A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
A Weekly Commentary by the Rev. Poulson Reed
Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church & Day School
January 18, 2017 15 Years of Priesthood
January 18th, 2003, on the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, I was ordained to the priesthood at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver, where I had been serving as a transitional (rather than a permanent) deacon for six months prior. Following the ancient tradition, it was the case then, and still is, that those who are to be ordained as priests are ordained deacons first, ministering in that role for at least half a year.
Why? Among many reasons, because if one is not grounded in the humble, serving, compassionate, and outward-facing ministry of the deacon, one has no business being a priest. For that foundation of servant ministry, of Jesus-shaped ministry, is at the core both of Christian discipleship and of priestly leadership.
I remember thinking at the time, 15 years ago, that my experience of being a deacon, rather than feeling like a cumbersome delay to my “real" vocation as a priest, instead felt too short. But I reminded myself then, and still do, that being ordained a priest does not mean that one is no longer a deacon, or a baptized Christian for that matter. One is all three, with the baptismal identity, not either ordination, as the most important layer, at the heart of it all.
I have been enormously blessed by God in these 15 years of priestly ministry, serving for more than 7 years in three different roles (curate, canon, and sub-dean) at Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver, and now for 8 and half years as the Rector of All Saints’. I couldn’t be more grateful to be doing what I was called to do in this place, with this remarkable group of clergy, staff, and lay people.
Being a priest isn’t quite what I expected. Just before I was called to Denver, I imagined that my ministry might be as a small church vicar, or perhaps a school chaplain and teacher on an idyllic campus somewhere. Little did I know I would end up, much to my surprise, in large parishes. There have been many moments when, like Moses, I’ve said to God: “Are you sure I’m the one you want?”
In a large and complex system like All Saints’, I spend more time in meetings, on email, problem solving, and trying to think strategically than I do writing sermons, making pastoral visits, leading liturgies, and preparing classes. It comes with the job, and I’ve actually come to see the leading and managing as integral parts of the Gospel. The better we function as organization, the more able we are to reach more people with greater effectiveness in all that we do. But I always make some time for the essentials of priestly ministry: the sacraments, teaching, preaching, pastoral care, personal prayer and study.
In my 15 years, I’ve seen the best and worst of people, the sorrows and joys, wonderful surprises and bitter disappointments. We are, all of us, made in God’s image, but sin-sick. But God is always unfailingly faithful, good, merciful, and loving. If we can, like Saint Peter, confess Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and put our whole trust in him, God will be with us to the end.
January 11, 2018 Eli: Not the Parent of Year
Our Old Testament reading this Sunday, from 1 Samuel, tells the story of God calling Samuel while young Samuel is serving under Eli’s supervision at a holy place of worship. In the brief and rather amusing story, Eli seems like a wise mentor, instructing Samuel to ask for God’s guidance when God calls.
Sadly, in other parts of the book, we learn that Eli, while at times a wise role model for Samuel, is not always a good father to his own children. Eli fails to discipline his two wicked sons, who violate God’s law egregiously and prey on the vulnerable. Eventually, the sons lose their lives because of their sins, and Eli does, as well.
Parenting is not easy. It was not easy for Eli, who let his love for sons curdle into permissiveness. It is not easy for those of us who are doing our best to parent effectively today, in our complex world. What helps enormously is to have mature, grounded adults to walk with us, and with our children on the way. It is a cliché, but a true one: it takes a village to raise a child.
One such “village” for which I am grateful is our day school. All Saints’ Episcopal Day School is a fantastic environment not only for encouraging the academic potential of our students, but also for its nurturing of their moral formation through chapel, religion class, service to those in need, and the Episcopal ethos of our school community. The school’s indexed tuition program makes All Saints’ school far more affordable than many parents realize, and I hope more of our church families will consider our school as they make their educational decisions. For more information, visit aseds.org.
A new “village” that is beginning soon is our choir program for children and youth. This will offer wonderful musical education, but will also be a wholesome environment nurturing the character of our participants, whether they are Episcopalians or not. In my own experience, I benefited greatly from the choirs of my childhood and youth. Indeed, it is through choirs that I remained connected to the Church, even when I was unsure about my faith. Please help us spread the word about this exciting new program that will benefit students and their families.
• At long last, our new sound system has arrived. Please bear with us as we adjust its levels and get used to it over the coming weeks. I am grateful to the many donors over many years who made it possible. Our old system dated back to the 1980’s, so this will be an improvement. But it is useful to remember that our church building is designed for glorious music, with lots of warm echo, which makes the clarity of the spoken word a challenge. Hopefully our new system will improve spoken clarity considerably as it gets calibrated.
• In our current lectionary year (B) we have many readings from Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest, most concise, and strangest of the four gospels. My class on Sunday will give an introduction to this fascinating book.
• I commend our Walking the Mourner’s Path group to those who are seeking a faith-based process for moving healthily through grief. It is an excellent program.
January 4, 2018 The New Year and a God of Second Chances
Does God care about our New Year’s resolutions? I imagine God looking down on me as I make mine, every year, and chuckling. For at this time of year, I am usually optimistic beyond reason that I can change this habit or that one, for real this time! I’ve read the articles on how to make a habit stick, and am sure every time that this will be the year!
What I know about myself is that usually my New Year’s resolution falls apart in about three weeks. If it is something spiritual, it often becomes my Lenten goal about a month later. It’s almost like my New Year’s resolutions are a dress rehearsal for my Lenten discipline. Interestingly, I do much better keeping Lenten goals than New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because I see a Lenten practice as part of my faith commitment.
But I imagine God laughing and not shaking God’s head in judgment at my little failures because our God is a God of second chances. In our journey this year through “The Path,” the great stories of the Bible, we have just finished the Old Testament. One of the striking themes to me in reading the Bible this way has been God’s infinite patience and mercy towards humanity.
Over and over and over again, in the Bible stories, the people make mistakes: worshipping other Gods, neglecting the poor and needy, seeking power and money and pleasure, forgetting to worship or give God thanks. And over and over, God sends another prophet with yet another invitation to return to the path of blessing, wholeness, generosity, and right relationship.
As “The Path” moves into the New Testament, we will see God’s ultimate offer of love and a better way in God’s own son, Jesus Christ. This fits perfectly with our liturgical calendar. As we enter the season of Epiphany on January 6, we celebrate how that amazing offer, the light of Christ, was extended to the whole world.
And so, whether or not you have a New Year’s resolution, and however it goes, remember that God loves you just the same. If you do choose to have one, it is perhaps best to keep it modest, and to keep the focus on God’s will for us. This year, one thing I am trying to do is read the Bible slowly, one little bit at a time, in the style of Lectio Divina (this has the added advantage of being harder to fail at!).
In the famous words of the great spiritual writer Thomas Merton, we recall our hopeful belief that God is pleased even with our halting, insufficient, and unsuccessful efforts, if they come from a genuine desire to please God:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
December 28, 2017 12 Days of Looking for Christ
"Look for Christ and you will find Him. And with Him, everything else.”
--C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)
Although our Christmas Eve and Day services have ended, our Christmas celebrations continue, though with a sense of quieter and more introspective joy.
This is part of the wonder and purpose of celebrating Christmas for 12 days, all the way to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th: while others will leave Christmas behind for another year on December 26th, like the Three Kings we Christians keep searching for the Holy Child. And we will find Him.
We will find Him in the mangers of our creches, at church and at home. We will find Him in the Saint John’s Bible picture of the nativity, and in our favorite carols. We will find Him in the Word of God, and in the Holy Sacrament. We will find Him in families, lovingly gathered around dinner tables and Christmas trees. We will find Him in the laughter of children, playing with their new toys.
We will find Him in our moments of sorrow and loss, as well, in the empty space of a loved one who is no longer here, in the human brokenness in some of our relationships, in national tragedies and anxieties, and in the human need of those on our streets.
May we diligently look for Christ, this Christmas season, knowing that, by God’s guiding, if our hearts are true, we will surely find Him. And having found Him, we will have found all that we need to have or know.
• Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who worked closely with our staff to make our Christmas Eve and Day services so wonderful again this year. It is awe-inspiring to see the commitment that so many of our people have, for the sake of providing a meaningful Christmas to others in our worship and in our hundreds of gifts to those in need.
• As 2017 winds down, we are again close to finishing our fiscal year at All Saints’ church with a small surplus (that would make 6 years in a row!). If you have not yet made a pledge for 2018, or given an end of year financial gift to support our mission and ministries, I hope you will do so. Thank you for your generous support!
December 21, 2017 Christmas Still Works
A couple of nights ago, after Evening Prayer in the chapel, I was walking through the narthex, when I caught a glimpse of the main church. I walked in, and it was dark, except for all the Christmas lights. Andy Andersen and his crew had been decorating all day, getting the church ready for our school Christmas chapel and for our Christmas Eve services.
I was, rather unexpectedly, deeply moved by the beauty and the holiness of our sacred space, and the interplay of the Christmas lights with the dark church. I thought of the words of John the Evangelist: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
Christmas still works. Despite the commercialism, the changes in patterns of church-going, the dangers and anxieties in our world, the human failings, and the cynicism in our culture, Christmas works. Like it always has, Christmas touches our hearts, if fills us with child-like joy, it inspires us to reach out to others, and brings out the best of our God-given humanity. I hope there will never be a Christmas when it fails to do so.
Why does Christmas work its magic on us, every year? Because it is from God. At the heart of it all is a child, the long-promised Savior, born for us, sent to us by God as the ultimate gift of love. A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not and will not ever overcome it.
Whether you are with us at All Saints’ for our Christmas services, or somewhere else this year, may God bless you abundantly with the light and joy of our Savior, Jesus Christ. O come, let us adore him!
December 14, 2017 Let's Not Change the Lord’s Prayer
This past week, Pope Francis made news by saying, supposedly, that the words of the Lord’s Prayer should be changed from “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation.” As usual, the religious press picked up on much of the nuance and context of the Pope’s remarks (made in Italian in a TV interview), while the secular media, for the most part, jumped straight to hyperbolic headlines (like that of a prominent online news source: “Pope Francis Proposes Change to the Lord’s Prayer”).
What Pope Francis actually did was praise a new version of the Lord’s Prayer being introduced into the Catholic Church in France (most liturgical changes begin on Advent 1, the start of the Church year). He commended the French translation for making it clear that God doesn’t push us into temptation, but rather picks us up when we fall. He seemed to suggest that Italian (and perhaps other) translations might want, in the future, to consider similar changes to be more theologically correct.
On the basic theology, of course, Pope Francis is aligned with traditional Christian doctrine on this point. God does not tempt us to evil, but helps us be freed from it. We all fall into temptation at various points in our lives, but God does not push us into it. But there are at least two good reasons why I like our traditional
translation of the Lord’s Prayer, as it is.
First, in our increasingly secular world, it is no small thing that many people still have the traditional Lord’s Prayer memorized. It is, arguably, the best known
religious text in the world. It is good that we have at least one composed prayer that we carry within us, available at any time for our use. How often I have been at a hospital bedside, surrounded by a sick person’s family, many of whom have no current religious affiliation. And when, in the course of my prayers for the sick, I begin the traditional Lord’s Prayer, most of them join in.
I actually rather like our Book of Common Prayer’s contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer (BCP p. 364), which is more accurate overall, and we use it at All Saints’ at our 7am Wednesday Eucharist and Tuesday night Evening Prayer. But when it comes to memorization, it does not compare to our traditional version. Even people who praythe contemporary Lord’s Prayer regularly do not often have it at the tip of their tongue.
The second reason I like our traditional Lord’s Prayer is, admittedly, a bit esoteric. Some have argued that it is actually more linguistically accurate to say “lead us
not into temptation.” Such translation questions are difficult, to be sure, because we are taking the likely Aramaic words of Jesus, translated into Greek in the New
Testament, and then translating that into English. So accuracy is relative. But we don’t know exactly what Jesus said; what we have is the Greek New Testament, and most scholars agree that the Greek verb in question in Matthew’s gospel should be translated as “bring” or “lead.”
Often theologians and translators down the centuries have tried to smooth out the rough edges of the New Testament. But it is actually a profoundly strange and strangely written book. Take Mark, the gospel we read most often in this new liturgical year, just begun. Its Greek is rough, awkward, and often confusing. We can polish it linguistically and theologically in translation, but sometimes it is refreshing to remind ourselves of its rough-hewn, otherworldly quality.
Instead of “correcting” the text, what if instead we wrestled with what Jesus is reported to have actually said? God has been known in Scripture to harden the hearts of Pharaoh and Judas Iscariot for a greater purpose, and to drive Jesus himself into the wilderness to be tempted. Is it so odd that God, in God’s mysterious ways, might occasionally lead us into temptation for the purpose of our, or a greater good? I wonder.
• If you are interested in a New Testament translation that leans into (not away from) the strangeness of the Greek text, have someone give you for Christmas David Bentley Hart’s new translation, available from Yale University Press. It has been described this way: “reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to the uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.” How’s that for a recommendation! “Pitilessly literal”!
• What a marvelous Advent service of lessons and carols it was last Sunday night. Many thanks to our musicians and volunteers for putting together such a compelling and beautiful evening, the first service in our Evensong slot to be designed and directed by our wonderful new Director of Music, Joseph Ripka.
December 7, 2017 Making the Most of Advent
Advent is such a short season, just four Sundays, and will seem even shorter this year, since the fourth Sunday in Advent actually falls on Christmas Eve morning! But if we can keep the season intentionally and well, it will bless us and others greatly when Christmas comes.
Making the most of Advent doesn’t mean a bah-humbug rejection of all things Christmas until December 24th in the evening. As Episcopalians, we can enjoy all the fun, cultural trappings of the Christmas season (the parties, sentimental music, decorations, sweets and so on), while simultaneously keeping space in our hearts and lives for the spiritual preparation of Advent.
But what does an intentional Advent look like, in practical terms? In 2006, a group of pastors founded a movement called the Advent Conspiracy. You can read the details at www.adventconspiracy.org, but in brief the four spiritual practices they recommend are: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. In other words, keep worship of Jesus at the center, spend a little less on excess “stuff” and a little more on gifts that matter, and love those who are in need (as Jesus asked us to).
When it comes to the last of those ideas, it has been truly heartwarming to see the generosity of All Saints’ over the last couple of weeks. Every tag has been taken off our Giving Tree to provide gifts for the residents of Maryland Gardens (84 in all), and for the Angel Tree effort to give to the children of the incarcerated (34 more). I’m told that’s roughly three times the number of tags taken last year! And that’s not counting the 594 Christmas cards recently made by parishioners to be mailed to those in prison. That’s amazing. Thank you!
It’s not too late to keep a holy Advent by using these four spiritual tools. Join us for extra worship, like our Advent service Sunday night. Bring an unwrapped, new toy on Christmas Eve for the children of San Pablo. And for some creative ideas for faith-based gifts for loved ones of any age, look here: http://www.growchristians.org/2017/12/05/gifts-for-faith-a-guide-for-all-ages/#more-5123
May God bless us with an Advent that makes ready in ourselves and in others room for the Savior, who is to come.
November 30, 2017 The Challenge and Blessing of Change
Some people love lots of change and the fresh perspective and experiences it brings. Others dread even the smallest change, and wish things would always stay the same. In our faith, we strive to find God both in change and in stability. Part of the message of Advent and Christmas reveals the duality of change: we simultaneously find comfort in the familiar repetition of the story of our savior’s birth, and we find it unsettling to think that he will, one day, come again to judge the living and the dead.
In the common life of our beloved All Saints', the last few months have brought a great deal of change. We have lost to death many pillars and close friends of our church, including Roger Strand, Ann Andersen, Bill Andrews, Marian Abbott, Bob and Lettie Pickrell, Joan Hill, Jas Davidson, the Reverend Carl Carlozzi, Hal Hall, and a number of others. We miss them dearly, but believe they are with God, and we hold them in our hearts.
This fall, we have also bid grateful farewells to many wonderful staff members who have transitioned to new phases in their lives. Scott Youngs retired from All Saints' but remains active as a conductor and performer (come see him conduct at All Saints' in January at the Arizona Bach Festival!). James Gerber took a significant position at a large church in Philadelphia, and the Reverend Holly Herring was called to an important ministry at Trinity Cathedral downtown.
Most recently, Lindsay Wood Salazar, a member of our administrative team, has transitioned from our staff. We thank her for her time with us, and wish her well as she pursues new opportunities (notes of appreciation to Lindsay can be dropped off at the church office, and we will forward them to her).
We acknowledge the challenges those changes have created, but we also joyfully embrace the blessings that accompany them. We welcome talented new staff: the Reverend Emilie Finn (Interim Associate Priest), Joseph Ripka (Director of Music), Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler (Associate Director of Music, to begin in early January), and Gary Quamme (Interim Operations Assistant).
Both Emilie and Gary have assumed interim positions. As discussed last week, Emilie will largely fulfill the responsibilities of the Reverend Holly Herring, and will work closely with the Reverend Joie Baker. Gary, a former staff member in our music department and friend of the parish, has extensive administrative experience and training, especially in the nonprofit sector. Gary will help Barbara Anderson and Nanette Towsley with our many administrative needs (contact Gary especially for calendar, IT, budget, and membership questions).
As with Emilie Finn, Gary is in an interim role and we are grateful to have him with us as well because we needed help quickly. Both Emilie’s and Gary’s engagement with All Saints’ not only fills important and immediate needs, but also allows us time to consider carefully and prayerfully what we wish for in these staff positions for the long term.
In our Episcopal system, the Rector is responsible for hiring and evaluating the staff. At the same time, I prefer to hire staff, when practical, with advice from members of our All Saints’ community, both staff and lay. That has been my practice for most of the staff searches during my time here. The search for our Director of Music was a recent example.
As we consider what we need in our permanent priest position and administrator (the current two interim positions) I will be consulting with volunteers and staff, and I welcome feedback from any of our members as to what qualities you would like to see, and how we can best support you in your faith. Finally, I am so grateful to our continuing and new staff, to our Vestry, and to our members for all that you do to live out the Gospel at All Saints’ and in the world.
I know that change naturally brings about a variety of emotions in our faith community: excitement, but also some sadness and anxiety. Please feel welcome to be in touch with me or our Senior Warden, Tim Haskins (email@example.com or 623 933-5244), with any questions, thoughts, or feelings you have about anything related to our life together at All Saints’, at any time. And may we find in God the grace to grow closer to God and to each other in the challenge and the blessing of change.
November 22, 2017 Saint Cecilia, Our New Musicians, and the Purpose of Church Music
November 22nd is in the Church’s calendar the feast day of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. We have a lovely Saint Cecilia stained glass window in our choir room at All Saints’.
Cecilia lived in Rome in the 3rd century. A Christian, born to wealthy parents, she vowed her life to Christ as a young girl. But her parents arranged a marriage against her will to a prominent pagan. At her wedding, she sang in her heart a song to God to give her courage. On her wedding night, she told her new husband that a guardian angel was protecting her, and that if he were baptized, he would be able to see the angel, too. He was baptized that night, and returned to their room to see the angel, watching over his new bride.
Inspired by their faith, Cecilia, her husband and his brother began giving Christians in Rome who had died a proper Christian burial, which was illegal under the Roman Empire at that time. All three were eventually martyred for their faith. Until the day of her death, Cecilia continued to be inspired and strengthened by sacred music.
The story of Saint Cecilia reminds us that church music is never just for our entertainment. It lifts our hearts, teaches us, and moves our spirits for a purpose: to enable us, like Cecilia, to do the work of the Gospel in the world, bringing faith and comfort to those who need it.
How fitting that, during the week of the feast of Saint Cecilia, we welcome with great joy this Sunday our new Director of Music, Joseph Ripka, and his family. Joseph was selected from more than 40 talented applicants from all over the country (and beyond), and those of us who have met him have truly felt a sense of calling in his coming, with his wife Erin (a professional violinist and accomplished teacher) and their delightful six year old daughter.
We are also able to announce that joining Joseph will be our new Associate Director of Music, Dr. Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler. Since moving here from Europe nine years ago, Ilona has been serving as the Director of Music at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale. She has a wonderful and varied background, as you will see from her biography, and will start with us in early January. Ilona is, like Joseph, a world class organist. She is also a strong conductor and teacher, with experience leading musicians of all ages.
With Joseph Ripka as our Director of Music and Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler as our Associate Director of Music, All Saints’ is poised to take our sacred music ministry to the next level, building on our strengths while inviting the next generation of faithful musicians into this rich tradition of liturgy and music that we cherish. Joseph and Ilona are immensely talented, kind-hearted people, and Episcopalians grounded in deep faith. We look forward to welcoming them (and their families) warmly to our church and school.
November 16, 2017 What are Bishops for Anyway?
Sometimes our liturgical calendar intersects in interesting ways with what is going on at a particular moment in the church or the world, and so it is this Sunday. We celebrate at 9 and 11am Seabury Sunday, our annual remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury, a priest from Connecticut who became the first bishop of The Episcopal Church.
In the period just after the American Revolution, Seabury could not be consecrated a bishop, because to do so required an oath of loyalty to the British crown. After a year of waiting and stalled negotiations in England, Samuel Seabury finally accepted an offer of help from the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and on November 14, 1784 he was consecrated the first bishop of The Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. For this reason, on Seabury Sunday every year we celebrate all things Scottish, by enjoying the stirring music of bagpipes and drums, and wearing tartans (for those who have them).
Why was it so important for Samuel Seabury to be consecrated a bishop? Part of it was practical: with no bishops, there are no new priests or deacons (for it takes a bishop to ordain them). And so, if our friends in Scotland had not helped us out, The Episcopal Church in the United States could well have died out as the number of clergy dwindled.
But bishops do more than ordain and confirm. As the collect for Samuel Seabury’s feast day says, “we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal.” And so, bishops are visible signs of unity, reminding us that we are part, not only of All Saints’, but of our Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, which is itself part of The Episcopal Church, and the worldwide Anglican communion, which can trace its lineage all the way back to the apostles. Together, as bishops, priests, deacons, and lay ministers, we are nourished by the sacraments, for the shared purpose of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
As we, on Seabury Sunday, celebrate in a particular way the ministry of bishops, we give thanks for our own Bishop of Arizona, Kirk Smith, who announced last week that he will be retiring in 2019. You can read his letter to the diocese here. We will have plenty of time to thank Bishop Smith for his thoughtful and faithful leadership of our diocese, especially in person at his annual visitation with us in May.
• I want to extend my thanks to all of the volunteers who worked so hard to make Consecration Sunday a success last week. In particular, our shared meals together after all of our services were joyful highlights, as we broke bread together as friends in Christ. If you were not able to be with us, please join those who were there by making your pledge, your estimate of giving for 2018. We hope to hear within a week or so from all of our members and friends with their pledges.
November 2, 2017 Saint Martin’s Cloak
November 11th every year, in addition to being Veterans Day, is in the Church’s calendar the feast of Saint Martin of Tours. Legend has it that in the 4th century, Martin was a young soldier in the Roman army, serving in France. One very cold day in the dead of winter, Martin came upon a shivering, nearly naked beggar. Moved with compassion, he took his sword, cut his own cloak in two, and gave half to the poor man. Later that night, he dreamt that the beggar whom he had helped was Christ himself. Not long after, Martin was baptized a Christian.
Part of what I love about the story of Saint Martin’s cloak is its poignant echo of Jesus’ crucifixion story. We recall that the Roman soldiers in that story took Jesus’ cloak by force, and cast lots to see which of them would keep it (since they didn’t want to damage it by cutting it in pieces). But Saint Martin the Roman soldier gladly divided his own cloak to give it to another person, only later realizing that when one helps the poor, it is as if we are helping Christ himself.
This Saturday night and Sunday at all our services (except the Requiem on Sunday night), we will celebrate Consecration Sunday. Our guest preacher at all our services will be a friend of the parish, the Reverend Canon Frank Clark, who served as a part time associate on our staff some years ago, in retirement. Together, as a community of faith, and in the context of our worship, we will decide what percentage of our income we choose to give back to God, in joyful thanksgiving for all that God has done to bless us at All Saints’ and in our lives. And then after all of our worship services, we will have a free, festive meal together.
I’m looking forward to this new way of gathering our estimates of giving, and not just because it’s a much shorter process, but because it gives us the opportunity to consider our giving more spiritually. I’m guessing this may feel a little strange for some of us, at first. But, like Saint Martin, our voluntary giving away of something that is dear to us may even offer, for us, an encounter with our crucified and risen Lord.
• Saturday, November 4th, was a vivid demonstration of the difference that All Saints’ church makes in the lives of our members, and the wider community. The
Saturday events were as follows: Altar Guild preparation, music class for children, Centering Prayer, funeral for beloved parishioner Joan Hill, choir rehearsal, animal adoption event with pet blessings, wedding, and the 5pm Eucharist. Days like these at church are what our financial giving helps support.
November 2, 2017 500 Years Later: Was the Reformation a Good Thing?
October 31st marked the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. More specifically, around October 31, 1517, a Catholic monk and university lecturer named Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses and, as legend has it, nailed them to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. While there is now some doubt that Luther actually nailed them to the door, the date remains a useful, if imprecise marker of the beginning of a decisive movement in history.
Truth be told, our Anglican tradition has and always has had an uneasy relationship with the Reformation. While many Protestant churches celebrate Reformation Sunday every year on October 31st, most Episcopal churches do not. Indeed, there is not universal agreement among Episcopalians about whether we are Protestants, or some kind of Protestant/Catholic via media, or in a different category altogether (like the Eastern Orthodox). When the Church of England first broke with the Roman Catholic Church, it did not align itself fully (if at all) with the Protestant movement, although it was somewhat more influenced by Protestant theology at some later points.
Martin Luther, for all his criticism of Catholicism, never wanted the breakup of the Church, and he would doubtless be horrified that there are more than 9,000 Protestant denominations today (and some 33,000 denominations overall worldwide). On the other hand, Luther might be pleased that on the main theological issue of division 500 years ago (whether we are justified by faith or by our own works), Protestant and Catholic Churches are closer today than they have ever been. Pope Francis himself has said that today, Protestants and Catholics largely agree on the doctrine of justification.
This does not mean, however, that there are not major disagreements among churches. These days, divisions among denominations are much more pronounced along conservative and liberal lines, with conservative Roman Catholic churches in some respects aligning more closely with conservative evangelical Protestants than with liberal Roman Catholics, and vice versa. The lines of division on the Church map have shifted.
All of which begs the question: from our vantage point 500 years later, was the Reformation a good thing? Certainly the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day needed to be reformed. Parts of it were worldly, corrupt, power hungry, and pushed a distorted theology of works that allowed the sale of indulgences (buying time out of purgatory). But other parts of the Roman Catholic Church at that time were good, holy, compassionate, and true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Reformation, which is what Luther wanted, was necessary. But was the medicine as toxic as the disease? As the saying goes, a branch, once cut off the tree, splinters easily. Luther’s movement of reform, picked up by Calvin, Zwingli and others, quickly splintered into a handful, then dozens, then eventually hundreds, then thousands of divided denominations. Even the current presiding bishop of the largest Lutheran denomination, the ELCA, the Reverend Elizabeth Eaton, has said that “breaking up the western church was not a gift to the church.” Today, we can truly “church shop” to our heart’s content in the ecclesiastical marketplace, until we find precisely the church we are looking for in theology and worship. But is so much choice spiritually healthy?
At this point, despite Christ’s urging that we all be one as he and God the Father are one, returning to a greater state of unity among our denominations seems unlikely. But there are glimmers of cooperation. The Episcopal Church and the ELCA have made agreements that allow us to share clergy, and a similar state of communion (connected, but not merged) is being considered with the Methodists. Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogues continue, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Pope Francis are continuing the cautious collegiality of their respective predecessors.
Perhaps, like many divorces, the Reformation was a necessary tragedy. A tragedy, because any final separation rather than reform or healing from within carries with it suffering and spiritual damage that makes reconciliation difficult, if not impossible. Necessary, perhaps, because sometimes such separation is the least bad option available.
And so, forgive me if I don’t exactly celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. At the same time, the necessary tragedy of the Reformation has given us The Episcopal Church, which I love and which is my (and our) spiritual home. God’s ways are always good, and mysterious. Who knows what God may have in store for the Church, in all its diverse forms, in the next 500 years?
October 26, 2017 Capital “E” Episcopal
This Sunday at 11am is our annual Day School Sunday, when we celebrate All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, the largest ministry of All Saints’ Episcopal Church. There is a lot to celebrate, for our school is very healthy in its enrollment (well over 500 in pre-k through 8th grade), and in its impact on our students and on the community. But one of the attributes of our school for which I am most grateful is that it is strongly, unapologetically Episcopal.
Four times I’ve attended the excellent conference sponsored by the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), and while there, I’ve encountered leaders and representatives from dozens and dozens of Episcopal schools from all across the country.
Episcopal schools are wonderfully varied, depending on their geographical contexts, whether they are parish-based schools, their history, and other factors. Some of that variation comes in how strongly “Episcopal” they are, especially in the frequency and content of their chapel and religion classes, and in their ethos.
At our school, I am happy to say, our Episcopal identity is at the core of our mission. Students attend chapel twice a week. Tuesday is all school chapel, Thursday is Middle School chapel, and Friday is Lower School Chapel. Chapel worship is from the Book of Common Prayer (Holy Eucharist on Tuesdays, and Morning Prayer on Thursdays and Fridays). And so, when our students graduate, they will have deeply experienced Episcopal liturgy and music.
Our students have religion class in all grades, learning not only about Christianity, but about all the major world religions in an environment of curiosity and respect. And they serve those in need throughout the school year, sometimes as a whole school (as in the food collection for Saint Mary’s Food Bank) and sometimes as a grade (as in their recent service day).
Part of our Episcopal mission is a profound appreciation for diversity, and respecting the dignity of every human being. And so, even though we are grounded in a Christian tradition, we warmly welcome students from many different denominations, religions, and faith traditions, and strive to help them feel at home, as equal participants in our school’s common life.
I am of the belief that our Episcopal schools are more important now than ever in our complex world, with all of its many challenges. We need young people who are not only highly educated, but highly compassionate, not only physically fit, but morally fit, not only ambitious, but eager to make our world more just. The students from our day school and the students from our church who attend other schools have a critical role to play as current and future leaders.
All Saints’ Episcopal Day School is helping to form just such leaders, in cooperation with their families, and their houses of worship. As members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, we can be proud of the past, present, and future of our school, which is capital “E” Episcopal.
• One of the marks of a vibrant church is active engagement with the wider community. We are seeking out more and more such engagement. Our second Shoulders Down conversation brought in about two-thirds All Saints’ members and one-third community members from outside the church (mark your calendars for our next Shoulders Down conversation on December 5). Our upcoming Mindful Eating group is full, with thirteen participants (five from outside All Saints’). And two recent concerts brought a couple of hundred community residents into our church. All good signs that we are a church not only for our members, but for the community.
• We had a wonderful potluck breakfast last Sunday, as we experiment with offering connection and faith-in-action opportunities on Sunday mornings. Thank you to all who brought food!
October 19, 2017 Our Pledge Campaign: A Fresh Approach
Usually by now we would have started our annual pledge campaign, when we ask our members and friends to make a pledge, an estimate of financial giving to the church for the coming year. Our pledge is one of our most important spiritual practices as individuals and families, for it is a reflection both of our gratitude to God and of our priorities (as Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”).
This year, some things will be the same about our pledge campaign, but some other things will be different, and hopefully, refreshing. The hope is that this approach will encourage more people to pledge, and to consider their pledge more prayerfully.
What’s the Same
• As always, we will preach and teach the traditional theology of giving: that we pledge and give not so much to the church’s budget, but rather in thanksgiving for
how God has blessed us in our lives. A pledge is not meant to be “dues” or fundraising or what is left over after all our other expenses and wants are covered. The Bible teaches “first fruits” giving: giving a percentage of our income (proportional giving) back to God. The Episcopal Church, like all major Christian churches, preaches the tithe (10% of one’s income), though not everyone is able to meet that goal at first.
• As always, we will fill out a pledge form or estimate of giving card, which is not binding but gives the church a sense of what to expect in giving for 2018, to
help us budget prudently.
• The pledge campaign will be a lot shorter! Typically our formal campaign goes for at least six weeks, and informally for at least that long after. Quite honestly,
it can feel rather tedious. This year, we will encourage everyone to attend worship on Sunday, November 12 (Consecration Sunday) at either the 9am or 11am service. We will have a guest preacher, long time friend of All Saints’ the Reverend Canon Frank Clark, and we will prayerfully fill out our estimate of giving card that day. Of course we will follow up with those who are not able to attend, but for most people, the pledge campaign will take place on one day.
• As part of the celebration of Consecration Sunday, we will share a delicious breakfast and fellowship time together.
As we were considering this new approach, I was interested to learn that All Saints’ used a similar method quite successfully many years ago. Please mark your calendar for November 12, as we thank God for all the many gifts God has given us in our lives and especially through All Saints’.
October 12, 2017 Shoulders Down: a Reflection
In September, we hosted our first Shoulders Down conversation at All Saints’. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found it a refreshing and encouraging experience.
Part of why it worked so well is the process. We were 21 in all, many from All Saints’ and some from the wider community, divided into small groups. Each group had a trained facilitator, and clear ground rules (one person speaks at a time, and we listen and respond respectfully). Our topic was “Does America have a promise to keep?” and it was broad enough to leave space for a range of thoughts and feelings.
What was refreshing was that we had real, honest, but genuinely respectful conversation among our different points of view. No one was yelling, putting down, or even trying to convince another person to change their mind. We were simply listening, and sharing, attempting to get outside our ideological bubbles and learn from one another.
These days, in our polarized country, it seems like almost any topic, even football, generates heated arguments. Shoulders Down offers a way of remaining in positive relationship, despite our differences. Interested in seeing this for yourself? Our next non-partisan Shoulders Down conversation is on Tuesday, October 17th in the evening. Our topic will be “What does voting mean for America?” Come and join us, and bring a friend (or two!).
• Have you noticed the new electric doors at church? They are now operational, helping some of our members who need assistance get into the Narthex more easily. Next up: our new sound system, which should be installed by Thanksgiving (hooray!).
October 5, 2017 Remembering Father Carl
The whole All Saints’ community is mourning the death of the Reverend Canon Carl Carlozzi, our second Rector, who died on Sunday, October 1.
Father Carl was a gifted and immensely influential priest, who shaped the history of All Saints’ in countless ways. Following Father Paul Urbano, our first Rector, Father Carl led All Saints’ from 1980 to 2002, a period of tremendous growth for both our church and school. Father Carl was a persuasive fundraiser, and enthusiastic builder not only of actual buildings, but of ministries and programs. It is because of the leadership of Father Carl, in large measure, that All Saints’ is the impressive church and school that we are today, and our school’s magnificent gymnasium is rightly named in his honor.
But Father Carl was so much more than a dynamic leader, builder, and administrator. He will perhaps be best remembered as a caring pastor. At All Saints’, many still recall his pastoral presence at funerals, and by hospital beds. And for 25 years, his pastoral gifts made a huge difference in countless lives as a volunteer Chaplain for the Fire Department, beginning during his tenure at All Saints’ and continuing until recently.
As Chaplain, Father Carl brought comfort to the suffering, of all faiths and of none, including those affected by some of our nation’s most painful tragedies, such as the Sept 11th attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. He was also there for firefighters in times of joy: he performed many baptisms and weddings at All Saints’ in his retirement for firefighters and their families.
As the awful news from Las Vegas came out this week, I thought of Father Carl, who courageously went into the midst of the very worst suffering to bring God’s healing and hope. In many ways, he embodied the Prayer of Saint Francis, and perhaps we can be inspired, in his memory, to go out and do the same:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
September 28, 2017 30 Years is a Long Time!
How long does it take to influence the culture of an organization? It depends.
With rectors, the prevailing wisdom suggests that it takes more than 5 years for any lasting change to occur in a congregation. Since the average tenure for a rector in The Episcopal Church these days is less than 5 years, that helps explain why so many churches seem “stuck.” In politics, for all the talk that our current President is changing things forever (for good or ill), I suspect our political system is more entrenched (again, for good or ill) and harder to change than we might realize.
But what about music directors? In our Episcopal culture, the second most influential person in the system, behind the Rector, is usually the Director of Music. That is certainly true at a place like All Saints’, in which music is so central, and so beloved. Indeed, some would argue that the Director of Music is THE most influential person at All Saints’, and I’m not sure I would disagree!
Scott Youngs has been our Director of Music for 30 years, a remarkable achievement. That’s almost half the existence of All Saints'. In that time, he has shaped our culture in all kinds of beneficial ways, both recognized and beneath the surface. He has worked tirelessly to build a music ministry centered on the liturgy and our praise of Almighty God, installing a glorious organ and training thousands of singers, bringing us to a place where our music is recognized and acclaimed not only regionally, but nationally.
His lasting influence goes far beyond the music itself. Taking Scott’s kind and pastoral lead, our Senior Choir is more than a musical ensemble: it is a compassionate community, looking after its members when they go into the hospital or suffer bad news. And it is a joyful group, relishing opportunities for fellowship together, especially at their legendary potlucks.
Scott has not only impacted the musicians themselves; he has shaped our congregation. All Saints’ is a church community that loves and appreciates high quality music. It is not everywhere that half the congregation stays after the dismissal on Sundays to enjoy the postlude, or that listens with openness and curiosity to a new, dissonant piece of music at Evensong or on Good Friday.
30 years is a long time. We can surely say that, along with Father Paul Urbano and Father Carl Carlozzi, our first two rectors, who built All Saints’ and made it great over their combined 50 years by God’s grace, Scott Youngs stands as one of the most important leaders our church has known in our history. And now, he passes the baton to Joseph Ripka, for the next, great chapter in our music ministry.
Well done, Scott, and thank you.
• Last Sunday was a great first, monthly, intergenerational faith-in-action session during our education time, as we supported our neighbors at Maryland Gardens through a blanket project. I am so pleased with the new faith-in-action opportunities that are taking root at All Saints’, including our thriving prison ministry that met this past Tuesday.
• We also had on Sunday a newcomer lunch, with a wonderful, large and energetic group of people who have joined us over the summer.
• One of the financial challenges for churches is that society is increasingly moving away from cash, hurting our plate offering. Many of our members make financial pledges (thank you!), which they fulfill through automatic withdrawals, credit card payments, or by using the weekly offering envelopes. But we still count on cash donations in the plate (especially from those who do not pledge), and cash in support of coffee hour. We are encouraging the tech-savvy among us to download the Realm Connect app, which enables not only large gifts, but also small, quick ones, in lieu of cash donations. Information sheets are on the Welcome Table in the Narthex (the lobby of the church).
September 21, 2017 No Hands but Yours: Making Time for Faith-In-Action
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people. (Saint Teresa of Avila)
When we think of the short form of our mission (Pray, Learn, Serve, Connect), most of us find some of these essential Christian practices to be easier than others. Some of us are drawn to prayer, for example, but find connecting difficult. For others, Christian service comes naturally, but learning does not.
One of the things we learned about our All Saints’ community during the RenewalWorks survey last year is that many of us find it challenging to find time to serve others. All Saints’ offers numerous opportunities to put our faith into action off campus through our connection with local mission partners like ICM, Andre House, and Habitat for Humanity. A number of our members do so, with great commitment. But for many others, life seems too busy. Our hearts are willing, but our hectic schedules do not always cooperate.
And so, one of the recommendations from our RenewalWorks team was to organize simple ways to serve those in need during our Sunday morning schedule. This Sunday, we begin with the first monthly service opportunity, at church, during the education time from 10:10 – 10:50 am. All ages, from our children to our seniors, will work together to help our neighbors across the street at Maryland Gardens.
These monthly Faith-In-Action opportunities will give all of us the chance to fulfill Jesus’ call to reach out to those in need in a fun, intergenerational way. Hopefully, for many, this will be the beginning of a deeper involvement in Christian service.
If you’re looking for other meaningful ways to give back with other church members, that don’t require a great deal of time, consider joining our booming new Prison Ministry. And mark your calendars for an All Parish Service Day on Saturday, December 9 out in our community. Registration for the Service Day opens this Sunday.
God nourishes us in prayer, worship, and learning, not only for our own benefit, but so that we might be the hands and feet of God in the world. Even the smallest gestures, done with great compassion, can make a difference.
From time to time, I will begin adding some brief notes at the end of my weekly reflection, to share other things of significance on my mind, that are not related
to the topic of my reflection.
• This Tuesday night, we had the first of our Shoulders Down conversations. Twenty-one people from All Saints’ and the community gathered for non-persuasive, small group conversation on this month’s topic “Does America Have a Promise to Keep?” I found it wonderfully refreshing and hopeful. Our next conversation is Tuesday, October 17 at 6:30 pm.
• One of our most important ministries at All Saints’ is our funerals. We put a great deal of staff and volunteer time into making sure that they offer solace and
hope to the bereaved, though much of that work is behind the scenes. I’m officiating at five funerals in the month of September, and each one is an honor, as we give thanks to God for individuals, each of whom was unique and beloved.
September 14, 2017 The Community of Hope and the Promise of Modern/Ancient Ministry
I have often said that one of the best surprises I received when I arrived at All Saints’ eight years’ ago came when I offered to take the pastoral care emergency phone. The church was short on money, and I was the only full-time priest, so I assumed I would be holding the phone that people call for after hours pastoral help. Instead, I was told that here, Community of Hope volunteers carry the emergency phone. I’d never heard of that role being done by volunteers before.
It’s not that a priest is not always on call (there is – we take turns monthly), but the volunteer answers the calls first, and, If a priest is needed, the volunteer calls
them. This might seem like a subtle distinction, but it is important, because a large percentage of calls to the emergency phone either aren’t really emergencies (“what time are Sunday services?”), or can be handled by a well-trained volunteer (“do you have money for rental assistance?” or “would you pray with me?”).
Since well before I arrived, the Community of Hope at All Saints’ has been an equal partner with the clergy in our shared pastoral ministry for our church members, and many more beyond our walls. This group of volunteers goes through a rigorous vetting and training process, and then is sent out to visit and (usually) take communion to those who are not able to attend church.
Typically, our clergy visit people in the most serious situations: serious illness or injury, emotional distress, and near or at the end of life. But those who are not in
crisis but are not at church either are visited by Community of Hope volunteers, sometimes for years, developing close pastoral bonds. In a church our size, we could not offer the compassion we do for our many members and others without the whole of our pastoral care team: the clergy, the Community of Hope, our Health Ministries Coordinator, the Daughters of the King, the staff, and others.
Sometimes the most effective ministry isn’t done by one of our trained people, but comes in the heartfelt visit of one member to another. Recently, I was visiting a member at their home, a few days after they had been discharged from the hospital. I was so pleased to hear that several friends from church had already visited. That is the ideal: friends, trained volunteers, and clergy, all working together to help those in pastoral need.
One of the things that makes the Community of Hope so effective is their grounding in Benedictine spirituality. Like a monastic order, they support one another in their prayer and in their pastoral work (“ora et labora” as the Benedictine saying goes – prayer and work). And they have spread the mission of the Community of Hope by training and supporting volunteers from other churches. Most recently, on September 9th, our chapter hosted a well-received Community of Hope retreat with attendees not only from All Saints’ but from four other local churches.
This Sunday at 11am, we will commission our own Community of Hope volunteers, and thank them for their vital ministry of compassion. Increasingly, the future of ministry will, I believe, look like the Community of Hope: modern, by being shared among clergy and laity, and responsive to the changing needs of people; and ancient, by being grounded in community and in disciplined prayer. This is God’s promise: that all things, including ministry, will continually bring together the best of what is new, and what is old, by God’s grace.
Interested in learning more about the Community of Hope? Visit the website of Community of Hope International: cohinternational.org or talk to Sue Kapp, Erin Oney, or any of our All Saints’ Community of Hope volunteers.
September 7, 2017 Welcoming Our New Director of Music
I am excited to share with you that I have called Joseph Ripka to be our next Director of Music. His first Sunday will likely be November 26th. Joey comes to us most recently from Calvary Episcopal Church in Stonington, Connecticut, where he is the Organist and Choirmaster.
In his six years there, Joey has grown the Adult Choir in numbers and quality, and begun a chorister program for children that now has 18 young people who sing at least every other week. The adults and children traveled to the UK a year ago for week-long residencies at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland and Lichfield Cathedral in Lichfield, England. In addition, Joey was one of the founders of the affiliated Calvary Music School, which now includes over 100 students from the community taking music lessons.
Along with his track record of growing music programs and musical opportunities for adults and children, Joey is an accomplished organist. He won first prize at the Dublin International Organ Competition and several other competitions, and has upcoming recitals at the Washington National Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York.
Originally from Minnesota, Joey has degrees from Saint Cloud State University, the University of Kansas, Oberlin Conservatory, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. As important as his sterling credentials are his strong faith, and his kind and friendly demeanor. When I spoke with Joey’s current Rector, he described Joey as the finest church musician he has worked with in 40 years, and an equally fine person and Christian.
Coming with Joey will be his wife, Erin, an acclaimed professional violinist and accomplished music teacher. They perform together as the Ripka Duo (http://www.josephripkaorganist.com/ripka-duo/). Erin and Joey have a delightful daughter, Clara, who is six years old.
Our music search received over 40 applications from all around the country, and several international applicants, as well. Among those applicants, the quality was superb, making the decision a challenging one. Throughout the summer, I was greatly blessed to work with an outstanding Director of Music Search Advisory Committee, whose members were: Lowell Adkins, Pat Castle, Sheryl Guernsey, Laura Lawrie, Earl Simmons, Irene Tseng, and Don Morse (a friend of All Saints’ who is the Minister of Worship and the Arts at Central United Methodist just south of us). With a professional church musician, three choir members, a composer, a supporter of our school Chorister program, and a member of our Friends of Music, we had an all star team searching for Scott’s successor!
The three finalists whom we identified all met with a range of people at the church and school, played an organ audition, and directed members of our Senior and Chamber choir. I want to thank everyone, both volunteers and staff, who were involved in making this search as thorough as it was.
As we prepare to celebrate Scott Youngs and his many accomplishments on October 1st at 11am, we can know that our music ministry will be in good hands for the years to come with Joey Ripka as our Director of Music, and eventually a new Music Associate, as well. We look forward to welcoming Joey, Erin, and Clara to All Saints’ in November.
“Shoulders’ Down": An Invitation to Respectful Conversation
We know that our nation is in a period of intense partisan division. Increasingly, we see those with whom we disagree politically not as fellow citizens to be respected, but as enemies. At the same time, All Saints’ has a wonderful history as a non-partisan, “big tent” church where people of different political and theological views can be friends, respecting one another and seeking common ground in our faith.
For some time, we’ve prayed, thought about, and discussed among our Vestry and others what All Saints’ role might be in helping to bring people together, mending just a few of the rips in our civic fabric. Some parishes, who are more united on one side, feel called to political advocacy. But what can we do, as an ideologically, politically, and theologically diverse community?
One step will be the formation of our new Diversity and Reconciliation Committee, established by our Vestry. As this group gets up and running this fall, it will help us think about our calling as Christians to help reconcile people across differences within our church and beyond, with God’s help.
As part of this work, we are partnering with a new organization called “Shoulders Down” (shouldersdown.net) for two experimental community conversations. The name “Shoulders Down” comes from the perception that when we are defensive, our shoulders rise, whereas when we are open and listening, our shoulders are relaxed and down.
Open to both All Saints’ members and those from the wider community, these events will gather those who wish to participate for structured, non-persuasive conversations where we share our stories around a set topic in small groups of 6-8 people.
On Tuesday, September 19 from 6-7:30 in our Saint Barbara rooms, our conversation will be: Does America Have A Promise To Keep? The questions will guide conversation participants to reflect and discuss what it means to be American for them and how well or not they feel America is meeting its promises to each of us and the world.
Each group will have a trained facilitator and participants will seek not to debate, or to convince, but simply to share with one another their perspective, and to listen respectfully as others do the same. By the end of the evening, likely no one will have changed their mind, but hopefully the participants will have deeper understanding of and respect for those with different views.
After two of these evenings, one in September and one in October we will reassess with “Shoulders Down” to see if a continued partnership makes sense for everyone involved. If this kind of reconciliation work interests you, come and join us this month and next, as we seek to heal our hurting nation, one conversation at a time.