Monday, October 31, 2011

The Halloween Edition of the Monday Funnies

What better day than to bring back the Monday Funnies than on Halloween? May you have many treats this week, and watch out for the ghouls. Happy Halloween and welcome to the Monday Funnies . . .

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A tourist in Vienna is going through a graveyard and all of a sudden he hears some music.

No one is around, so he starts searching for the source.

He finally locates the origin and finds it is coming from a grave with a headstone that reads: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827.

Then he realizes that the music is the Ninth Symphony and it is being played backward! Puzzled, he leaves the graveyard and persuades a friend to return with him.

By the time they arrive back at the grave, the music has changed. This time it is the Seventh Symphony, but like the previous piece, it is being played backward.

Curious, the men agree to consult a music scholar. When they return with the expert, the Fifth Symphony is playing, again backward.

The expert notices that the symphonies are being played in the reverse order in which they were composed, the 9th, then the 7th, then the 5th.

By the next day the word has spread and a throng has gathered around the grave. They are all listening to the Second Symphony being played backward.

Just then the graveyard's caretaker ambles up to the group. Someone in the crowd asks him if he has an explanation for the music.

"Oh, it's nothing to worry about" says the caretaker. "He's just decomposing!"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday: Gathering to hear the ancient stories once again

I am not preaching today. We have a guest preacher at 8 am and 10 am, Dr. Margaret Mohrmann, a beloved member of St. Paul's and a professor with the University of Virginia.

At the 5:30 pm worship, Joe Lenow, our ministry intern, will be preaching. I will be at all the services and I am looking forward to hearing them challenge and inspire us.

Our friend Karen from Tennessee sent this along the other day, and I thought it fitting for Sunday and our gathering around the Holy Table to hear once again the ancient story of salvation that is our story, too:

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The World is Not a Courtroom
By Saadi

The world is not a courtroom,
there is no judge, no jury, no plaintiff.

This is a caravan,
filled with eccentric beings
telling wondrous stories about God.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cultivating seeds and new life to come

We awoke this morning to find a light covering of snow on the ground and covering the chicken coop. The snow has come early. It is raining today and the snow will likely disappear before noon.

As this first hint of winter, it is hard to imagine Spring and the new life beyond. But it will come. The seeds are in the ground, and in our hearts, and they will grow if we cultivate them.

In the Daily Office readings this morning, Jesus is back with the seeds again. He tells the oddly strange "mustard seed" parable in Matthew 13:31-35.

It must have been one of his greatest hits, for it appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and in the Gospel of Thomas that was dropped from the canon in the 4th century as the Church decided what would be the New Testament.

If you conclude that Jesus had an inordinate fondness for seeds, you would be right.

The seed story today is about a tiny mustard seed growing into a mighty bush – and is probably the most familiar of all the seed stories.

Maybe too familiar?

What an odd thing to compare the Kingdom of God to seeds, and to the plants and weeds that grow from them. Religious people in the time of Jesus would have been shocked by these stories.

They would expect a holy man like Jesus to give them grandiose religious images like a majestic cedar tree or a marble temple or God riding on a Chariot of Fire.

They would not expect to hear God’s kingdom compared to seeds and weeds. After all, in yesterday's parable, in Matthew 13:24-30,  Jesus said the weeds would be burned. Now he is comparing the Kingdom of God to those very weeds! What is he getting at?

And they certainly would not expect to hear that God’s kingdom is like a mustard bush. I can safely guess that many of those who first heard this story from Jesus would have been mightily offended.
Why? Because a mustard bush is a scourge of the grain fields.

To get the full impact of this parable, it may help you to know something about mustard.
In our time, we consider mustard a delightful condiment, and we cultivate it as an herb. Not so in the time of Jesus.

Mustard was considered a weed, and farmers dreaded it when mustard sprouted in their fields. Mustard weeds could grow the size of a house, and when they did, mustard would take over the neatly cultivated rows of grain.

So when Jesus says the mustard seed grows into a mighty plant with birds nesting in it, he is talking about a shrub considered by many as an unrespectable weed.

Indeed, biblical scholars will tell you that the mustard seed parable is something of an ancient inside joke. Jesus is making fun of the Temple priests who indeed describe the Temple in the grandiose imagery of mighty cedars of Lebanon so large that birds nest in it.

Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God will grow not like a grandiose cedar, but more like a mustard weed from tiny ordinary seeds – seeds that no one usually thinks are useful or important.

The Kingdom of God is mighty, but not the way the Temple priests think.

The kingdom won’t be orderly growing in neat rows. God’s Kingdom is entwined with all the other plants of the field, and nothing will stop these plants from growing. And then this parable gets worse for high-and-mighty Temple crowd.

They must have wondered what kind of farmer would throw seeds everywhere, or mixes all the seeds together with wheat and mustard and thorns and put them on rocky ground and loamy ground?

Farmers don’t do that.

Farmers grow things in neat rows and they do their best to keep the weeds out. Seeds are valuable, and farmers don’t waste them, and certainly don’t mix them together in the fields.

But the farmer of the parable does exactly that – and that is precisely the point Jesus is making with these stories.

The farmer – the God of abundance – has so many seeds, and so many kinds of seeds, that the farmer is not afraid to toss as many around as possible, and get them all jumbled up.

I am absolutely convinced Jesus wants us to go one more step with this: Everyone is included in this great holy mix of seeds that is God’s kingdom, especially people who are considered outcasts like the weeds.

The lowly and unwashed may look like weeds to the world, but to God they are mighty. The meek and the humble of heart shall inherit the earth.

And the sower of these seeds?

The sower is not stingy. The sower has an overabundance of seeds and plants them with abandon.

There is a challenge to us in this. We are being pushed to plant God’s seeds, and plant them extravagantly, on good ground and thorny ground, rocky ground and loamy ground.

We won’t know what will grow until we plant – and what comes of these seeds may not be as we expect. Be ready to be surprised and delighted.

The weeds may be just as beautiful as the orchids, more beautiful than we might ever have imagined.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The wheat and weeds inside all of us

We've had a number of losses lately in the parish. A few reached the end of long fruitful, but others who died young and much too soon. A couple of good friends from the West Coast also have departed this life recently, and much too soon. Many dear ones are are hurting this morning.

I return again in my prayers to sitting by the Sea of Galilee in the morning calmness, looking to make some sense of all this

In the Daily Office lectionary for today, Jesus makes much the same point he made yesterday (see my post below) but he is coming at it from a different direction, and this time he is talking about loss and that which chokes life from us. Hear the full parable from Matthew 13:24-30:
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 
And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’   
The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 
But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”
Think of the weeds as inescapably a part of who we are and all that we have experienced. The weeds are the wounds of life, our own flaws, and the tragedies that have befallen us and hurt us deeply. All of that dwells with us, and it grows and festers. Death is the enemy that has crept into the field while we were asleep and not looking, and leaves behind that which harms us.

And then there is the wheat -- it grows alongside the weeds. The wheat is all that is healthy in us -- our strength, our courage, our generosity, our health, and our inner goodness.

The weeds will bring disease, calamity, and eventually, the death that comes to our bodies. But, Jesus declares, all of that harms and hurts us will be swept away in the end, and all that will remain is the wheat. God will gather all that is good and whole and healthy that is the best part of each of us, and bring all of that into the God's kingdom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gravel, rocks, thorns, good soil inside us

Last summer when we were at the Sea of Galilee, we stayed at a monastery near the edge of the sea (a lake really). In the mornings I got up early and walked down to sit by the water.

I had to go down a gravel path, and through bushes and then onto a rocky beach -- no sandy beaches in this place. Here and there olive trees and flowering bushes grew in patches of soil.

In this morning's lectionary reading, Jesus explaines the parable of the seeds (Matthew 13:18-23). Reading this, I could imagine Jesus standing on this rocky beach pointing out the gravel path, the thorn bushes, the rocky shore and the patches of soil.

"But as for what was sown on good soil, the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

It is tempting to read the parable as judgement on people who aren't Christians, or who are different kinds of Christians than me. But I don't think Jesus had that in mind at all. I think as he taught at the Sea of Galilee, he pointed out to his listeners that the gravel, rocks, thorns and olive trees exist side-by-side in a hodge-podge of colors and textures. All of us are exactly like that, made up of gravel, rocks, thorns and good soil inside us. All of us have measures of each in our lives and in our souls. Jesus was urging us to find the good soil, and cultivate the goodness of it.

Good soil comes from compost, from the decay of those things that have died. From the heartbreaks, sorrws and wounds of our life can come good soil, and from that can come new life, new joys, new fruit "and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

And from that will come the Kingdom of God in our lives and in our world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remembering my friend Tim

An old friend of mine from my California Capitol days, Tim Hodson, died Tuesday after a long battle with brain cancer. He was smart and funny, gentle and kind, and truly a public servant. He was a true friend who could listen and laugh.

Tim devoted his life to educating and mentoring, and he looked always for how to make the electoral system fair. He was among the few people I know who perked up at discussions of district reapportionment. He was 61.

His wife, Ruth, reported last night that she found this note pinned above his desk on Senate stationery. I share it with you:

Ghandi, on things that will destroy us:

Politics without principle,
pleasure without conscience,
wealth without work,
knowledge without character,
business without morality,
science without humanity,
worship without sacrifice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Episcopal Council recommends nixing Anglican Covenant

There is important news coming from the Episcopal Church Executive Council, meeting in Salt Lake, on a number of fronts. I've said before that national and international church politics tends to bubble beneath the surface and then pop up periodically.

This is one of those times.

 The Council is recommending against adopting the Anglican Covenant, which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has been promoting for several years to keep the Anglican Communion from completely collapsing. Our American church has been suspicious of the covenant on many grounds, and the Council's recommendation likely will carry considerable weight when General Convention meets next summer. Here is the story in the Episcopal News Service:

Executive Council submits General Convention resolution saying church is 'unable to adopt Anglican Covenant'

Decision is up to 2012 meeting of convention

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City, Utah] The Episcopal Church's Executive Council will submit a resolution to General Convention next year that would have it state that the church is "unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form."
The resolution also promises that the church will "recommit itself to dialogue with the several provinces when adopting innovations which may be seen as threatening the unity of the communion" and commits to "continued participation in the wider councils of the Anglican Communion" and dialogue "with our brothers and sisters in other provinces to deepen understanding and to insure the continued integrity of the Anglican Communion."
The 77th meeting of General Convention July 5-12, 2012 will decide whether to pass, amend and pass, or reject the resolution. Convention is "the only body that can act on behalf of the whole church in this matter," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said during a post-meeting press conference.

To read the full story, click HERE.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Our story: Baptism and the Baptismal Covenant

I was back in the pulpit today after a few weeks away.
Today's lesson is based on Matthew 22:34-46.

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The last few weeks you may have noticed that all of our sermons have touched on our baptismal covenant. And you may have noticed that each Sunday, instead of saying the Nicene Creed, we have been renewing our Baptismal covenant. 
Today is my turn, and next week Margaret Mohrmann will wrap up this theme.
I’d like to begin by asking you to turn to the Book of Common Prayer page 304 and take a moment to look at the baptismal covenant.  
You will notice it comes in two parts; the first half is a restatement of the Apostle’s Creed, and the second half is a series of promises. 
Please notice something else: It is not a statement of doctrine. 
It is a story
Here is what doctrine sounds like: “There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, visible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute.” 
That is from the Calvinist “Westminster Confession” of faith written in 1646, and foundational to the Presbyterians. It has 33 chapters, ending with a jolly sounding chapter entitled “Of the Last Judgment.” Be glad you don’t have to memorize this in a confirmation class here. 
That is doctrine because it is a description of the nature and qualities of God and the terms and conditions to be saved by God. 
But we don’t have a confession of faith; we have a story. 
Our baptismal covenant is how we make the ancient story our own story. The story begins with a summary of the Bible – the creation of the universe by God; and the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and how Jesus goes to the very depths of hell itself to rescue us; and then the story of the Church, ignited by the Holy Spirit, and bringing forgiveness and new life. 
We call this “catholic,” a word meaning “universal,” making this story a declaration that all of us are included regardless of church brand. 
If you are stumbling over the words “I believe,” there is a more ancient understanding of the word “believe” than attesting to a set of facts. 

The ancient definition of “believe” is to say, “I am in relationship” with the story, and therefore this ancient story is my story, too. 
We enter into the story through our baptism, and through the promises we make for living into the baptismal story in a very particular way: 

We pledge to continue journeying with each other in the tradition of all those who came before us – we call them apostles, and there are many down through history into our own time. 

We pledge to gather in fellowship, in joy and sorrow, in the breaking of the bread, and we pledge to always pray together. 
We pledge to resist evil, and when in our own arrogance we turn away from God, we pledge that we will “repent” by turning back to the way of our baptism – the way of God. 
We pledge to proclaim our life in Christ through our own words and actions. There is an old Franciscan expression for this: “Preach the gospel, and only when necessary, use words.” Actions speak louder than words. 
We pledge to walk with Christ by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by working for justice and peace by respecting the dignity of every human being, and especially those who live on the margins, and especially those whom we have the most difficulty. 
It is a tall bill this baptismal covenant. 

We say we will do it “with God’s help,” and how else could we do that except with God’s help? 
We baptize young and old alike, babies and adults; people who are beginning life, people in the prime of life and people who come to the story late in life. 
When we baptize babies and children, we are affirming loud and clear that they, too, are part of this epic story of God’s people, and we carry these pledges for our children until they are old enough to carry these pledges for themselves. 
We enter into this story with our whole being. We call this a “sacrament” because we experience everything through our human senses – our touch, our hearing, our taste and our sight. 

We have no other access to the Holy except through the humanness of our physical senses.
God made our bodies good, and that goodness allows us to experience the divine, and that makes us sacramental beings. 
We use the physical outward elements of water, bread, wine, words, music, and prayers, to give us entry – a window if you will – into the sacred presence that is inside all of us, surrounds us and connects us to the holy – and to each other. 

St. Thomas Aquinas once said that we are not souls inside a body, but bodies inside a soul. By that he meant that our souls are connected to each other and to God in ways that we can’t describe, but in ways we can touch, see and hear through sacraments. 
When we baptize people we are saying through physical symbols that God is already at work in them. 

We are also doing something more – we are welcoming the newly baptized into the “household of God” – the Body of Christ. We are declaring that this household of God needs everyone, of every age and every gift, and no one will be excluded. 
It is true that religion, faith and belief is an intensely personal thing. You believe what you believe, you journey where and how you will, and it doesn’t get more personal that that. 

Yet the religious experience is more than personal. It is about all of us experiencing the divine together as a sacramental community. When I falter, when I doubt, when I cannot pray, I rest assured in knowing you will do that for me. I cannot do this alone, and neither can you. Faith is personal, but it isn’t private. 
We come together around this Holy Table to be connected to each other in the sharing of the bread and wine, and hearing once again the story of salvation that is our story. 
The Church has long taught that baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments, including the Holy Eucharist, and that is true. 

But as you may know, in this parish we welcome all who enter these doors to share in the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist. We invite everyone who is drawn here to bring with them their faith, their doubts, the longings of their hearts, their brokenness and wounds, and their hopes and joys, and bring all of that to this feast of the divine. 

We don’t check baptismal certificates at the railing because Jesus didn’t check the certificates either. Nor does it matter if you’ve led a saintly life or a sinner’s life, or both. 

Yet the Holy Eucharist finds its fullest meaning in baptism. It is not so much that baptism is a ticket to the table, as it is that coming to the table is an expression of the fullness of baptism. Everything we do emanates from the center of our baptism. That is why the baptismal font is placed in the center of the church and why symbolically you pass by it on your way to the Holy Table. 
It may be that coming to this table may lead you to baptism, and I know many people for whom that is true. 

They asked to be baptized precisely because they had been welcome share in the Holy Eucharist. 
Gathering at this table, Sunday after Sunday, is foundational to living fully into the promises of our baptism. 

How do we live fully the sacramental life of our baptism? There are many ways, many techniques, many practices, yet all of them come down to what you hear this morning proclaimed by Jesus in the gospel lesson from Matthew: 

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 
To love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves is to write our story differently than we might have otherwise – to live a life of giving to others motivated not by guilt but by love.
Think of giving itself as a sacramental action. 
Giving is not just about pledging money to the church, though I hope you do. Giving is really about leading a life that is marked by generosity in all that you do, in your daily life, in your home, in the classroom, in your work, in your church, and everywhere you go and with everyone you meet. 

How? With God’s help; by finding your passion for how God is calling you to build a world brimming with love and generosity, and then following your passion wherever God leads, and writing your story large.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

View from the pews: What St. Paul's means to one of our parishioners

On Sunday we had a guest preacher and a lot going on. Amidst all of it, Vickie Gottlob gave a brief and moving testimonial about what St. Paul's means to her, and I hope you might consider her words. Here below are her words:

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What St. Paul's Means to Me
By Vicki Gottlob 
I’d have to say that St. Paul’ s is both a comfortable place for me and also a place that regularly makes me quite uncomfortable. This is because our clergy and people try to be what the Church should be, embodying God’s love and furthering God’s kingdom as shown by Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I find that St. Paul’s gives me rest from the expectations of the world and accepts me as I am. It gives me a sense that I am a loved child of God amidst a whole diverse group of loved children of God. I love to look at you all as we go up for communion and marvel at the unique beauty and gifts of each of you. Our church really is a communion of saints of all kinds.

On the other hand, I keep coming back to St. Paul’s because it makes me uncomfortable. In the Sunday liturgy and preaching, in retreats and small groups, and in opportunities for service, our church also embodies the words of Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
Every Sunday when I sit in the pew there’s nowhere to hide and I have to face some inconvenient truths about myself, my neighbor, and the world: that following Jesus means confessing your sins, taking up your cross, and loving your neighbor as yourself. The clergy and people of St. Paul’s have not exactly forced me out of my comfortable self-centeredness, but they have opened my eyes and gently pushed me, like a stubborn sheep, in the direction of following Jesus who tells us that we will find him when we pray together, and above all when we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. So let’s all continue to love each other, to encourage each other, and to push each other gently along the path.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What can you tell me about September?

Autumn has arrived and with it brisk air and a lot of rain. We've turned on our heating for the first time since last winter. October is only a few days old, but already September is a distant memory. Yet memories have a purpose, as our friend Karen from Tennessee reminds us with this poem by Burley Carley she sent along the other day:

September Meditation
By Burton D. Carley

I do not know if the seasons remember their history or if the days and
nights by which we count time remember their own passing. 
I do not know if the oak tree remembers its planting or if the pine
remembers its slow climb toward sun and stars. 
I do not know if the squirrel remembers last fall's gathering or if the
bluejay remembers the meaning of snow. 
I do not know if the air remembers September or if the night remembers
the moon. 
I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if
the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so. 
Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for
Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected.
Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer: 
"What can you tell me about September?"

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Monday Funnies

My cousin Sarah from Los Angeles sent this along, and I hope it puts a smile on your face and a bounce in your step today. Who knew Bob Hope and Jimmy Cagney could dance? This was shot at the Friar's Club; Hope was 52 and and Cagney was 56. This brings back a few memories for me. Many years ago -- 1976 to be exact -- I got invited to a cast party for a Bob Hope Special, and Bob stood around with us kids telling the jokes he couldn't tell on TV. Wish he had danced, too.  Enjoy the Monday Funnies...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Moving into high gear at St. Paul's

We are moving into high gear at St. Paul's this time of year, and it is feeling like everything went up a notch this weekend. In the photo at right are some of the folks working hard on our fall programs.

On Sunday we will be hosting the Right Rev. Larry Maze, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas, and we will be launching a series of sermons focused on how our life of giving is founded on our baptismal covenant. Bishop Maze is a gifted preacher and workshop leader and so I hope you will join us Sunday.

Later in the day, at 5 pm, we will have the traditional St. Francis "Blessing of the Animals" outside in the meditation garden. Bring your iguanas, hamsters, dogs and cats. And then stay if you can for the 5:30 pm Holy Eucharist which will also be on the lawn.

We heard an amazing talk last night from Elkanah Odembo, the ambassador to the United States from Kenya who was our guest our the annual "Harambe" fund raiser for the African Development Project.

Ambassador Odembo is an old friend of St. Paul's who has worked with our people for many years on  the project that brings basic development services to isolated parts of his country. 

I found his talk encouraging as he described Kenya's new constitution with its commitment to human rights. Yet he also gave us a sobering description of how Kenya is keeping its borders open to hundreds-of-thousands of refugees from Sudan and Somalia -- mostly women and children and who would face almost certain death without Kenya keeping its borders open. 

Ambassador Odembo spoke candidly of those challenges but he also described how Kenya is equipping itself to meet those challenges, including a goal of becoming entirely dependent green energy for electricity and bringing more and more rural villages onto the electrical grid. You can read more about his talk on Kay Slaughter's blog by clicking HERE.

We are in the season of harvest and gratitude. Soon we will be asking you to set aside some of your harvest in the year ahead for the building of God's Kingdom through the work of St. Paul's Memorial Church. Our Stewardship Team recently revamped our "Giving" webpage and it includes a wonderful statement of gratitude by Renee Fuller about the life she has found at St. Paul's. I hope you will take a few moments to read what she has to say:

At this summer’s Shrinemont Retreat, we were asked as participants in the Sunday service to consider sharing what about St. Paul’s we felt thankful for. After having shared a fabulous weekend with fellow parishioners and friends, I felt particularly caught up in my emotions about my St. Paul’s family. It was easy to think of several things about St. Paul’s I was thankful for, not the least of which was the very welcoming nature of the community. 

However, there was and continues to be something particularly salient about the women of the St. Paul’s community for which I am most thankful for. These strong, energetic, compassionate and supportive souls inspire me to be a better mother, a better wife and a better person. Their service to our church community is often open and large, but the service for which I am most thankful to them for, is the soft, quiet service. The service they perhaps offer without even knowing...the service that isn’t about what they know or outwardly do, but about who they are. 
It’s the innumerable acts like the “seasoned” mother that leans over and tells me not to worry when my young son is noisy, or the fellow bible study friend who shares a personal struggle or experience that in turns makes me feel like I’m not alone in my journey as wife and mother. These women bless me, and in them I see the light of God our Father. For this I am extremely thankful that we have found our “church home” at St. Paul’s.