Friday, October 31, 2008
Dear Friends of St. Paul’s,
In the month of October, as many of you are aware, we held a series of "cottage meetings" with members o St. Paul's. The meetings were held in homes, and were small, informal gatherings where we talked about the blessings of our church, the mission, the challenges and our giving for the coming year.
I am writing to report on what we heard at those meetings, and to thank our hosts, the discussion facilitators, and all those who participated. This was a tremendous opportunity for Lori and myself to learn about the opportunities and the challenges at St. Paul’s, and to hear your dreams about our future and the kind of community you believe God is calling us to be.
In all, there were 20 meetings with 211 people participating. I attended all of the meetings, and Lori was able to make all but three. The conversations were rich with observations about St. Paul’s and ideas for the future. I filled a notebook with what I heard.
Patterns emerged throughout the meetings. We heard how you feel close to God in nature and with your families; at our Sunday Eucharist and in the music; and at the Monday noon prayers for peace. Many people said they feel God’s presence in the silence before the start of worship and in the flowers near the Holy Table. And many said they feel blessed in seeing the children in our Sunday morning procession. “It just lifts me up,” said one participant, echoing many.
We heard how St. Paul’s is a supportive community filled with people who care for each other. One participant told us: “I came to Charlottesville at a time of great emotional pain. I picked out St. Paul’s, went to one service, and it all fell into place. This is where I could anchor myself.”
Said another participant: “When I go away and come back, I feel St. Paul’s is home. I never had that feeling in church before.” And said another: “St. Paul’s is a place where I feel safe questioning my faith and my actions.”
There were many who said a major value at St. Paul’s is the inclusion of all kinds of people, young and old, gay and straight, students, working people and retired people.
We also heard how St. Paul’s could do more to welcome new people, and especially to create a congregation that is more racially and economically diverse. “We need to be pushing the boundaries to bring people not like us,” said one participant. “We need to share our blessings.”
We heard many express the need for more opportunities for spiritual enrichment through small groups, like our new Shalom Group for young adults. People would like Bible studies, book circles and other groups, and have them meet at different times and on days other than on Sunday.
Many people applauded the new name tags as a way to build community. Said one participant: “There are lots of people in the church hurting and we don’t necessarily see each other,” said one participant. “The name tags help.”
We also heard the need for more pastoral care by lay people, and the dream of creating sacred spaces on our grounds for prayer and meditation that can center people to go back into the world to do the work they’ve been given to do. Some asked for a greater emphasis on personal salvation while others asked for a greater emphasis on community involvement.
Nearly every group mentioned that we should deepen our ministries with the University of Virginia – students, faculty and staff. There were many questions about our current programs with the university community, and it was clear to me that we need to do a better job of communicating to the wider congregation what we are already doing with the university community.
Nearly every discussion group also expressed the crucial importance to St. Paul’s of being engaged in the community through our outreach efforts for the poor, and with organizations like IMPACT and PACEM, two projects we are involved with for community action and homeless relief.
“We have quite a few missions at St. Paul’s. That’s what draws people to it. They see the need beyond these walls,” said one participant.
Some viewed both the ministry to the poor in our community and to the university as interrelated. Marsha Trimble, who I quote by permission, put it well when she said: “We need to be across the street and down the street.”
Others agreed, tying the two directions together by saying that we need to “speak truth to power and that means speaking truth to the Rotunda.”
Many brought up the condition of St. Paul’s buildings, and the need for paint outside and renovations inside. There were many expressions of concern that the exterior appearance is off-putting to new people and that meeting room and office space could be used better. The buildings, as many see them, are tools of ministry and a proclamation to the world around us of the vitality of our ministries and the inclusion of all people.
One participant summed it up well: “The essence of the best of the Episcopal Church is at St. Paul’s. We have a jewel and the wider church and world should know what we are doing.”
All I can say to that is “Amen.” These conversations yielded much to consider, and I will have more to say as I think through what we heard. For now, thanks to all who came to these meetings, and thanks to all who have turned in your pledge cards for 2009.
Blessings to all,
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
A message for All Saints 2008
The following is the All Saints 2008 message from the Presiding Bishop.
All Saints 2008
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
What saints will you remember this year on their feast? It’s an occasion to remember all the faithful, whether we know their names or not. The Good Shepherd knows them by name, even if we don’t. This year I’d invite you to celebrate the ones whose names you know and the ones whose names you haven’t yet learned.
In your neighborhood, who is the saint who picks up trash? Who looks out for school children on their way to and from school? Who looks after an elderly or frail neighbor, running errands or checking to be sure that person has what is needed?
In your community, what saints labor on behalf of the voiceless? I recently read about a prison law program in Michigan, about to be shut down for lack of funds, where one lawyer has worked for decades on behalf of those who have no other helper. Sandra Girard’s work has helped to free many who were wrongly convicted, and to ease the circumstances of those who will spend most of the rest of their lives in jail. She points out that, “Most of the people I've helped in prison have also been victims. Long before they committed a crime themselves, they were victims of violence, poverty or something else.” I met a member of the clergy in Missouri recently who also told of seeing many victims in prisons, but also that the penal system there is the most highly regarded in the U.S., for its focus on reparative and reconstructive justice. What saints are visiting the prisoners in your area? That is one of the ways Jesus urges us to bring good news and care for the least and forgotten among us (Matthew 25:37-40).
The saints are followers of Jesus, and fellow travelers on the journey toward the City of God. They come in all shapes, ages, colors, and theological stripes. Some of them, like Jerome and Jeremiah, can be difficult to live with. The children of the churches of the Convocation in Europe recently compiled a book of saints, complete with short accounts of their lives and illustrations by the children. Their list had some familiar names, like Joan of Arc and Hildegard, and some unexpected ones, like Anne Frank and Edith Cavell. Some, like Miss Edith, would not be known beyond the local congregation, but have had even more influence on their young charges’ lives than any saint of an earlier age.
As you gather to celebrate on the feast of All Saints, take with you the name of a saint whose example you have seen in action, and one whose name you don’t know, and give thanks. The appropriate companion prayer to one of thanks for the witness of other saints is that we, too, might be holy examples to those whom we meet.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Next Sunday is a major feast day on the Christian calendar -- All Saints Day. The day has its origins in the ancient church when it was celebrated on the Saturday before Easter -- the day now called Holy Saturday when Jesus descends to the dead to free everyone from the grip of death. All Saints and All Souls days merged to become special masses for martyrs and those who had died anonymously. In later centuries, the day shifted into the weeks before Advent, and the day we now call "Halloween" is actually All Hallows Eve, or the even of All Souls Day.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
With the election fast approaching, I am more than ready for the political campaigns to end and the basketball season to begin. But we are not quite there yet.
Last Sunday Associate Rector David McIlhiney preached at St. Paul’s about the tension of living as a citizen in a democracy and as a faithful follower of Jesus. As I read his sermon, David was admonishing all of us to not confuse the candidate we favor with the Messiah. The crux his sermon is here: “We’re very much in the same position as the Pharisee in today’s story. Whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, then, we need to be careful that we don’t become as self-righteous as he was.”
Yet some have raised with me the question about whether political topics are fit for Sunday morning sermons. The question is fair, and percolates in every election. I bring a unique perspective to this question, having been a political writer for nearly a quarter of a century before entering the priesthood, and then later as a staff member of the California State Senate. I have many friends in politics, both Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and moderates. Those I have gotten to know best entered politics out of a deep sense of public service, and they have brought enormous creativity – even genius at times – to their work even when forging public policy has become more complex, and the public has become more scornful and ideologically polarized.
So, I begin first by sharing the concern of many about mixing politics in the pulpit. I do not think it appropriate to be endorsing presidential candidates from the pulpit, and I fully understand that most people come to church for something other than campaign politics. If we want a campaign speech there are better places to get it than in church on Sunday morning.
Second, I have no intention of endorsing anyone for president in this election, and I have a deep concern about those pastors who are endorsing presidential candidates in their churches and who are unleashing their resources in support of those candidates. It should be pointed out that the pastors who have done so have been overwhelmingly in favor of John McCain. Most of the politics-in-the-pulpit that I am aware of is coming from the McCain camp; and, in fact, the St. Paul’s office in recent days has been inundated with “robocalls” soliciting our church’s support for McCain. You should also see the Associated Press story today entitled Christian Right intensifies attack on Obama, about the political work of Focus on the Family among other religious-right groups. The Mormon Church, meanwhile, is one of the leading backers of Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage in California, and is making phone calls to California voters from Utah.
On the other side, it is long the practice of Democratic candidates to visit African American churches on the Sunday before election day. As a reporter I accompanied many of those candidates, including Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis and a host of lesser candidates on whirlwind tours of black churches (and seeing the stiff-necked, buttoned-up Alan Cranston in a black church was worth giving up a Sunday). I expect we will see Democratic candidates touring African American churches next Sunday.
The larger question is whether political subjects are fit subjects for sermons on Sunday. I generally agree that public policy topics do not easily lend themselves to sermon topics, and certainly not short sermons. But the difficulty with never discussing politics in any form in the pulpit is to detach the Church from the world in which we live, and to never raise any moral issues other than individual moral issues.
To retreat into a religious corner that ignores politics, I would suggest, is to ignore the Old Testament prophets, most of Jesus’ teachings, and the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. I think David McIlhiney put it well in the closing paragraph of his sermon:
“But we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ every time we recite the prayer Jesus taught us. These are dangerous words—they suggest that our faith isn’t just a private affair, but has implications for our national life. We should be careful in our dealings with Caesar, Jesus says, because we mustn’t give Caesar what we owe to God.”
We do well to remember that the greatest strides toward human rights in our modern world began with religious people who, at great risk to themselves, called upon the political system for that express purpose. The English slave trade was outlawed in the nineteenth century largely through the efforts of Anglican churchman William Wilberforce (1759-1833), and the abolition of slavery became the central cause of the “Great Awakening” in America in the 1830-1850s.
In later times, many German Christians paid with their lives for opposing the Nazis, most famously Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who denounced Hitler from his pulpit, and was arrested and executed in a concentration camp. No other example is more tragic, or more political, than his.
Let us also recall that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist preacher and led the civil rights movement from his pulpit and the streets; and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, an Anglican bishop, played a crucial role in ending apartheid in his country without civil war. More recently, the Episcopal Church has endorsed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end global poverty and the One Campaign to devote 1 percent of the world’s GNP to eradicating poverty. We need to be mindful that those goals can only be achieved by the active involvement of governments in the industrialized nations. Individual efforts, though laudatory, will never be enough. Those goals lead inevitably into the political arena.
Yet, we do well to enter the political arena cautiously, deliberately and in the humble knowledge that none of us have a corner on truth. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address (March 4, 1865), was mindful that neither side in the Civil War had a corner on God:
“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
How and when do we enter the political arena? I would suggest that we do so when it clearly advances the values of the Kingdom of God “to respect the dignity of every human being” (as our baptismal covenant puts it) and the health of our planet, resting upon the foundation of the Hebrew Shema to “love God” and “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Let me give one personal example: In the weeks before the Iraq war, I was among a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy who signed a full-page advertisement calling upon the Bush administration to respect the United Nations weapons inspection program rather than act unilaterally by going to war. I believe events have proven our position both moral and pragmatically correct. Yet I am also aware that good, faithful people – many of them friends – were much disturbed by our taking the position we took and believed we got it woefully wrong. They deserve to be respected and their faith not questioned. As Christians, all of us must find a way to come to the same Holy Communion Table, most especially when we disagree, and disagree deeply.
I close this lengthy blog entry by giving you, in full, the statement made last week by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to our church on the eve of this election:
“As Election Day approaches, I want to remind you that our democracy gives us the opportunity to speak urgently about the many issues and challenges confronting our nation and the world. I would encourage every eligible voter to prayerfully consider the choices before us and commit to using the political process to seek solutions to our society’s most intractable problems. As part of our baptismal vows we commit “to strive for justice and peace among all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being.” As you prepare to vote, I urge you to consider how the Reign of God – a just society – particularly as explicated by the Hebrew prophets and by Jesus, can be made real in our own day.
Our baptismal ministry calls us to transform our communities into something that looks more like that Reign of God. That is our part in God’s mission. We are sent and commissioned to build a society where all have adequate access to health care, where the weakest are protected and God’s creation safeguarded, and where each person has access to the blessings of life. That work requires committed engagement in the civic life of our nation if we seek to make God’s dream more effectively real and complete in this world.
As caretakers and stewards of all of God’s creation, each one of us is responsible for the flourishing of the rest of the human family. As in all elections, on 4 November we have the opportunity to continue working to reconcile and heal the world. I urge every citizen to use this opportunity to motivate our government to respond to, and participate in, building the Reign of God. We prepare the ground for the possibility of more abundant life through our part in the ministry of governance.
Voting and political participation are acts of Christian stewardship, in which citizens can engage in a common conversation about the future of our nation and the world. I urge you to exercise your right to vote, and to encourage and help others to do so as well.”
As we approach this Election Day, let us pray for our nation and the world, and cast our votes mindful of all those whose lives are touched by our votes but who have no vote. May we remember with deep gratitude those who have paid the last full measure of devotion to our country, and may we never take for granted our right to vote as a free people living in liberty, under God, ever striving for equal justice for all.
Blessings to all and to the United States of America,
Friday, October 24, 2008
Peace in the world begins with each of us. In the Advent season of awakening leading us to Christmas, please join me at St. Paul's as we set aside a few hours on Saturday Dec. 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pray for peace in our world, in our community, in our homes and in our lives.
We will begin with Morning Prayer in the Chapel, and then at regular intervals over the next few hours, we will offer prayers for peace from many faith traditions besides our own. Rooms at St. Paul’s will be set aside for writing your own prayers for peace, or creating an art project, or for quiet conversation. The chapel and church sanctuaries will be reserved for quiet meditation and prayer. We will also have a table with information about organizations working for peace and reconciliation in our community and the world.
Individuals of all ages and families are invited to join us for the entire day or as many hours as you are able throughout the day. Drop-ins welcome.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
This past weekend, Lori and I took our first break since the Big Move East. We decided to go explore Virginia, and where better to begin than at the beginning -- Jamestown. We stayed with our friends, Ray and Suzanne, and set forth on a journey into Virginia history.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
In the part of the world where I come from (California), there is a wonderful tradition that begins on All Souls Day (Nov. 1) - La Ofrenda - a tradition from El Dia de los Muertos, Mexico's "Day of the Dead."
Friday, October 17, 2008
by Terence Winch
from Boy Drinkers
Father Cahir kept us holy.
He smoked cigars in the confessional.
He had a distracted air about him,
as though he wasn't sure what
he was supposed to do next.
I don't remember what he taught.
History, probably. It was his
liberal attitude as a confessor
that made him a legend.
No matter what you confessed to,
he always barked out the same penance:
“Three Hail Marys and a Good Act
of Contrition. Next!”
So we tested
this leniency, confessing
to rape, murder, burglary.
Cahir paid no attention.
He knew we were a bunch
of high school punks.
Puffing his cigar,
he'd issue his standard
penance and absolve all sins,
real or imagined,
with godlike aloofness,
his vast indifference to
or total acceptance of the darkness
within the human soul
exactly how I hope the deity
regards us. Take forgiveness
any way you can get it.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
by Stephen Dunn
After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far way
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I have not, heretofore, commented on this blog about the state of journalism, the profession in which I devoted most of my adult life and in which I still have many, many friends. It should be of vital interest to all of us that journalism, and journalists, find a way out of the economic morass that has plagued the profession for several years now. The recession, or depression, hit newspapers several years ago, well before the economic crisis that is plaguing all of us.