Dear Friends,

This week I ate a meal with two dear colleagues in church leadership, during which we ended up telling a trove of stories. The stories came alive as entities unto themselves - weaving back and forth across the tabletop between us. Commonalities formed the warp and distinctive stories were the weft of a vulnerable tapestry. One commonality that rose up caused me great sadness. Each of us knew individuals who had offered up their ministry in the church, and been rejected.

As I remember these hard stories of my own dear friends and family I recognize "myself" in them, but in a way that is more deeply saddening. Because rejection of the ministry of lay folks usually includes or is entirely driven by the deafness, blindness or self-centeredness of clergy.

I remember profoundly a conversation years ago with a trusted mentor across another table, in a Subway restaurant. Tears rose to my eyes as I said to her, "I think I really hurt someone. I think I messed up as a leader." She had the wisdom to say to me, more or less, "Why are you surprised?" and "Now you get to say sorry."

She was expressing two of the profound gifts of the Christian life. First, we recognize that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23...why are you surprised you messed up!), and second, "Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19-20...now you get to say sorry!).

The voice of Empire, which has been a teacher to us all, says that the best response to failure is shouting and denial. Empire says that brokenness is weakness and worthlessness. And Empire put Jesus to death on a cross, because Empire truly believed that this would lead to its victory over Jesus.

But Jesus says "Blessed are the meek." And "Blessed are the poor." And blessed are you when you say, "Yes. There is my sin. And I am sorry. And I turn again now to the way of Jesus." And Jesus broke bread and shared time continually with those who were broken, lifting up their perfect value. Jesus went willingly up onto the cross of Empire, and then broke forever its power to shame and dehumanize and belittle.

The Church is a group of "Christ"ians, and as Christ-ians we ascribe (even while living in the midst of Empire and its teachings) to Jesus' Way. A Way that relentlessly finds in every individual, and somehow especially in the brokenness of individuals, the perfect holiness of God. The Church also messes up in trying to actually do this. I have messed up in trying to actually do this. We have messed up in trying to actually do this. ...And we can say sorry and be refreshed.

In the stories I shared with my colleagues, there was not just rejection, but times of new life. Often the new life had to do with reconciliation with church or church leaders, or with moving on beyond a hurtful leader's circle of influence. And so I could not feel at peace without writing these words to you. Friends, I can't say I have fun discovering that I've messed up, but if I have a second to breathe with it, I'm not surprised. I hope that when (not if) I do mess up, we can talk about it, so that I can try my best to say sorry. I've already appreciated some of these conversations at St. Andrew's.

And also, if you don't want to talk with me, know that there are others that you can talk with. Our Vestry and Wardens are closest to hand and very appropriate to speak with. Also, Bishop Rob is my bishop, not my buddy. The diocese is ready to support parishioners and clergy alike with the harder kind of conversations when they arise. At our best, the Church has mediated some of the great reconciliations of all time. South Africa, Northern Ireland, and US Civil Rights come to mind, but plenty more of these "great reconciliations" happened at little churches like ours and are only known to two or three or four people, who were made new. Thanks be to God.

A closing note: The Vestry of a church I know posted the "10 rules for respect" in their congregation. The Bishop visited and commented, "It seems like these are all about conflict. Isn't that a bit negative?" I recognize that my reflection this week could come off similarly. But the response of the rector at that church was that, "Conflict is normal. We're naming it and giving ourselves a way to respond." If you have never been rejected at church, hallelujah! And if you have, I hope this helps in naming our brokenness and finding ways to respond.

In Christ, Who Truly Values Each of Us (even with his own life!),
Reed

 

Dear Friends,

This Sunday is our Spring Gardening Day at St. Andrew's, so please feel welcome to come to worship in your work clothes, and please come join in the gardening after worship. Also, I'll be making nachos for all who join the gardening!

The grapevine which we planted and blessed together during last week's sermon is settling in nicely, and it's buds are already swelling in recognition of its new home and invitation to grow forth. They have a beautiful pink tinge to them.

One note, that though I was hesitant to do so, I did move the vine just over to the other side of the gate in an attempt to get it into better sun. I carried your blessings along with it in the move!

As the earth turns and Spring finally rises to meet us, we go out to turn the earth and tend all the many plants and corners of our building that needs care. As I offered in my sermon, plants have lots to teach us about what it means to "abide". I hope you'll take the chance this Sunday to come and learn from the plants that surround us every Sunday during worship!

We'll be mulching the Memorial Garden and side gardens, raking out leaf litter, and pruning unruly growth.

And as for the nachos...they are part of a deep and mystical Christian tradition that truly must be tasted to be understood.

In Peace,
Reed  

#WalkSeeBecome: Your Vestry on Retreat

Dear Friends,

Last weekend the Vestry went on retreat. And we didn't focus on "business." In fact, even though we'd planned to spend just a few minutes on business, we got so caught up in time retreating with God in prayer, song, story-sharing, reflection and creation that we left even that snippet of business out.

What caught us up so fully was the work of sifting the story of St. Andrew's to find an "icon" for the year ahead. "We have such diverse ministries," we said. "What is in the center, binding them all into one work of doing church in our time and place?"

 St. Andrew's "Ministry Map" from our March Vestry Meeting

St. Andrew's "Ministry Map" from our March Vestry Meeting


And so we sought an icon.

A Christian icon is a window into God. One familiar style of icon is the painted kind. Our parish has many painted icons in the Byzantine style; a gift of saint Sandy Strang, who rests now in peace. They depict saints of the church and events in our relationship with God, and they become a window for us when we pray with them and enter into holy life they depict.

Icons have power because we both see our present self in them, and are drawn deeper into God and our self through them. On retreat, our Vestry sought out a good icon for the present life of St. Andrew's. From among the treasures of the Gospel and Church, we asked, what can guide us well in this season?

Together we were drawn to the story of the Road to Emmaus. We agreed that this sounded like St. Andrew's. We could see our present self in it. We also agreed that it had greater depths in it that could encourage us, sharpen us, lead us deeper into God and our selves, and closer to our neighbors. It's a story we hope to return to throughout the year.

From our diverse reflections we heard a few central characters jumping out to us. And from those we drew forth a small handful of words that could be held on to and carried around in our pockets. An icon-in-words for the year ahead:

Walking together.
Recognizing Jesus.
Practicing resurrection.

Or in its social media form, as the group creatively devised, #WalkSeeBecome.

 The final harvest of our retreat. In the center, an icon for the year ahead.

The final harvest of our retreat. In the center, an icon for the year ahead.


The Vestry and I were energized by this story and these words during our retreat, and have already begun finding encouragement in them. Having gleaned them from the life we share, we now offer them back for the full community. Like Sandy's icons, we hope that the meaning of this icon will grow as it is shared.

We'll be using it for reflection and inspiration in the Vestry and all the committees of the Vestry (Formation, Finance, Buildings and Grounds, etc.), and we offer it up to our many ministries as a lens for our common Gospel life. 

Praise God for the faithful work of our Vestry. And praise for all the steps ahead as we go together deeper into God's dream for us.

In Hope of Walking Together, Recognizing Jesus and Practicing Resurrection,

Reed 

Dear Friends,

This Sunday our celebrant in worship is our Bishop, the Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld. Bishop Rob will also offer the sermon, and at the 10am service will Confirm our 11 confirmands with the laying on of hands as we all join them in prayer. After worship we have a special celebratory coffee hour being led by the parents of the confirmands. I hope you can be there!

Episcopal means, from it's Greek root, "of bishops." To be the Episcopal Church contrasts with one which is Congregational ("of congregations") or Presbyterian ("of pastors") in that our basic unit of organization is the regional collection of churches (diocese), led by a bishop.

I was once on a "visioning" team with pastors from Baptist, Congregational, and Unitarian Universalist churches. This was while I was considering becoming a priest. And they asked if I really wanted to be under the authority of a bishop. I did give that question some thought, but I decided, "Yeah, I do want that...."

Jesus walked with us, rejoiced with us, ate with us, cried with us, touched us with healing, and used the "stuff" of creation (like dust, mud, water, plants, animals) to communicate God's love for us. Ever since, the idea of sacred touch and of caring for the stuff of creation has been important for Christians. Having bishops is one of the ways we live this out. Our one diocesan bishop connects all our local churches.

Every Confirmed or Received Episcopalian has received the prayerful hands of a bishop upon their head. And that bishop was ordained at the hands of other bishops (at least three!), and them at the hands of earlier bishops, and so on, back to the hands of Jesus sending out the first apostles. The churchy short"hand" for this is "Apostolic Succession", but the Christ-y word for this is care; love and relationship coming alive in the form of human touch.

There's nothing magical about it. It's more sturdy than that. It's simply generation after generation of Christians using the way we live to say that we are one connected Body. Through our bishops we can robustly support each other, nudge each other into more Christian ways of living, and look out for each others' needs. We do that with shared worship, outreach ministries, grant programs, young adult mission-year programs, and much more. Being connected so tightly also makes it harder to run away from the challenging parts of Christian relationship; repentance, forgiveness, and the new life they bring forth.

I like Bishop Rob. I appreciate his preaching, his guidance, his discipline, and his affirmation. But alongside that, and maybe even more, I love the connection to our whole diocese that he embodies when he shows up. It's good to be the Church, the Body of Risen Christ who healed and taught us. And it's good to stay connected to our many fellow pilgrims.
 

Yours in that Fellowship of Christ,

Reed