|Posted by communications on July 1, 2020 at 11:35 AM||comments (0)|
La Escuelita San Alban Bilingual Preschool’s Wholehearted Teaching Manifesto
At the end of each preschool year when we say goodbye to earnest four-year olds, the teachers lament their rise to kindergarten. How will we ever have a more wonderful school year? How can I ever love a group of children more than I did these? And yet, every fall we welcome a new group of eager, kind, rambunctious children and the love settles in again. We are an ever-growing family with ever-growing hearts.
There are wordsmiths able to voice these feelings better than I. One that comes to mind is Sister Carol Bialock who has spent her life deeply devoted to those in need. On her 90th birthday she released her book of poems, Coral Castles.
Does the heart have a narrow door?
Will it allow in just one more
of every beast and flower and bird
and every song it has ever heard?
Just one more child, just one more flower,
one more relinquishing of power
to that sane and sacred foolishness
of living by inclusiveness?
Does the heart have a supple, elastic latch
that makes it easy to dispatch
all pettiness and bigotry
and opens it to what makes us free?
. . .
You who can heal all wounds and hate
make my heart open, free, and great.
I ask Sister Carol to devote these words to the teachers of La Escuelita San Alban Bilingual Preschool. Lord, may all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and joys. Impart in us the knowledge that love is infinite and never-ending.
|Posted by communications on June 24, 2020 at 1:55 PM||comments (0)|
With all the turmoil swirling around us these days, seeing so many of you come out on Monday night for our St. Alban’s Day Car Parade was such a balm. Each time a new car rolled up, it was a joy-filled surprise to discover who was inside, and to get to chat for a moment or two. And together, you brought 104 pounds of food and toiletry items for the Red Wagon which were delivered to FeedNC--wow! As I told the group who helped plan the parade, the clergy may have been giving out blessings, but you all were the ones who blessed me. I didn’t realize just how much my weary soul needed to see you and celebrate something with you.
Now we ponder: what’s next for us, St. Alban’s? There’s not much we can say with certainty at this point, but we do know that we will not be re-gathering in our nave for in-person worship on July 1 or anytime soon. The virus statistics in our area are not improving enough and there are too many heartbreaking stories of outbreaks occurring in churches. However, our Bishops have recently indicated that gathering for outdoor worship in small numbers will soon be allowed, since being outside drastically reduces the likelihood of virus spread. We are currently waiting for further guidelines from the Diocese about this, but we are already imagining what that might look like for us for the remainder of the summer. While there’s a lot to still figure out, there are a few things I can go ahead and share with you about our plans:
Our 10:30 a.m. Sunday service will continue to be a pre-recorded online Morning Prayer service with a sermon and music. This service will be the most accessible to everyone, so it makes sense to have this be our principal worship service for the foreseeable future. This service will be where we continue put the majority of our time and energy, since it will have the broadest reach.
We are exploring adding 2 to 3 additional weekly services which would be held outside, weather permitting. We hope these will be services of Holy Eucharist, but we are waiting for the Bishops’ approval on that. Any in-person outdoor gatherings we offer will have to abide by very strict Diocesan safety protocols, including but not limited to: pre-screening oneself for possible COVID-19 symptoms, wearing masks, social distancing, restricting physical contact, refraining from singing, and requiring attendees to RSVP in advance to limit the size and allow for contact tracing if necessary. In order to safely offer these services, everyone must understand that abiding by the guidelines is a Covenant we all willingly enter, to protect the most vulnerable in our midst.
Of course, any plans we make for in-person gatherings are subject to change based on the current situation. If we’ve learned anything from the past three months, it is that we need to stay flexible and do our best to adapt with grace when needed. I am proud of the way our congregation has nimbly navigated all the challenges we’ve faces thus far, and I trust that God will continue to guide us.
To close, I’ll offer the scripture verse that has been running through my brain this week, from Deuteronomy, when Moses prepares to say farewell to his people, who are about to encounter new challenges as they enter the Promised Land without him:
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” -Deuteronomy 31:6, KJV
Fortunately, I’m not saying any goodbyes! But in this long season of physical distance and virtual community, I will take every chance I get to remind you (and myself) that God remains present with us and we need not give in to fear. God is faithful, and therefore, we can be too.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on June 17, 2020 at 1:00 PM||comments (0)|
This coming week, we will celebrate our patron saint, Alban the Martyr, with our virtual pilgrimage to England on Sunday, June 21 and our car parade on Monday, June 22 (read more about these events below!) How much do you know about St. Alban? Read on to learn more, courtesy of the St Albans Cathedral website:
The story of Alban is a remarkable one. It not only takes us back to the beginning of the Christian faith in Britain and to a time when religious freedom was forbidden, but it is also an astonishing account of standing up for what you believe in.
Alban lived in the early third century in the Roman city of Verulamium, just down the hill from where the Cathedral stands today. One day he gave shelter to a stranger fleeing from persecution. This stranger was a Christian priest, now known as Amphibalus. While sheltering the priest, Alban was inspired by how important faith was to the priest and asked to be taught more about Christianity.
It was not long until the Roman authorities caught up with Amphibalus. However, Alban’s new-found faith would not allow him to let the authorities arrest the priest. Instead, Alban exchanged clothes with Amphibalus and was arrested, allowing the priest to escape.
When discovered, he reportedly said, “I am called Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God.” Alban refused to renounce his beliefs and the magistrate ordered that he should receive the punishment intended for the escaped priest. Upon this ruling, Alban was led out of Verulamium and up the hillside where he was beheaded.
Alban is honoured as Britain’s first saint, and his grave on this hillside quickly became a place of pilgrimage. This story of an ordinary man, doing an extraordinary thing has endured and continues to inspire to this day.
|Posted by communications on June 10, 2020 at 7:20 PM||comments (0)|
“… ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ ” Matthew 25:45
As I watched the horrific video of George Floyd’s life being literally choked out of him by a man whose job was supposed to be to protect and serve, I could not help but think of these words from Matthew’s gospel. In the context of talking about the so-called “Judgment of the Nations”, Jesus makes it quite clear that any judgment of humanity by God will be based primarily on how we treat the “least of these”, which he delineates here as being those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison. This is a clear echo of the Hebrew prophets; whose constant refrain was to care for the widow and the orphan. Jesus and the prophets clearly understood that God-like love was characterized first and foremost by a preferential option for those who had been unjustly marginalized by society.
I have never understood Jesus’ list here as being all inclusive, and I think in our current context we are compelled to add “victims of racism” to the list. To be clear, Jesus was not saying “least” in the sense that those listed are inferior in any way, but rather that they have been treated as inferior unjustly. There can be no doubt that black and brown people have been unjustly treated as inferior for centuries. George Floyd’s death is just one more painful example of this reality. Not only has American society not taken care of people of color, but it has created and allowed systems that actively oppress and subjugate them.
In these verses from Matthew, Jesus unequivocally equates himself with the “least of these”. It is hard to overestimate the radical nature of these words in his first century setting. Sadly, they remain radical for many today. If we take these words seriously, George Floyd should represent Jesus to us. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that when we see that video, we ought not just see George Floyd having the life choked out of him, but Jesus himself. It is from this perspective, I believe, that we as Christians must frame our conversations and discern how we might participate in bringing about positive change.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on June 3, 2020 at 3:10 PM||comments (0)|
The past week has been an incredibly painful one for our nation. There’s a lot I could say, but as a white person and a Christian, the posture I am trying to take right now is one of listening more than talking. This can be challenging, because I have thoughts and feelings and opinions (lots of them!) about it all. But sharing my thoughts/feelings/opinions (which I am happy to do over a socially-distanced beverage if you really want to hear them) is not my calling. My calling is to proclaim the Gospel. And I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks powerfully to this moment. But to proclaim the Gospel faithfully, I first need to listen…to God, and to those whose voices have traditionally been silenced. If we don’t do the hard work of listening, it is too easy to stay comfortably in our own echo chambers or to be baited into unproductive discourse and get distracted from our mission as followers of Jesus. The prayer attributed to St. Francis says it so well: “Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.”
One of the people I am listening to carefully is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Not only is he the spiritual leader of our denomination, but he is also a black man who has experienced racism firsthand. So today, I want to cede the remainder of this space to amplify his voice. He recently offered these words to the Church:
“In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity.
Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life.
But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.
That work of racial reconciliation and justice – what we know as Becoming Beloved Community – is happening across our Episcopal Church. It is happening in Minnesota and in the Dioceses of Kentucky, Georgia and Atlanta, across America and around the world. That mission matters now more than ever, and it is work that belongs to all of us.
It must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone. It is the difficult labor of picking up the cross of Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, and carrying it until no one – no matter their color, no matter their class, no matter their caste – until no child of God is degraded and disrespected by anybody. That is God's dream, this is our work, and we shall not cease until God's dream is realized.
Is this hopelessly naïve? No, the vision of God’s dream is no idealistic utopia. It is our only real hope. And, St. Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbor, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. Violence against any person – conducted by some police officers or by some protesters – is violence against a child of God created in God’s image. No, as followers of Christ, we do not condone violence.
Neither do we condone our nation’s collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out.
But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger’s well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.
Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self. That way of real love is the only way there is.”
I am listening to you, Bishop Curry.
I am listening to you, beloved people of St. Alban’s.
I am listening to you, Jesus.
I am listening.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on May 27, 2020 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
This time of year is happy and sad. Happy because school is out and summer is here—teachers love spending time with their own children. No homework makes for great family moments! But it is also a time for the sadness of saying goodbye to children who have become our own in so many ways.
We thank the Escuelita parents for trusting us with their children this year. It is clear they are loved and nurtured. We are proud to be even a tiny part of their upbringing. Together we laughed, we learned, we got dirty, we cried, we watched birds, we sang, we held hands, we prayed. Every year there are projects that become favorites and this year is no exception! Who wouldn’t love a volcano or fizz rocket or frog launcher? We sometimes scrap projects because children teach us what works and what doesn’t. We always learn as much from them as they do from us.
In our role as teachers, time can nearly stand still. Each year our classrooms fill with preschool children… they are curious and rambunctious, guileless and kind. They are always preschoolers. But, like you, our teachers are also parents… and as parents we find that time is fickle and fleeting. As Christmases seem to come closer and closer together, we dutifully log all our children’s FIRSTS: the first step, the first word, the first emerging tooth. We notice.
But those LASTS are more elusive and their encounters catch us off guard. Becoming aware of these changes can tug at our heartstrings. We look ahead and dream of days that haven't come to pass… but as we do, we sometimes miss today's sweet, precious lasts. Last week at virtual graduation we had the opportunity to watch a LAST through slow glass. We took mental photos, caught the grins, heard the songs, noticed the light and the letter of the day. This was a LAST we were aware of—the last day of preschool. For children who are leaving, we wish the best. We know you will do so well in Kindergarten. Please keep in touch—we love to see you grow. For those returning, we can’t wait to see you in the fall. Enjoy your summer; be safe, and keep wonder in your lives! God loves you.
|Posted by communications on May 20, 2020 at 9:40 AM||comments (0)|
As I reflect on everything going on in the world and in my own home, I am reminded of three very important lessons that have influenced me over the years. The first is 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may have the strength to endure it.” The second is thankfulness for everything in my life and around me. The third is acceptance, one I often struggle with sometimes, but is so important in living a peaceful life.
The bible verse in Corinthians is one I sometimes find myself using as a mantra when faced with difficulties in my life. Lately it is one I think of daily as we face this historical pandemic occurring now. Many of us are probably feeling like I am that each day presents new challenges of homeschooling, working from home, emotions, social distancing and the list goes on. With each of these and others, I am reminded of my faith in God and that I will not be tested beyond my strength and that he provides the light to show me through it.
Thankfulness, by definition is the feeling of being happy or grateful because of something, which I have experienced by looking around in nature, seeing friends and family and most recently my role at St. Alban’s. So much occurred with our Youth and Children’s programs prior to Covid19 including renovating two church rooms, beginning our Ministry Architects work and mission, launching High School Sunday School, cultivating a new Middle/High School EYC Youth Group with St. Patrick’s and growing our children’s Sunday School offerings with song and our exciting new 4th Sunday program. Now, in the midst of Covid19, I am thankful for Youth Group Zoom meetings on Sunday evenings, extensive resources and curriculum both discovered and shared weekly with families and each Sunday School class, my new and very novice experiences with YouTube video messages to our children, our continued behind the scenes Ministry Architects work accomplished by our amazing Renovation Team, an attempted Thank You Zoom event for all of our Sunday School and Nursery volunteers hopefully to be rescheduled and of course I am mostly thankful for all of you and your unwavering support in the face of these historic challenges.
Lastly, acceptance, is about accepting what is happening and in doing so finding a peace from fighting against, worrying about and stressing over the coronavirus, social distancing, being in the house too long, no normal routines, no hugs from friends and many others. If we accept that this is just where we are now, we can begin to breathe into the fact that it will not always be this way and find an inner peace and faith that may just lead to us opening our minds to a new reality and new possibilities.
Peace be with you all!
|Posted by communications on May 13, 2020 at 5:30 PM||comments (0)|
This past week, Kevin and I attended our annual Clergy Conference, held entirely online. Part of the conference was devoted to a presentation from the Diocese of North Carolina's Task Force on Reopening. The bishops shared a preview of the guidelines they are working on which will be officially released soon. When that information is made available, we will share it with you. For now, I will share a few important highlights:
• The current moratorium on public worship and building use is extended past the original date of May 17. We're currently in what they are calling Stage 1. We will not move into Stage 2 of reopening until virus cases and deaths are on the decline in our state and adequate testing, tracing, and personal protection equipment are widely available. If we move into Stage 2 and the situation in North Carolina then gets worse, we could potentially go back to Stage 1 again. In laying out these stages, our Bishops seek to keep all of us as safe and healthy as possible.
• As Kevin shared with you on Sunday, we've been asked to wear masks as we lead worship from the church building whenever we are around anyone not from our household. And as I addressed in last week's newsletter, we are no longer singing in the nave unless it is pre-recorded with nobody else present.
• I said this in last week's newsletter, but it bears repeating: even as we get to the point of adding in-person gatherings back into our worship life, we will continue to offer online worship. We are learning so much about how to engage the community in online worship and we will take what we've learned into our future.
• The Diocese has asked parishes to begin working on plans for implementing our next stage of reopening. Stage 2 will still be extremely limited, whenever it occurs. Right now, we are pulling together a group from among the vestry, clergy, staff, and others to help design our plan for reopening gradually when we are allowed to do so. As a church community, we will be guided by both public health recommendations and Gospel values. When the time comes, we will have protocols in place to regather joyfully and safely. There is no blueprint for this. We ask for your prayers as we undertake this important work.
St. Alban's, thank you for your faithfulness, tenacity, and graciousness. Many of you have reached out to me with messages of support and encouragement, and I am incredibly grateful for that. Nothing replaces the joy of seeing you in person and worshiping our Lord Jesus together in sacrament and song, but your love and compassion are deeply appreciated.
Yours in Christ,
|Posted by communications on May 7, 2020 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
As we approach the fifth Sunday in the Easter season –and nearly two months of this necessary but difficult stay-at-home period – I can’t fully express how much I miss seeing everyone gathered in the church building. I miss seeing the choir every week, I miss seeing and hearing the congregation singing, I miss a lot of things. I, I, I……. However, thankfully, I am reminded in my spirit to give thanks in all things. There are many things for which I am grateful but it is the remembrance of the people that God has blessed me to know that seems to bring the greatest joy. Family and friends can be wonderful, but many others bless our lives: pastors, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. Like parents, many really never receive a great deal of thanks but their gifts are still priceless. Below is the text of a song that will be included in the Prelude time this coming Sunday. Although it speaks only of women, perhaps it will remind you to give thanks for all of the people that God has used to bless your life. Peace to you, John
For All the Faithful Women
--For all the faithful women who served in days of old, to you shall thanks be given; to all, their story told. They served with strength and gladness in tasks your wisdom gave. To you their lives bore witness, proclaimed your power to save.
--We praise your name for Miriam who sang triumphantly while Pharoah’s army lay drowned beneath the sea. As Israel marched to freedom, her chains of bondage gone, so may we reach the kingdom your mighty arm has won.
--To Hannah, praying childless before the throne of grace, you gave a son whose service would be before your face. Grant us her perseverance; Lord, teach us how to pray, to trust in your deliverance when darkness hides our way.
--We sing of Mary, mother, fair maiden, full of grace. She bore the Christ, our brother, who came to save our (human)race. May we, with her, surrender ourselves to your command and lay upon your altar our gifts of heart and hand.
--We praise the other Mary who came at Easter dawn and near the tomb did tarry, but found her Lord was gone. As joyfully she saw him in resurrection light, may we by faith behold him, the day who ends all night.
Text: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr.(b. 1923) © 1993 GIA Publications, Inc.
|Posted by communications on April 29, 2020 at 4:05 PM||comments (0)|
Those with really good memories may recall that my very first newsletter article at Saint Alban’s focused on the notion of “liminal space” (from the Latin limen, meaning threshold); that space and time between “what was/is” and “what is yet to come”. I was reminded of this as I have been reading Richard Rohr’s meditations this week, which have been addressing this question of liminality.
When I first wrote about this, I was addressing the fact that at Saint Alban’s, with Carmen and I having just arrived, we were still in that liminal space between past and future. I was encouraging us to not move on to quickly to our “new normal”. I wrote the following:
Now that Carmen and I are here, there might be a tendency to think that we can finally be done with the discomfort of “liminality” and move back into that more comfortable space of “normalcy”. It can certainly be said that we have moved into a different phase of this particular liminal space in the life of Saint Alban’s, but we are still teetering on the threshold of “what is to come”…the good news is that this is truly sacred space. As Richard Rohr says it, liminal space is that space “where God can best get at us.”
Now we find ourselves in another liminal space, one not of our choosing. Although this time of liminality is quite different from that time, I believe some of the same principles apply. It sounds counter-intuitive, and almost insensitive, to suggest that this time of pandemic might be creating sacred space for us, but that is exactly what I am suggesting [note: I’m NOT saying God has caused this]. Physician, bioethicist, and hospital chaplain, LaVera Crawley, acknowledging our discomfort with liminal spaces and the uncertainty they bring, addresses what she calls the darkness of liminality:
“There is deep beauty in the darkness, in the unknowing, in the indescribable, if only we can open ourselves to its purpose. Metaphorically, the dark emotions of grief, fear, and despair can be profound teachers and guides…The primal howl of existential suffering holds within it the lesson that we all must learn at some time in our lives: to heal from suffering – not merely to ease or palliate it, but to transform it into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom – requires a journey through it.”
Richard Rohr would say that this darkness, brought about by the experience of liminality, is a kind of sacred space, which has the potential to become a source of growth and wisdom. This is simply applying theological language to a reality most of us already know on some level: difficult times can provide soil for significant personal growth. Our natural instinct when we encounter these liminal dark moments in life is to find the quickest exit ramp. We are currently seeing this very human tendency writ large during the pandemic in the anxious desire of some to re-open things sooner than we probably should.
Rather than putting all of our time and energy into finding the nearest escape route, we might be better served giving some time to prayerful reflection on how best to live and grow in this challenging time. Author Sheryl Fullerton, writing about her experience of receiving a frightening cancer diagnosis, says, “We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.” Perhaps, as I quoted in my sermon this past Sunday, this is an opportunity for us to heed Frederick Buechner’s advice and really “listen to our lives”, allowing the reality of the current moment, even in its darkness, to be our teacher. What are some ways that you are doing this now? What are some new and creative ways you might do this going forward?
Hopefully this goes without saying, but please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or Carmen if you need some spiritual companionship during these challenging days.
God’s peace be with you,