|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on July 21, 2021 at 1:10 PM|
The on-going and polarizing debate about getting vaccinated during this time of pandemic calls to my mind Paul’s words about “freedom”, especially in his letter to the Galatians. I say this because many who are refusing to get vaccinated are appealing to the notion of individual freedom: “Nobody else should have any say in my personal decisions about my own health.” On the face of it, this seems perfectly reasonable and in keeping with the principles upon which our nation was founded.
Many Christians will point directly to Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians to support their understanding of individual freedom: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). A mere twelve verses later, however, Paul contextualizes his understanding of Christ-enabled freedom with these words:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:13).
This is a critically important caveat that we do well to remember. Paul is clear on this point: the freedom that we have in Christ is not meant to encourage a life of libertine self-interest. Quite the opposite! The freedom that we have in Christ calls us away from being enslaved to pure self-interest towards a life that is committed to mutual love and care for others. Paul hammers home this point with the rather shocking words to our 21st century ears, “…through love become slaves to on another.” Professor of Religion Bruce Longenecker says it this way: “Christians have been set free from the enslavement of chaos-inducing self-interestedness in order to allow the self-giving Christ to become incarnate within their own self-giving way of life.”
The decision about whether to get vaccinated, like many decisions in life, is undoubtedly a personal one, with various factors at play. That said, it is important that we, as Christ-followers, try to make such decisions from a place of neighborly love, and not from a place of unfettered self-interest. Instead of thinking only about how a decision is going to affect me personally, we are called to also give serious consideration to how a decision is going to impact the lives of others. Instead of, as Paul says, using our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, we are called to use our freedom in the service of others and for the common good; that is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on July 14, 2021 at 2:55 PM|
Last week, a college buddy of mine succumbed to COVID-19. Hailing from South Africa, Cynthia was the sort of person who befriended just about everyone she met. My sophomore year, we both lived on the second floor of the same dormitory and I still remember the sound of her boisterous laugh from all the way down the hall. While in some ways, “normal” life has resumed here in the United States, Cynthia’s death is a stark reminder for me that many parts of the world do not yet have widespread access to lifesaving vaccines. I ask your prayers for her family, in particular for her young son N.
In addition to Cynthia’s family in South Africa, I also am holding in prayer friends of mine in Haiti and Cuba. Over the years, I have had the privilege of traveling abroad to help build relationships with fellow Episcopalians living in other countries. So it grieves my heart that some of the friends I have made are experiencing painful turmoil and upheaval.
I am praying for the people of Haiti as they navigate the fallout of the recent assassination of their President. On Sunday, July 4, I mentioned in my sermon that there are over 84,000 active Episcopalians in Haiti (around 35,000 more than in the Diocese of North Carolina), making it the single largest diocese in the Episcopal Church. As a new priest, I visited Haiti and remember with great fondness the determination and faith of the people I met, despite the many challenges facing them.
I am also praying for the people of Cuba. I have traveled to Cuba five times, and on each visit I’ve had the privilege of spending time with the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, The Right Reverend Griselda Delgado del Carpio. Bishop Griselda is the groundbreaking and visionary leader of a small but devout group of parishes who have weathered many storms over the years. Her Diocese is made up of warm, funny, resourceful Christians who are hungry for connection and friendship with American Episcopalians after many decades of isolation. It grieves me that my Cuban friends are struggling so much right now, as shortages of food, vaccines, and other necessities are causing the people to raise their voices in protest.
With limited international travel throughout the pandemic, and plenty of issues to navigate here in the States, it becomes all too easy to ignore the plight of those beyond our national borders. But as Hymn 529 reminds us, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him, no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” We are inextricably bound to one another by virtue of our membership in the Body of Christ and the human family. We cannot ignore the suffering of our siblings around the world. May God’s gracious love uphold them in these difficult days.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on July 7, 2021 at 11:30 AM|
July heat is here and a lot of us are taking time off, traveling, getting projects done and enjoying more freedom than we have had in the last year. I pray all of you are enjoying family, laughing, having fun and relaxing! In my recent travels to the beach, my favorite place, I have spent some time listening to Audible books including Bishop Curry’s Love is the Way. Many times, while I listen, a line will catch my ear and it will make me pause and think. This time it was Bishop Curry speaking about a quote from Robert Kennedy on dreams, “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” Bishop Curry goes on to explore this idea of why not and even repeat it. So many times, we can think of a thousand reasons to ask why and to doubt, but what about dream and ask why not? We can limit ourselves and our potential by always asking the doubtful why and not the dreamer’s why not.
I believe God made us dreamers and encourages us to ask why not. When faced with hardships, we can often turn inside ourselves to ask why, when in many instances we should ask the hopeful why not. It dares us to dream and feel fulfilled by those things we did when asking why not. Why not live our best lives asking why not and not limiting ourselves with why? In Matthew 19:26, But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Why not have all things possible with God? Why not live our best lives? Why not face adversity with God to have the courage to move forward? Why not step forward in faith? Why not?
I answer that question with a question, which I know is in poor taste, but why not share the exciting things happening in our parish with our children and youth. It gives me such great joy to see that we are continually seeing 20+ youth at our monthly summer events and many are bringing friends! Our next fun outing is July 18 to Urban Air in Cornelius for some indoor fun to escape the heat. In August, we will venture up to the lake for a fun Luau at the Lake event. Also, we are looking into a St. Alban’s Youth Retreat to Camp Henry in September. More details to come!
Why not say how excited I am to host an in person VBS the first week of August. My heart is full thinking of all the little faces I will have the joy of seeing for VBS fun. So many have signed up already and fun plans are in the works! Our unofficial start to Sunday School is planned for Sept. 12 and we pray restrictions are lifted by that time for us to move forward. Why not give thanks for each other and what is possible when we dream?
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on June 29, 2021 at 2:20 PM|
This Sunday, July 4th, our nation will celebrate Independence Day. This day has different meanings to different people. For some it symbolizes the many struggles and wars our nation has endured to be independent from control of another country or monarch. For others it symbolizes religious and political freedom. And, for some it symbolizes an unrealized freedom that not everyone was entitled to receive: a freedom denied them by those who claim to value freedom’s worth. I am reminded by scripture that “there is nothing new under the sun”. In truth, mankind (and womankind) have always wanted our freedom to choose to do what we wish: sometimes this is for good and, at other times maybe not so good. Adam and Eve got to choose in the garden of Eden and it didn’t really turn out too well. As we all ponder what we might have learned from the worldwide pandemic and, too, from the very polarized politics in our country, I commend the beautiful hymn text below by Carl P. Daw for us to consider what choices we can make that will lead to a fuller expression of God’s vision for Christ’s eternal kingdom. The author uses themes from Isaiah and others to create this beautiful description of peace. Anglophiles will recognize the famous JERUSALEM tune to which the words are sung. We will sing this hymn on Sunday and I hope it speaks to you.
O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines
O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams, guide us to justice, truth, and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace. Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small; as beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all. Then enemies shall learn to love, all creatures find their true accord; the hope of peace shall be fulfilled, for all the earth shall know the Lord.
Words: © 1982 Hope Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Peace to you,
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on June 24, 2021 at 12:05 AM|
You may have seen in the news recently that Joe Biden’s presidency has revived discussion among American Roman Catholics about whether Catholic political leaders should be excluded from receiving Holy Communion for their views on abortion. I call your attention to this not to make a statement about politics or Catholicism, but as a way of highlighting what I think is one of the great gifts that we share as Episcopalians: an expansive and inclusive view of Communion.
In the Episcopal Church all baptized Christians are invited and welcome to receive Communion, regardless of their religious affiliation, political views, theological perspectives, etc. This reflects our belief that God’s love is freely given, not something that has to be earned, nor that depends upon one’s views on certain socio-political or theological issues. Once one has been baptized, there are no litmus tests for whether one is worthy to receive the sacraments in the Episcopal Church. ALL are welcome to receive!
It is all too easy for us to take this for granted. Perhaps this is one of the helpful reminders of the pandemic. Given the long sacramental hiatus that we were all forced to endure, I for one have gained a new appreciation for the weekly opportunity to gather in person around the altar, extend our hands, and receive the tremendous gift of God’s unconditional love in Holy Communion. I hope you have as well.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on June 16, 2021 at 6:30 PM|
I don’t know about you, but for me, the feeling of intense gratitude about being able to gather in person for worship once more has not yet worn off. I’ve always been a hugger and a crier, and I find myself on the verge of tears at some point in the service most Sundays these days…happy tears, of course!
- Hearing John play the opening chords of the Gloria, followed by the sweet sound of your voices joining in to sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”
- Getting to say “Good morning, St. Alban’s!” to real live humans in the same room as me
- Seeing you all at the altar rail again, hands outstretched, palms facing up in hopeful expectation of being nourished by the Body of Christ
These are just some of the moments in church that have choked me up with emotion over the past couple of months. I hope we never, ever take for granted what a gift and privilege it is to gather as a community to experience and proclaim God’s love in Word and Sacrament.
I am so grateful that we can continue to share our worship online as well. For me, knowing that some folks are worshiping with us each week via livestream is a powerful reminder of the “great cloud of witnesses” who are no longer with us in the flesh but who are always present in our liturgies. Those of us gathered in person may not be able to see everyone who joins us remotely, but we know they are with us.
If you have not yet felt ready to return to in person worship, I understand! And if church—in person or online—feels like a foreign practice right now, I understand that too. What we have been through this past year, individually and collectively, has reshuffled and reordered our lives in ways we are only beginning to understand. Take your time. Just focus on what God is up to in your life today, and be grateful for that. And if you want to talk about anything, please reach out. Your clergy are here for you. The staff and vestry are here for you. Your church is here for you.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. A Prayer for Juneteenth, adapted from the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians:
Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who on June 19, 1865, received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word. God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like those of generations before us, resist the evil of slavery and human bondage in any form and any manner of oppression. Help us to use our freedoms to bring justice among people and nations everywhere, to the glory of your Holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on June 9, 2021 at 11:55 AM|
Happy Summer to all of our St. Alban’s Family! I don’t know how it got here so fast, but the heat, humidity and season are here to stay for a while! Summer means no school, pool, beach, trips, fun, laughing and hopefully some relaxing. For our children at St. Alban’s, it almost always means Vacation Bible School or VBS and this year we are having two, both virtual and in person. This last year has certainly thrown enough at us and if there was ever a year to have two, it’s this year! I am applying the same rationale to my time at the beach this summer, more is better!
Friday night, the Youth celebrated the beginning of summer with a Water Fun event complete with a giant, oversized slip and slide down the hill on the side of the church. They also enjoyed cornhole, frisbee and the best cookout ever with over 40 different burger and hot dog toppings. We finished, of course, with watermelon, ice cream sandwiches and a giggle filled water balloon fight. Even with the rain, we had over 20 youth in attendance and it was amazing to see them come together for fun, fellowship and lots of laughter. My sincere thanks to all who attended and all who helped make it happen.
Our virtual VBS for June and July is Compassion Camp: Changing the World with Lovingkindness. Packets have been delivered with all of the supplies and videos have been created to go with each day/session. As I worked on part of these videos recently with the amazing help of Ryan Givens, who I have to say far outshines me, I thought about this word or words, Lovingkindness. What does it mean? Where does it come from? How can we have more of it? The videos are posted on our YouTube page and, if you get a chance, you should check them out. One of the ways we teach the words is a Superman pose, say Loving with one hand on your hip, say Kindness with other hand on your hip and put them together with head held high and say Lovingkindness!
It’s so funny when you have a word in your mind, you begin to see it in many different places. The very next day after I worked on the videos it appeared in one of my morning devotions. In Psalm 119: 76-77, “let your loving kindness be for my comfort, according to your word to your servant”, God shows his loving kindness by guiding us through reflection and prayer on the path that is meant for us. God encourages us to show and spread this lovingkindness to all whom we know and don’t know. We become the lights of lovingkindness for others and that light is passed on to shine even brighter the more it spreads. May we all know the power of lovingkindness and the importance of passing it on. Have an amazing summer!
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on June 2, 2021 at 5:10 PM|
In my role as Episcopal Campus Minister at the college I have frequent conversations with students about vocational discernment. This should come as no surprise to anyone. The general, if unfair expectation for many is that the college years are primarily about deciding what one will do with the rest of one’s life. This can engender a high level of angst for the students, especially as they near the end of the college careers.
Next academic year, I am hoping to create some intentional group conversations with the students around this topic of vocational discernment. As such, I have been revisiting a couple of books that I encountered on my own journey: Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, and The Remarkable Ordinary by Frederick Buechner. They are different books, written in different styles, but they share a similar understanding of discernment: that it is a lifelong process and largely the product of living one’s life with an attentive patience that is open to the teachings of daily life-experience, even, and perhaps especially, in its mundanity. Palmer and Buechner both seem to genuinely trust that God can and does “speak” to us in and through our life experiences. Buechner encourages us to take the time to “stop, look, and listen” to our lives. Palmer reminds us that there are just as important lessons in the “way closings” of life as there are in the “way openings”. Both authors call us to that place of attentive patience and openness.
The wisdom of these two books applies not just to the discernment of one’s vocation/career, but to the entirety of life’s journey, and particularly to those liminal moments of transition that we all encounter along the way. Like the one we are all experiencing together right now! I know that most of us would rather not be reminded of the virtue of patience at this juncture, but I believe that’s exactly what this moment invites. Even as we are making wonderful strides back towards “normalcy”, we do well to not rush it and to remember to “stop, look, and listen” to our lives.
Where is God speaking to us here and now? What might God have been saying to us in and through our experiences of the pandemic? What ways have been closed to us that need to remain closed? What ways have opened up to us that invite faithful and courageous (not rushed!) steps forward? What “certainties” about life have been challenged and perhaps need to be set aside? What “non-negotiables” need to be re-evaluated and re-classified? What new thing(s) might God be calling us to?
Let’s stop, look, and listen together!
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on May 26, 2021 at 9:55 AM|
Let there be singing! Hallelujah!, said the music director. What a joy it is that we can now enjoy some congregational singing again in the service. In our staff meeting on May 12th Mother Carmen announced that beginning on Pentecost Sunday the diocese will permit congregational singing with masks on and with people socially distanced. Although I am out of town and missed hearing our first congregational singing in over a year, my heart feels such joy that we can once again include this most wonderful part of our worship together. We will keep things fairly simple for now and gradually add back in some of the traditional elements of the service music that we are accustomed to singing. As we all get ourselves accustomed to worshipping together again, we look forward to sharing in the joy of offering our praises to our God in liturgy and song.
The choir has had two members move away in the last few months and as the fall approaches and we begin a new program year, we are in need of singers, especially sopranos. If you have an interest in singing with us please email me so we can set up a time to talk. Below is the first stanza of a wonderful hymn text that encapsulates what the purpose of music in worship should be. It speaks not only to the musician but to all who worship God. It is hymn 420 in The Hymnal 1982.
When in Our Music God Is Glorified
When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried Alleluia! Amen.
|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on May 19, 2021 at 3:35 PM|
With the news of CDC guidelines and state restrictions being lifted comes both enthusiasm and reluctance. I know this because I’ve heard from many of you directly! We rejoice for what these new guidelines mean for us all—that vaccines work and the end of this pandemic is in sight. I thank God for the intellectual gifts given to scientists to get us to this point.
Here at St. Alban’s, some protocols are changing while others will remain in place for a bit longer. Our Bishops are currently preparing new guidelines for our Diocese in light of the positive strides made against the spread of COVID-19. These new guidelines will continue to take into account both science AND our Christian values of love and inclusion. As I said during the announcements this past Sunday, we’ve had many opportunities to practice patience, compassion, and flexibility during the pandemic, and we need to keep leaning into these values to see us through the next few months.
Below is a summary of our current protocols, but make sure to check your newsletter every week, because more changes are coming soon.
• As of this Sunday, singing will be allowed! This week we will once again be able to sing our beloved hymns. In June, we will reintroduce service music such as the Gloria, the Doxology, the Sanctus, etc. I am so excited to hear your beautiful voices again.
• Our Diocese has not yet lifted its indoor mask directive. While we are so thankful for the highly effective vaccines now available for adults and teens, there is still a significant portion of our parish’s population (children under 12) who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and therefore are encouraged to wear masks inside. While cases of severe COVID-19 are rare in children, they do occur. We do not want to exclude our young people from worship. As adults, it is our responsibility to model the behaviors we’re asking our children to emulate. We also have several beloved congregation members with compromised immune systems and we want to protect them as well. Jesus constantly aligned himself with the most vulnerable people of his time—widows, children, the sick, the outcast, and the poor. A church is a different entity from a business. It is at the heart of our mission to welcome all and to “respect the dignity of every human being,” to quote the Baptismal Covenant. So while we may feel eager to be maskless at church once again, we are not quite ready for that at St. Alban’s. We will continue to listen to the wisdom of our Bishops and will reevaluate this policy regularly and make adjustments as appropriate. One exception to this is that preachers who are vaccinated may now remove masks to preach sermons, as long as they are a sufficient distance from others. This will be beneficial to those who have trouble hearing.
• For now, we continue to observe room capacity limitations, pre-registration for worship attendance, and minimizing contact by not passing the offering plate, kneeling at the altar rail, no coffee service, etc. We anticipate that many of these restrictions will be lifted in June. Please stay tuned to our parish communications to stay up-to-date.
St. Alban’s, THANK YOU. Thank you for your faithfulness this past year and in the weeks ahead. Thank you for all your encouragement along the way and your good humor as we have navigated so many challenges together. With love and deep gratitude, I am
Yours in Christ,