We believe that transformation takes place in this meal. We may wonder how ordinary bread and wine becomes Christ’s living presence. But the more miraculous transformation we are invited to consider each week is the transformation that takes place in us. Ordinary human beings, you and me, are fed by Christ so that more and more, we may become the presence of Christ in the world.

I invite you to think of that transformation as you consider two invitations to partake in other meals this summer – with the MANNA community at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and with the B-SAFE summer program at St. Luke’s/San Lucas Episcopal Church in Chelsea. You’ll find the invitations elsewhere on this website. Our nourishment at the altar on Sundays means little if it does not result in our lives becoming the joyful sacrifice that was and is Jesus Christ’s life: an offering of ourselves to the world, for the nourishment of all God’s people.

At the heart of our worship each week is the mystery of ordinary bread and wine becoming the life giving presence of Christ. And that very mystery is then made manifest in ordinary human lives living in extraordinary generous and loving ways. As St. Augustine told those who came to the altar centuries ago: “There is your mystery on the table. Be what you receive.”



The Giver and the Gift

thDear Friends,

On Monday, I had the privilege of presiding at the funeral of Virginia Spencer, the mother of George Born, a member of our parish. Although I had never met Mrs. Spencer, I benefitted greatly in preparing for the service by reading a memoir she had published several years ago. As with every human life, it was not without its challenges, and she knew both joys and disappointments.  Reflecting on her own life, in the last chapter she posed a question for herself, and no doubt, for the reader. The question was this:

“What does the giver of life want me to do with the gift?”

When we reflect on our own mortality, or the mortality of others, it is a question that resonates. It resonates for a woman who lived a long and fulfilling life. And it resonates  this week, as we respond to another senseless tragedy and see the suffering of the innocent.

Many of the victims of the slaughter in Orlando were so young, and were just beginning to answer that question for themselves. Quite a few were from Puerto Rico, and were beginning to build lives in a new community and in a new place where the future seemed bright. For so many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons, responding to the gift of life means nothing less than living honestly and openly, and not denying who we are. That is precisely what some of the victims were doing in that nightclub.

On that Sunday morning in Orlando, the gift was taken from too many. The gift was taken, not by God, but by a senseless act of evil. Amidst all the reactions of anger, despair, and fear, amidst all the questions that arise from such an atrocity,  I hope we will also hear the question that leads us to reflect on our own lives and the capacity we have to love.

What does the giver of life want us to do with the gift?

We may think that we have years or even decades to answer that question. Then we are reminded that the time we have to respond is this moment, and this day.

What does the giver of life want you to do with the gift?



A Tree Grows in Charlestown

IMG_4020Dear Friends,

In 2012, our children planted a dogwood tree at the front entrance to our garden, in thanksgiving for the nearly decade-long ministries of Art Schnitzel and Simon Ringrose, our Godly Play teachers. It was a beautiful addition to the garden, and a lasting way of saying “thank you” to two dedicated teachers.

The winter of 2014-15 was not kind to the tree. Massive amounts of snow caused considerable damage, and some feared that the tree would not survive. But a tree grows in Charlestown! Bowed but not broken, the tree is recovering and blooming for us this spring. Our gardeners,  especially Francie Malo and Rosemary Kverek, have lovingly tended to the tree, and its blossoms have been greeting us for the last week or two as we have arrived at church.

“Resilience” is a word that comes to mind as I look at that tree. Buried under feet of snow, many of its branches were broken. Some of the harm came from persons unaware of what they were doing. One morning, I hurried out of the office to stop a young couple who was digging out their parked car. They had no idea that they were piling snow onto a tree that had already mostly disappeared. They were quite apologetic, but some damage was done.

IMG_4022“Resilience” is a word that come to mind when I think of our lives as Christians. To be a Christian and commit ourselves to Christ does not mean that we will some be protected from the challenges and vicissitudes of life. Just read the book of Acts, and you will see how quickly Christians can get into trouble. Yet down through the centuries, from those earliest followers to martyrs of today, followers of Jesus have found again and again a kind of resillience to live out their lives, not only with endurance, but even with joy. The late William Sloan Coffin was fond of saying, “God promises us minimum protection, maximum security.”

When the blooming dogwood greets me as I arrive at the office, it brings a smile to my face. I give thanks for its beauty, and for its resilience. And I hope that my life can offer a sign to the world of what faithfulness in the midst of it all can mean.



In a Time of Waiting

wild rosesDear Friends,

As many of you know, Thomas and I returned from North Carolina at the end of last week, after his participation in the candidate “Walkabouts” held by the Diocese of Western North Carolina. As one of four nominees to be their next bishop, Thomas participated in public presentations where members of the diocese could meet and listen to all four candidates. Now, the diocese will be about their work of discernment in preparation for the election of their next bishop on June 25th.

Many of you have asked questions about how it all went. I can say with assurance that we were welcomed with graciousness and warmth, and that all four candidates and their spouses drew close to each other as we traveled about the diocese. It was abundantly clear that the work of the Search Committee and Transition Committee is grounded in prayer, and I know I felt the support of many of your prayers.

One question I cannot answer is, “Do you think Thomas may be elected?”.  We really have no idea, but I understand the desire to ask that question. Whether he is elected will certainly have an effect on our life together. Right now we are moving through a month of uncertainty. It can be an uncomfortable time, since we cannot really predict our future together.

This morning, however, I awoke with the realization that this month is really no different than any other time in which we are together. We never can predict our future. Yet I know I tend to go through each day with the false assumption that this day will be like the one before,  that I can always rely on people being there for me as I will be for them, and that my life will not be subject to unexpected changes or disruptions in the plans I have made.

As uncertain as these days are, they are causing me to be more aware of the life I have been given by God, and to be more grateful for each moment I have. When faced with questions we cannot answer, we can draw back and be tentative. Or, we can embrace the lives and moments we are given.

I am reminded of the poem “Roses”, by Mary Oliver:

Everyone now and again wonders about
those questions that have no ready
answers: first cause, God’s existence,
what happens when the curtain goes
down and nothing stops it, not kissing,
not going to the mall, not the Super

“Wild roses,” i said to them one morning.
“Do you have the answers? And if you do,
would you tell me?”

The roses laughed softly. “Forgive us,”
they said. “Bus as you can see, we are
just now entirely busy being roses.”

We do not have all the answers to what life may bring. But for just now, I am going to seek to be “entirely busy” being the disciple of Jesus Christ and child of God that I am called to be.




Looking Ahead in Faith

TNM HeadshotDear Friends,

On Sunday afternoon, I will be joining my spouse Thomas Brown and traveling to North Carolina, where we will be spending much of the week. As many of you know, Thomas was recently selected as one of four nominees for the election of the next bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina. We will be traveling throughout the diocese next week for their “Meet the Candidates” events , sometimes referred to as “Walkabouts.” These sessions provide an opportunity for members of the diocese to personally meet all of the candidates. A number of you have asked me questions about this process, and how it came about, and I thought it would be helpful for all of us to share some more information about what will be happening in the next two months.

Q: How are the names of candidates for bishops determined?
A: When a diocese announces a search for a new bishop, names of possible candidates can be submitted by anyone. A close friend and colleague of Thomas submitted his name, and encouraged Thomas to consider being part of the discernment process.  Thomas, with my full support, let his name go forward, knowing well that either he or the diocese could  choose at any time  not to continue the mutual discernment.

Q: Is the search for a bishop like the search for a rector?
A: In some ways, the processes are similar. A discernment committee (sometimes called a search committee) was established by the diocese, and their job was to establish a profile for the diocese and to identify and interview potential candidates. What differs is that while a rector discernment committee is often asked to bring one, or at the most, two candidates to the vestry for a final decision, the diocesan discernment committee was asked to identify several candidates for a slate. In the case of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, a slate of four candidates was announced (the profiles of all the candidates can be found here.)

Q: Who elects a bishop?
A: The bishop of any diocese of the Episcopal Church is elected by a special Electing Convention of the diocese. The members of the convention are the same as those who meet each year for the annual diocesan convention: all clergy who are canonically resident in the diocese, and two lay delegates from each parish in the diocese. When our diocese elected the Rev. Alan Gates in 2014, Steve Spinetto and Scott Squillace were the delegates from St. John’s, and Dick Simeone, Lyn Brakeman and I voted as clergy of the diocese.

Q: How is a bishop elected?
A: Clergy and lay votes, taken by secret ballot,  are counted separately. In order to be elected, a candidate must receive a simple majority of clergy votes and a simple majority of lay votes. After the votes are counted, the results are announced. If no candidate is successful in achieving the required majorities, after an initial ballot, subsequent ballots are taken until someone has done so.

Q: What are the next steps in the process?
A: As I mentioned above, Thomas and I, along with the other candidates and spouses,  will be attending four different “Meet the Candidates” presentations next week. Delegates, as well as anyone else interested, are welcome to attend these events. Candidates have a chance to introduce themselves, and move amongst smaller groups  to individually answer questions posed to them. The time in North Carolina also gives the candidates and spouses time to learn more about the diocese.

Q: When is the election?
A:  Delegates will meet in Asheville on Saturday June 25th for the election. The diocese expects their new bishop to begin work there in September, and the consecration of the new bishop will be on October 1.

Q: What does this mean for us?
A:  The next six weeks does create some uncertainty as we think about our life together in the year ahead.  If Thomas is elected, I would begin a conversation with the vestry about the timing of my own departure, which would likely be sometime in the early fall. If there is no election, both Thomas and I will gladly continue in the positions to which we have been called, and to which we are committed.

Despite any uncertainly, I do not believe that we need to put any of our ministries, or our hopes and dreams for what we can be doing here at St. John’s, “on hold.” The vestry, for example, will be engaging in strategic planning at a vestry retreat in September, and I will be sharing more in the month to come about how all of us can assist them in planning for our future. We have been so abundantly blessed here at St. John’s. I ask you to continue to hold this parish, its leadership, and all of its members in your prayers as we move forward. Of some things we can never be certain of, but we can be assured that God hears us, leads us, and sustains us in all things.



A Rustling in the Garden


duckDear Friends,

I’m trying not to use the back door of our house. Two weeks ago, while out on the back patio, I heard a rustling in the overgrown plants of our tiny herb garden. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a duck suddenly appear and waddle out from the middle of it. She looked at me, did not seem too alarmed, but then quietly headed around the corner. Looking closely at the garden, I discovered a nest with three eggs. Someone had made a home while we were on vacation.

Alas, my presence must have scared her off. She did not return. But then, about a week ago, there she was back in the nest, probably having laid some new eggs. She is determined, and has not let anything disturb her now. I occasionally forget she is there and go crashing out the back door. it looks though, as if she knows the human movement around her will cause her and her future ducklings no harm.

It is an unlikely place for new life, this little garden that is separated by a busy road from the nearest river and lake. But then why, in the season of Easter, should I be surprised by life bursting forth in unlikely places?

We are now midway through Easter, and the jubilant proclamation of Easter morning invites us to pay attention throughout the fifty days of this season. Pay attention to where you hear some rustling, or notice unexpected movements in the gardens around you.  Pay attention to places where there has been death or despair or no sign of life. Pay attention to where Christ is bringing new life. Often, it will appear in the places and persons we least expect.

Last Sunday, we concluded our worship at 10 am by singing Brian Wren’s Easter hymn, “Christ is Alive.” The last stanza aptly sums up  for me the joy and promise of these days between Easter and Pentecost, as we discern Christ’s work in our midst:

Christ is alive!
His Spirit burns
through this and every future age,
till all creation lives and learns
his joy, his justice, love and praise.

May you be surprised by some rustling in the garden.