The Way of the Cross

Stations-at-the-cross-set.jpeg

As we enter the season of Lent, I want to remind you of a liturgy we offer to help mark this holy time, The Way of the Cross or The Stations of the Cross. The practice of walking in the footsteps of Jesus' last hours before he was crucified goes back at least until the fourth century. After legalizing Christianity, the emperor Constantine set up official markers along the path that Jesus walked from Jerusalem to Calvary, and the Church's traditions hold that Jesus' mother Mary walked that path daily throughout her own life. Each year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descend upon Jerusalem during Lent and especially Holy Week, to walk that same road.

While most of us cannot do that literally, the Church has developed a way for us to walk those steps with Jesus wherever we are. The Way of the Cross is a short devotional service. We process around the inside of the church building, stopping along the way before plaques bearing a cross and a carved image representing the particular moment each station marks. Our set of Stations were made for us by Scott Woodside in 1989. One of the most striking ones to me is the first one, which bears a hand (Pilate's) with the thumb pointing down, in a universal symbol of condemnation. At each Station, we read a prayer, a short passage of scripture, and a very brief meditation. The whole service lasts about 25 minutes.

I hope you'll come, at least once. The real power in this service, though, lies in its repetition. That's why we offer it not just on Good Friday but on every Friday in Lent, beginning with this one. Consider adding this service to your other Lenten observances; you may be surprised how powerful it can be.

Ash Wednesday

IMG_0537.JPG

As I'm sure you know, this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. It is one of two major fast days on our calendar (the other being Good Friday) during which we are called to observe a fast - to not eat or to eat far less than normal - for the day. Also on Ash Wednesday we will hold our traditional services for the day, at noon and at 7:00pm. Both liturgies include Holy Eucharist, and both will also have something particular to the day - the imposition of ashes. Members of the congregation are invited to come kneel at the altar rail and to have a small smudge of ashes placed on their foreheads, generally in the shape of the cross. You are probably familiar with both of these if you're accustomed to coming to Ash Wednesday service.

According to the Prayer Book, the ashes serve as "a sign of our mortality and penitence;" we acknowledge when we receive them that we know we are not going to live for ever and also that we have sins for which we need to ask forgiveness. As Madeleine L'Engel so eloquently put it, those ashes are nothing less than the first handful of dirt thrown onto our grave. We receive the ashes during a portion of the service known as "An Invitation to a Holy Lent," and that is what i want us to focus on for a moment.

During that invitation, the priest tells the congregation about the origins and meaning of Lent, how it was historically a time of preparation for baptism and a time of restoration of those who had been "separated from the body of the faithful," or put out of the church because of some notorious sinfulness on their part. This restoration was made known to the congregation at large, and the penitents often were required to perform some public display of penance as part of it. (I suspect many of us are thankful that nowadays we tend to deal with sin and penance more quietly.) The whole church, then, was aware of Lent as a full season and not just a collection of Sundays leading up to Easter. The Prayer Book invites us to observe the holiness of that full season and not just think about Lent on Sundays. That observance is marked "by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word." Getting ashes rubbed on our forehead isn't the essence of Lent or even of Ash Wednesday; it is only a "right beginning." We come up for those ashes only if we intend to dedicate ourselves to observing the season of Lent, not just because it's a special day.

The Prayer Book lays out three ways to observe Lent properly: 1) Self-examination and repentance - we look honestly at our lives, our words and our actions, and where we are amiss, we make amends; 2) Prayer, fasting, and self-denial - this is what we generally think of as our Lenten Discipline, something that we normally do that we abstain from for this season as an intentional sacrifice to God. (That's why i can't give up kale or coconut for Lent; doing so would hardly be sacrificial on my part); and 3) Reading and meditating on God's Word - reading and reflecting upon God's Word as contained in the Scriptures. Our Presiding Bishop has offered us a vehicle to do just that by reading Luke and Acts throughout the Lenten and Easter seasons, something he's calling The Good Book Club; (click that link for more information.)

However you intend to observe the season of Lent, I hope that you will do something. If you have questions about it, talk to Fr. Kevin or to someone else you know with a serious spiritual life. Come to Stations of the Cross on Fridays or the Wednesday healing mass - or both. Lent is our time to reset the pattern of our spiritual life, to increase its depth and scope. Ash Wednesday is certainly a good beginning, but we remember that it is only a beginning.

It's been a quiet week...

Just some of St. Michael's Angels at the recent Revival.

Just some of St. Michael's Angels at the recent Revival.

Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, makes a crack about Bishop Benhase's age.

Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, makes a crack about Bishop Benhase's age.

Remember how Garrison Keillor always started his bit about Lake Wobegon? "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon..." and then went on in perfect deadpan to prove that it had been anything but. I kind of feel that way about St. Michael's, but not just in the last week. It's been a quiet few weeks at St. Michael's, out there on the edge of Daffin Park..." Several of us attended the Boundless Love, Fearless Faith Revival at Honey Creek. If you missed it, you missed out, but fear not; you can watch a video of the Presiding Bishop's sermon here, or see the entire service here. It's worth your time, i assure you. Do not expect upcoming services at St. Michael's to be like this one, but then again, one never knows what the Holy Spirit might do some Sunday...

Our "quiet" time hasn't ended, though. This Sunday we hold our Annual Parish Meeting. Remember we have one combined service at 10:00am, followed by lunch and the meeting in Patton Hall. The entree and drinks are provided; please bring "stuff and desserts," (okay, side dishes - which should probably include vegetables - and desserts, if you'd like). We elect the incoming class of Vestry members at the meeting; you can find the names and some biographical info about the nominees in last week's blog post here. This Sunday is also Boy Scout Sunday, so we will have the scouts and their leaders from Troop 1 with us in the service. It's not ideal to have Scout Sunday fall on the Sunday of the Annual Meeting, we realize, but between their schedule and ours, we had to make do. Please come join us for the service, meet the Boy Scouts, and stay for lunch and the meeting!!

Vestry Nominations for 2018-21

IMG_1070.JPG

Our Parish Annual Meeting is coming up the last Sunday of this month, January 28, following the joint 10:00am service. During that meeting, the congregation will elect three people to three years terms on the Vestry. The Nominating Committee is pleased to present to you the slate of nominees they have received; their names and some biographical information is below, as well as each nominees response to the same question: "What are your hopes and dreams for St. Michael's in the coming three years?"

Please feel free to contact any of the nominees if you have questions for them or if you would just like to get to know them better. The Nominating Committee and Vestry have determined that each of the candidates satisfies the requirements of the canons and by-laws to serve, and each nominee has agreed to stand for election.

We have four members nominated for three spots. As always, there will be an opportunity for nominations from the floor, but before you nominate anyone, please make sure you have their permission to do so, that they agree to serve if elected, and that they satisfy the requirements to serve on the Vestry of St. Michael's. 

According to our by-laws, members 18 years or older who are communicants in good standing are eligible to serve, with two exceptions - those living in the same household or who are immediate family members (parent, child, sibling, or spouse) of current Vestry members, and any outgoing member of the Vestry who has served a full term. A communicant in good standing is defined as a member who "unless for good cause prevented, for the last year has been faithful in attendance and in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom."

I ask that between now and the annual meeting we please hold these four angels in our prayers, including prayers of thanksgiving for their willingness to serve our congregation.

 

Nominees for Vestry 2018-2021

Snapchat-190805224.jpg

Victoria Blair usually attends the 8:00 service and has been a member of St. Michael's for two years. For the last few months she has been filling the final year of Jim Payne's unexpired term; she is eligible for election to a full term of her own.

Victoria's answer: I hope in the following years to help to grow the community of St. Michael's. As I and many others have felt upon coming into this congregation, I would like to expand on the welcoming feeling a newcomer finds when it happens to be their first oppurtunity to be with us. I want people to know that there is a place to call home when you feel you have nowhere else to turn and that the members of our church welcome others to be a part of the proverbial family with open and loving arms. I also hope to strenghthen my relationship with God to be of service of Him in helping others to find their way "home" in the sunlight of the spirit. I've found that in my short time as a part of St. Michael's I've come to a much better understanding of the liturgy and have been granted an abundance of gratitude to have met some wonderful people. I would hope that I could make that difference in someone else's life by being a member of our very admirable vestry.

fullsizeoutput_24b7.jpeg

Donnie Gruver usually attends the 10:45 service and has been a member for the past forty-five years.

Donnie's answer: I would like us to seek and attract more persons and families from our neighborhood. Also, I would like us to grow enough so that we will be able to offer Sunday religious education for the number of youngsters that will come with their families. Finally, I would like to get more of our members involved in the activities that we offer here at St. Michael and All Angels.

fullsizeoutput_24b9.jpeg

Jane Riner usually attends the 10:30 service and has been a member for 69 years.

Here is Jane's answer: I hope that St. Michael's will get some young families with children. I hope to have a young people's choir. A dream is to one day have a bigger place to operate the food pantry out of. I hope the church can have enough money to fix all that needs repairing in the church. My hope is to get more of the congregation involved in activities in the church.

fullsizeoutput_24bb.jpeg

Terry Timmons usually attends the 10:45 service and has been a member for three and a half years.

Here is Terry's response:

Continue to create, develop and enhance opportunities for:     

      ----- Community focus among the congregation and through outreach efforts

                      -Pastoral Care

                      - Food Pantry

      ------10 Year Plan for Facilities updating which includes a vehicle for funding 

      ------ Foster congregational growth and vitalization

                      -optimization of two services                                                                           

Epiphany and the Sunday Following

4E8F5C78-5D37-4A96-AF63-70C025630746.jpg

This Saturday, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany, when we celebrate the coming of the magi to the Christ Child. A couple of things to note - nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three; we only know that there was more than one because the noun is the plural form. And there were three gifts named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, so the Church has maintained the tradition that the three gifts were brought by three visitors. And despite what crèches around the world (including our own) depict, the magi did not arrive at the manger in Bethlehem. We can infer from what the story says that it was sometime within the first two years of Jesus' life that they came, but the exact date we don't know. What we do know is that the coming of the magi - who were foreigners and not even practicing foreign Jews - represent the coming of the Messiah to the whole world and not simply to the nation of Israel. That is why in many parts of Eastern Christianity, Christmas is actually celebrated on January 6. The view the Feast of the Nativity as the gift of the Messiah to Israel and what we all The Epiphany as that same gift to the whole world.

This Sunday is the First Sunday After the Epiphany, which is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. It is one of the days the Prayer Book designates as appropriate for the sacrament of Baptism to be administered, and since we do not have any baptisms scheduled at St. Michael's this year, all of us present on Sunday will renew our own Baptismal Covenant. The Feast of the Epiphany is important, though, even to us Western Christians, so we're going to play a little fast and loose with the rubrics this Sunday and celebrate both it and the Baptism of Jesus on the same day. Our Christmas decorations will be taken down and put away, as Christmas season will be over, but for this one last day we will still keep the crèche in the church, complete as last with the visiting magi.

Happy New Year

happy-new-year-2016-SMS.jpg

This Sunday is, of course, New Year's Eve, and many folks all over will be celebrating the beginning of another year in one fashion or another. One tradition is to make New Year's Resolutions, but I have to admit that those usually fail me. Or I fail at them. I wonder if this Sunday will see a general uptake in church attendance; perhaps people will resolve to be more faithful in being part of a church and will start that off on New Year's Eve. (I'm almost certain there will be more folks in church this year than there would be had New Year's Eve fallen on a Saturday, but i'll leave you to make your own conclusions there.) Whether we make resolutions for the coming year or not, I'm fairly certain that by now our traditional greetings have morphed from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy New Year." I know mine have, even though I don't always mean to say that; it just sort of comes out, especially if someone else says it to me first.

We know of course (or at least we should) that not every one of the next 365 days is going to be happy for everyone, no matter how much we may wish them to be. I suppose it's part of the cultural idealism of America to expect that they not only will be but that they should be. While we certainly don't need to be Eeyore like in out outlook on the future, at the same time life isn't always easy or happy, and when it isn't, we shouldn't think that means that something has gone wrong. We have our ups and downs, our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and our failures. What I really mean to say to folks is that i wish them shalom in the coming year. I've tried making a habit of that, but despite my best intentions, it never seems to come off the way i mean it to.

Shalom is the Hebrew word for "peace," and our habit of exchanging the Peace during the Eucharist comes from the Jewish practice of greeting one another with that word. Our definition of peace, however, doesn't quite manage to contain all that shalom means. Shalom is a form of blessing; it is way of saying "May everything God has in store for you come to pass;" it is also a way of acknowledging that our relationship with one another is right and good and as it should be. Shalom, and the peace that comes with it, isn't dependent on our life being happy every single day; instead, it comes from the knowledge that God is with us and at work in our lives whether we are in the midst of joy or in sorrow, in triumph or despair. It is what is contained in the famous phrase of Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be very well."

Whatever you are doing to celebrate the coming of the New Year, and in whatever state of happiness you find yourself during the year, I wish you shalom.

Christmas at St. Michael & All Angels

IMG_1904.JPG

By now we should all be aware of St. Michael's schedule for Christmas Eve - 4th Sunday of Advent 4 at 9:00am and Christmas Eve at 5:00pm, with decorating of the church in between. Just in case you weren't, re-read the previous sentence. On Christmas Day we have a simple service at 10:00am. It's a very busy few hours with a lot to do, at a time when many are already moving at a frantic pace to get their homes ready for their own Christmas celebrations.

In the middle of the Christmas Eve service, something wonderful happens. It happens every Christmas Eve, at the same time and in exactly the same way, but this is the only time of year that it occurs. I'm talking about the reading of the Christmas gospel from Luke. It's so well-known, so familiar to us, that it's a wonder we even notice it when it's read. And yet, we do. This year, i invite you to listen to that moment when the Gospel reading begins. There is a special kind of quiet that falls over the congregation; there is a hopefulness and an expectancy to it that we don't hear from any other reading from the Gospel. It's as if the whole congregation is holding their breath.

At least, that's how it always feels to me. I always imagine as i hear those words that it isn't just our congregation that's holding their breath but all of creation. I think of us as reading that Gospel not just to ourselves but to the whole world, in the hopes that the hope and expectation we experience will spill out onto all creation. I like to believe that the whole world - not just us people but literally all of creation - hears and understands what those words mean - "for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." That's what Christmas is - our celebration and proclamation that Jesus - born so long ago in Bethlehem - was then, is now, and always will be the Savior and Lord of all creation, the one for whom we have waited and hoped.

I hope you will be with us this Christmas Eve, "to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass." Come hear the holy silence that precedes the telling of the story of our salvation.

May you have a happy, joyful, and blessed Christmas.

Who are we doing this for?

fullsizeoutput_22f6.jpeg

While we say Advent is a four-week season, it isn't always. It is actually a four-Sunday season, and since this year Christmas falls on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, it's really only a three-week season this time. The Gospel reading about Mary and Gabriel, probably the one we most associate with this time of year, doesn't come until next Sunday, Advent 4. But this is the last week before Christmas, and it can be such a hectic time for so many, i don't want the idea of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, worrying about and then preparing for the birth of her child, to get lost.

I always find it helpful - when the realization hits that Christmas is nearly upon us and how will we ever get everything done - to remember why and for whom we are doing this. Whatever the coming week and the days after will bring for you - if they seem overwhelming because you have more to do than you have time to do it, remember that all the hurrying, all the preparations, all the seemingly endless tasks that may still be looming - we have a choice about how we approach them. We can see them as things we have to do that we rather might not, things we should do even if we wonder how we will manage them, or we could view them as preparations for the coming of Jesus into the world.

It may seem trite, but when i get so wrapped in and worried about all the things i still have to do, i try to imagine that i am really doing them for Jesus, to show him that he is important to me and that i love him. That may not make the tasks go more quickly or seem more enjoyable (although often they really are, if i stop and think about it), but it does help me with my annual attempt to make Advent more holy and less hectic.

I will especially try to remember this next Sunday, when after our 9:00am Advent 4 service, we tackle the herculean task of decorating the church for Christmas all in a few hours. Many hands make light work, so i hope you will join in our labors as we prepare to celebrate again the birth of our Savior.

Advent, a Season of Verbs

advent_candles_2_1920x1080.jpg

The season of Advent is upon us, and one of my clergy friends, who is also into photography, likes to participate every year in the Advent Word Global Advent Calendar. Hosted by the Anglican Communion, The Society of St. John the Evangelist, and the Virginia Theological Seminary (and found here), it offers a different word to contemplate each day. Followers are invited to take a photograph that reveals that word and post it online using the hashtag #AdventWord. While i've never really gotten into following it every day, i do enjoy seeing what others are doing throughout Advent.

The Calendar got me to thinking about many of the words associated with this season, and i noticed how many of them are simple verbs - watch, wait, prepare, repent, comfort, greet, expect, proclaim, rejoice, etc. I confess i sometimes struggle with my attention span, so trying to reflect on a different word every day is probably just going to lead me to frustration and disappointment (not good Advent words), i can manage to attune to a few - perhaps four, one for each week of the season. If you are looking for a way to keep Advent apart from the rest of the year, to mark this season as different - less hectic and more holy - i suggest you consider this simple discipline.

Because they are words that convey actions, verbs are especially helpful for spiritual disciplines. In fact, one of the best preachers i know, Barbara Brown Taylor, regularly begins her sermon preparations by looking only at the verbs in the Gospel passage and building from there. I find some of the Advent verbs - watch and wait, for example - particularly helpful because to do them properly, they require a certain stillness and calm we don't often associate with action. So while i suggest that you do choose some verbs (or maybe just one for the whole season), i don't want to suggest which verbs to pick. I will suggest a couple of ways to narrow your choices, however; perhaps pick the ones that most resonate with you, words that you immediately feel drawn to. If you're up to more of a challenge, then maybe do just the opposite. What verbs seem the least comfortable or comforting to you? I find God often speaks to me either through those things that come most easily or through those that challenge me most.

Whatever you decide, i hope you will find some way that works for you to mark this season in which we prepare not only to celebrate the joy of the birth of Christ but also to receive him when he comes in his glory.

Vestry Nominations

68067aaf-bb34-46ef-9887-1ce650d956b5.jpg

Following our November Vestry Meeting, the Nominating Committee held its first meeting to begin the process of selecting a slate of nominees for Vestry. We will elect three people to three year terms at our Annual Meeting in January.

According to our by-laws, members 18 years or older who are communicants in good standing are eligible to serve, with two exceptions - those living in the same household or who are immediate family members (parent, child, sibling, or spouse) of current Vestry members, and any outgoing member of the Vestry who has served a full term. A communicant in good standing is defined as a member who "unless for good cause prevented, for the last year has been faithful in attendance and in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the Kingdom."

The members of this year's Nominating Committee are Fr. Kevin, Kim Tanner, (Senior Warden), Kathy Gruver (outgoing member), and Kris Rawlins (Vestry Member). If you would like to nominate someone for Vestry for the coming year, please speak to that person first; make sure they are eligible and willing to serve, and that you have their permission to nominate them. Contact one of the members of the committee with the potential nominee's name no later than December 9.

If you have any questions, please contact one of the members of the Nominating Committee.

Thanksgiving - HELP!!!!

This is what we have left after Thursday

This is what we have left after Thursday

Every year we get together at Thanksgiving with Christine's side of the family, at somebody's house, for our annual reunion. It is a scene repeated across our country countless times. We've hosted this gathering twice, and we worry, "How will we manage THAT many people in our house? Do we have enough of everything for them?" I suspect we've all been there at some point.

Now imagine if for Thanksgiving you had 396 people coming to your house to be fed. That's exactly what happened at St. Michael's this Thursday. We provided Thanksgiving meals to 396 people, all in one morning. Our pantry angels are nothing short of amazing. But here's the problem - some of our extended family members couldn't make it here Thursday. They're going to come on Monday, and we need to provide for them. In the photo above, you see what's left of the massive collection of food we started the morning left. We have 18 hams left.

We would really like to have 50 bags of Thanksgiving meals to give away on Monday. That means we need 32 more hams, but we need "the trimmings" to go with: stuffing, green beans, yams, cake mix and icing, corn muffin mix, cream of mushroom soup. We can do it, i know, but we need your help. Please bring whatever you can to church this Sunday!!

Deep at the heart of all thanksgiving, without or without a capital "T," is an awareness of being in the presence of God and seeing that God has given us more than we could ask. For many of our clients, evidence of the presence of God in their lives can be hard to come by, and that's what we're giving them, as much as we're giving them food. Thank you for helping so many others understand and experience true Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at the I AM Pantry

post-what-are-you-thankful-for-thanksgiving-contest1.jpg

As the particularly American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, we would do well to remember that it isn't just about eating too much or putting up with that one really odd member of your family that you only see once a year, nor is it about football or a head start on your Christmas shopping.

As its name suggests, Thanksgiving is really all about giving thanks to God for all the good things God has done for us. Of course, "all" is a big word for only three letters, so maybe it's better to focus on some or even just a few. We sometimes here that catchy little phrase of "an attitude of gratitude," but I want to suggest that maybe the best way to give thanks goes beyond attitude to action. If you really want to BE thankful, then DO something for someone else, preferably someone who can't return the favor - i think Jesus said something like that once...

And yes, I have a suggestion for how to do that, in case you're feeling stuck - the I AM Food Pantry. We are giving away Thanksgiving bags again this year, both to help give a number of folks a reason to be thankful but also to demonstrate to God, not just in thoughts or words but in deeds, just how grateful we are for the many ways God has blessed us. So please help us fill bags with food and hearts with gratitude. Here is what we need the most:

Canned Ham
Canned sweet potatoes
Stuffing Mix
Green beans
Small bags of rice
Cranberry sauce
Cream of Mushroom soup
Boxed cake mixes
Jam/jelly/preserves
and finally, reusable bags to put it all in.

Please bring these to church with you on Sunday, and then come Wednesday morning at 10:45 if you can, and help us put them all together. Have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving.

Some thoughts on ministry

IMG_3447.jpg

Wednesday night I was privileged to get to preach at the service of Celebration of New Ministry for Holy Nativity, Saint Simons and the Rev'd Tommy Townsend, their new vicar. The picture above is from that service. It was lovely and joyful, and (if I may say so myself) the sermon wasn't half bad. Preaching at an occasion such as that one - much like at an ordination - always gets me to thinking about the topic of ministry, and i want so share some of those thoughts with you.

The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer is quite clear about ministry. First, about the ministers themselves, it says "The ministers of the Church are the lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons" (BCP, 855). Notice that the laity is listed first; that's intentional. At our baptism we are all "ordained" to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus; some of us are then ordained for specific ministries within the Body of Christ, mainly sacramental ones. It's helpful to remember that there are essentially only three things priests can do as ministers that lay people cannot, and those follow the handy mnemonic device "ABC." We can Absolve, Bless, and Consecrate. That means we are authorized by the Church and empowered by the Holy Spirit to offer absolution to the penitent, to pronounce God's blessing, and to consecrate the bread and wine at Eucharist. I would point out that no priest can do any of those things alone. We must always have at least one lay person present with us. I like that - it reminds us that all ministry is communal - we are in this together, as members of one Body, the Church.

Everything else that we think of as "ministry," that we often believe is or should be relegated to the clergy, is in fact baptismal ministry - what we should all be doing as followers of Christ, carrying out the mission of the Church. That same page in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us that the mission of the Church is "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." Our ministry is fundamentally one of reconciliation, of restoring what has been broken by human sin to health and to wholeness. It is about mending relationships and restoring dignity and worth to those from whom those things have been stripped away, or as the prophet Isaiah so beautifully said, it is about becoming "repairers of the breach."

Pope Francis says (and I quoted him on this in the sermon) that shepherds - ministers - need to be close enough to their sheep to be able to smell them. Ministry is hands on, sometimes dirty, work. It can be hard and tiring, and that's one reason why we have Eucharist every Sunday. The work that we do "out in the world" is part of what we bring to the altar at the Offertory each week. We pile our labor on behalf of Christ atop the altar with the bread and wine, and we ask God to take it, bless it, increase it, and give it back to us to continue our work in the coming week. We come to the altar to encounter the Resurrected Christ and to be fed by him to strengthen us for our ongoing work in the world. So yes, there's nothing wrong with coming to church to "get something out if it." That's what we're supposed to do, but we do so in order to be able to give even more back when we walk out the doors.

The Feast of All Saints

"surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."

"surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..."

Next Wednesday, 1 November, is the Feast of All Saints, which we will celebrate again on the following Sunday. All Saints is the only feast the Book of Common Prayer allows us to celebrate twice - first on the day itself and then again on the next Sunday. As you might imagine, different traditions within Christianity have very different ideas about this feast and its meaning. Even its history within the ancient Church is hard to pin down. The date itself has moved around throughout the centuries, when at various times it either sought to compete with or be separated from other pagan festivals and celebrations.

Once the day was finally settled, in the eighth century, All Saints became a part of what is known as "Allhallowtide," a three day celebration that begins with the Vigil on All Hallows' Eve (yes, that's where Halloween comes from) through 2 November, All Souls' Day. The distinction between All Saints and All Souls is often blurred in American Christianity because it involves the doctrine of Purgatory, one which many Christians find troubling. All Saints Day is the commemoration of those faithful people - famous and not - who have entered into heaven and attained what is known as "the beatific vision" - that is, seeing God face to face. In technical "church speak" this is what as knows as the "Church Triumphant." All Souls remembers the faithful departed who are still in Purgatory, completing that process of sanctification and awaiting the entry into Heaven. This group is called the "Church Expectant," whereas we who are still in our pilgrimage on earth are called the "Church Militant." The Lutheran Church and many other protestants dismiss the doctrine of Purgatory entirely and so speak of the "two phases" of the Church, on earth and in heaven.

Regardless of what one believes about Purgatory and whether there are three parts of the Church or only two, what is important is that we are all - living and dead - still part of the Church, part of the Body of Christ and not separated from one another by death. When we pray or worship here on Earth, we are joined again with those who have gone before, particularly so when we come to the altar at the Eucharist and share in the body and blood of Christ. There is an exquisitely beautiful portrayal of this moment in the 1984 movie, Places in the Heart. If you haven't seen it, you should.

This connection to the faithful who have gone before us, held together in Jesus Christ and unaffected by death, is exactly what we mean when we say in the Creed that we believe "in the Communion of Saints." Samuel Wesley writes about this in his hymn "The Church's One Foundation," in the last verse;

"Yet she [the Church] on earth hath union with God, the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O happy ones and Holy! Lord give us grace that we, like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee."

At St. Michael's this year, we begin our celebration of All Saints on All Hallows' Eve, Tuesday, 31 October at 6:00pm, in the service of Evensong. This is a sung version of Evening Prayer and is one of the most lovely services of Anglicanism. The choir has been working hard to get ready, and i hope you will join us.

It's that time of year...

12316270_992777067432785_3705188900548203834_n.jpg

Okay, not really, but almost. As October winds down, November comes next, and then before we know it, it's Advent, and then we celebrating the baby Jesus again. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves... it's almost time for our annual Christmas Tree Lot!!!! Yay!!!!

Yep, we're about to start selling Christmas Trees again, and we need your help. Please mark you calendars with these important dates:

Saturday, November 11 at 7:30am - Tree lot build. Meet at the church for breakfast and then we go to work.

Saturday, November 18 at 8:00am - Trees arrive. We need many hands to help unload a trailer full of the bestest Christmas trees ever. (We're going to bless the trees before we start selling them this year.)

Friday, November 24, time TBD - Tree lot opens for business. Look for a sign-up schedule at church soon.

We hope you'll take part in any or all of these events, as much as you are able. There are always tasks to be done, even if you physically can't carry trees or build the lot. It's also a great time for St. Michael's fellowship, so come be a part of it.

The tree lot is the major source of funding for the I AM Food Pantry and contributes to other ministries throughout the year. So come support the work and mission of St. Michael and All Angels.

Why We Call You Angels

E39438F4-163C-4E83-9450-66D0522863BF.jpg

Last week in this space we put out an urgent request for food supplies for the I AM Food Pantry. This is how you responded. In one weekend. A while back, when we first started to add more to our weekly email than just the schedule of servers for the Sunday liturgies, we started opening those emails with the greeting, "Hello Angels." It was a little tongue in cheek, a play on our church name combined with a lighthearted allusion to the 1970's TV show, "Charlie's Angels." It stuck, though, and now often instead of saying "a parishioner" or "a church member" we say "one of our angels."

If you've ever wondered why we think of the wonderful folk of St. Michael's as "angels," i would suggest you take a look at the photo above. Again and again, you show your love and generosity in displays like this or in much smaller and less visible ways that maybe only a few of us ever know about. You take food to the sick, provide rides for those who need them, or sometimes just take a fellow angel out for lunch because you worry they may feel lonely or unimportant. I usually hear about these acts of kindness not from the people (angels) who perform them but from the recipients. More times than i can count, i have been one of those on the receiving end.

True Christian living is not measure simply by how many Sundays a year you're in church or how many hymns you know by heart - not even by often or well you can quote Holy Scripture. It's shown much more simply by how you live and how you love. Indeed, the observation Tertullian notes about the earliest Christians applies equally to you angels - "see how they love one another."

Two important requests

IMG_0208.JPG

In place of a post about a current event or a feast day or the like, we have two important pieces of St. Michael's news to share with you. First - and most pressing - the I AM Food Pantry is desperately low on certain key food items that go in our clients' bags. We need these by this Monday when we open the doors at 9am! If you can make it to the store this Saturday and bring these items to church on Sunday you will be a lifesaver.

Canned Fruit, Canned Vegetables, Pasta, and Canned Potatoes

Secondly, it's time for Coffee Hour to start back! YAY!!! (Can you hear the angels rejoicing?) If you were involved last year, or if you weren't but would like to be this year, please join us in the kitchen for a quick meeting this Sunday following the 10:30 service. (This only applies to the 10:30 coffee hour folks.) We'll hammer out details for teams - we want to have six this year instead of four - and make plans for the coming year. 

While you're coming to the meeting, you can bring the canned goods above that you got at the store on Saturday. :)

Four Sacraments and an Office

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

Baptism is one of only a couple of sacraments we won't be doing this weekend.

As a lot of you already know, it's going to be a busy weekend around St. Michael's. The title of this post refers to the four sacraments of the Church that we'll be celebrating on Sunday - Eucharist, Confirmation, Unction, and Matrimony. As far as i know, the Bishop does not intend to ordain anyone here on Sunday (although one really never knows with bishops...), neither will we be offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation (but someone might come up between now and then and ask for it. We're also not planning on baptizing anyone, either, but we will all be renewing our Baptismal Vows as part of Confirmation. There have been several times like this in the twenty-something years i've been ordained, where i've found myself counting up all the Sacraments we'd be having in the next day or so. It can be a little overwhelming trying to make sure that we know (literally) what page we're on and making sure we are devoting our full attention and presence to whichever one we happen to be doing at the moment.

Still, I always enjoy these times. The Sacraments are kind of like love songs that God sings to us, rhythmic reminders of God's eternal love and ongoing care for us. While the longstanding definition we use for sacrament - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Grace - is fine in some ways, I sometimes find it incomplete and lacking. The sacraments are physical and tangible ways in which God touches us directly; the elements of them are real and earthy - water, wine, bread, oil, hands. They are all means of healing, strengthening, reconnecting, and restoring. In many ways, the Sacraments show us God's third way of working and speaking in the world. In the Old Testament, God fed, healed, restored, strengthened from a distance, usually speaking through someone like Moses or the prophets; in the New Testament, God did all of those directly through Jesus, literally God incarnate among us, to do in the flesh what had previously been done in other ways. Now, since the Ascension of Jesus and the birth of the Church, God is still at work, performing those same tasks as always, but now we receive and experience them through the mysterious and tangible means of Sacrament. 

The weekend at St. Michael's starts not with Sacraments, though, but with an office - the Burial Office for Harry Steinhauser. Here the word office takes its old meaning - not of a room in which work is done but of a duty with which one is entrusted. This is much the same way we speak of the Office of President - that means much more than the actual Oval Office, as it describes the trust and work we place in the hands of the person who holds that office. Burials are not sacraments, although we often think they are. Sacraments are only for those of us still living on this side of the Resurrection. We are the ones who need them to mediate God's Grace to us; once we die, and the veil between us and God is sloughed off, we have no need of anything to reveal God's presence to us. We dwell in it face to face. Funerals aren't for the dead; they are for those of us still in our earthly pilgrimage.

While our "work" as the Church is vital and life-giving - work such as the I AM Food Pantry, the opening of our doors to our community, the pastoral visits, the meetings, and all the other day to day business of church life - I am enormously thankful for times like these when we draw our attention back to the sacramental life of the Church and are given the chance to see, hear, and feel God at work in our lives.

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Saint Michael the Archangel by Louise Shipps

Saint Michael the Archangel by Louise Shipps

On Sunday, 1 October, we will celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, our patronal feast. St. Michael's Day is actually 29 September, but the Book of Common Prayer allows a congregation to transfer the celebration of its patronal feast to the Sunday next following, with certain exceptions. Fortunately, none of those exceptions apply to us, so we are well within the rubrics for our celebration. Yay!

This year, our Bishop will be making his visitation to St. Michael's on that day, so it will be an extra special celebration. We will have one service at 10:00am, and a reception will follow. The Bishop will celebrate and preach at the Eucharist that morning, and he will also confirm those folks we will present to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

Confirmation is a bit of a sacrament in search of a meaning under our current theology. The Book of Common Prayer says that, "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church" (page 298). Full initiation, which means that nothing else is required. That wasn't always the case. In the early Church (at least as far back as we have reliable information) only adults were baptized, and only bishops performed those baptisms. As the Church grew (after it became first legalized and then the official religion of the Roman Empire) bishops simply could not keep up with the demand for baptisms, so they authorized their priests to baptize with water but not to anoint with chrism or say the prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Bishops reserved those practices for such time as they could be present to administer them. So was born the sacrament of Confirmation, that completed the action begun in Holy Baptism. (It is for this reason that the belief persists in the Church that says one must be confirmed to receive Communion.) With the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, anointing and the prayer for the Holy Spirit were restored to the baptismal liturgy; few Episcopalians, i expect, realize what i dramatic change in theology this represented.

So why do we still have Confirmation? That's a very good question and one not easily answered. Come join us for the Rector's Forum at 9:30 this Sunday morning, and we'll talk about it. Hope to see you then.

News following Hurricane Irma

fullsizeoutput_1e29.jpeg

I hope far all of you things are beginning to get back to normal following Hurricane Irma. If not - if you are in any need dealing with the effects of the storm - please contact the church office as soon as you can and let us know. We are ready to help.

Some good news - St. Michael's is intact and apparently undamaged by the storm. Many thanks to Mike Johnson, our Junior Warden, Jane Riner, our Altar Guild chair, and Judy Naylor Johnson, our Parish Administrator, for their tireless work securing the property prior to Irma's arrival. Thanks also to Nancy Relyea, our sexton, for her mighty efforts cleaning up afterwards on Tuesday. Our Cub Scouts are coming Thursday night to clear away the sandbags, and by Sunday, things should look pretty much as they did beforehand. We have some good folks here, but y'all already know that.

The Revival at Honey Creek with our Presiding Bishop has been postponed until Saturday, 20 January 2018. Honey Creek was hit hard, but we are delighted that no buildings were badly damaged. We lost some shingles, and the dock did suffer a little, but nothing that cannot be repaired. We will still charter a bus, and if you made a reservation, it is secure. We will have the bus roster available on Sunday for you either to confirm that you will still be going or to release your seat for someone else. Look for it in the back of the church this Sunday. Since the revival has been delayed, we will follow our normal Sunday schedule this week - services at 8:00 and 10:30, with Rector's Forum and Lectionary Class in between. 

As of this writing, it appears only one church property in the diocese suffered any real damage. Holy Nativity, St. Simon's has three trees down on the church and rectory. One of those is fairly large, and they haven't yet been able to remove it safely, but it has damaged the roof of the nave, directly over the organ. Glynn County was hit hard overall, and it will take them many months to recover fully from all the damage. If you'd like to make a contribution to Holy Nativity, you can do so this Sunday.

In the meantime, there are still countless individuals and families whose lives have been totally disrupted by the recent storms. What can we do to help? First off, we continue to pray for them and for those assisting them. Prayer is a powerful way for us to enter into God's healing and restoring work in the world. Pray for their safety and recovery; pray for God to move others to generosity and willingness to help; pray for a clear revelation of God's presence with all those in danger or sorrow.

Other than prayer, there are many ways to be involved. Perhaps you loaded up on canned goods or other items in anticipation of days without power or water in your own house. Bring some of that surplus to the I AM Food Pantry. Many of our clients are among the hardest hit by and the least able to deal with the storm. Check on your neighbors nearby and see if they need help with clean up or debris removal. Even if they don't, invite them over for dinner one evening; a friendly welcome and good fellowship go a long way to healing the anxiety and uncertainty this kind of event can bring. Make a donation to a reputable charity - Episcopal Relief and Development is an excellent choice, or make an extra contribution to St. Michael's designated for storm relief.

Lastly, and just as importantly as any of these others, take stock of what you have in your life now and give thanks to God for all of it. Gratitude is an incredibly potent pathway to serenity and joy, and in these major crises, we cannot get enough of either of those.