Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Choosing the better good in our communities

Last Friday, the University of Virginia community held its "Day of Dialogue" to talk about, in the words of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, how to become a more "caring community" in the aftermath of the murder last spring of a student. Many of our St. Paul's students, faculty and staff attended.

The final talk was given by English Professor Michael Suarez, who is a friend of mine and also is a Jesuit priest. Michael's remarks are about UVA, but really he is talking about every community everywhere. This takes about 25 minutes to view; I highly recommend you take the time. Blessings...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gentle wonderful rain and our Community Garden

We are getting much welcome rain here in Charlottesville, and the best kind of rain for our gardens: gentle, soaking rain. The dampness is bringing out the wonderful earthy smell of late summer.

Our Community Garden volunteers were out in force a few days ago, joining with volunteers from Trinity Episcopal Church, the parish located in the garden's neighborhood (more on that exciting development in another post). They've added new compost, planted spinach and other greens, cleared away a lot of dead brush, and prepared the garden for winter.

Here is a photo I took late yesterday during the rain. Enjoy your garden!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Monday has rolled around once more, and it's time for a smile to start your work week. Let's do it today at the expense of our own dear Episcopal Church, in good-natured fun, of course. After all, our House of Bishops just finished its fall meeting in Arizona, and something funny must have happened. We just haven't heard what yet. So maybe this will spark a leak.

The item below comes courtesy of our friend and St. Paul's colleague Paula Kettlewell. Going with it, a cartoon by church observer Dave Walker.

Enjoy your Monday . . .

What Episcopalians believe for Sure, Almost, Sometimes, Perhaps
Episcopalians occasionally believe in miracles and sometimes even expect them, particularly during stewardship canvasses and when electing bishops or recruiting church school teachers.
Episcopalians firmly believe that coffee hour is the eighth sacrament, but only if the coffee is caffeinated.
Episcopalians believe strongly in scripture, reason and tradition, and while they aren't sure what it is they believe about these three things, there is almost universal agreement that that is hardly the point.
Episcopalians who have never been on the Vestry claim they don't know what goes on in Vestry meetings. Episcopalians who have been on the Vestry claim they don't know either.
Episcopalians believe anything worth doing is especially worth doing if it has an obscure incomprehensible title attached to it (e.g. verge, sexton, thurifer, chasuble, suffragan, canon, dean, coadjutor).
Likewise, Episcopalians believe any place worth visiting is greatly enhanced by a name which only obliquely describes it (e.g., nave, narthex, sacristy, oratory, and church school supply closet).
Some Episcopalians believe that Rite I is the best expression of the liturgy. Many Episcopalians believe Rite II is better. Most Episcopalians haven't noticed the difference; they just hope it all gets over by noon.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Entertaining Angels Unawares: Sermon by University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan

I am not preaching today, so I thought I would bring you the sermon by Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, who preached at St. Paul's on August 29, our Convocation Sunday. She gave us much to think and pray about; her office sent us a copy of her sermon last week, and so I bring it to you today. The lessons she used that day were Sirach 10:12-18, Psalm 112, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, and Luke 14:1, 7-14. Here is her sermon:

Entertaining Angels Unawares
Sunday, August 29, 201010:00 a.m.
St. Paul’s Memorial Church
By Dr. Teresa Sullivan
President of the University of Virginia

Good morning. I’m pleased to be with you this Sunday at St. Paul’s. I was here last winter to help celebrate your 100th anniversary. I’m glad to be back.
As you probably know, I am a sociologist, and the heart of sociology is the study of social stratification – or how humans take differences among people and translate those differences into enduring inequalities. It’s nearly universal among human societies, and it is even found among animals. Imagine a flock of chickens penned together; they will immediately establish what we call a “pecking order” among themselves. The chickens enforce their pride of place with a sharp beak.

Jesus knows about our pecking orders. In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been invited to a Sabbath dinner by one of the Pharisees. He decides to tell a story about a wedding feast, but the implication for the guests in the room with Him is pretty clear. Much like the wedding guests in the parable, each guest at the Sabbath dinner is seeking the best position, and Jesus offers some practical advice: don’t take the highest seat, because someone more important than you might be invited. Take the lowest seat, and then you might be invited by your host to go higher. The punch-line is one that will be heard again and again in the Gospels: he who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
This is more than wedding etiquette advice. The Gospel makes clear that it is God Who is ultimately in charge of the exalting and the humbling. Six months before the birth of Jesus, Mary in her Magnificat makes the agency of God very clear: “He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He has struck down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the poor with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52)

The message is not an easy one for disciples to learn. As His apostles are taking their seats for His last paschal meal with them, and just before He gives them the example of washing their feet, they are discussing among themselves who is the greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus has basically the same answer for this status-seeking. In the Gospel of Mark He says, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." (Mark 9:34-36). In the longer answer recounted by Luke, He offers greater detail: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)
Thus, in the Kingdom of God, the leaders serve. The pecking ceases. If there is to be any exaltation done, it is left to the Host of the wedding feast.

There is a second message here that is also important for us to hear. In the latter verses of the reading, Jesus advises the banquet host not to invite only his wealthy friends and relatives to dinner, in the hope that they will return the favor. He tells him instead to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” (Luke 14:13)

You might recall that later in the gospel of Luke, in chapter 18, Jesus said to His disciples, “Suffer little children to come unto me …” (Luke 18:16) when the disciples tried to forbid children from approaching Him. He was famously friendly to the outcasts of His time – tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman officers, even the hated Samaritans.

You get the idea. In Jesus’ words and in His actions, we discern a single message: God may have a different idea about a human being’s value than society does. The little children, the lepers, the last in society’s eyes — these are first in God’s eyes.

All of us can learn a lesson from these words: Care for those around you, especially those who are most in need. This is one of the foundations of a strong community based on caring and shared responsibility for one another’s well-being. The Kingdom of God has many bridges, but not so many fences.

I hope that those of us who are connected to UVA can hear this message and take it to heart. Many in this community are still grappling with the aftermath of Yeardley Love’s death last spring, and aching from the loss of a young woman so full of promise. As we begin a new academic year, we are continuing conversations that began in the wake of Yeardley’s death.

We have scheduled a Day of Dialogue for Friday, Sept. 24. It will be a day of open and vigorous discussion about violence, violence prevention, and campus safety. Our goal is to create a caring community, one whose members recognize their shared responsibility for each other. I hope all of you who are able to participate will do so.

UVA students have launched another initiative with a similar purpose. You may have heard, or you may soon hear, about the “Get Grounded Coalition.” Composed of student-run organizations, the coalition is working to create a culture of shared responsibility on the Grounds — to teach all of us to be vigilant and to look out for each other’s well-being.

We want to challenge the so-called “bystander behavior” that may cause students and others to stand aside and remain passive in potentially dangerous situations, either because they don’t recognize the situation as problematic or because they don’t believe it’s their responsibility to take action. We want each of us to take ownership of this community and to help take care of everyone in it.

Today’s reading from the epistle to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) The King James Version of the same verse says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Ask yourself this question: If you happened to encounter an angel unawares, how would you treat him or her? What if this angel-in-disguise were a stranger, or someone who looks different from you, or someone who is on the low end of the socio-economic ladder, or someone suffering from physical or mental distress?

This morning, let’s affirm our commitment to caring for every member of this community every day. Let’s make this promise to ourselves and to each other. Let’s promise not to stand by when someone else needs help. Let’s promise to take responsibility for each other. Let’s promise to show hospitality and kindness to everyone around us — even the strangers, who, for all we know, might be angels.

Your neighbors might not exalt you for taking such responsibility. Your friends might criticize you. But building a community of caring is a very positive long-term investment. Jesus promises the reward at the resurrection of the just. And then we might hear that Voice, familiar to us even though we have never heard it before, saying to us, “Friend, move up higher.”

God bless you. And God bless the University of Virginia.
Photos by Bonny Bronson

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inclusion: It's about mission

We often hear that the effort toward full inclusion of lesbian gay bisexual transexual (LGBT) people in the church is causing some people to leave the church.

What we don't hear much about is how inclusion is attracting new people, especially those who feel on the fringes, or alienated, or who have never been a part of a faith community.

The Rev. Susan Russell, who is one of the guiding forces of Integrity, the organization that has worked for years for inclusion, wrote this the other day on her blog about a meeting in Phoenix of the Episcopal Church Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music. A friend of mine said this is item from Susan is a show stopper, and it is. And I am proud to know most of the people in the photo (SCLM Task Force Team: Patrick Malloy, Susan Russell, Thad Bennett, Ruth Meyers (chair), Jay Johnson).

Here is an excerpt from Susan's blog:

From An Inch at A Time...
A Missional Moment (AKA "Dessert with a side of Evangelism")
By Susan Russell
The conversation in the room was lively and energetic – and at the end of the session Bishop Kee Sloan (Bishop Suffragan, Alabama and a member of the SCLM) invited those who wanted to continue the conversation with us to grab some lunch after Eucharist and come back to the plenary room. About a dozen folks chose to do that and we had a great opportunity to clarify some questions, engage in some very interesting dialogue and get feedback on both process and content.

One comment that really stood out for me was a bishop’s challenge to us to add “Missional” to the list of opportunities the blessing of same sex relationships offers the church – a list that already included “Sacramental” and “Eschatological.” And of course I agree. This work isn’t just about the couples whose relationships will be blessed. It’s also about the mission of the church that will be blessed by a more expansive opportunity to incarnate God’s inclusive love.

I had no idea how soon we would get a chance to experience one of those missional opportunities in action.

So – having concluded the presentation part of the day we had a late lunch and then took some time out (AKA “naps!") and then reconvened to debrief our work over dinner in the hotel dining room. There was a lot to talk about – and we settled into a long, lively dinner that included a dessert course with a side order of evangelism as three young hotel staff members came up to the table and individually engaged with us about the work the Episcopal Church is doing.

The first one was a waiter – “Michael” – who said as a gay man it had never occurred to him that there were churches that would welcome him rather than condemn him. He thanked us for giving him hope that he hadn’t imagined he’d ever have with an earnestness that was deeply moving.

A few minutes later “Amanda” … our waitress … came up to the table to say that she’d encouraged Michael to come talk to us because she’d found him crying in the kitchen after listening to our conversations. She was raised Catholic but it “didn’t fit” anymore and she wanted to know where she should go to find an Episcopal Church. I gave her my card and told her to email me and I’d hook her up with folks in Phoenix.

The third was “Vanessa” … their supervisor … who thanked us for connecting with them and told us about her experience of finally finding a church home that helped her claim a relationship with God … and then being devastated when that church family rejected her gay friend. She’s going to email me, too.

It blew us away.

While we were obsessing about perfecting PowerPoint slides and refining our messaging about the SCLM project, these earnest young people responded to the few crumbs of conversation they overheard at our dinner table like they were starving for hope. And if those crumbs gave them that hope and energy – and gave them the courage to come up to a table full of “church people” and say, “Wow … we want to know more about what you’re talking about!” then imagine how they and countless others like them are yearning for the banquet we set every time we gather to witness to God’s inclusive love.

It is about mission.

It is about the building of the Body.

And it is about the vocation of the Episcopal Church to be the voice of love, justice and compassion to ALL those yearning for what Michael and Amanda and Vanessa came looking for at our dinner table last night.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A tiny tear, a loss, the beloved in us is born

Life comes with tears. Life does not shelter us from the pain of loss, or the emptiness of unfairness. But without tears, we wouldn't understand life. We would be a shell, closed, hidden, trapped inside ourselves, dead.

Here is a gift from our friend Karen in Tennessee that captures this better than I can explain it:
Some say you're lucky
By Gregory Orr‏

Some say you're lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn't
Understand poems or songs.
You'd never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It's deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It's one of the places
Where the beloved is born.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rekindling Our Light: We are responsible for the world

Last evening we hosted Rekindling Our Light, an interfaith prayer service in remembrance of victims of domestic violence, especially women students. We gathered, we lit candles, we prayed, we sang, we sat in silence.

I found the experience incredibly powerful and spiritually moving. I am grateful so many students attended, and I am grateful to The Rev. Ann Willms and United Ministries for organizing it.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus came together to offer prayers, each in their own tradition. We remembered the murder of Yeardley Love, a 4th year student who was murdered last year allegedly by her boyfriend.

We remembered Morgan Harrington, a student from Virginia Tech who turned up killed, left in a remote field, after a rock concert here in Charlottesville.

We remembered many others.

We prayed for peace, we prayed for an end to all forms of violence, and we asked for forgiveness for our neglect, our ambivalence, our ignorance.

My friend Jake Rubin, the rabbi with the Brody Jewish Center at the University of Virginia (Hillel), was with us last night at Rekindling Our Light. Last Saturday marked Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the day of asking for forgiveness. Rabbi jake preached powerfully about domestic violence last Saturday, and I am offering his words to you today. I believe this is an important sermon and I hope you will read it:

Yom Kippur 2010
By Rabbi Jake Rubin
Today as we are fully immersed in a period of self reflection, I want to talk about a difficult subject that affects us all whether we know it or not. There is a line in the Al Het, one of the confessionals we say on Yom Kippur, which says, “For the sin we have committed against you through violence.” Generally we think of UVa as a peaceful place, but we know that this is not always the case. We were reminded of this all too well last year on multiple occasions. Yeardley Love’s murder was certainly the most obvious example of this reality but there are many others.

Though it is not the most pleasant topic, today, I want to talk about intimate partner violence, or sexual assault, and our response to it as a community. Intimate partner violence is a pattern of physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors used by one individual to control another. It includes rape, sexual assault, and physical, emotional or psychological abuse.

This summer in the wake of the Yeardley Love murder, I had the opportunity to participate in a Survivor Support and Ally Training Workshop with the Women’s Center at UVa. Though I certainly knew about Yeardley Love’s case and that intimate partner violence was prevalent on college campuses, I had no idea as to the extent of its prevalence nationally and even more disturbing its prevalence here at UVa. According to national statistics, over the course of four years in college, a woman has a 25% chance of being a victim of sexual assault. That is 1 out of every 4 women. Look around the room. Conservatively there are 80 women here, that means the chances are that 20 of the women here today could be victims of sexual assault.

And just in case you might think that UVa is different than other college campuses, a study done at UVa a few years ago of almost 800 undergraduate female students shows it is actually worse – 29% of those surveyed were victims of rape or of attempted rape and 34% were victims of unwanted sexual contact and these figures probably underestimate the actual rates. In this same study 43% of the sorority members in the study had been raped or had been victims of attempted rape. The primary factor – alcohol and drugs. If these statistics aren’t scary enough, according to this study 61% of perpetrators were boyfriends, dates, or friends. Only 3% of these crimes were carried out by strangers! While I have given you statistics regarding women, it is important to note that men can be the victims of intimate partner violence too.

These numbers were shocking to me and should be disturbing to you. Many times I have heard people and you may be one of them say, “Well that is disturbing, but we don’t have these issues in the Jewish community. “ They and you would be wrong. The Jewish community has the same rates of intimate partner violence as those of other religious groups, somewhere between 15 – 25%. In addition, as full members of the University community and on the most fundamental level, the human community, this problem is all of ours together to confront.

On Yom Kippur, we say multiple confessionals that are laundry lists of the sins that we have committed throughout the year. All of these confessionals end with a –nu ending, ahsamnu, bagadnu, or al het shechatanu. This ending is the plural - meaning we have sinned not I have sinned. As I mentioned last night, this is to emphasize that even if we have not committed these sins ourselves, we have a responsibility as a community to ensure that these things do not happen under our watch.

To underscore just how important this communal responsibility is in Judaism, there is a rabbinic principle that a person cannot be put to death for a capital offense unless there were two witnesses who each prior to the capital offense warned the perpetrator that what they were about to do was punishable by death. From this we learn that it is the community’s responsibility to stand up and stay stop. It is our responsibility to make sure that intimate partner violence is not happening within our own community.

There are two other important Jewish values at play in this conversation. The first is b’tzelem elohim, or the idea that we are all created in the image of G-d. This is a core principle in Judaism, and it emphasizes the inherent worth of each and every person. We are to treat every person we meet, whether we know them intimately or not, as if there were divinity within them. We honor human beings as holy, we treat them with respect, we do not abuse them. To commit acts of violence against another human is deface the likeness of G-d.

This value of humans as created in the image of G-d should be understood in another way too. That is, we not only must treat others with respect but we also must honor ourselves. This means we have to respect ourselves enough to know that no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship. Each one of us has an inherent worth and nobody, nobody, should think that they are somehow at fault for being abused or that they deserve to be abused. There are so many resources in Charlottesville and at UVa for anyone who is in an abusive relationship – I am here, SARA, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, and the UVa Women’s Center are here too – no one should ever feel alone and like they cannot get help.

The other Jewish value that I believe is central to this discussion is found in Leviticus, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” The rabbis also believed that that if you were responsible for the death of one person, it was as if you destroyed an entire world. Again this underscores the importance of each and every life, but it is also a call to action. We cannot remain silent if we know someone is in danger. If you know someone is in an abusive relationship, Judaism teaches that you must say something. Offer to help get them in touch with someone who can help or share your concern with someone who is in a position to help. This is being an ally, and it is our responsibility as Jews and as humans.

In the coming weeks, we will be bringing in an organization called Jewish Women’s International and they will be providing training on how to recognize abuse and how to be an effective ally. There are also numerous student groups on Grounds that you can get involved with that work to raise awareness for this cause. Please keep your eyes open for this programming and attend these important trainings.

We as a Jewish community have an imperative to do tikkun olam, to repair the brokenness in our world. One of the most powerful illustrations of this idea is found in today’s haftarah in the book of Isaiah. In the haftarah Isaiah tells the Israelites that Gd doesn’t care if the people fast on Yom Kippur if in their day to day lives they treat people poorly and do not care of for the vulnerable in society. Isaiah speaking for G-d says, “Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed to free, and to break every cruel chain. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked, to clothe them, and never to hide yourself from your own kin?” The message is clear actions speak louder than words. We can pray all we want on this day or any other, but if it is not coupled with action we are not truly doing tikkun olam.
Sometimes this idea of repairing the world can be a difficult and somewhat daunting task. Where do we begin? How can we help? When we treat each other with respect and honor the divinity within each of us, when we break the silence and stand up for what is right, and when we help someone who is an abusive relationship, we piece by piece begin to repair the brokenness in our world. There is a wonderful rabbinic teaching that says, “We are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it.” Together, as a Jewish community, let’s begin to be allies to those in abusive relationships, let’s make it clear to the University community and to any other community of which we are apart that we will not remain silent while our friends, family, roommates, classmates, partners, or anyone else are being hurt. Shanah tovah.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Please pray for Teresa Lewis, scheduled to be executed Thursday

I would ask your prayers today for Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed Thursday here in Virginia for the murders of her husband and his son in an insurance scam. I would also ask your prayers for Governor Robert McDonnell, who has declined to commute her sentence to life in prison.

This has become an emotional issue on all sides in recent days. Lewis, who is mentally retarded, was convicted of being the "mastermind" in the murders. The two men who carried out the killings were given life sentences.

The Washington Post wrote a factual story on the case over the weekend, which you can read HERE. I also wrote about this case a few weeks ago on this blog, which you can read HERE.

The Episcopal Church has taken a consistent stand against capital punishment since 1958, and has reaffirmed that position at several general conventions. You can read a resolution from 1991 by clicking HERE.

This case, I believe, highlights the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I am not an activist on this issue, and I have no intention of becoming one. My own opposition to the death penalty extends beyond the immediate case and to capital punishment generally. I wrote a long reflection about the death penalty last summer, drawing on my own experience with two friends who were viciously murdered. You can read that by clicking HERE.

The Washington DC Peace Center is publicizing many vigils around the state on Thursday. There will be a vigil in front of the Charlottesville Circuit Court, at 315 East High Street, at 12 noon on Thursday. For more information, click HERE.

I would again plead that the governor show mercy and that we keep him in our prayers. You can email the governor by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photos from our Centennial Sunday celebration

Here are a few spectacular photographs of our Centennial Sunday celebration, taken by Dudley Rochester. Enjoy

The Rev. Ann Willms, celebrant

Our magnificent choir.

Our acolytes lead the way.

Holding court with admirers.

Lunch is served.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Monday Funnies

Once again it is time for a few laughs at the expense of organized -- and disorganized -- religion. May your Monday be not too stressful, may your boss smile at you, and may you speed your way home at the end of the day, but avoid the long arm of the law on the way. Here also are a couple of church signs for your consideration. Enjoy the Monday funnies. . .

* * *
A pastor, known for his lengthy sermons, noticed a man get up and leave during the
middle of his message. The man returned just before the conclusion of the service. Afterwards the pastor asked the man where he had gone.

"I went to get a haircut," was the reply.

"But," said the pastor, "why didn't you do that before the service?"

"Because," the gentleman said, "I didn't need one then."
* * *
Joe Smith climbs to the top of Mt. Sinai to get close enough to talk to God.
Looking up, he asks the Lord, "God, what does a million years mean to you?"

The Lord replies, "A minute."

Smith asks, "And what does a million dollars mean to you?"

The Lord replies, "A penny."

Smith asks, "Lord, can I have a penny?"

The Lord replies, "In a minute."
* * *
THE LORD'S PRAYER (Laodicean Version)

Our Grandfather, who art in heaven, special be thy name,
Thy candy come, thy will be changed, on earth as in our wishful thinking.
Give us this day our daily cake;
And wink at our trespasses, as we wink at ourselves when we trespass
against others;
And lead us not into commitment, but deliver us from dedication.
For thine is the lap, and the chuckle, and the pat on the head, forever and
You bet!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Our Centennial Sunday and the Cornerstone of Faith: Recommitting ourselves to prayer, listening and compassion

Today is our Centennial Sunday, celebrating the first Holy Communion service on our corner. The building is not the same as 100 years ago, and much else has changed. But the cornerstone of our faith is still the same and sustains us still.

We are going off the lectionary today, and instead using the biblical readings used at the dedication of the building in 1927. We aren't sure what was read in 1910, but they might well have been repeated at the 1927 service. Those readings are: Joel 2:23-28, Psalm 122, Ephesians 2:13-22, and John 17:20-26.

Here is my sermon from today marking our Centennial:

* * *

Centennial Sunday: Sept. 19, 2010
By The Rev. James Richardson

Today, we tell a story.
The story begins at the time of Creation, and continues through the time of Moses, and the time of Jesus and Saint Paul. The story continues into the ages beyond. Today we pause at the year 1910 for a few moments.
The year 1910:
The Campfire Girls and Yellow Cab are founded.
John D. Rockefeller is the richest man in the world.
President William Howard Taft is the first president to throw out a baseball on opening day.
Comet Halley is visible on clear nights.
Henry Ford has been mass-producing automobiles for two years, but most people still travel by horse and buggy.
If you want to get more than a few miles from here, you take the train. Airplanes have been invented but the first will not fly over Charlottesville for another two years.
The nation is at peace, but not for much longer.
The Civil War is a live memory and still an open wound. Racial segregation is the law of the land in much of our nation, but not in Charlottesville, not yet. Still a social custom, legal racial segregation will be adopted two years later.
In 1910, the University of Virginia is 91 years old. Repairs to the Rotunda, damaged in a fire, have been finished for several years now.
The only students are white men. The first black man will be admitted in 1951. Not until 1970 will there be undergraduate women of any color.
In 1910, the university announces that regular Sunday services in the chapel for students will cease, setting off in earnest the effort to build an Episcopal church across the street: this parish church.
And so, on this weekend in 1910, St. Paul’s Memorial Church holds its first worship service on this holy ground, presided over by The Rev. Hugh McIlhany, the founding rector, and The Rev. Harry Lee, the rector of Christ Church, from the other side of town.
The men and women who founded this church were bold.
Today we honor them for their vision and their sacrifice, and we honor all those who came after them. We honor all of you who still come through these doors because the story of St. Paul’s Memorial Church is still being written, and you are the ones writing it.
We don’t know what biblical lessons they read on this Sunday a century ago. We do know what they read in 1927 at the dedication of this building, and so we are reading those lessons today.
From the Hebrew Scriptures, they hear, and we hear, the Prophet Joel proclaim the dreams of his ancestors:
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men (and women) shall dream dreams, and your young men (and women) see visions.”
And from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, they hear, and we hear, about the living cornerstone of the church:
“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
And from the Gospel of John, they hear, and we hear, this powerful theme of unity:
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that may be one, as we are one, I in them an you in me.”
The dreams that built this place remain our project as much as those who came before us. Bishop Robert Gibson, upon his election as bishop of Virginia in 1897, said one of his most important goals was the founding of a parish at the University of Virginia.
But that dream was very hard born.
From the beginning, this parish was a project of the Diocese of Virginia. But the participation of the diocese, with its own trials and tribulations, waxed and waned, as did its financial support to the project.
St. Paul’s was held together by the vision of a handful of people and especially a group of generous Charlottesville women who shared the vision to build a parish that would serve not themselves but the larger community of the University of Virginia and all who came here from everywhere.

The first Holy Communion was held in a temporary wooden building on this corner on September 18, 1910. The building wasn’t finished on that first Sunday – the windows still had no glass, and the doorframes had no doors.
The founding rector, Mr. McIlhany, used his two hands to help build that first wooden building.
The church had no proper cross at the altar, so the day before the first worship service he built the small wooden cross that we display today in front of the Holy Table.
Tragedy loomed. A few days after the first service, Mr. McIlhany died from blood poisoning. He was 36 years old and left a wife and five children.
It is said that he may have stepped on a nail while working on the building, or snagged himself building the cross.
The temporary wooden building would remain on this site for 17 years. The building where you now sit was dedicated on this weekend in 1927, so this Sunday is a double anniversary.
It was built after a nationwide fund-raising campaign drawing attention to the need to build a church dedicated to UVA students – the “boys” as the bishop at the time put it. It took many years, and many blueprints, before this church where you now sit was built.
The parish’s third rector, The Rev. Noble Powell, and a committee of six leaders, traveled the country raising funds and raising the profile of this parish. They garnered newspaper articles in many cities and that generated contributions from all over the country. This parish became a project of the entire Episcopal Church.
In a very real sense, this parish belongs to the entire Episcopal Church – we have no right to call this ours alone. It is profoundly appropriate that we began our centennial year with a three-day visit from the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who challenged us once again to "be bold."
From the start, Bishop Gibson's vision of this parish was outward, because the vision of the great university across the street was outward.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned the University of Virginia as serving not just this town, and not just a single state, but the entire United States of America. He hoped it would be a national university.
The vision of St. Paul’s Memorial Church is inextricably linked to Jefferson’s larger vision. It is therefore very appropriate that a few weeks ago, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new president of the university, addressed us in this pulpit and called us to create a more caring community not just for ourselves, but for all who live, study and work here.
The University of Virginia is a public university, supported by the taxpayers, and it serves all people of every background, every race, every religion and no religion at all. And so, too, must this parish be a House of Prayer for all people. We must take a stand against all forms of intolerance, especially intolerance of religions not our own.
This Wednesday night we will host an interfaith prayer service to remember the victims of domestic violence, especially young women students, and we will have leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities in attendance. I hope you will come.
That is who we are and how we got here. But where do we go in the next 100 years, or even just in the next year?
That is the daunting question I’ve been thinking about as this centennial year has unfolded.
I must admit I am tempted to lay out a new ambitious ministry program, or a big community outreach project, or begin a major capital fundraising campaign.
I am sorely tempted to talk about the themes of transforming the church that Sam Lloyd, the dean of the National Cathedral, talked so eloquently about last Sunday.
All of those topics must be in the forefront our conversation as a parish. But today, I want to touch on something much more basic, the foundation – the cornerstone – upon which this parish is built: A relationship with the Risen Christ of Easter, as individuals, and as a community of faith.
And so, dear people of God, today on this Centennial Sunday of our parish, I am calling upon us to be in a deeper place of prayer, a deeper place of listening, and a deeper place of compassion.
We must begin anew by recommitting ourselves to prayer as a way of life, not just an activity on Sunday when the weather and academic schedule cooperate. It is about being participants in our faith, not just consumers of religious products.
Our prayer starts in the story of our Jewish roots, the story we remember again at the Holy Table – the Altar – of our Holy Eucharist.
The Jewish way of prayer is to bring our every waking moment, our every action, our every word into our prayer, for God is always with us, God is our strength, God is our refuge, and as the psalmist says, the quietness within our walls.
Pray for peace, pray for justice, pray for healing, pray for this earth, our fragile island home.
Let each of us become more intentional in our personal prayers, bringing prayer into our whole body, mind and soul – into our whole being.
Let us as a faith community recommit ourselves to the prayers and the breaking of the bread that we share together through our baptismal covenant that we will renew again together in a few minutes.
And let us recommit ourselves to gathering here in this sacred place each and every Sunday.
We come with open questions in our prayers. We don’t pretend to know all the answers. All of us are seekers.
I recently saw a church sign that said “He lives! He reigns! End of discussion!” Well, for us, that is the beginning of our discussion. Let us recommit ourselves to open conversation beginning with the openness of our prayer.
With prayer and conversation must come listening. Deep, long, listening for the whisper of God in our lives. I am convinced God makes known many things if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Not all prayer is with words, and God will come to us beyond words, in many ways, in many places.
Sometimes we will experience God in the most surprising moments, the most unlikely corners of life, and in the most unexpected people.
We will experience God in each other, and that must bring us to compassion. We are called to be compassionate people beyond our walls and within our walls. That is an extraordinarily difficult challenge.
We are called not just to welcome those who come through our door, but to inviting acts of compassion.
We are called to radical inclusive hospitality beginning with our family and friends, and reaching out into the community to children and teenagers, university students, working people, young adults, boomers, and Generation Wise.
Our compassion must reach singles, marrieds, straight people and gay people, immigrants, homeless people, rich people, Virginians, New Yorkers, and even a stray Californian or two.
And we are called to be compassionate with each other here in this place, and not just in a crisis, not just when someone goes to the hospital or is out of work.
We are called to be compassionate with each other in our every day life, in the way we talk to each other, in our attitude and in our email. Snideness, gossip, cutting remarks about others, have no place in a compassionate life.
Compassion means we give each other a little slack and the benefit of the doubt. We are called to be a little less critical and a little more patient and forgiving, not just of the big stuff, but the little stuff.
This kind of compassion requires giving of our whole being; giving as a way of life. We are called to get our hands dirty, not just come up with ideas for other people to do.
We are called to give, and not just our spare change, but the first fruits of our labor, our experience, our money. I hope and pray this faith community is more than just a charity to you, but is central to your life, and therefore is central to your financial giving.
It is not a question of “giving back to God” because it all belongs to God anyway. Rather, it is a question of turning our prayers, our listening and our compassion into reality, and we do that with our giving.
None of this is possible without the cornerstone of our faith:

Christ Jesus who walked among us as a human being, fully divine, fully human -- a mystery -- and who died on the Cross to show us a way beyond the Cross, and who dwells here with us at our table, and in our life together.
We are his hands and feet here on this corner of the world. You and I are the builders of the Kingdom of God.
Today is a day to give thanks for God’s loving providence in this parish, and to give thanks for the sacrifices of so many people who created and sustained this parish through days of plenty and days of want.
And so, on this our Centennial Sunday, we proclaim, as our patron, Saint Paul, proclaims:
“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
With the thanks to the people of St. Paul's, and to Paula Kettlewell for her history of St. Paul's Memorial Church.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

You are invited to our Centennial celebration Sunday

St. Paul's Memorial Church
This Sunday
September 19, at 10:00 a.m.

A Service of
Rededication and Celebration
of 100 Years of Ministry

St. Paul's Memorial Church

You are Invited to Join in a Very Special Day
Celebrating 100 Years of Ministry

St. Paul’s Memorial Church
At the University of Virginia

Followed by

A Festive Parish Lunch

Food and Fun for all ages

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur and our own atonement as Christians

Tonight at sundown begins Yom Kippur, the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, the day to ask God's forgiveness and to forgive all those who have wronged us.

Christian concepts of Lent and atonement come directly from these ancient Jewish theological concepts, and some might argue (as I would) that we ought to understand these Hebrew concepts to better understand our own.

To do that, I would also argue, requires our own atonement for the terrible atrocities committed by Christianity and Christians against Judaism and Jews for two millennia. The Nazis were not Christians, but there is a direct line from the anti-semitism of popes and Martin Luther to the genocide of the Holocaust. Christian bigotry made it possible.

Below is a commentary posted today by Stanley Abramovitch on CNN's website. Mr. Abramovitch was born in Poland, and he lost his mother and two brothers in the Holocaust. He worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for 63 years before retiring in 2008 and he continues to consult for the organization. Mr. Abramovitch is seated second from the right in the photo above. This is a tough read, but I commend it to you today:

My Faith: Yom Kippur 1945, in a camp for Holocaust survivors

By Stanley Abramovitch, Special to CNN

In October 1945, I spent Yom Kippur in the displaced persons camp in Landsberg in Bavaria, Germany, as the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), working with displaced persons.

The liberated Jews who had been imprisoned in the nearby Dachau concentration camp, as well as those who had been forced to work in ammunition and other factories in Bavaria, were gathered into Landsberg and nearby Feldafing camps. Many Jews from other concentration camps had been forced-marched to this part of Germany, where the U.S. Army liberated them.

In Landsberg there was a spacious German Army barracks confiscated by the U.S. Army, in which some of the liberated Jews were housed. Basic food and medical care were provided by the Army, supplemented by assistance from JDC.

The Jews elected a committee which assumed responsibility for the internal administration of the camp. Synagogues were organized for the high holidays by different groups, often on the basis of the origin of the participants. There was a synagogue for Jews from Poland, another for Hungarian and Lithuanian Jews.

Smaller groups - Hasidic Jews or those from Marmarosh, an area on the border of Rumania spilling into Hungary and Slovakia - had their own places of prayer.

I attended morning services in the synagogue for Polish Jews. The prayers were charged with emotion, very moving, very painful. The tears shed came from the depths of their hearts, mourning those who were lost, murdered in the camps. It was rare to find among those present individuals whose siblings or more distant family members had survived.

The older generation was almost not there. They were the first victims, since they lacked the physical strength to withstand the horrors of the camps. Few children survived. They, too, succumbed quickly. The survivors prayed, remembered, wept and found a little comfort in those tears.

After morning prayers, I decided to visit other synagogues and spend some time with other groups. I left the synagogue and walked across the half empty streets. There were many people who remained in the street and refused to attend services. They were angry at G-d.

Among them were formerly religious Jews who could not accept the apparent indifference of G-d to the suffering; the torture, and the tragedy they had both witnessed and experienced in their homes and in the camps.

They could not reconcile their former beliefs and convictions of an All-Merciful, Almighty Divine Being, with the catastrophe that had struck their communities. They would not pray. When they heard the recitation of the Kaddish, the special prayer of mourners expressing praise of the Lord, they reacted angrily that G-d did not deserve the Kaddish.

They were broken in spirit. They could not reconcile recent events to which they were witnesses with the contents of the Hebrew prayers.

These Jews roamed the streets. They wanted to express their anger, to show G-d that they defied Him, as he seemed to have abandoned them. Some ate their food on the fast day publicly in the streets, as a gesture of defiance – of revolt.

In one of the streets, I saw a large group of people standing in a circle. I approached nearer to find out what was going on.

In the middle of the circle stood a seven-year-old girl, embarrassed, perplexed. She could not understand why all these people stood around her.

She, of course, could not know that they were surprised to find a Jewish child. So they stood, silently, and just looked at this miracle of a Jewish child in their midst. They could not tear themselves away from this one child who said nothing and to whom nothing was said. They just stood and gaped.

A special prayer is normally recited on Yom Kippur for the departed members of one's family. It's called Yizkor, the memorial prayer.

As those people looked at the little girl, they remembered their own children, or their younger brothers and sisters, the nephews and nieces who at one time were their pride and joy, and who were no more. Each one of them looked and remembered, recalled the beloved children who were cruelly exterminated.

As they remembered, they recited without any words the Yizkor for all those who once were part of their lives and now were gone forever. This was a silent, most moving Yizkor, without words, without prayer books, recited in that street in Landsberg, by a group of Jewish survivors, watching a bewildered little Jewish girl.

It was the most moving, most eloquent, most heartfelt, most silent Yizkor I have ever heard.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Grape harvest, difficult terrain, being in a luminous world

Where I come from, Northern California, the grape harvest will soon be underway. The vintage in Napa Valley this year is said to be "tricky" because of cool weather and a lack of rain.

There are quite a few wineries in this part of Virginia, and anyone who can grow decent grapes in this climate gets my deepest respect. I had a glass of a Cabernet Franc the other night with grapes grown at Monticello, and it was fruity and pleasant.

The grape harvest represents the livelihoods of thousands of people, from immigrant grape pickers to wine moguls, and many people in between. Image aside, not everyone gets rich off wine.

Wine, of course, is rich with symbols. Drops of wine are used at Passover to symbolize the passage from captivity to freedom. Jesus at the Last Supper asks us to remember him in the cup wine he shares with his disciples. When we drink of the cup, the memory of that supper long ago becomes our memory. We drink deeply of God's saving grace. We drink deeply of life.

Our friend Karen from Tennessee sent this poem the other day. I like it a lot.
The Cornucopia
By Arthur Sze

Grapes grow up a difficult and
sloped terrain. A soft line of poplars
shimmer in the disappearing light.
At midnight, the poor move
into the train stations of Italy ,
spread out blankets for the children,
and pretend to the police they have tickets
and are waiting for a train.

The statue of Bacchus is a contrast
with his right hand holding a shallow but
wine-brimming cup. His left hand
reaches easily into the cornucopia
where grapes ripen and burst open.
It is a vivid dream: to wake
from the statue's grace and life force
to the suffering in the streets.

But the truth is the cornucopia
is open to all who are alive,
who look and feel the world in
its pristine beauty -- as a dragonfly
hovering in the sunlight over clear
water; and who feel the world
as a luminous world -- as green plankton
drifting at night in the sea.
My photos, Napa Valley, June 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Church: Refuge from change?

Here is an old joke:

Question: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Change?

Yesterday I mentioned the work of Diana Butler Bass and her observations about how churches must change to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I'd like to continue that conversation with an excerpt from her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us (p. 24). I hope you find this thought-provoking, even provocative:
"I have often heard people remark that churches do not like change, that they provide refuge from change, or that they resist change. Some Christians today fear cultural change, opting instead to make pronouncements about a God who is 'the same yesterday, today, forever' and insisting that they alone know the way to and the mind of God. Christianity, they say, is not about change. Christianity is old-time religion. They build churches to protect people from change, often in anonymous, suburban, gated spiritual communities, where they recreate a vision of some cherished Christian past. They venture out into the world to try and force the rest of us back to the perfect world of their fathers.
I cannot figure this out. In the New Testament, Jesus asks everyone to change. With the exception of children, Jesus insists that every person he meets do something and change. The whole message of the Christian scripture is based on the idea of metanoia, the change of heart that happens when we meet God face-to-face. Even a cursory knowledge of history reveals that Christianity is a religion about change."
This weekend we will mark our 100th birthday as a parish. In the days and weeks ahead, I want to invite you into a conversation about the challenges of the next 100 years, and how we must consider change in our parish and in the Episcopal Church. This conversation, of course, is already under way, and has been for some time.

The "listening" meetings that Bishop Shannon Johnston is sponsoring (see below) is part of a wider conversation about change; it is a conversation about much more than a single issue (same-gender blessings) but about how God is calling us to shape the church for the next generation and the generations after that.

We must also be in this conversation about change at St. Paul's. The conversation will comein many forums, formal and informal. I have a few ideas about how we can have this conversation, and I will say more about that in coming days and weeks. And I invite your comments on this blog.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Letter from Bishop Shannon Johnston to the Diocese of Virginia

Bishop Shannon Johnston sent a letter this morning to our diocese about his upcoming "listening" meetings on the topic of same-gender blessings. The letter speaks for itself. He also mentions the R-14 Task Force that is shaping recommended guidelines for such blessings; I am serving on that task force, and I invite your participation in these meetings and your respectful dialogue in this space.

Here is Bishop Johnston's letter:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dear Diocesan Family,

Five listening sessions will be held across the diocese over the next several weeks entitled "Listen and Be Heard: Faithful Sexuality and the Blessing of Same-Gender Unions." Ever since these forums were first announced, I have heard a variety of responses. I have heard from people who feel that this is all about liberalism and who simply cannot believe that we would even have such discussions in the first place. At the same time, I have heard from others who feel that this is all about stalling and who simply cannot believe that we are having yet more talk. Very many of you are uncomfortable with extreme positions and describe yourselves as being "in the middle" with understanding and sympathies for both sides. Many others are largely confused in profoundly mixed feelings. It is also my experience that a large number of you feel that you have not had the opportunity to be heard and to listen on these issues in a safe environment.

Such a range of positions and experience is itself the reason why we need to go about this conversation in a different way. As the Church, the Body of Christ, we certainly must be able to come together in good faith and good will in order to engage and understand one another, if only to agree to disagree.

So I want to clarify for you what these listening sessions are and what they are not. First, I know that from 2003 we have some very painful history of such sessions in our diocese. At that time, we experienced a substantial amount of inappropriate anger. That history began to heal with the successful and much appreciated Town Hall meetings last year. Allow me to ask each one of you personally to help us continue that good work for the good of all. I believe that the listening process we are going to undertake should prevent a repeat of that difficult chapter.

The bulk of the time will be in small groups in which each person present will have the opportunity to speak and be heard in answer to specific questions about faithful sexuality and the blessings of same gender unions. I have asked that the information be gathered in a way that I can use it as a reference in leadership as your bishop. The opinions expressed in all groups will be posted for all to see and consider by the evening's end. I will study your comments very carefully, as will the Standing Committee. I need to hear from you, and you should be assured to know that you are, by this process, reaching your diocesan leadership in a truly meaningful way.

The focus of these sessions is to listen and to be heard; it is not on convincing, cajoling, or changing one another's minds. These forums will not be open-microphone crossfire debates, nor will they be voting sessions. I will speak at the end of each session about what I heard during the session and share a small piece of my journey with these issues.

Why are these listening sessions necessary, and why should you attend? These sessions are truly intended to be what the title suggests - a time to listen to one another. The people of the Diocese of Virginia have been grappling with issues of human sexuality for over 30 years. During much of that time, however, diocesan conversations took place in task groups or dialogue groups that were appointed for that purpose. The conversations have not always taken place more widely and have not always included the people in the pews of our congregations. It is my desire to broaden the conversation and to give every person in our diocese an opportunity to speak and to be heard on the important matters of faithful sexuality.

I also want to make clear that these sessions are separate and distinct from the work the R-14s Task Group is doing. You may remember that Council passed a resolution that requested that I empanel a group of clergy and lay people, including lawyers and experts on canon law, to recommend consistent standards should services of blessing same-gender unions be authorized at some point. I appointed the requested group in the spring of this year and they have been working faithfully to prepare their report for the Executive Board. The timing of this work parallels the listening sessions, but the work is not tied together. Please be assured that the listening sessions are not simply for show. I am committed to ensuring this process is authentic. (You can find the full text of the resolution at:

The schedule of these sessions is:

Wednesday, September 29, Calvary Church, Front Royal, 7-9 p.m.

Wednesday, October 13, St. Paul's, Ivy, 7-9 p.m.

Wednesday, October 27, St. Alban's, Annandale, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, November 3, St. John's, Tappahannock, 4:00-6:00 p.m.

Wednesday, November 17, Christ Church, Glen Allen, 7-9 p.m.

In closing, I strongly believe these forums have the potential of forging a new way for the Diocese of Virginia to be together in contentious times. I look forward to undertaking this vitally important work with you, and I remain confident that God's grace will prevail upon us and upon our common life as a diocese.

Faithfully yours in Christ,


Shannon Sherwood Johnston

Bishop of Virginia

Ten Shifts for a 21st Century Church

This past Sunday we were treated to a terrific sermon by The Very Rev. Dr. Samuel Lloyd, the dean of the National Cathedral. His roots are here at St. Paul's Memorial Church where he was an associate rector many years ago, and in my opinion that gave him great credibility to talk about how the church-writ-large is changing and how we must also change.

You can listen to his sermon by clicking HERE, and we will post the text when we get a copy.

Sam drew on the work of Diana Butler Bass, who I also highly commend (let me recommend her book Christianity for the Rest of Us). In his sermon, Sam talked about her contention that the Church must make ten shifts to remain (or become) vibrant and vital in the lives of people in the 21st century. Sam talked about the five of the shifts in his sermon, and the other five at a forum after the service. He gave us much to talk about, and I invite your discussion on these points here and in person.

Here is an outline of the 10 shifts for a 21st century church:

1. From a club to a movement.

2. From tourist to pilgrim.

3. From welcoming to inviting.

4. From open doors to hospitality to the stranger.

5. From privacy to testimony.

6. From compassion to justice.

7. From pew rent to sacrificial giving.

8. From saying prayers to praying.

9. From education to formation.

10. From attending church to adoration.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Monday Funnies

I ran across a few lame jokes the other day, all of them at the expense of church life. May your work week begin with a smile. Enjoy the Monday Funnies. . .

At the Wedding

Attending a wedding for the first time, a little girl whispered to her mother, "Why is the bride dressed in white?"

"Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life."

The child thought about this for a moment, then said "So why is the groom wearing black?"

New in Church

After the service a young couple talked to a church member about joining the church. He hadn't met the husband before, and he asked what church he was transferring from.

After a short hesitation, he replied,"I am transferring from the Municipal Golf Course."

The Sermon

A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, "Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?"

The Boasting Boys

Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, "My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50."

The second boy says, "That's nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100."

The third boy says, "I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon. And it takes eight people to collect all the money!"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dean of the National Cathedral to preach today at St. Paul's Memorial Church: Please join us

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd

Guest Preacher The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Dean of the National Cathedral

This Sunday, September 12 at 10:00 am

followed by a Q & A forum in the church

The Very Rev. Dr. Samuel T. Lloyd III was installed as the ninth dean of Washington National Cathedral on April 23, 2005, charged with leadership of what is widely referred to as “the national house of prayer.”

Dean Lloyd began his ministry as an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in the early 1980s while also serving as assistant to the rector and chaplain at St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville.

Dean Lloyd holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia. He also holds an M.A. degree in English Literature from Georgetown University and received his B.A. from the University of Mississippi. He has received honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees from the University of the South and Virginia Theological Seminary.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering September 11, and giving thanks for St. Paul's Chapel in New York

Today we remember the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. For many it is as raw as it was that day.

Since then, nothing has been built at "Ground Zero" in New York to replace the twin towers, and the site is has taken on the trappings of early church shrines to martyrs. It is sad but not surprising that the proposal to build an Islamic Center two blocks from the site has taken on major religious and political baggage for so many.

What many don't know is that there already is a house of prayer -- a church -- at Ground Zero, St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel. It is called a "chapel" because it is satellite of Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, probably the wealthiest church in the country because it owns much of lower Manhattan.

St. Paul's Chapel, opened in 1766, is the oldest building in continuous use in New York. A prominent landmark, the chapel was dwarfed in the 1970s by the World Trade Center just across from the graveyard.

When the towers crashed, and other buildings collapsed, the graveyard was covered with debris and the pulverized remains of those who died in the towers -- but somehow St. Paul's Chapel remained standing. To read more about St. Paul's Chapel, click HERE.

In the days following 9/11, St. Paul's
Chapel became a staging center and resting place for rescue workers and those digging out the dead. The work went on for months.

Lori and I spent a day at St. Paul's in April 2002, a few months after the calamity. The work of digging out was still in full swing.

Outside and inside, people built shrines to the dead. The nave was stacked with palettes of bottled water, rescue workers napped in the pews, food was served in a corner. The daily Holy Eucharist went on at the altar amidst everything else.

I wrote this in my notebook on April 26, 2002, the day we were at St. Paul's Chapel:
"St. Paul's was overwhelming, with a shrine to the dead in one corner, and banners on every wall and cards hanging from every pew. Firemen and cops and construction workers were sitting or milling about or eating lunch or catching a nap on a cot. A priest was just beginning the noon Eucharist. The noise was layered and awesome...
The sounds of machinery outside came through the walls. And many inside seemed just very, very weary. Some slumped in pews, some praying, some looking at the ceiling. A group of firemen in full battle gear came in to get water and looked briefly at the prayers then departed...
The sights of hope were everywhere, bursting through and covering walls with banners and signs and cardboard colored paper signed and colored by children from all over the U.S. It was awesome and overwhelming and humbling."

St. Paul's was a holy place filled with holy people. It didn't matter if they were Christians, Jews, Muslims or nothing at all. Religious labels were irrelevant. St. Paul's was a place of prayer, a place of sanctuary and a place of rest for everyone who entered.

A number of my clergy friends took a turn spending a day or a week at the chapel.

Today, let us remember those who died nine years ago; let us remember those who worked tirelessly to relieve the pain of the victims. Let us give thanks for St. Paul's Chapel and all who came through those doors.

And may we have as much charity and equanimity in our hearts for people of all religions as we did then.

Photos from the St. Paul's Chapel website.