Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Up the mountain to pray

I've been struggling with whether I need to write this article or not, whether to answer questions that may or may-not-be out there amongst you.  But as I want to be transparent I decided it's always best to let you know what is going on in my mind.

I'm about to head out on a period of rest commonly referred to as a sabbatical from August through October. The Protestant Work Ethic in me feels guilty because few professions are allotted this privilege.  And sometimes the privilege is granted begrudgingly. I am so thankful for your grace to grant me this time for renewal.

The best example that I'm able to articulate is to liken clergy sabbatical to that of a teacher's need for summer break.  It takes a great deal of mental, emotional, and physical fortitude to be a teacher dealing with children, parents, and administrators.  Few people would say that teachers do not deserve (nae need) the summer break.   In some kind of parallel, clergy need a break like this every several years.  We carry a great deal of emotional and physical concern for our people and the constant responsibility of being on call is a heavy burden.  Without hesitation I can say that I do need this time of rest.

From the bottom of my heart I am so grateful to St. Peter's for allowing me this privilege.  My expectations is that I will return refreshed and prepared to renew our upward-moving-spirit that was hijacked by mold remediation and the pandemic going back to 2019.  We've accomplished some amazing work in this short amount of time.  Having put our physical house in better order we will need to make new strides in bringing people home to St. Peter's. We need to pray about how to do that.

During this time I will be on spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela which is the historical burial place of St. James the Great one of the two sons of Zebedee. He was the first apostle to be martyred and was a pillar of the church in Jerusalem during the initial persecutions. I'll be cycling the 500 mile traditional route to his burial place between St. Jean Pied du Port and Santiago in northern Spain.  The trip is somewhat Spartan.  That helps to let go of things that are unnecessary and cling only to what is needed. Lodging is provided mostly by church and civic hostels, and I will spend the days, fasting, moving, and praying the Divine Hours. The time will also be devoted to completing some reading, resting and spending time with Kate.

During this time we've invited several familiar clergy to supply and lead worship on Sundays.  I hope you'll take that opportunity to renew old friendships.  I also encourage you to continue fellowship opportunities.  We have so many resources at St. Peter's that are at our disposal for gatherings.  Continue to build your relationships with one another and invite others to join.  Take initiative to stay connected with folks you haven't seen in a while.  COME TO WORSHIP!  Strengthen your relationship with God and one another.

I'm excited about stepping away.  And I'm excited about coming back.  As I commune with God and as you commune with God let's together ask his will for St. Peter's and how to carry out our ministry to bring others to saving knowledge of the Lord!

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A little church history

Did you know that by church law you can't be married to more than one person at a time? There's some really interesting things about the role of the church in keeping marital records.  During the Roman Empire the state generally kept the written records of births, marriages, and deaths of it's citizens.  At some point after the fall of Rome the church (dutiful monks and priests) stepped in to maintain those records, hence the books we still keep today.  Along with baptism and confirmation records we include records of the places and dates of marriages and births.  In some places these records are still considered legal records and can be used to determine identity in the absence of an official state birth certificate.

You may notice in the bulletins lately we published the Banns of Marriage for a couple seeking to be married at St. Peter's.  This custom goes back to the medieval age in which churches were required to publish the banns three weeks prior to the Sunday services in the home churches of the marrying couple.  The announcement was to ensure that there is no legal impediment to their marriage.  Perhaps the groom or the bride is already married one village over. The banns provided a way for the community to be responsible for the preservation of the sacrament of marriage and support the family that might suffer due to the loss of a parent or spouse to an unsuspecting bridal party.

In previous decades not publishing the banns could result in nullifying the marriage by the state and the church.  For us today, the banns have become more of a special announcement, though they still carry the form of legal impediment.

Another tradition of the church that is meaningful but sadly has gone by the wayside is genuflecting. Genuflecting when crossing the altar from right to left or stepping in or out of your pew is a sign of obeisance to the presence of Christ in the Reserve Sacrament.  That is to say that when the red candle that hovers over the altar is lit it is signifying that consecrated bread or wine is present in the aumbry (or tabernacle).  We are assured of Christ Presence in the Sacrament and we may bend the knee (genuflect) or make the solemn bow for those who struggle with bending the knee thus acknowledging the King of kings is in this place.  The only time the candle is extinguished is in the absence of the bread and/or wine.  Generally that takes place between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and is not re-lit until the first Easter service that follows.  

Blessings,

Fr. Stephen+


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Our Passover!

Easter was such an amazing experience.  We had over 60 additional people than we expected on Sunday.  It was a packed St. Peter’s.  All of our efforts pulled together to prepare our hearts and minds for God to enter and create an opportunity for folks to rejoice in God’s presence at St. Peter’s.  Jesus lives!

The efforts around Holy Week also create this amazing opportunity for Easter Sunday to be so uplifting.  As I said on Palm Sunday, “When you go down with Jesus in the suffering of Holy Week it makes going up with him on Easter that much greater!”

God was honored in all our prayers, worship, and preparation.  I hope these activities have helped you feel closer to God.  I want to thank the Daughters of the King for folding Palm Crosses, the Altar Guild for setting up, filling candles, and so much more.  For Eucharistic Ministers, lectors, and usher/greeters thank you for being positive in these added services and being the face of our church to new guests.  Ministries to Children and youth have kept them connected which led to several baptism and first communions this season, with prospective confirmations to come.  Thank you for our hospitality teams especially that carried the goodies to the columbarium and garden on Easter Sunday.  People were very welcomed and included.  Thank you to the choir who makes beautiful music to God’s glory.

Thank you, leaders and teams, Kathy Thompson, Nancy Leaton, Mary Mabry, Cornelia Estey, Carol Muegge, Cathy Dawson, Kate Whaley, Chris Hilton, and Joanne Clark. 

We will continue to celebrate the wonderful gifts that God has given to ST. Peter’s.  As we enter the summer season in which we tend to travel a lot.  Don’t lose that fervor for God.  Remember that traveling affords an opportunity to see how other churches do things. 

If you’re traveling visit local churches.  Take their service sheets home with you and share them with us.  If there are things that others are doing that will help St. Peter’s improve let us know.

It’s important to continue to cultivate your life in Christ wherever you go.  Sometimes it will also make you appreciate more the things that we share here at home.  It right and a good thing always to praise God wherever you go.  The Lord is Risen!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Loose Ends

This article has a couple of "housekeeping" items.

I am extraordinarily humbled by the outpouring of prayers, love, and support from my St. Peter's family.  Going all the way back to December you've kept me in prayer when I was under a lot of unexpected stress.  You collected a purse at Christmas which made me speechless, and I had to sit down.  Your gifts were anonymous, and so I can't write you all thank you letters.  But please share with one another my great thank you and appreciation!  With the passing of my father you again have showered me with love and support in my confusion about how to feel and think.  You are quite wonderful St. Peter's, and I love you.

Now logistics.  By now you know I've relocated my office to the upstairs hallway adjacent to the church nave. I communicated my rationale for this move to the vestry months ago, but I assumed it would trickle out to the rest of the congregation.  So much for the trickle down theory.  So folks have asked, "Why did he do that?" 

Sometimes actions without broad explanation can cause confusion and often people fill in the blanks without asking directly.  So, I want to let you know my thinking.  

On Sunday mornings if I wasn't teaching a class I would often head back to my old office to sit down and take a rest.  I often felt so far away from where people were gathering; it's isolating.  And at times, if I forgot something when I'm teaching on a Sunday or weekday I would have to go all the way back to my office to gather that item.  So there was a practical need to get my office closer to where I do ministry.  This is true as well for when I read the Daily Office (Morning Prayer).  I specifically want to be closer to the nave and chapel for prayer.  As St. Peter's expands programmatic ministry I also desire to be closer to the programmatic staff.  That is staff that has hands on work with our people.  It's necessary to work collaboratively with music and Moms Inc. teachers. And as St. Peter's grows we hope to integrate a Family Life position that helps with coordinating teaching children, fellowship, and membership integration. 

As my thinking progressed I realized the natural step then is for administrative work to be joined together with my former office with the administrator and bookkeeper positions.  My old office is now the Wardens' and Treasurer's Office.  Our financial records will be kept there and checks will be generated through this office.  Being placed next to the administrator allows for better records storage and access for the financial coming in and going out.  It seems logical to me that they should be closer in proximity as opposed to separate buildings which they have been in the past. It should also help logistical preparation for our yearly audit. In addition the office is also available for our junior and senior wardens to use for organization and record keeping.  We will also continue to use the office for executive committee (rector, wardens and treasurer) to prepare vestry meeting agendas.

The consequence of this change is that during the weekdays it feels to drop-ins that I am harder to reach.  I understand that it might feel that way.  That is an unfortunate interpretation of what's happening.  I am still very accessible no matter who comes in.  It takes the same number of doors to get to me; it's just a different set of doors.  As always parishioners can be buzzed in through our camera system on the exterior hallway door, or through the columbarium door if you want to avoid stairs.  And folks can call me on my office line or cell phone. Just know, that sometimes I'm visiting hospitals, homes, or out in the community.  It's always good to call first.  But I want to be available to you when needed.  See you Sunday.  

Blessings,

Fr. Stephen+


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Your presence is a gift to us.

 It's been engrained in us clergy for 2-3 decades that ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) is the gold standard for the health of  a congregation.  It answers the questions; "how many people are coming on Sunday and how often are they coming?"  Traditional forms of measurements and values have forced us to reconsider how we gauge our parish health even before COVID.  An alternative measure has been financial support. It does provide indicators, but to me it feels mercenary to think of money in that way.  Persons are more important.

We still look at our ASA and go online to keep an eye on how many people are watching our broadcast.  We have to do these things for our canonical obligations to the Episcopal Church.  They want statistics on membership, finances, Sunday School classes and participants, as well as how much we spend on missions work.  Burger King does the same thing. These numbers represent a lot of activity, but don't represent the full picture of home and hospital visits, shared conversations amongst friends, prayers heard by only God and you, volunteer hours for internal and external ministries.  There is so much that happens here that we don't measure.  I'm glad about that.

All of this makes me turn to what I am concerned about.  We sense a void  of those of you who we do not see on Sundays or in the food line or in bible study and potlucks.  We completely understand for those of you who don't feel safe yet to come back to church.  I've been struggling to articulate my thoughts about this.  

Of course, I want to see attendance numbers return and exceed pre-COVID amounts.  Numbers feel good and they are something a little more tangible to use for evaluation.  But if I'm honest, even when numbers are high, they have never satisfied me in this regard.  They always leave me wanting more.

This thought brought me to remember the ancient church, how small the household churches were.  There might be 10-15 in the church in a city or village.  If someone didn't come, you missed him or her.

All of this leads me to my conclusion of what that void is.  It is just your presence that is missing.  Paul tells us this in I Corinthians 12.  Each person has a role to play. Your presence among us has an impact on the whole.  When you are absent from the Body we miss you and when each of you is present we are better for it.  We know it will still be a while before we're back to full participation.  But we long for that time.


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

God's gift

As a child, I loved the smells of this time of year.  In my memory, it always seemed to get cold in December (even though it rarely snowed in Houston). But the coldness brought with it the smell that somewhere, someone was burning wood.  The idea of campfires and fireplaces and cords of wood permeates the season.  The smells and temperature (not so much the wall calendar) pointed to carol singing in the car on the way to celebrate Christmas with my dispersed families in New Braunfels, Corpus Christi, and Old Ocean, Texas.

I love Christmas. I always have.  Presents were always wonderful to get, but I don’t remember most of them.  What I remember and carry with me to this day are family gatherings in Madisonville and Lake Conroe, Brach’s candy wreaths, huge feasts of ham, turkey, and venison, cream cheese on celery stalks, and putting whole black olives on my fingers to eat them one-by-one.  Then followed Christmas games and pranks, charades with the adults and children playing together. 

I remember the current girlfriends of uncles initiated into the family through pranks at Christmas.  I always assumed they would become a part of the family until they didn’t show up the following year.  Love is complicated.

At the shopping mall the signage of the stores used words like, Joy, Peace, Light, Hope, Love…great words!  I believe in these words.

But none of this compares to the incomprehensible depth of what God accomplished at the Incarnation and birth of his Son.  The God and Creator of the Universe stepped into his creation in the most common way.  Your Maker lowered himself to his creatures to bring us up to where he exists.  This simple fact alone should change us, let alone his acts on Calvary.  More than anything else, Christmas is the time to contemplate and be transformed by the depth of God's gift to you.  Let those great words become manifest in your life daily, not just annually.


Friday, November 12, 2021

Church Processions

 I hope you’re as glad as I am to be done with that long 12-part series on Anglicanism.  😊  It was fun to write a series. but that one was particularly long and somewhat heady.  So, let’s get back down to earth.

Is there such a thing as a “recessional” hymn in church parlance?  The common language folks use for when ministers enter the church is to “process” into the church.  And by extension the opening hymn is referred to as “the processional” or “processional hymn.”  In contrast the hymn sung on the way out of church has been referred to and defined by Webster as the “recessional.”  In essence we walk in (proceed) and we walk out (recede.)  But are we really receding?

While in seminary in our first week in liturgics the professor attempted to deconstruct that type of language and insist that we do not recess from church.  Can you feel the eyes rolling in my head?  What does it matter?  Well as people of the prayer book I have to say language and words do matter.

What the professors were trying to get across to us was that we do not recede from church or from the Presence of God.  Especially since, at the end of worship, we have just consumed the Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament.  It’s analogous to think of it as Christ going with us and in us into the world.  In fact, when we listen to the words of the post communion prayer, it anticipates that we are proceeding into the world “to do the works thou hast given us to do" or "to do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” Then, we should see ourselves as the “Church” (Body of Christ) proceeding into the world to further God’s work where ever he leads us.

Why is this important?  Because liturgy is supposed to shape the way we think about things.  When you leave church, are you thinking about stepping away from God by leaving the building and going out into world?  That’s a reasonable perspective.  

Alternatively, as Jesus stepped (proceeded) into the world to save sinners it would be more in line with his character if we, his followers, understood that we too are proceeding into the world, for the purpose of bearing his gifts into the same.

Up the mountain to pray

I've been struggling with whether I need to write this article or not, whether to answer questions that may or may-not-be out there amon...