Friday, February 13, 2015

Places to Call Home

Dear People of Christ Church,
Thanks to everyone who came out Tuesday for our snow day fun day—we had games, music, delicious food and, for parents, some much-needed time away from the ever narrowing four walls of house and snow we’ve found ourselves in over the last number of weeks. This is what church is for. Church is a place of refuge and spiritual solace and strength outside ourselves, but it’s crucially also our home, hopefully with all the comfort and intimacy in the best sense of what that means.

I was struck most powerfully by the idea of church as “home” when I was back a few weeks ago visiting the town where I grew up (Erie, PA) and spent some time at the convent up the road. Mt St Benedict is the home community of Sister Joan Chittister, who has written some amazing books and been a great advocate for women in the Roman Catholic Church. It has great inclusive liturgy (but, still being Roman Catholic, still no women priests) and a phenomenal community. Hospitality is what they do best—they are pros. But it was also just my neighborhood monastery where I did volunteer work in the kitchen when I was a teenager and where I did an independent study project as a religion and gender studies undergrad on monastic life (literally half a lifetime ago). So, along with St Mary’s Episcopal Church, also in Erie, it’s one of my homes. Walking into the chapel for Thursday evening Mass I felt a crashing of love, comfort, and acceptance. Jesus was there and had been waiting for me! I was home, just like I feel at home at our altar here.

On Tuesday I was glad to see our snow day shared on facebook inviting non-church friends, too. Episcopal worship can be transcendent and glorious—but if you don’t know what’s going on, it can be a tough initiation to community. One of my longings for Christ Church is to reach further out into the city in all different ways, to invite people to get to know the community in other ways than just Sunday services. A lot of you have found your way here by “church shopping.” You’ve been part of a tradition in the past and find that you’re living in a new place or find that your previous spiritual practice didn’t quite fit, and you have some sense of what you’re looking for. Increasingly, though, many people who’ve never been part of a tradition don’t really know what church is for—it seems more like an archaic custom, not a place for real life. So I am grateful for each of you who invite others into this home, helping it to be a place of sustenance and comfort for everyone who walks in the door. It also helps a lot that you pay your pledges and that the heat stays on!

I wonder what it was like for the early Christians to explain what they were about. In preparing for “scout day” at Christ Church I have been thinking about how I explain the Christian faith from the ground up, and I think the most important thing is that it’s for everybody. Anybody can be baptized. Anybody can receive communion. And EVERYBODY is loved and treasured beyond measure by the God who created us and who sustains us all the days of our lives. “Home” as a concept can be pretty tricky, but that’s on us—the love of God is more unconditional than our minds can even fathom.

How about you? What’s home for you? Is church home? Why or why not? What would make you more likely to invite someone to join you here?

Continue the conversation on facebook in our new group page—anyone connected to the parish can join, but it’s closed so it won’t appear on the main page.

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jesus' Compassion, Our Fears

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I am still mulling over this past Sunday’s children’s sermon experiment with The Jesus’ Love and Compassion Paper Shredder of Sadness and Fear (an idea I very gratefully pinched from a colleague). We talked a little about things we’re afraid of and drew pictures or wrote them down. Monsters and lions and bullies, failure and illness and grief. Inequality and homelessness and racism. We decided that Jesus could handle those things and would let us know how to help.

Our Gospel for the day was a healing story—Epiphany season is full of them, and there’s another this week. Last Sunday’s started off a bit differently, though—rather than being about illness, this one was about an “unclean” spirit. Not an easy subject—too often, categories of “clean” and “unclean” get attached to human beings and are used to judge and reject. Whether gender identity or social status or other categories, it seems like humans always are tempted to exclude each other.

In any case, there’s this fascinating bit in there about authority—the authority of Jesus. I asked the kids what that word means, and Eli said power—which is true. But the power and authority of Jesus comes from a different place than we’re used to. Often in our world, power is about domination: it’s the opposite of weakness. It’s a relative term. You can only have power if you have something another doesn’t have. The power we most often see is based in threats. Bigger bombs or bigger bank accounts. The authority of Jesus comes from a different place. The authority of Jesus is not a relationship of stronger vs weaker. The authority of Jesus is compassion—com-passion, literally suffering-along-with. The power of God in Jesus was compassion for those who are suffering. And in that compassion, he healed the person in the story.

Jesus can heal us, too—if we let him. That’s what was so important about the “authority” piece in the Gospel for last Sunday; Jesus was given authority over suffering, and that’s where healing came from. In our paper shredder experiment, we gave Jesus authority over our anxiety, too.

I don’t know what was “really” happening in the story—we can analyze back and label it epilepsy or mental illness or whatever, but what feels more important is to see that love cast out fear. As Jesus wasn’t afraid of the “unclean” person, he was able to be in community again.

This is a message I really need to take with me into the season of Lent. I need to remember that whatever sins I name on Ash Wednesday that, like that person with the demon, I can recognize the authority of Jesus to heal me from them. It’s not a passive healing, but an active participation in our salvation (though we aren’t the agents, for sure).

What do you need to hear as we enter Lent? What fear do you need Jesus to shred with love and compassion? What will help you to repent and be forgiven?

Blessings,
Sara+

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Being the Church

Dear People of Christ Church,
Thanks to all who came out for the annual meeting!
In addition to the oh-so-exciting “prayer for a church meeting,” we offered prayers for those who died in 2014 and celebrated new members who signed our volume of the 1898 bylaws (You can get a more recent copy—just let me know). If you missed out and would still like to sign, please let me know and there will be a part two. As we have for the last number of years, we also gave appreciation pins to those whose service we were particularly grateful over the year—Jerome Fung, for sharing his musical gifts with us, Jessica Mailman, responsible for the overhaul of our website, Andrea Shirley, who concluded her term as vestry member and served (and continues to serve) as deanery representative, and Chris Jensen, who concluded his time as parish treasurer. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jerome, Jessica, Andrea, and Chris! We also welcomed on new leadership to vestry—Chris Leonardo and Anna Jones are each joining for regular terms of service, and Mike Hughes is coming on as treasurer. This parish is so blessed to have these thoughtful, faithful, creative leaders!

The bulk of the meeting centered in having conversations about the four themes that came out of informational interviews conducted by the vestry to discern where our energy is most needed at church: the building, the community, outreach, and ministries with children. In preparation, we gathered annual reports from all the different ministries we’ve engaged in over the year. At the meeting itself, our emphasis was more on preparing for 2015 than looking back at 2014, but please do read the report (here is the correct link!). Please also, if you were at the meeting, offer feedback to me and the vestry about your experience. Having so much emphasis on the new year was new for 2014, and we want to have a balance between looking forward and looking back.

Speaking of feedback, in the new year we continue to discern how best to pray our intercession list. This Sunday in response to parishioner input we’re including a short explanation of those for whom we pray in the bulletin, and we continue hearing the names from the congregation. So far input has been very positive, so please let us know how you experience it with our survey, either online or in church on Sunday (in the bulletin). Another survey is about our plans for Christian formation. What do you want to learn? What format works best for you? Do you want more focus on the Bible? More on getting to know each other? Would you be part of making it happen? Please let us know here.

Why all the information gathering? The BCP catechism says “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” That is the mission of the church. And if what we’re doing isn’t directed toward God, then we’re not living up to what God desires for us. Listening to each other is part of that work. At the same time, it’s also not just about accommodating the personal preferences of 100 different individuals; we are also called to hope for the best of the whole, not just own wants.

As I said in my sermon last Sunday, the church is the church as it is—we are the church. You are the church. It matters if you’re here on Sunday and it matters what you think. And I continue to be blessed to serve you and God in this place!

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, January 23, 2015

Annual Meeting Sunday

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’m passing along my annual report—please come to the annual meeting on Sunday! We look forward to voting in some excellent leaders (Chris Leonardo and Anna Jones to vestry, Mike Hughes to treasurer) and will hopefully have some fruitful conversation about our calling to ministry in the new year. This will be the first order of business, so even if you can’t stay for the whole meeting, please come for the conversation. Plans for a children’s activity are underway. Also remember it’s one service, at 9:30! Please also join me in offering prayers of gratitude for the service of Louise Wilkes, Andrea Shirley, and Chris Jensen, whose elected terms come to a close but whose ministries certainly continue.

Sitting down to write this report for you for the tenth time (the anniversary of our ten years of work together will be September 15), I’m always so grateful for all the ways in which you are so generous with each other and with this parish. Writing this year I am thrilled and excited that we have met our astonishingly ambitious 2015 pledge goal. St Francis of Assisi talked about being a fool for Christ. If any of us in 2012 had said we’d increase our stewardship giving by more than thirty percent in the space of two years, they would have been told in no uncertain terms they were just a fool. But here we are, and wow.
There were a lot of “wow” moments this year. Of course, the narthex, which literally brought tears to my eyes. We had the biggest ever participation in our Lenten small group educational series on the The Restoration Project. We listened to the movement of God in each others’ lives in those conversations, and came nearer to each other as well.
The vestry had its first ever “retreat retreat” for our annual time together, spending the day at Bethany House of Prayer, allowing us to reflect on how the Spirit had been weaving Her way through our conversations. A pivotal time I think for all of us on vestry was our conversations about the possibility of hiring a part time director of religious education. Though the search overall wasn’t successful, it was a grace-filled time of listening to each other, both in the vestry and in the team that did interviews and imagined together what the person might bring. I’m hopeful that the time might be right in 2015. Our Spring Arts Night was so much fun, and a great way to see God’s gifts in the lives of the performers. Kira Cohn’s pogo stick rendition of Happy was definitely a highlight of the year.
I’m grateful that our building has continued to offer home to so many different ministries and (ad)ventures. January of 2014 did begin on a sad note for our friends at St Peter’s, who experienced a split in their congregation, leading to half or so forming a new community in Belmont. I am grateful to the Diocese of Massachusetts for providing grant funds to enable St Peter’s to continue to meet the bulk of their financial responsibility to Christ Church. I was also glad that many members of St Peter’s joined us when we welcomed Bishop Shaw on his last visitation to the parish in March, and that many continue to join us for our Holy week Services.
I am so grateful for Victoria Sundgren and Sasha Killewald, wardens extraordinaire who keep me focused and attentive to so much. Our lay led compline series has been a great example of the vocation of the whole church to prayer, and the musical gifts of Jerome Fung are a constantly unfolding gift to the church. I’m also thrilled to have Christine Dutt working with our expanded older kids offerings and partnership with Good Shepherd Watertown and Erin Jensen continuing to lead our younger kids’ programs (as well as being a parent leader in the older kids’ organizing!). We would not have had a fraction of the growth we have seen over the last number of years without her steadiness and spirit. Meanwhile, I continue to be so thankful for the continual and kind presence of those who have kept things going all along, Sally and Cathy and all of the longtime members who “remember when.”
In 2015 I also began some new projects in my work as a priest in the wider world. I’ve now spent a whole year on the Commission on Ministry, the diocesan group tasked with working with those who are applying for and preparing for ordination. I’ve written pieces for the Waltham News Tribune on a more regular basis for holidays. I continue to serve on the Parmenter Housing board, which runs two affordable housing complexes for older women, and help here and there for the diocesan Life Together intern program.
I was sad to say goodbye to David Collins, but grateful for all the new things Cheryl is teaching us. And to say that I’m pleased to have Jaime Bonney in the office doesn’t come close to articulating how much I appreciate her! And, of course, I couldn’t close the report by mentioning my sadness at losing Jim Hewitt and Tom Shaw this year. In very different ways these two men shaped my priesthood and leadership, and I know that they dwell in light eternal with all the saints.

Being Beloved, Being Changed

Dear People of Christ Church,
Sunday, my sermon was all about the love of God—God’s all the time, unconditional, unchanging love. It doesn’t matter how much better we could be through self-improvement—more exercise, more prayer, more attentiveness, more simplicity—still, no matter what, God loves us now and won’t love us more even if we could become “better” somehow.

This week, I’m feeling vividly the paradox of that profound truth—God literally could not love us more—at the same time as I feel the truth of God’s pull toward being, yes, better. Some of it is the New Year; writing all of our annual reports, I’m excited about what else we can do having seen how far we’ve come. Some of it is Martin Luther King, Jr Day—thinking of the “more” to which the Civil Rights Movement called our country and thinking of just how far there still is to go.

The love of God invites our total and profound surrender to God’s will. The love of God invites our perfect rest in God’s sufficiency and care for us. The love of God is a raging fire, that burns in your heart until you’ve shared it with others. The love of God is the knowledge that you are valued beyond measure and—and—for that very reason—for the very reason of your soft cuddly love of God feeling—you are also made brave beyond measure to go out into the world to make God’s dream real.

I don’t know the answer of how, exactly, to do this. I’m starting small—in how I teach my children, in how I spend my money, in how I do my job. Jesus said something about being a neighbor, loving with action and word those who are closest, allowing the sphere of our affection to broaden. Not turning away from suffering. Last week, like many were, I was swept away in the “Big Ideas” about the shootings in France while as many as 2,000 people were murdered in Nigeria with hardly a media ripple.

So I’ll soak in all of God’s love and acceptance that I know is mine in Christ. I will pray not to allow myself to feel God’s love as an insulating cocoon away from the world, but as a fire behind me that allows me to go out into the world. I will pray to be willing to face suffering and pain, knowing that God’s love will always be enough.

Blessings,
Sara+

Friday, January 9, 2015

On (Not) Getting Our Stories Straight

Dear People of Christ Church,
Blessings on this week of Epiphany!
This year through both Advent and Christmas I’ve continually felt drawn toward the multiplicity of our narratives—from Matthew to Mark to Luke to John, the church has long told many stories to explain our faith. To be religious is to be bound by a certain set of questions and symbols, but at the same time to hold a radical openness to truth—to stand at the doorway of Scripture and see shepherds at the manger on our left and Magi at the house with Jesus on the right and be able to extend our arms wide and say to both, “yes,”  “thank you,” “Amen.” The shepherds teach me that God’s truth is revealed in some unlikely corners of society; the Magi teach me that the revelation of truth sometimes comes from far away.

There is much in the media this week over the attacks against the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which twelve staff members were shot this week in an attack apparently by Islamic fundamentalists.   Is religion the problem? One of my favorite authors, Salman Rushdie, says it is, and calls it “a medieval form of unreason,” and says religion deserves our “fearless disrespect.”  Certainly I have little sympathy for homicidal fundamentalists, but it seems unuseful to lump every impulse toward transcendence and mystery in the same category. Religious violence has endured through millennia. The Egyptians oppressed the Hebrews and the Spanish Inquisition oppressed non-Catholics. Christian fundamentalists have bombed abortion clinics and now Islamic fundamentalists attack cartoonists and school girls. The thing those all have in common is contempt and violence, not religion.  Charlie Hebdo was contemptuous (and from what I’ve seen, probably racist, too)—but not violent, and not deserving of murder. It’s cruel irony that one of the police officers murdered in the attack was Muslim, risking his life to protect those on the magazine who pilloried his prophet.

So what to do? As thousands in France held up their pens in support of the writers and artists who were killed on Tuesday, as a religious person I hold out two open hands.   I hold out open hands for mystery, for attentiveness and for curiosity. Open hands to say that I don’t come to Scripture—or even my own life!— with certainty, but with faith.  I’ll imagine the magi in the stable and give thanks for the holy strangeness of kings in a barn. I’ll imagine the shepherds at the house and hope that their lambs don’t wander into the kitchen. I’ll get out of bed every day to meet my own chaotic life of distraction and wonder—parenting and preaching and learning and falling and getting up again—through all of it so grateful for a faith big enough to hold the pieces together.

At Epiphany, we remember the magi following a star and listening to the invitation in their dream to go home by another way.  What new path are you on today?  What’s the power of your faith against violence? Where do you need the stars to illuminate your road?

Blessings,
Sara+

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Sacrament of Stillness

This week, I’m passing on a bit from Walter Brueggeman, whose book I read this week while home on a sick day: Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. I’ve written a lot in this space about feeling impatient about social justice and the Advent of Christ’s restoration of all things—I’ll try to be faithful to that holy impatience. Unholy impatience, however, is the kind I fall into more often. Short tempered with my kids when they take what seems like EIGHT YEARS to brush their teeth. Impatient in traffic, trying to avoid the distracting allure of the little red notifying sign that I have a Facebook message from someone. These kinds of impatiences are habits of thought absorbed in our technological world, when it feels like anything worth having must be eligible for overnight shipping, and anything worth doing must be able to be finished in an afternoon.

Here’s what Brueggeman says about that.
The divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear:
a. that Yahweh is not a workaholic
b. that Yahweh is not anxious about the full function of creation and
c. that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work (6).

Hear that? Creation doesn’t depend on your constant work. It doesn’t even depend on God’s constant work. Sabbath, Brueggeman says, is as necessary to God as it is to us—and rather archly reminds us that God did not just “check in” on creation on God’s day off. God knew it would be fine.

Sabbath, Sabbath, Sabbath. Rest, faithfulness, joy.
I feel like I’ve been writing and preaching grief and tragedy for too many weeks, and the sin of our world is still glaring, still there. But we will not be made more compassionate or more fruitful in our work in refusing to trust God. I’ve been so moved by all the stories of protest that have come out recently—high school students all over Boston leaving their classrooms, Harvard Medical School students in their white jackets leaving their lecture halls. To cease to operate in the usual economy of accomplishment and “business as usual” seems to me a sacramental response. The holy is revealed in the ordinary.

There is often a complaint that protest actions don’t directly impact the issues the protestors want changed. Blocking a highway entrance does nothing against police violence. Laying down on the street does nothing directly to end the racism that leaves black children more likely to be expelled from school than their white peers. 9 years of the Waltham peace vigil (see below), has not ended any wars. Those critiques may be compelling, but both racial injustice and war politics are so woven into our judicial and economic system and into our very habits of mind that there is no simple chain of cause and effect, anywhere. The critique just doesn’t fit.

Justice comes in God’s time, with all of us needing to pray and hope and work and, yes, rest. We already know the end of the story. Jesus was born among us. God, in our midst. God just came to be with us. The birth of a holy child has no apparent causal relationship to the end of sin and suffering. Still in one week at the manger we will adore him, still we have confidence that the child, Emmanu-el, is God with us. Still, that light will shine.

Blessings,
Sara+