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
December 13, 2018 Church Economics: How We Fund Our Ministries
I find that there is sometimes confusion about how we fund our ministries at All Saints’ Church, so as the year end approaches, I thought I would share a few frequently asked questions.
Where does the money come from to fund our annual budget?
The vast majority comes from the fulfillment of pledges. Our members and friends submit pledges (estimates of giving for the coming year) each fall, and then fulfill those pledges over the year with financial contributions. Some pay every week using pledge envelopes, others through weekly or monthly automatic bank withdrawals, recurring credit card payments, or through a larger check or stock transfer once or twice a year. Pledges can be adjusted if life circumstances change, either down (for example, with a lost job) or up (a promotion!). Because our pledges don’t fully cover our budget (very few churches' do), we raise additional money to support some of our most important ministries and be sure they have the funding they need (as with our Music Ministry, and our Children Youth and Family Ministries). We also share some expenses with the day school.
What about our endowment?
We only established a proper endowment about eight years ago, invested through the Arizona Community Foundation. Since then, we’ve added several other invested funds: a Music Legacy Fund, a Saint John’s Bible Fund (for guest speakers and other needs related to that Bible), and most recently, a Close Fund (for the care and maintenance of our Close). These funds grow with the stock market, and we withdraw modest amounts from them to support these ministries, but they mostly grow through bequests (someone remembering All Saints’ in their will). You can designate your bequest to go into any of these invested funds (undesignated bequests to All Saints’ Church go to our regular endowment, though we can use up to $10,000 for the operating budget at the Vestry’s discretion - any amount over that must go to the endowment). Our invested funds are relatively small, but growing through these bequests by members of our Legacy Circle. Please remember the Church in your estate planning, and contact Barbara or Gary in the office to let us know you have done so or for help (we never ask the dollar amount).
And the offering plate?
As the cash economy is changing, and fewer people carry cash, we are getting less and less money in the offering plate on Sundays. In the past, those not pledging would put a few dollars in the offering plate (and some pledging members would do the same). We are encouraging those who use smart phones to text small donations to the virtual “plate” and to support the coffee hour (instructions are in the bulletin and on the coffee hour table) - it is quick and easy.
Don’t we get funds from the Diocese?
No. Like all churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, we give 16.9% of our “plate and pledge” to support the ministries of our diocese and the national Church. In recent years, Episcopal churches in Arizona have received back a small rebate to use for mission efforts (about 1%).
How can I help support our ministries?
I’m so glad you asked! One of the features of church economics is that we depend greatly on end of year donations in December. If you appreciate our ministries at All Saints’, and the difference they make in your life and those of others, please:
• make a pledge for 2019 if you haven’t done so
• fulfill your 2018 pledge by the end of December (check with Barbara or on Realm if you need a balance)
• make an extra end of year donation, as you are able, in the Christmas envelopes, in the plate, with a stock gift, or online (contact Barbara for help).
Through the wonderful generosity of our members and friends, and prudent budgeting and expense management by our Vestry, Finance Committee, and staff, we have been able to finish each of the last six years with a small surplus. Please help us at year end with your giving, so that we can have a 7th year of a small surplus, starting the new year on sound financial footing.
• Speaking of generosity, it has been wonderful to see the church offices packed with presents for the children of the incarcerated, and needy seniors at Maryland Gardens. Thank you!
December 6, 2018 President George H.W. Bush, Lived Faith, and The Episcopal Church
Last week, as I was driving, I heard an interview on NPR with the Reverend Russell Levenson, the Rector of Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush were members for over 50 years. Levenson said about President Bush’s faith:
This was not a man who wore his faith on his sleeve, but he was a man who was very committed to his church, to God, to the Christian faith…for him, I do think it’s fair to say it was - and I mean this in the best sense of the word - it was a simple faith. He didn’t have to work at it. It's something that, of course, his family was brought up in, kind of the bosom of the Christian faith. And so it was just something like many parts of his life that he accepted, embraced. But I think the most important piece…is it’s something that he lived.
Like so many, I have been moved this week by the recent death of President George H.W. Bush, in part because it feels like we are nearing the end of an era. For him, and for many other leaders of his generation, genuine love of country, family, and faith were bedrock values. His Episcopal faith, as described by Father Levenson, was also typical of his generation: a faith that was quiet, lifelong, strong, and above all, lived. One could not separate his devoted love of family, or his selfless and brave service to his country as a young Navy pilot all the way through his time in government, from his faith. They were all connected: strands woven together, like a strong rope, each reinforcing the other.
Some people rejoice in the decline of what is sometimes called “the Establishment.” To be sure, it is refreshing and right that our institutions are now led by women and men from more diverse family, cultural, racial, economic, educational, and religious backgrounds, instead of largely by the “WASP" elites. Certainly The Episcopal Church, which even in my childhood forty years ago was still called “the Church of Presidents” and sometimes, jokingly, “the Republican Party at prayer” or “the frozen chosen,” is now a far more varied, open, and welcoming environment, which is a blessing. The Episcopal Church is also a lot smaller than it once was, and far less influential. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. An influential Church with worldly power faces many temptations, and Church and State or Church and Culture often make uneasy bedfellows.
Still, we Episcopalians do weddings and funerals exceptionally well, whether small and intimate or large and stately. I hope that as people watched President Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral, with its majestic and comforting Episcopal liturgy, and as people heard about his lived faith, they may be inspired to explore or renew their own faith, perhaps at an Episcopal church like ours. Many aspects of the old establishment order such as virtue, institutions, modesty, cooperation, civility, and family honor were salutary, and some remain, if rather dusty and under appreciated. Take our own dusty institution. There are still many churches across this land that do what we have always done: reverent worship, yes, but also the weekly, often unglamorous work of forming children and adults more into the likeness of Jesus, equipping them with faith to live more selflessly, more kindly, more compassionately, and more decently. Flawed but basically good people, and flawed but good institutions are still out there, far from the headlines, quietly serving others, like a thousand points of light.
• I want to commend all those staff and volunteers who were involved in the magnificent Messiah performance last weekend. We had an enthusiastic audience of 250 people, many of whom were not church members. What a gift it was to share this performance with our community and beyond (one couple came all the way from Prescott!).
• Someone described my sermon from last week as a “meta” sermon. I think what they meant is that it was, in part, a sermon about preaching, and about how we, as preachers, go about preparing sermons. The video is on the website and in the eblast if you are interested.
November 29, 2018 Strengthening Our Core: Our Wednesday Worship, Bible Study, and More
It was a number of years ago that the exercise experts began emphasizing strengthening our core muscles. The idea was that if our abdominals and back muscles were strong, they would provide a good foundation for our fitness and overall health. Truth be told, I am rather unenthusiastic about “planks” and “crunches,” but I do find the metaphor of a strong core helpful in thinking about the common life of our church community of All Saints’, and the individual spiritual lives of our members.
On the church level, having a strong core means offering plenty of ways for those with a committed faith to grow as disciples of Jesus. It is easy in churches to get so caught up in the excitement of special events that we fail to encourage the basic practices of faith that lead to spiritual growth. At All Saints’, we describe the categories of basic faith practice as Pray, Learn, Serve, and Connect. As individual members, then, we know that if we prioritize prayer, Christian learning, serving others, and connecting with our fellow Christians and those in need, we are strengthening our spiritual core as disciples.
This Advent, there are several ways that our All Saints’ community is strengthening our core. A group of about a dozen of us is following a rule of life for this Advent season, consisting of daily prayer, reading a book together, helping others, and sharing a meal (it’s not too late to join if you missed the November 18th class on it). There are several different ways to serve those in need in our area. And since Advent is a perfect time for Bible Study, we will have four classes on the Bible on Sunday mornings in December, focusing on the Book of Daniel, and then the stories of Jesus’ birth and the Holy Family. Although they are not new this Advent, you might also consider checking out our Centering Prayer group on Saturday mornings, Evening Prayer Monday through Thursdays evenings, or the Rosary Prayer group on Sundays.
And last, but not least, we are experimenting in December with a different schedule for our Wednesday Eucharists. Our 7am Wednesday Eucharist will continue as usual (it’s a wonderful and friendly group of 10-15 who are always glad to welcome others). But we will experiment this month with a 12:10pm Wednesday Eucharist instead of the usual 10am. Our Wednesday 10am numbers have been lower of late, and we hope that a 12:10pm service lasting about 30 minutes will be appealing for those who seek some spiritual nourishment on their lunch break. We’ll assess at the end of December whether to keep the later Wednesday service at 12:10pm, move it back to 10am, or try another option. Let us know what you think, if you are or might be a regular worshipper on Wednesdays. And if you’ve never tried it, come experience this simple weekday service and see what a blessing it gives your week.
November 21, 2018 Giving Thanks: It’s Not Just For One Day
If the only prayer you said in your whole life was “thank you” it would be enough. (Meister Eckhart)
There is much to appreciate about the holiday of Thanksgiving, for example the four “f’s” of food, family, friends, and football. But it is also a great blessing to have one day each year that is dedicated to giving thanks. Many families include some ritual of giving thanks in their annual celebrations, whether going to church or stating things for which they are grateful around the dinner table or doing something kind for those in need.
Giving thanks is one of most powerful and beneficial spiritual acts there is. When we say “thank you,” we are acknowledging that we have received a gift, not something we have earned. And so, thankfulness is a deep form of humility. We are appreciating the giver, and recognizing that so much of our life depends on the love and generosity of others. As Christians, our most important thank you is to God. We call our Eucharistic Prayer “the Great Thanksgiving,” because in it, every week, we give God thanks for all our many blessings, especially the gift of God’s own son, Jesus, who lived among us and gave himself for us.
This week, I give thanks for my own blessings, in particular my loving family, and this wonderful church and school of All Saints’. What are you grateful for? And if it’s a person, have you thanked them?
November 8, 2018 A Special Invitation: 11:11:11
This Sunday, November 11th, is the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War One. The armistice that ended fighting between the Allies and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The United States had joined the war beginning in April, 1917, losing in those 19 months an estimated 116,000 soldiers to death, with more than 200,000 wounded. In our country, every year we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th to honor all veterans both living and dead, while many countries who were our allies in the First World War celebrate Armistice Day.
In honor of this special 100th anniversary, this Sunday morning, at 11:11am, just after the start of our worship, we will keep a minute of silence in the church to remember all veterans, living and dead, and to pray for our country. With our recognition of veterans on Sunday, we will be remembering our nation’s history, honoring those who have selflessly given of themselves, even to the point of death, for the sake of others, and in service to the freedoms and ideals that we hold dear.
There has been much conversation in recent years about the erosion of trust in our institutions (governmental, civic, cultural, and religious). We can shore up that trust by strengthening the fairness and effectiveness of our institutions, operating with integrity for the common good. But we also build institutional trust by telling our communal stories and remembering our past. When we pass down to the next generation our shared history, not ignoring the challenges and faults in that history, but celebrating our heroes and our noblest virtues, we build trust in our common life.
• Another important remembrance this weekend is our annual Requiem eucharist, on Sunday night. The choir will sing the stunning Durufle Requiem, and we will read aloud the names of loved ones who have died that have been submitted to us. If All Saints’ Day is our celebration of the great heroes of the Church down the ages, the All Souls Requiem is a more intimate and familial experience, as we give thanks to God for those we have loved personally, saints or not, who are now at peace.
• Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the investiture of one of our church members, Margaret LaBianca, as a Judge on the Superior Court of Arizona. I counted at least seven members of our church in attendance, in addition to Margaret’s family. It was a wonderful honor and celebration for Margaret, of course, but I was struck by how the ceremony was also a celebration of our justice system itself. As Margaret was presented with her robe and gavel, sworn in with the oath of office, and as we heard remarks from her friends, family, the Presiding Judge, and from Margaret herself, a common theme was working to be sure the justice system is seen by all as fair and impartial, especially by those who are most directly affected by it. It was an inspiring afternoon.
November 1, 2018 How We Fight Evil
There’s a wonderful and strange moment in the Great Litany, that we sing at 11am on the first Sunday in Advent and Lent: that it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; to comfort and help the weak hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet. We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord. For those who are not expecting it, that line about beating down Satan under our feet (quoting Romans 16:20) can seem surprising. But it’s fitting on both a Biblical and spiritual level. Whether or not we believe that Satan is an actual, real being, evil certainly exists. And as Christians, we strive to fight evil as Jesus did, not with force, nor by matching hatred with hatred, but with forgiveness and compassion: strengthening people, comforting and helping the weak, and lifting up those who have fallen.
This past week in the news was surely confirmation that evil is real. I don’t know how else to explain someone killing peaceful worshippers in a synagogue, while shouting anti-semitic, hateful words. Did you hear that the doctor, Dr. Jeff Cohen, who treated the gunman in the hospital, also attends the synagogue that was attacked, Tree of Life? “He’s some mother’s son,” Dr. Cohen said of the attacker, “and how did he get from that to where he is today? That’s going to be a large debate we have to wrestle with as a society.” We can all learn from the heroic actions of Dr. Cohen. He showed extraordinary compassion in treating an injured man, even though that man had murdered his friends. And then, afterwards, he asked us, as a society, to consider what leads someone to such horrific violence, and what we can do about it. Even amidst the darkness, it has been heartening, this week, to see moments of hope, including numerous expressions of solidarity with those of the Jewish faith, with many people of all faiths and none joining together in compassion to reject hatred in all its forms.
This Sunday we celebrate All Saints’, our feast of title, and one of the most important holy days of the year. And we will have with us Bishop Smith and his wife Laura for their last official visit before Bishop Smith’s retirement in the spring. We are so grateful for both Bishop Smith’s and Laura’s ministries in our diocese over the past 15 years. On All Saints’ Sunday, we remember the great heroes of our faith who have died, having lived lives of virtue and sacrifice. Now in heaven, this “great cloud of witnesses” encourages us by their prayer and example to imitate Jesus Christ, as they did. Bishop Smith and Laura Smith certainly followed the way of Jesus and of the saints in many ways in their leadership in Arizona. May we all have grace to do so, as well, with God’s help.
October 25, 2018 Why I’m All In for All Saints’
It’s hard to believe that next summer I will have been the Rector of All Saints’ for 10 years. When Megan and I arrived from Colorado on a sweltering August day in 2009, our son had just turned one. Now he’s 10, with two younger brothers who have been born in Phoenix and baptized at All Saints’. I’m all in for All Saints’ because this place is much more than a job to me. This is my family’s home away from home. In fact with my boys at school here, in choristers, acolyting, in children’s chapel, and Sunday school, and with Megan involved at church, and teaching lessons and classes through the music school, along with my busy schedule as Rector, it sometimes feels like we spend more time at All Saints’ than at home! And we love it. This place helps us be more the family we believe God wants us to be.
I’m all in because I believe All Saints’ has a vital role to play in our community. Our day school is molding young people of good moral character, who go out into their lives away from here not only prepared for their own success, but ready to serve a world in need. And All Saints’ church is a spiritual hub, forming disciples of Jesus Christ through our worship and prayer (both majestic and musical, quiet and contemplative), learning in classes and groups and sermons, serving others at and through the church, and connecting with each other in a big tent spiritual family that welcomes everyone. As I’ve written about many times, the spiritual landscape of the culture is changing rapidly. Our church staff, Vestry, and volunteer ministry leaders are working hard and strategically to engage people where they are and invite them to go deeper in faith. When I see new ministries get started and thrive, like our chorister program and music school for neighborhood kids, or our prison ministry, or Compline, or our Living Room Conversations, or Evening Prayer, it gives me encouragement and hope. In what is new and in what stays the same, All Saints' is a haven of peace and a source of renewal in turbulent times. We make a real difference in people’s lives, or rather, God makes a difference through and in us.
I’m all in also because we have dynamic new leaders coming to join us in the fruitful work of the Gospel. Dr. Emma Whitman, our new Head of School, begins on July 1, building on the strong legacy of Leo Dressel. And on March 9, the new Bishop of Arizona, the Reverend Jennifer Reddall, will be consecrated. Bishop-elect Reddall was elected at last week’s diocesan convention at All Saints’ on the first ballot (which is rare), giving her a strong mandate for change. I’ve known Jennifer Reddall for over 20 years (we sang in the same church choir at Yale when she was an undergraduate and I was in seminary), and she will be a smart, spiritual, energetic, and visionary bishop for our diocese. I couldn’t be more excited for the leadership of these two outstanding women who are coming to Phoenix.
Sometimes people ask me: what keeps you up at night? As Rector, part of my job is to keep a bit of holy anxiety - just enough concern to be aware of the Weaknesses and Threats in our SWOT analysis, without losing positivity and joy by keeping focused on our Strengths and Opportunities. Without a doubt, what I worry about most is money. Will we have the financial resources at All Saints’ church to do the life-changing ministry to which we are called? The finances were pretty grim 10 years ago. Thanks be to God, with a lot of hard work, careful budgeting, and the generosity of our members, we’ve had seven consecutive years of a small surplus. But every year I worry, because our endowment is new and small (though growing!), so we depend on the generous pledges of our members and friends for most of our budgeted income. Sometimes there is the misconception that we receive funds from the diocese - it is actually the other way: like all parishes, we give 16.9% of our pledge and plate to support diocesan and national ministries.
I hope most of the members and friends of All Saints’ will attend one of our worship services this weekend, to celebrate Bishop Burrill’s ministry among us with deep gratitude, and to make our pledge commitments for 2019. In the meanwhile, please take some time in prayer and conversation with your loved ones to decide what percentage of your income reflects your thankfulness for God’s blessings in your life. A percentage pledge (called proportional giving) is the best way to give our first fruits to God, not what is left over, which is why our faith since Biblical times has taught the tithe (10%). But if that is not possible, start at a percentage that is realistic, and then strive to go higher. It took Megan and me a few years to hit 10%, but we’ve been there for at least the past 12 years. The root of my financial anxiety as Rector is that some people pledge 10%, but many pledge 1% or even less, and some pledge nothing at all. I can say with confidence that if every single member or friend of All Saints’ pledged even 5% to support our mission and ministry, we would set a pledging record for us, and would have more than enough funds to meet our budget, and indeed do even more.
What I believe is that God will give us, through each other, what we need to meet God’s calling for us. I’m all in for All Saints’. Will you join me?
• As I mentioned last Sunday, I am so grateful for all of our staff and volunteers who worked in some cases for days and in some cases for months to make our hosting of the diocesan convention and bishop election such a success. I heard countless compliments from guests about our hospitality, buildings and grounds, and about the splendid Eucharist just before the election.
• Have you seen church member Francey Potter’s amazing art in Saint Barbara? I love how our Creative Community has helped us see the hidden talents among us.
• Our second monthly Compline of the year is this Sunday. Come and see! It is a tranquil balm in a hectic world.
• As we did before the Presidential election in 2016, we are sharing prayers this weekend for the days leading up to the mid-terms. Praying for our nation is one of the most important things we can do as Christian citizens.
October 18, 2018 Not To Be Served, But To Serve
“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” —Mark 10:45
As I write this on Wednesday, we are preparing to host the annual Diocesan Convention this Friday and Saturday. Usually the Convention is at a large conference center (something like 800 people attend, both clergy and lay delegates chosen by their parishes) but the Bishop’s office asked if we would host this time, and of course, we said yes. What makes this year’s Convention historic is that it is the last Convention for Bishop Smith, and includes the election of the next Bishop of Arizona. After a diligent and thorough process, three final candidates for bishop were identified. A few weeks ago, those candidates were in several town halls all over the diocese, answering questions about themselves and their vision for a bishop’s ministry in Arizona. Since then, many parishes (including ours) have had delegate meetings to discuss and prayerfully discern who we think the Holy Spirit is calling us to vote for. And by sometime Saturday afternoon, we will have a Bishop-elect. If you come to my class on Sunday, I’ll share about the process and about the new bishop to be!
There are a lot of reasons why I love serving in a large church. One of them is that our impact for good is so significant. There are very few churches in the Diocese of Arizona with the facilities and personnel to host a Diocesan Convention. Our church staff and volunteers, and day school community are to be commended for the many hours given to make this Convention happen (the school even had to cancel classes on Friday to accommodate). This Convention is a particularly major example, but in truth not a day goes by when All Saints’ is not doing something to fulfill our mission: welcoming all to transformation in Jesus Christ through prayer, learning, service, and connection in the Episcopal tradition. As Rector, I get to see or hear about a fair amount of what happens around All Saints’, and I am often awestruck at the ministry that takes place.
Compline, Evensong, our new chorister program and music school, the DUET program for caregivers, our prison ministry, Evening Prayer, revitalized SAGES and youth ministries, Bible study, Centering Prayer, the Rosary, pastoral care, weddings and funerals, Christian education for all ages, our phenomenal day school, weekend and weekday Eucharists, volunteers at ICM and André House, item collections for the poor, Altar Guild, Ushers, Vergers, greeters, readers, the Creative Community, the Library team, Front Line, Book Discussion, discernment committees, Vestry, and other leadership groups: these are just some of what has been happening in the last few weeks, and I could go on and on. All Saints’ is an amazing place, and it is so not just because of the number of ministry activities, but because of how our staff and volunteers plan and fulfill those ministries: with an attitude of humble service, doing what God asks us to do. Thank you for all the countless hours you give to the mission of God in and through this holy place.
October 11, 2018 Transformed and Renewed: Formation in Church and School
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2).
In recent years, it has become popular in churches to rename what used to be called “Sunday School.” Sometimes “Christian Education” is used, but one of the most common terms these days is “formation.” I have mixed feelings. I’m not in favor of simply sticking the “formation” label on the same old “Sunday School” curricula. But if we’re serious about formation, I’m all in. Real formation includes education but is more holistic. It is about using learning, practices, reflection, and community to shape our character: who we are, and how we interact with others. True Christian discipleship is a life-long experience of formation: of being formed, re-formed, and trans-formed.
At All Saints’ Church, our formation for all ages is grounded in our four, core spiritual practices: pray, learn, serve, connect. When we pray and worship, learn about the faith, serve others especially those in need, and connect with each other in community, we are opening ourselves to God’s power to form us, more and more, into Christ’s image. We are, to use the language of Paul in Romans 12, forsaking the unhealthy patterns of the world, in order to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In computer lingo, we are installing a whole new operating system, one oriented away from selfishness and bitter tribalism and towards love of God and our neighbor.
At All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, I would say we are also about formation and not just education, but the formation is somewhat different from that of the church, with some overlapping areas. The mission of our day school is: to educate children in the light of God - mind, body, and soul - in a nurturing community. We combine academic excellence with spiritual and moral formation, preparing our students to live fruitful lives and to serve a world in need.
An Episcopal school welcomes a diverse cohort of students and families (most Episcopal schools are only 15-20% Episcopalian, and include students of many faiths, and no faith). To be “Episcopal” in a school context means not only to have regular chapel, and to serve those in need, but also to learn appreciatively about all of the major world religions (not just Christianity), and to foster a community that is intentionally inclusive, nurturing, and respectful. Our students are being formed to be compassionate, kind, intelligent, hard working members of the global community, who practice their faith (whatever it may be) and live out their values with integrity while understanding and respecting the beliefs of others.
For those of us (myself included) who are blessed to be part of both our church and school at All Saints’, there is a wonderful synergy in the way our children are formed in both parts of our one community. And for those who are involved in the church but not the school, I hope you will join in appreciating the students who emerge from their day school experience formed in mind, body, and soul to lead fruitful lives and serve a world in need, and also the faculty and staff who guide them so wisely in that formation.
October 11, 2018 Are You “All In” for All Saints’?
If the answer is “yes” (and we hope it is!), here is what you can do to support this church that we love, and help us budget accurately.
Plan to attend any of our regular worship services on October 27 or 28 to make your pledge (your estimate of giving) for 2019, hear Bishop Burrill’s last sermons at All Saints’, and then celebrate Bill’s ministry among us at a celebratory meal after each service.
Between now and then, think and pray about what All Saints’has meant to you, and how much God has blessed you through All Saints’ and in other ways. Talk with loved ones, and decide what percentage of your income reflects your gratitude for what God has done for you. The Episcopal Church has held up the standard of the tithe (10%) for many years, but many begin with a lower percentage (5, 4, or even 3%) and then try to increase each year.
"If you really want your heart to be with God - and I believe you do - then you might want to change how you give to your parish and to God's work accomplished by other charities. Make your gift a first fruits offering. Fix a percentage in your heart and in your head, and give that percentage off the top to God every time money goes into your bank.If you get money once a month, then give your percentage off the top once a month. If you get paid twice a month or every other week, then give at those times. Give weekly only if you received money weekly.
If you want to try putting your money where you want your heart to rest, I strongly suggest you try giving at least 5 percent off the top back to God whenever God gives you anything. Giving God off the top a percentage of what God has given you is good, strong medicine for the heart. Ten percent is the recommended dose. Five percent is a therapeutic dose, but giving back to God any percentage off the top - 2.5 percent or 3 percent or 4 percent - is better for your heart than giving any set amount that is not off the top and that has no relationship to your income.
This will change your life. You may think that paying your bills is the least religious thing you do. Percentage giving off the top begins to change all of that, because each time you sit down to deal with your money, the first thing you do is to make a thank offering to God that is in proportion to what God has just given you."
—The Rev. Gerald Keucher
October 4, 2018 Honoring Bill
When I arrived at All Saints’ over nine years ago, I was intrigued by one staff position: Bishop in Residence. It is a quite rare position in Episcopal churches, in part
because most bishops in their retirement aren’t particularly interested in jumping back into parish ministry, even on a part-time basis! But it has been perfect for our own Bishop Bill Burrill for the past 16 years at All Saints', allowing him to use his gifts especially for celebrating, preaching and teaching, while blessing us abundantly with those gifts. Bill is one of the great preachers and teachers in The Episcopal Church, and to have been able to hear regularly from him over these years has been a wonderful experience for all of us.
Bill and I have had an understanding that every year, we would talk about whether or not he wanted to continue in ministry for another year. This year, in conversation with his wife, Marilyn, Bill decided that 2018 would mark the end of his active ordained ministry. I was enormously sad to hear it, but respect his desire, at age 84, to step aside while still near the top of his game. Fortunately, Bill and Marilyn will continue to be at All Saints’ as members, and we will see them in our pews except when they are traveling.
On a personal note, I am grateful to Bill not only for his service at All Saints’ in his retirement, and before that for many decades (as a rector, and then as Bishop of Rochester), but also for his support and friendship. I was 39 years old when I started here, and I wish every new rector had a bishop in residence on hand to guide them! Any number of times, but without ever overstepping, Bill offered me wisdom as I grew into my role. When his wife Kay died of cancer, many of us were incredibly moved to see Bill working through his grief with such honesty, love and faith. And when God brought Bill and Marilyn together, and we celebrated their wedding at All Saints’, it was one of most joyful experiences of the past decade for our church.
As Bill and I were talking about a fitting last Sunday, we agreed that a perfect time would be our Commitment Sunday, October 28th. Bill has been known throughout his ministry as a compelling preacher on the topic of financial stewardship. And so, he will preach at all four services that weekend, as we make our pledge commitments to All Saints’ for the coming year. And then, after each service, there will be a celebratory meal to honor Bill and his extraordinary ministry among us. Thank you, Bill, and thank you, Marilyn.
October 4, 2018 The Three Scariest Words (For Episcopalians)
October, especially towards its end, is a month about scary things. But in my experience, the three scariest words for Episcopalians aren’t vampire, ghost, and werewolf. They are evangelism, sin, and tithe.
Perhaps we have a vague sense that Episcopalians are different from some other Christians, taking a gentler approach to the challenging topics that are front and center in more evangelical denominations and megachurches.
We may fear evangelism because we don’t wish to feel awkward or encroach upon someone’s personal beliefs by inviting them to a church event or even mentioning how our faith in Christ carried us through a tough time. We may fear thinking about sin because it can be unpleasant to look at ourselves in the mirror and identify the ways we are selfish and falling short of God’s plan for us.
And especially at this time of year, as we enter into our annual pledge campaign with Commitment Sunday on October 28, we may fear the word tithe. But it’s actually not nearly as scary as we think. A Forward Movement brochure that we have in our narthex entitled “A Tip or a Tithe?” describes the concept well.
A tip comes at the end of a meal or some other service, out of what we have left over. That is our secular way of giving. If I leave a tip at a restaurant, or give to my university or public radio or the symphony, I do so out of what I have left, what I think I can comfortably spare from my resources.
The Church has taught a different kind of giving for two-thousand years (and Judaism before that for several thousand more): giving to God first, not last. It began with giving the “first fruits” of one’s crop (see Deuteronomy 14), ten percent of the harvest, and then became money as the agricultural economy became more specialized.
Giving ten percent of one’s income back to God in gratitude for all that God has given us is the traditional Biblical standard of the tithe. But most people start much more modestly, with one or two or three percent.
Many people find this “first fruits" approach to giving to be refreshing and even transformative in their spiritual lives. As a 10% tither for almost fifteen years, my experience has been that it is liberating to know that our family finances line up with our values. We may not be able to have everything we want, but God always provides us with what we need.
The point is not so much the percentage as the intentionality: pledging some specific percentage in advance, to thank God for being blessed with resources, friends and family, and a church that makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. A pledge is a spiritual commitment, not a contract, and can always be adjusted during the year if circumstances change, like a job loss, move, or unexpected expense.
I urge us not to be afraid of these three traditional words, but to embrace them joyfully. Evangelism is nothing more than sharing with others how excited we are about our faith and our church. Sin is just a shortcoming that we can work on, with God’s help, to become happier and more fulfilled. And a tithe is simply our freewill gift to God from our hearts, grateful for God’s many gifts to us, and trusting in God’s abundance towards us in the future.
September 27, 2018 Therefore Let Us Keep the Feast
For the last few years, on 4th Sundays at 11am we offered devotional additions to the liturgy from our rich Anglican tradition: incense, choral mass settings by the Chamber Choir, and more sung parts for the clergy and congregation (like the Lord’s Prayer and Prayers of the People). On those 4th Sundays, the Senior Choir sang at 9am. This year, we’ve changed the pattern a bit for several reasons, the most important of which is that our new choristers singing every other week at 9am makes the former practice impractical. Fortunately, there will still be opportunities to appreciate these beautiful practices of praise, and in a way that makes more liturgical sense.
This year, we will add incense, choral mass settings, and other sung parts at 11am on special feast days of the Church calendar, beginning this Sunday with the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Every Sunday is a feast day, a celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. But some days are particularly worthy of our best efforts, like All Saints’ Sunday (November 4) or Christ the King (November 25), and we will give these important feast days extra emphasis in this way.
This renewed attention to the feast days of the Church fits well with our new Evening Prayer ministry (Monday through Thursday). While the quiet, said prayers of the evening office might seem to have little in common with grand, choral Eucharists, both are part of All Saints’ doing our part faithfully to keep the lamp of prayer burning. The discipline of daily prayer that remembers even the more obscure saints combines with the weekly celebrating of the holy mysteries and the occasional days of greatest majesty. These daily, weekly, and seasonal patterns are one means by which God, through our prayers, hallows time.
It is helpful for Christians to remember that, underneath the varied changes and dramas of politics, cable news, and social media, there is a deep, ancient cycle of prayer and praise that follows an endless pattern. That cycle calls us back to God, in whom we are renewed for compassionate service to a broken world. Therefore, let us keep the feast.
September 13, 2018 Our New Choristers at 9am on Sundays
“Train up a child in the way that they should go; even when they are old they shall not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
The other day, I was getting ready to go into Evening Prayer, about 5:25pm on a weekday, and I was struck by all that was going on in our church building. There were 7 or 8 people waiting for Evening Prayer in the Chapel, a ministry group was meeting in St. Barbara, and the choristers were rehearsing in the choir room. One of the things I love about All Saints’ is that there is so much activity on our campus, with the many ministries and programs of church and school. Still, it used to be the case that the late afternoon and early evening, after the school dismissal, was relatively quiet at the church many days before the start of evening programs. But more recently, you are likely to hear a variety of music rehearsals and lessons (through our new Music School) taking place before, during, and after Evening Prayer.
Three late afternoons a week, our student choristers from the community have been rehearsing (choristers choose two rehearsals out of three each week), and beginning this Sunday, we will start to hear the fruit of their labors. Our choristers will sing every other Sunday at 9am, supported by the trained adults of our Schola Cantorum. A number of the choristers and their families were not connected to All Saints’ before, and we are delighted to have them with us. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of a vision: students from the community coming into the orbit of All Saints’ Church, learning how to sing and play instruments, and sharing their talents in worship. As someone who sang in church choirs for most of my life until I was ordained, I know how important those experiences were for me not only musically but spiritually, and in my growth as a person and as a leader. As the quote from Proverbs reminds us, the training we impart to our children will be with them for a lifetime. I couldn’t be more proud of our young musicians, and of their outstanding leaders, Joseph Ripka and Ilona Kubiaczyk-Adler.
• One my biggest areas of focus this summer was working with the search committee for the next Head of School for All Saints’ Episcopal Day School. Tim Haskins, our Senior Warden, and I were part of a committee of nine that evaluated candidates, leading to the selection of three finalists who visited All Saints’ for two days each a few weeks ago. Now the search process is complete, with the appointment by the school’s Board of Trustees of Dr. Emma Whitman, who will begin on July 1 following Leo Dressel’s retirement. I am thrilled with the appointment. Dr. Whitman has just the right gifts, experiences, energy, and vision to build on Leo’s excellent work and help lead the school into its even brighter future. Dr. Whitman is also an Episcopalian, currently serving in an Episcopal school, and appreciates the central importance of our Episcopal identity to our school. We look forward to welcoming Emma, her husband Dave, and their daughter Molly to our All Saints’ community next summer.
September 6, 2018 Priest, Pastor, Teacher, Coach?
Members of the clergy exercise a variety of roles in our ministry, all of which are interrelated and ever-present. Sometimes our priestly identity comes to the fore as in our sacramental duties, or the pastoral as we support people in their times of need, or the teaching role as we instruct members of all ages in the essentials of the faith. But lately, in addition to those essential aspects of my ministry, I’ve been seeing myself more and more as a coach.
When I was a student, the distinction between teacher and coach seemed clear: a teacher taught in a classroom, and a coach coached on the ball field or in the gym. But other than subject matter and location, the differences between a teacher and a coach are actually quite subtle. In general, teaching has traditionally been understood as somewhat more top down, a transfer of knowledge from an expert to a novice. Coaching often involves guidance that the participant, who already has some proficiency, can use to facilitate their own growth. Sometimes coaching implies more one-on-one or small group training, and the perfecting of a skill or practice more than the learning of a concept or set of facts.
My sense is that in education, more coaching skills are being brought into the classroom: less lecture and “sage on the stage” and more group work, “flipped classrooms,” individualized instruction and the like. Meanwhile the term “coach” has become widespread in many different fields. No longer is the coach only on the athletic court or field; we hear of “executive coaching," with professionals seeking expertise to hone their skills, and “life coaches” guiding wellness and self-improvement.
I do still enjoy at times the traditional teaching model of the well-researched lecture, or the presentation with some interaction, a style I use with some regularity when teaching adult Christian education on Sunday mornings. But increasingly, I find the coaching approach more effective. With our Evening Prayer teams, for example, I’ve enjoyed more a coaching than a teaching role, making some suggestions but assuming a high level of proficiency and spirituality on the part of the leaders. Learning to pray the Daily Office works much better in trial and error practice, in repetition and muscle memory, than in attempting to memorize a sheet of instructions.
This Sunday begins a new program year with Kick-Off Sunday. It will be a grand celebration, with the return of our choirs and Christian education for all ages. Our new community choristers will be singing at the 9am service every other week beginning September 16th, and there are a host of ministry opportunities available for all ages as we pray, learn, serve, and connect together. As part of that Kick-Off, I am beginning a three session class called “A Rule of Life for Busy People.” In it, I see myself much more as coach than teacher. There will be pieces of teaching, mixed in with a good deal of practical coaching on how to train our spiritual lives. As with a first day at the gym, we will begin where we are and build, from there, an individualized action plan for spirituality, health, and happiness. Come ready to train!
August 30, 2018 A Blueprint for an Honorable Life
I’ve just finished reading Senator John McCain’s farewell statement to our state and the nation, and it is remarkable not only for what it says about him, but for what it says to all who read it. For in his straightforward but stirring prose, Senator McCain has left us not only a reflection on his own honorable life, but a blueprint for our own. And it comes at just the right time, for our nation is caught up in converging crises in which our major institutions (especially our government and politics, and most recently the Roman Catholic Church) are hemorrhaging credibility and trust. If we are to rebuild confidence in our civic and moral institutions (and we must, for the sake of our children and theirs), it will come over time, through the selfless, courageous actions and example of honorable women and men.
Here are some specific lessons from Senator McCain’s statement that we might adopt, for the good of ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation.
• Serve. Over and over in his statement, Senator McCain speaks of the honor of serving his country in uniform and in government. To serve others selflessly and humbly, in our family, work, church, community, and civic life, with more regard for others’ good than for our own, is to walk in the path of God. As Jesus taught, “the greatest among you will be your servant."
• Acknowledge Our Mistakes. He mentions having made mistakes and having regrets, but says that “I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.” It is healthy to admit our mistakes, and to share our regrets, for that is how we grow, and how we are reconciled with those whom we have hurt or disappointed.
• Be Grateful. Senator McCain says that “I have observed that I am the luckiest person on earth…I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best of anyone else’s.” To be grateful for our many blessings, and for the uniqueness of our own life’s path, is a practice that leads to true happiness.
• Love Family. At the base of a good life, second only to our love of God, is the love of family and friends, those who stick by us in the best and worst of times. As he says, “no man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than mine.”
• Love Country. Ours is not a perfect country, but as Senator McCain says, "We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history.” Love of country, which includes the calling always to improve it and make it more just, is something to embrace and proclaim, not shy away from.
• Seek Common Ground. A famous maverick and often a centrist, Senator McCain sought common ground and common sense. As he writes in his statement: “We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”
A wise letter, with insights gleaned from a lifetime of honorable service, and a last gift to a grateful state and nation. May we read his words, reflect on them, and live them. Thank you, John McCain.
The full text of Senator McCain’s farewell statement can be found here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/27/politics/john-mccain-farewell-statement/index.html
August 23, 2018 Health Ministries: Who, What, and Why
At the end of this month we bid a temporary farewell to Patrice Al-Shatti, our Health Ministries Coordinator, and we welcome Jane Irvine into the role. Patrice is in training to be ordained a permanent deacon, and part of the standard diocesan process is that she leave us for a time to serve as an intern at another parish, in her case Saint Augustine’s in Tempe. Patrice will return to All Saints’ in late spring, and will be ordained a deacon in early June, at which point (pending the Bishop’s approval) she will serve as a deacon at All Saints’, alongside Jim Bade. Permanent deacons are unpaid but vital leaders in our churches, with involvement not only liturgically on Sundays, but also as an important link between the Church and the needs of the congregation, the wider community, and the world.
As Patrice moves into this new phase of ministry as intern and then deacon, we are delighted to have Jane Irvine entering into the Health Ministries Coordinator role. One of the blessings of this volunteer ministry is its flexibility: it has been different depending on the person in it, and their skills and interests: first Marta Smith, then Patrice, and now Jane. Jane’s foci will include pastoral care, ministries with and to our seniors, and opportunities for connection across generations. Jane brings to the position extensive experience in healthcare (including hospice care), and a longstanding and deep relationship with All Saints’, where she has served in numerous volunteer capacities (including currently as a member of the Vestry). The Health Ministries Coordinator will continue to be a point of connection among our various pastoral ministries (the clergy, Community of Hope, Daughters of the King, and others).
What is health ministry and why is it important? One answer is the practical one: so many areas of pastoral need involve health concerns, and health ministry is the intersection of health with spirituality and pastoral care. Wellness, illness and death all have spiritual components. Our health ministries at All Saints’ in recent years have touched on areas as broad and varied as mindfulness, sabbath, loneliness, addiction, healthy eating, exercise, caregiver support, treatment of disease, assisted living, end of life care and much more.
Health ministry is not only practical; it is also deeply theological. God came to earth as a human being in Jesus, in a human body, and in so doing showed the importance of our earthly humanity to God. Jesus healed the sick, the blind, and the lame, and was raised from the dead not as a spirit but as a body. We come from the dust, and to dust we shall return, but we, like Christ, will one day have resurrected bodies (as we proclaim in the creeds). Since God cares so much about our earthly bodies, it is fitting that the Church also care for humans in this transitory life, whether through relief of the poor or pastoral care.
Godspeed, Patrice, and blessings for this next chapter. We thank you for your impactful ministry so far, not only in our health ministries but with our Creative Community of artists and in so many other ways, and we look forward to your ministry among us as a deacon. Welcome, Jane, as Health Ministries Coordinator, and thank you for your willingness to serve those in need with compassion.
August 16, 2018 Why People Go (or Don’t Go) to Church: Some Data and Some Thoughts
The Pew Research Center regularly surveys religious belief and practice in the United States, and their comprehensive data provide valuable insights not only for scholars but for churches. Their most recent report is no exception. “Why Americans Go (Or Don’t Go) to Religious Services,” released on August 1st, confirms some suspicions but challenges others.
What the Report Shows
For the full report, go here: http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/01/why-americans-go-to-religious-services/. But here are some highlights. Among those who attend church regularly, most do so, not surprisingly, to “become closer to God” (81%), followed by “So children will have a moral foundation” (69%), “to make me a better person” (68%) and “for comfort in times of trouble” (66%). Two things that are often touted as extremely important to church goers were only in the middle of importance: sermons (59%) and community (57%). And the metrics of obligation were quite low: “to continue my family’s religions traditions” (37%), “religious obligation” (31%), and “to please my family or spouse” (16%). Women are more likely to attend worship than men, older people more likely than younger, and Republicans more likely than Democrats.
As for why people do not go to church regularly, the top reasons were: “I practice my faith in other ways” (37%), dislike for religious services either generally or
specifically (37%), not a believer at all (26%), and logistical reasons (22%). A fairly large percentage (26%) could not or would not say why they don’t attend worship.
Some Reflections on the Data
Assuming our congregation is similar to those reflected in the data, we might consider the following:
• nurturing those who attend regularly by prioritizing a solemn but joyful worship experience and spiritual practices that help people feel close to God, offering
excellent programs for families with children, preaching and teaching on how to be a better person, and providing pastoral care in various forms to those in need of support.
• at the same time, being careful not to fall into a self-centered, consumer-oriented faith (what critics call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) that softens the Gospel’s
call to repentance and sacrificial service to others. Healthy churches keep a balance of comfort and challenge as we follow the narrow path of Jesus as his disciples.
• finding opportunities to reach out creatively to those who “practice their faith in other ways,” a group almost half of whom prays regularly.
• finding ways to reach out to those who are not with us for practical reasons (illness, transportation issues, busy schedules).
Some Final Thoughts
There is not much we can do as a church to appeal to those who are not believers or interested in believing. That work of converting the heart is up to God, though we can, each of us, live lives of Christian joy and compassion that can inspire others. Neither can we any longer count on a sense of obligation to get most people to church. The days of people coming on Sundays solely because of their family or spouse or family history are mostly gone (though the data show that men are more likely than women to attend to please a spouse!).
But there is much we can do, individually and collectively, to invite and assist those who are “spiritual but not religious” and those who have practical obstacles to
attendance. For example, this year we will begin offering monthly sung Compline Sunday evenings. Might this mystical, atmospheric worship appeal to some who are not comfortable with the Eucharist, or who have Sunday morning commitments? How do we spread the word about our contemplative options like “Centering Prayer” on Saturday mornings, and the Rosary, and Evening Prayer? Our Seniors Task Force is considering how to help with transportation for those who can’t get here on their own. How can we get people here more easily and often? Do those who are seriously ill and homebound know that our Community of Hope will bring them communion and a listening ear wherever they are? How might we communicate about our support groups, and special events that are easier points of entry for some than worship?
The Pew study gives us a great deal to think about, as we continue to develop and execute our mission strategy. In all of this, we will need help from every single member of our All Saints’ community. Some ministry ideas are staff-driven, but many of the best ones bubble up from our membership (like our Prison Ministry, and Women’s Breakfast). Above all, ministry growth requires “word of mouth." As you read and hear about the great things that are happening at All Saints’ this year, can you help us spread the word?
• The third and last of our summer Living Room Conversations is on Tuesday. The first two have had good sized and enthusiastic crowds. After this next one, the
Diversity and Reconciliation Committee will consider whether we might offer additional conversations on important topics, building connections across political and other differences.
• This past week was the first week of class at our day school. What fun it was to welcome our more than 500 students to campus, for the start of a new academic year. One of my most significant activities this summer, along with our Senior Warden Tim Haskins, has been with the committee seeking the next Head of School for All Saints’. The new Head will begin her or his service the summer of 2019, after Leo Dressel’s retirement. I am pleased that we have narrowed it down to a small group of three excellent finalists. Please keep this search in your prayers as we seek a worthy successor to Leo, someone who can build on his thoughtful and dedicated leadership.
August 9, 2018 Pope Francis on the Death Penalty
Pope Francis is the most prominent Christian leader in the world, by a wide margin. With the death of Billy Graham last February, it’s hard to know what living Christian leader is the second best known (certainly in the top ten would be our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, after his sermon at the royal wedding). When Pope Francis speaks, especially on controversial topics, it makes news. The sense I get is that Pope Francis likes to stir the pot, as the saying goes, getting people talking about things he thinks are urgent or in need of challenge or re-evaluation. I, for one, am often glad for it. Because even though there are some significant theological differences between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches, there are many more areas of similarity between our two traditions. Moreover, when the Pope makes news with a statement, it reminds the world that there are moral and ethical dimensions to much, if not all of life.
We live in a cultural environment that is becoming so pervasively secular and polarized that political affiliation has become an idol. Every issue is interpreted through a crudely partisan, winner take all world view (will it “energize the base” or appeal to “swing voters”?). As Christians, though, whose kingdom is not of this world, we are called to interpret everything through a moral world view, with politics as a secondary consideration. On any issue, we ask ourselves: what would God have us do? Is this consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus? Ideally we answer these questions not governed by our personal feelings, but with humility, through our careful reading of the Bible, through the teaching of the Church’s tradition over time, and, when those are not clear, through our God-given reason.
And so I was interested that Pope Francis recently re-ignited the debate about the death penalty, when he changed the Catechism to say that the use of the death penalty is never morally permitted. The core sentence reads as follows: “the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Frankly, many people were surprised that this was not already the teaching of the Catholic Church, and indeed the moral teaching has been developing in this direction for some time over recent papacies. But it was not always so. For centuries, the Catholic Church taught that capital punishment should be used sparingly, but was occasionally justified, as a curb to greater evil. The Biblical rationale for this “rare but occasionally permitted” view was found in a number of places, for example Genesis 9:6 (“whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed”) and Romans 13:4 (“if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for it is not without reason that [the authorities] bear the sword. Indeed, they are God’s servants to administer punishment to anyone who does wrong”).
When Pope Francis seemingly closed off the moral justification for the death penalty entirely, it was not without controversy. Not all Christians agreed. For example, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, who sits on the President's evangelical advisory board, said that on this issue Pope Francis was “dead wrong.” Some Catholics have said that Pope Francis has altered Church teaching too abruptly and unilaterally in simply changing the Catechism by “fiat." The Episcopal Church on this particular issue is on the side of the Pope, having been against the death penalty consistently and repeatedly since 1958, as articulated by the resolutions of our General Convention. However, as with almost any issue, there are faithful Episcopalians on both sides of the death penalty debate. Where two or three Episcopalians are gathered, there are likely to be two or three opinions in the midst of them!
Given that Scripture on this matter is not unanimous, Christians are likely to continue to differ (though the clear majority of denominations hold the Pope Francis view). My point is not to say what anyone should believe on this controversial topic, but simply to note how refreshing it is to see a serious issue being discussed and debated in the public square from a moral point of view, with human dignity at the center, instead of being based solely on politics and gut feelings. We could use more of that.
You may recall that we collected backpacks, Bibles, and other supplies earlier this summer for children of prisoners who were going to a special camp at Chapel Rock, our diocesan camp and conference center in Prescott. I am happy to report that 21 campers attended Camp Genesis in this, its inaugural year. If you want to experience a story that will warm your heart, read about the camp here and look at the slideshow:
August 2, 2018 Why We Want Children and Youth in Church (It’s Not Why You Might Think)
There’s palpable excitement growing around our ministries for and with children and youth at All Saints’ these days. Last week, Pastor Finn wrote about our reimagined and re-energized youth ministry, the result of conversations she has been having with youth and their families over the past months. This week, members of our community chorister program have been at choir camp at All Saints’, led by our Director and Associate Director of Music. Beginning in mid-September, these choristers will be singing every other Sunday at the 9am service. Other students will be able to learn how to play musical instruments as our All Saints’ Music School expands, and will share their talents in church, as well. And our Christian education program for young children will have some new developments and a new curriculum when it resumes the Sunday after Labor Day.
Ministry with children and youth is perhaps as challenging as it has ever been. Most family schedules are beyond hectic, and expectations of religious practice are shifting rapidly in the culture. There are no longer “best practices” in churches for how to run a successful children and youth ministry, or standard curricula that work well everywhere. Every church is scrambling to determine what approach fits best in its own context. Some churches around the country are even giving up on "Sunday school" for children and youth entirely, discouraged by low and inconsistent attendance. Not so at All Saints’: we are strategizing anew about how to offer our young people opportunities to pray, learn, serve, and connect that are so compelling, useful, life-giving and fun that they will move other commitments to sing, acolyte, learn, play, and put their faith into action with us. And we seek to grow our intergenerational connections also, with our young people getting to know wise mentors, side by side with a wide range of role models.
But why do we want children and youth in church? Not because we need them to keep Christianity afloat in the years to come. The Christian Church is God’s, not ours, and will never die (though it has, throughout history, sometimes seemed to die, only to be resurrected). If we value our young people only as means to an end (full churches and future pledges) we are missing the point. No, we want children and youth in church not for what they will do as adults, but for who they are now. The Body of Christ, in all its wondrous diversity, includes young people, and they are not optional, but essential, as Jesus himself recognized (“Let the little children come to me, do not hinder them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” Matthew 19:14). To have a range of people in our faith community: young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, of different races and experiences and views, sinners and saints united in following Jesus, is to be the Body of Christ in all its fullness.
But it is not enough simply to have children and youth around. As adults, our responsibility is to model and pass down a true, challenging, and lively faith, not something watered down. Our young people deserve not only fun and connection, but also access to the rich heritage of our tradition: learning how to pray and understand the Bible, and how to use our faith as a steady compass amidst the confusion of life. If you are a family with children, let us know how we can support you in teaching the faith to your kids and to you (since the most important teachers of faith are parents and grandparents), and invest your valuable time, as you are able, in our faith community this year. And if you do not have children at home, please support our children and youth ministries financially in the month of August, and most importantly with your prayers and presence.
• Speaking of our choristers, Elizabeth, one of our singers, represented us the week of July 23rd at the Girls Course at Saint Thomas, Fifth Avenue in New York. To be accepted into this course was a great honor for Elizabeth, and for our choir program here at All Saints’. To hear the girls’ magnificent singing, go to the Saint Thomas webcast page (which is a wonderful resource for those who love to listen to choral evensong, and worthy of bookmarking): https://www.saintthomaschurch.org/webcasts
• I’m putting together the schedule of adult Christian education for the new program year. If you have a topic you would like for us to explore on Sunday mornings, please let me know in an email.
June 28, 2018 Free and Responsible Beings, United in Love
At our foundation, we were a society with strong covenantal attachments — to family, community, creed and faith. Then on top of them we built democracy and capitalism that celebrated liberty and individual rights. The deep covenantal institutions gave people the capacity to use their freedom well. (David Brooks “Our Elites Still Don’t Get It”)
In a 2017 New York Times column from which the above quote is taken, David Brooks makes the argument that, at our best, our nation has balanced individual liberty with a strong sense of community. But in recent years, the trend has been towards greater liberty but weaker community, as the major institutions of commitment (like marriage, religion, community organizations, and government) have declined in influence and credibility. Brooks says that often, when alternate forms of community arise to replace those that have been abandoned, the results are unhealthy, with a kind of tribalism (us vs. them politics, racism, internet mobs and so on). Those who find no sense of community at all, healthy or unhealthy, sometimes fall into extreme individualism and isolation, with symptoms like addiction, malaise, video game obsession, or paranoia.
This week before Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the blessing of liberty, which, as Benjamin Franklin said, is “not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” Our constitutionally protected freedoms strengthen our democracy, and serve as a bulwark against tyranny at home, and an inspiration to the rest of the world, even (perhaps especially) in this challenging period in our national life. When we use our liberty to choose freely to bond with others for justice and the common good, that is perhaps the highest expression of our national values and our founders’ intent.
This is one area in which our faith and our national life converge: in both, there is this theme of free people choosing to commit to one another for a purpose greater than themselves. Our collect this weekend has a marvelous image of the Church as community: we are a holy and living temple, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. This temple of God is never coercive, like the great pyramids of Egypt constructed by forced labor. God always gives us the choice, first to be joined with one another and with Christ in baptism, and second, to live out our baptism through a genuine love of God and our neighbor.
We give heartfelt thanks for the liberties we enjoy as Americans, and for the opportunity to gather freely in churches, families, and community organizations to work for the common good. May we fight the temptation either to be too individualistic and isolated, or to affiliate with groups or ideologies (real and virtual) that are hateful, selfish, and intolerant. And we live in hope, for the Bible gives us a vision, at the end of all things, of a perfect balance between liberty and community. As the theologian John Macquarrie so beautifully puts it: “the end, we have seen reason to believe, would be a commonwealth of free, responsible beings united in love.” May it be so, on earth as it is in heaven.
• Summer is a time when we see a lot of guests, both those visiting family and friends from out of town, and those who are looking for a church home. For this reason, it is an excellent time to wear our name tags, as a sign of our hospitality. Really, we ought to wear them every week, all year round, because in a church our size, it is impossible to know everyone by name. But many of us have been getting out of the habit. Church name tags can be left on the metal kiosk after worship, and since they are magnetic, they don’t damage clothes. If you don’t have a name tag, please fill out a form in the narthex, and we will be glad to provide one for you.
• Did you know that 104 members of our church have been involved with our Prison Ministry this year? Many other members of the wider community have been involved, as well. That means that, over the past year, our Prison Ministry has become one of our largest ministries at All Saints’. Well done, and thanks be to God!
June 21, 2018 How to Apply the Bible to Contemporary Issues: Some Basics, and the Crisis on our Border
Since the writing of this reflection, there have been major developments in the story, but many of the essential themes remain relevant.
So anyone who thinks he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them. Saint Augustine (On Christian Teaching)
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Saint Paul (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Applying scriptural lessons to contemporary issues and events ought to be done with a great deal of humility, even caution, for there are relatively few matters on which the Bible is totally clear. Much of the time when the Bible is invoked in the public square, certain verses are cherry picked to support a political position, which does little to clarify things, but usually obscures them, inflaming rather than informing the situation. We ought to remember that the Devil used scripture when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. When Jesus resisted the temptation, he used scripture, too, but did so with a deeper understanding of the spiritual themes and core meaning beneath.
This does not mean that we should give up on trying to see contemporary issues through the lens of faith. Indeed, we are called to do so, and as Saint Paul teaches us in the quote above, the scriptures are meant to be used to shed light on matters individual and communal, personal and political. The scriptures are practical tools; they are “useful,” for “training,” helping us to be “proficient” and “equipped.” But, like many tools, the scriptures are not easy to use, and proficiency with them takes serious commitment and practice.
Still, amidst the complexities of the Bible and our interpretation of it, there are major, underlying themes in its pages. As we seek to navigate choppy waters and foggy skies in these tumultuous times in our national life, the Bible is our map, and our compass is the core of Jesus’ teaching: the love of God and our neighbor. As Saint Augustine said, if our understanding of Scripture does not build up our love of God and our neighbor, we have not truly understood. Put to another test: does our Biblical argument produce the fruits of the spirit in ourselves and others: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? (Galatians 5: 22-23).
There are countless wise teachings in the Bible, and “all scripture is inspired by God,” but not all teachings are of equal urgency. So, for example, the Bible teaches that those "who do not work should not eat,” (2 Thess 3:10), but if someone is about to starve to death, we are called to feed them. A human life is more important than learning a lesson about shared labor. Mercy always takes priority. When we think about the love of our neighbor, the Bible is as clear as it is on anything that we are to start with protecting the most vulnerable. The vulnerable come first, and sorting out the rest comes after.
Therefore, when it comes to any issue, including how to treat children brought by their parents into this country illegally, or seeking asylum, we can assert with confidence, from a Biblical point of view, that we are to treat those vulnerable children with genuine compassion. To me, that clearly means keeping families together as much as is possible, in safe and humane conditions. Care for and welcome of the vulnerable is our most important mandate, for they are our neighbors, made in God’s image. I find it dismaying that not all Christians seem to agree.
At the same time, can we be honest, and admit that most issues that have not yet been solved are incredibly complex, including what to do about our broken immigration system? While less important than the protection of the vulnerable and welcoming the stranger, it is also true that the Bible urges us to obey civil laws and authorities. Well-regulated and secure borders are necessary and keep people safe. We have not yet begun to ask, let alone answer the truly difficult questions on this topic.
Would we prefer to keep these immigrant families of uncertain or transitional status together, but in some kind of government facility? If we release people for later hearing dates, how do we make it likely that they will show up for those hearings? How do we discourage human trafficking and the cruel and unfair manipulation of the system? And, more deeply, what kind of country have we been, and who do we want to be? How do we, as a society, evaluate fairly and with compassion those who come to us seeking greater opportunity and safety, while recognizing reasonable limits on and priorities in immigration? After this immediate humanitarian crisis is resolved, and I pray that happens quickly, I hope some in government and in the media will be willing to explore the genuine complexity of this web of issues, beyond the internet memes and indignant talking points.
What frustrates me most is that there are common sense solutions to the challenges we face in our national life, and I dearly wish there were more people committed to working together and finding them, instead of stoking outrage and sowing division. But until that time when reason prevails, we in the Church ought to focus on the Biblical essentials, especially the well-being and dignity of every human being, with charity for diverse views beyond these Biblical first principles.
• Ever feel like your weekly experience of the Eucharist is unfocused and a bit stale? This Sunday at our summer education time at 9am, I will share some practical tips on how to be more fully present in the Eucharist, allowing it to nourish us more deeply.
• This Monday is the start of our annual version of vacation Bible school, All Saints’ Kids for the Community. Please keep our young people and their mentors in your prayers as they serve those in need in our area, as an expression of their faith.
June 14, 2018 Jesus Never Took a Vacation
“And so we take a holiday, a vacation, to gain release from this bondage for a space, to stand back from the rush of things and breathe again. But a holiday is a respite, not a cure. The more we need holidays, the more certain it is that the disease has conquered us, and not we it. More and more holidays just to get away from it all is a sure sign of a decaying civilization; it was one of the most obvious marks of the breakdown of the Roman empire. It is a symptom that we haven’t learned how to live so as to recreate ourselves in our work instead of being sapped by it.”
--Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)
Evelyn Underhill, the great Anglican spiritual writer whose feast day falls every year on June 15, wrote brilliantly on many topics. Don’t take my word for it - we have several of her books available for check-out from our parish library. Her work on Christian mysticism, for example, is some of the most insightful commentary on that topic (she believed that all of us are mystics at heart, capable of profound experiences of the living God). But I was particularly taken, as I was reading some Underhill thisweek, with her quote above, on the topic of vacation.
So many of us live under such stress and anxiety that, when we find time for vacation, we are like gasping fish, stranded on the shore, that have been plopped by a merciful hand back into life-giving water. Underhill would surely not say, nor would I, that vacations are unnecessary. We all need the sabbath rest and refreshment that comes with time away from our usual responsibilities (even if it is a “staycation” in our own homes). Vacation is a blessing, and I hope all of us are finding some time this summer away from our usual routines (and from the heat!). Don’t forget, if you are out of town on a Sunday, how rewarding it is to worship in another church, whether Episcopal or not (I love to see bulletins from other churches, if you think to bring one back).
Yes, vacation is helpful, enjoyable, and good. But it is perhaps more important to live daily lives that are themselves rewarding, with pockets of renewal within and around them. A week of vacation is no substitute for a well-balanced existence, grounded in healthy relationships with God, our family and friends, co-workers, and ourselves. Does your daily life include “sabbath” times each day and each week, when you can rest, reflect, and reconnect? If you are seeking to add a spiritual time of refreshment, remember that All Saints’ offers many opportunities for prayer outside of our weekend Eucharists, opportunities that continue in the summer, including two Wednesday morning Eucharists, Evening Prayer now Monday through Thursday, Centering Prayer on Saturday mornings, and Rosary Prayer on Sunday mornings. A spiritual practice is one way to seek more balance and reprioritize amidst a hectic life.
Underhill went on to say, on the topic of vacation, that Jesus never took one! Her rather humorous point was that Jesus, who was busier and more stressed than anyone, never seemed overwhelmed. As she writes, Jesus “knew exactly when the moment had come for doing something, and when it had not.” All of us fall short of Jesus’ example, but in this, as in all things, he is an aspirational model for us: are we using our time wisely and healthily, for our good and the good of those around us, or are we controlled and exhausted by our schedule and our task list? Jesus was busy, but never lost sight of the things that were most important. Something for fathers, and for all of us to think about.
• The church staff held our annual staff retreat and planning session this past week. For our retreat day, we met at the Franciscan Renewal Center, and, amidst our
hard work, enjoyed a tour of their new church building, which is beautiful. We are blessed to have such a dedicated and talented staff at All Saints', and the 2018-19 program year that begins in September is going to be remarkable. Stay tuned!
June 7, 2018 The Widow’s Mite 2018
looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more
than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but
she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
Last week, we received a wonderful donation. It wasn’t large - just $15 - but was an act of extraordinary generosity. It came from an inmate at Perryville Prison (I will not use her real name, but will call her “Susan”), issued as an official check from the Arizona State Department of Corrections. Susan wrote a note that was included: “Enclosed is a check for 15 dollars. Thank you for all the cards and prayer throughout the year. Susan. God Bless You.”
Inmates at Perryville make about 20 cents an hour for their work, and, as I understand it, use what they earn to buy from the prison shop the little things that make their environment more humane: gum, snacks and the like. And so $15 represents about 75 hours of work by Susan, a precious resource she chose to donate to All Saints’ in thanksgiving for our ministry there. If ever there was a modern version of the story of the Widow’s Mite, this is it, for Susan gave generously out of her poverty. We prepared a nice thank you letter, with a beautiful image from our Saint John’s Bible, and sent it to her, with our deepest appreciation.
There are a lot of days in ministry that are fairly average, and a few that are discouraging, but there are some that make your heart sing, and the day we received that check was one of those. We are making a difference, a real difference in the lives of the inmates at Perryville: with our card ministry, our Christmas gifts for their children, our recent visits, and the art display by inmates coming to All Saints’ in September. And this past Sunday morning, the backpacks we were preparing for the children of the incarcerated who are going to Chapel Rock for camp this July were snatched up before all the pews were even empty. Something about this ministry at Perryville has touched a chord with All Saints’, and it is joyful to see it. God is blessing us through this ministry every bit as much as God is using us to bless the prisoners there.
The churches that struggle, in my experience, often have watered down faith, low expectations for members, lots of comfort with little that is spiritually challenging, and a constant focus on keeping attendees content. Churches that are strong and healthy are just the opposite: they preach and teach the challenging faith given to us by Jesus, they invite members into deeper faith and involvement, coach the spiritual practices that improve spiritual fitness, and are committed to serving and advocating for the most vulnerable.
When I see the number of our members who have committed to lead Evening Prayer, the terrific group who are showing up on Sunday mornings to learn how to pray the Daily Office on their own, and the passion we have for our ministry with prisoners (who are some of the loneliest and most vulnerable people in our world), it gives me confidence that God will continue to bless All Saints’ for God’s reconciling mission in the world.