What’s Happening?

Small is Strong

St. Paul’s is in the midst of a series of “cottage meetings” (see schedule to the right). You can think of these gatherings as extracurricular opportunities to spend time with folks you might only see on Sunday morning. 

Beyond the chance to connect socially — to be in communion, as it were — these meetings are also critical to charting a course for the future of our church. This is a much bigger challenge than a part-time priest, however gifted and a small vestry (there are only four of us) can possibly accomplish on our own — especially if we want the future of St. Paul’s to reflect the spiritual aspirations of its congregation. 

Besides engaging in a conversation about St. Paul’s and its role in our lives and community, an inspiration for the cottage meetings is a concept that the vestry discussed during our retreat back in January. The concept is small, strong congregations — based on a book by Kennon L. Callahan called “Small, Strong Congregations”. During a recent vestry meeting, vestry member Clark Todd shared some notes he had made based on his readings. In the interests of seeding productive conversations, here are Clark’s notes. Read them. Meditate on them. Pray on them…and be thinking about how they apply to St. Paul’s.

Small is strong (Chapter One)

In small, strong congregations, people discover the steadfast love of God. In our time, people are looking for a congregation that delivers steadfast love, a congregation where they can discover and share steadfast love in their lives. People discover the steadfast love of God in a variety of places and groups. The small, strong congregation is one of the most significant groups. People want to participate in a steadfast love – both giving and receiving. They do not want just to receive. They are not just consumers. They look toward giving of themselves with love, sharing, and caring. 

The God we know is steadfast in love with us and for us… Love lasts. The love of God is steadfast. We therefore live with confidence and assurance… People are looking for a congregation that helps them live whole, healthy lives. In a small, strong congregation, they discover a group that, with confidence and assurance, focuses on its strengths. This helps people focus on their own strengths. They look for a congregation that focuses on a spirit of progress – that expands one existing strength and adds one new strength. 

People are not looking for a congregation that is trying to do too much too soon. They intuitively know that such a congregation only contributes to their trying to do too much too soon in their own lives. They look for a healthier future than that. People are not looking for a congregation that is going to promise something for everyone. Most of us have tried to be something for everyone and have discovered that it does not work. People have the wisdom to know that it does not work for congregations either. 

Small, strong congregations focus distinctively on certain qualities of being a congregation together. You can grow and develop some of these qualities as you help your congregations. These qualities are present in many small, strong congregations across the planet:

     - Mission and service

     - Compassion and shepherding

     - Community and belonging

     - Self-reliance and self-sufficiency

     - Worship and hope

     - Leaders and teams

     - Just enough space and facilities

     - Giving and generosity

Wherever some of these are present, with excellence and strength, you are likely to find a small, strong congregation. Small, strong congregations live with this confidence and assurance: they know small is strong.      

Team, leaders, and congregation (Chapter 7)

Team, leaders, and congregation: these three are a seamless unity. They are virtually inseparable qualities present in the life of a small, strong congregation. The ability to live and share as a team is one of the important competencies of small, strong congregations.  These factors contribute to their being a team: 

Their capacity to see the whole not the parts…  The spirit of a small, strong congregation is that Everybody participates in the whole. There is no effort to divide people into parts. There may be specific activities for different needs, but the genius of a small, strong congregation – the genius of its leadership team – is its capacity to nurture the whole, not the parts… In a small, strong congregation, the whole family participates in the whole congregation. Small, strong congregations do not think in parts that fragment, separate, or compartmentalize persons. They seek to view life as a whole, not as a collection of separate parts. Their understanding of the diversity of gifts…  Any hierarchy of gifts creates division and separation. It creates an upper and lower class division in the congregation – mostly between the pastor and everyone else. It causes people to not discover their own gifts and strengths. People do not feel valued. They do not discover their best true selves. 

(An effective leader of a small, strong congregation) is interested in all persons and in their lives. He or she listens well, fully attentive to variety of persons. Somehow, with the leader, people discover their gifts. (There is an inner confidence) that God gives each person gifts, strengths, and competencies to live well in the grave and mission of God.   

Their appreciation of the gifts of a pastoral leader… Small, strong congregations are looking for a wise, caring leader, a person who is part of a leadership team, who with wisdom and caring helps the congregation advance its mission, compassion, community, hope, and generosity. They are not looking for an administrator with formal, institutional, organizational competencies.   

In small, strong congregations, the spirit, the custom, the way of life is primarily informal. It is more a matter of spirit than of size – we simply choose a way to live with one another in this congregation. We choose to life together as a family, not an organization. We choose to be a community, not a collection of committees. We choose to be a congregation, not an institution. One of our advantages, as a small, strong congregation, is our simple, grassroots, natural manner of leadership. Informally, we discuss many of our decisions with one another as a large, extended family. We may visit after church, we discuss emerging decisions, we touch base with each other at a fellowship supper, we have lunches together. We arrive at our decisions informally.

A developing sense of direction emerges. We have the feeling that the decision we are approaching is the helpful way forward. In small, strong congregations, many decisions are delegated to one, two, or three people in the family, people who have the wisdom and experience o make decisions. We also have gathering of the whole family for major decisions. Every person’s ideas and suggestions are considered. There is laughter and disagreement – but a decision is made that does not violate anyone or disdain any perspective. The congregation is strong and healthy. It discovers the gift of a grassroots way of living and being together.  

Living with the Spirit of Promise (Chapter 10)

As a small, strong congregation, we live for who we are. We are at peace. We have no pretensions. We put on no airs. We are who we are. We do not try to be something we are not. .. Further, we live richly and fully for our present, and we look with anticipation to our future. In doing so, we live out the promise of our life together. We do not live for our past – we learn from our past. We live in the present. We anticipate the future. When we live well in the present, we will live well in the future. As we anticipate the future, we live richly and fully in the present. Because we have discovered the richness of the present, we can now move forward on the possibilities God gives us for our present. In doing so, we can head to the future God gives us. We share a richness of life together. We live with a spirit of promise. 

The Times They Are A’Changin'

We believe that God is healing and restoring the world, and that we are recipients of and participants in that healing and restoration.

The invitation in this week’s gospel is to see reconciliation as a communal act, a benefit to all which saves us from remaining incomplete.  We gather and celebrate as people of the Way.

Just one more time, this Sunday, September 11, 2016, St. Paul’s and Resurrección will share worship together at 11:00 a.m.  Your gracious flexibility and cooperation have been a gift to the whole community over the summer weeks.  Thank you.

Our worship on September 11 will be followed by a celebration of our quasquicentennial anniversary: a festive chance to recognize one hundred twenty-five years of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon.  Please join us across the street at Kiwanis Park following the 11:00 liturgy to share stories of the congregation, simple refreshments, and perhaps even a kickball game.  Bring your memories, historical facts, hopes and dreams – come celebrate!

Important to note is that, beginning Sunday, September 18, 2016 and running through the liturgical season of Christmas, our Sunday worship schedule will be:

  • 8:00 am - Morning Prayer (Eucharist on 1st Sundays)
  • 9:30 am - Holy Eucharist in English
  • 11:30 am - Santa Eucaristía en Español

After trying it on for a time, we will evaluate the new schedule in January and explore possible adjustments.

“…the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

So I am wondering:

  • How do you nurture your relationship with God?  
  • What divine invitations might bring abundance and joy?
  • What gets in the way of our gathering and rejoicing when we repent?

Let’s talk.  

 helen

helen@mcpeak.org

After you have lived with this Sunday morning schedule experiment for a while, you are invited to offer feedback:  

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P6L9BZP


Thursday Reflection — June 19, 2016


The Allabastor Jar

Luke 7:36-8:3

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him-- that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

My sons joked around last night, playing a humorous video at dinner.  The comedian commented: men’s brains are full of little boxes which men use one at a time to examine single subjects, separate categories carefully arranged so as never to touch.  Women’s brains are a tangle of wires in which all subjects are interconnected and emotionally charged.  The comedian’s images rang true for me.

I have been listening and learning.  I receive heartbreaking individual stories of disempowerment, addiction and violence.  I read/talk of Brock Turner’s sexual assault conviction and of the stunningly grace-filled words crafted in response by the woman whom he assaulted.  I parent normal teenagers who are testing boundaries.  I stand in systems of church and family, speaking difficult words with compassion and respect.  I observe political shenanigans and deep struggles influenced by racism and sexism and fear and ignorance.

And I read our Old Testament lesson for this coming Sunday in which innocent, virtuous Naboth is murdered at the direction of a greedy queen of sorely limited vision. (1 Kings 21:1-21a – read it now.  If you need a bible, let me know – I have one for you.)  And I read our gospel lesson in which an uninvited woman cares intimately for Jesus and is judged by the powerful religious patriarch and, shattered and accepted, is forgiven by the Son of the Living God.

And it all feels connected!  That tangle of wires in my head is buzzing.  I believe we are in kairotic times when our witness as Church is vital and timely and needed.

It heightens the passion of my prayer life and brings the sacrament to life.  As the Psalmist says, …I make my prayer to you…Lord…early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.  For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, and evil cannot dwell with you…  But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy I will go into your house; I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.  Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness… make your way straight before me.

How shall we equip ourselves as Church to love the world in ways that bring life-giving change?  Somehow, as people of faith, we are called 

  • to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers to persevere in resisting evil
  • to repent and return to the Lord
  • to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people
  • and to respect the dignity of every human being.

We are all in this together and only together can we hope to follow God’s deep invitation to meeting the challenges before us.

Our passions as a congregation seem to focus on two fronts: on educating young people and equipping them to live well in this amazing, demanding world, and on sheltering those who have no place to call home while challenging the structures which support this lack.  Education and homelessness, two big issues.

Those of you with separate little boxes in your heads, we need you to help us think clearly and carefully about individual situations and to speak grace into each specific moment.  Those of you with wires connecting the many and varied facets of experience, we need you to help us see interconnections and implications amid individual truths in our corporate life, to see the impact we have together and to choose with wise intention.

In short, we need each other.  We are all in this together.  It is a tall order and only through God’s grace may we, shattered and accepted, proclaim God’s truth with boldness and minister God’s justice with compassion.

Hmmmmm…  Let’s get to work.

helen

helen@mcpeak.org


An Interview with Bishop Michael Curry

Each of us within the Episcopal faith community probably came into the church along different paths. Some of us were born into the faith as “cradle Episcopalians." Others of us may have discovered the church much later in life. Perhaps we were drawn by the liturgical traditions, or by a theology that, as many like to say, doesn’t ask us to check our heads at the narthex door.

Whatever your “Episcopal story” may be, Bishop Michael Curry’s interview with Judy Woodruff will likely reconfirm the reasons you embrace your faith — just as Bishop Curry reaches out to embrace all of God’s children. Click the link below, and set your mind, heart, and soul on the Kingdom of God on Earth as you listen to our Bishop.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/six-months-in-new-episcopal-church-leader-reflects-on-church-challenges/


Thursday Reflection — May 19, 2016

Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."  John 16:12-15

As the Church prepares to celebrate Trinity Sunday, I share with you the (slightly dated) words of theologian Frederick Buechner on the Trinity in his book Wishful Thinking:

The much-maligned doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is only one God.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery.  Thus the Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God.

The Trinity is also a way of saying something about God and the way he (sic) is within himself, i.e., God does not need the Creation in order to have something to love because within himself love happens.  In other words, the love God is is love not as a noun but as a verb.  This verb is reflexive as well as transitive.

If the idea of God as both Three and One seems far-fetched and obfuscating, look in the mirror some day.

There is (a) the interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to (the Father).  There is (b) the visible face which in some measure reflects that inner life (the Son).  And there is (c) the invisible power you have in order to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit).  Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and indivisibly the one and only You.

‘Kinda makes my brain cramp, but I like it…  I need practice living with mystery; it is uncomfortable for me.

So here are some things I am wondering today:

  • What is the relationship between mystery and truth in my life?
  • What things does Jesus know I am not yet ready to bear?
  • How in my life do I express relationship with this triune God?

Let’s talk.

 helen

helen@mcpeak.org


Thursday Reflection — April 14, 2016 John 10:22-30


1540px-StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass GoodShepherd Portrait

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

They are still missing.

We have a stemmed glass in the narthex of St. Paul’s, containing names on small slips of paper.  Beautiful names, like Asabe 

and Godiya 

and Liyatu 

and Hauwa 

and Malam 

and Yana…  

Familiar names, like Debora 

and Tabitha 

and Rebeca 

and Aisha 

and Christy 

and Ruth

and Mary…  

Saratu 

and Rahila 

and Yanke 

and Talata

and Muwa

and Asabe…  

and dozens of heart breaking slips listing simply, “Name Unknown.”

We have had these names in our church building for two years now.  You are invited to take several of the slips of names and to pray for these individuals.

They are the names of the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram from secondary school Chibok in northern Nigeria on April 14, 2014.  An occasional isolated report comes suggesting a few were able to escape, and now there are reports that these girls are being used as suicide bombers.  It is an on-going witness to the power of hatred in the world.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group founded in hatred.  The commonly accepted translation of the name, a phrase in the indigenous lingua franca Hausa, is: “Western education is forbidden.”  Its noted leaders espouse ideas that reject basic concepts of modern science, fail to recognize any value of diversity, and promote extremist ideas that lead to outrageous, violent behavior.

And still the girls are missing.  

Clearly, the world needs a shepherd.  A good shepherd.  Some one to set us straight.  Jesus came to do that.

And he met challenges among people in his own time who misunderstood what he was trying to do, people who wanted him to tell them about himself in ways they expected.   “I have told you and you do not believe.”  Even then the message was not received by all.  God came to be with us and much of humanity missed it.  

And still God came, promising to be with us in ways of love and grace and power.

How do we hold that faith in the face of real life experience now?  “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  What does that mean to Hauwa and Malam and Yana and Debora and Tabitha and Rebeca and Aisha and Yanke and Talata and all the others who are still not home today?  What does that mean for those who abducted them and those who allow it?  What does that mean for you and for me?

How do you find God amidst the many changes and chances of life each day?

In what ways have you experienced the nurturing, guiding, protecting presence of God?

How are your prayers shaped by your reading of scripture?  (If you need a bible so you can do some daily reading of scripture, we have some here at church for you!)

Let’s talk.

 helen

helen@mcpeak.org


Thursday Reflection — April 7, 2016

image001


Your invitation to reflection today comes in the form of two big chunks of Bible and some questions to consider.  Enjoy!

Acts 9:1-20

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." [The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."

John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."


  • What is your experience with doing things that seem wildly illogical, yet right, in the moment?  How did you know to go for it?  What effects did you see?
  • What outrageous things have you accomplished in your life?  What made that possible?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him three times? …to embarrass Peter? …to strengthen his conviction? …to assure him of his love and forgiveness?  What other explanation can you imagine?
  • What message does God need to continually remind you about?
  • Why can personal change be so threatening, difficult yet exciting -- all at the same time?





Show Me What You Want Me to See


A Reflection for December 10, 2015 — from Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

“Show me what you want me to see.”  Cathy H. George, in her Advent meditations, the Stillness We Seek, suggests this prayer.  It struck me Monday morning when I first read it, and it has been resonating within me throughout the week.  

“Show me what you want me to see.”  A risky prayer: God does show me, then I have to do something, and that can get uncomfortable.

 “Show me what you want me to see.”  I’m troubled by the violence and bigotry so prevalent in this moment, the violence we do to one another, and the wastefulness and loss we bear.  My soul yearns for the world to be different.  This troubles me.  I want our ministry to make the world better, closer to the reign of God.  

So, I prayed for God to show me what God wanted me to see.  Then I read the psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 37.  “Do not fret because of the wicked…  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.  Do not fret… do not fret….”  Sometimes, God is pretty clear with me.

I was hoping for a brilliant insight addressing global issues.  I mean, this week, my amazing colleagues are writing powerful words about bearing public witness and improving the conversation among people of faith.  

Heidi is committing to wearing clergy collar and hijab together in solidarity with Muslim women. (http://www.celebrationlc.org/)   

Dan is articulating an invitation to address “altruistic violence” and the myth of redemptive violence by committing to a spiritual discipline of “participatory imagination” and to “meaning transfusion” for our culture.  (http://bishopdansblog.blogspot.com/)  

Terry is discussing the Gospel and slavery and dimensions of love, and hosting interfaith conversations, invitations to relationship. (http://catacombchurches.org/2015/12/08/visions-from-the-catacombs-week-before-december-13-2015/)  

Skilled theologians are putting out important thinking!

The world is being torn apart by violence and misunderstanding.  People of faith, now more than ever, are needed to show a different way.  Preachers need to inspire us all to be at the top of our evangelical game!  

And I get “do not fret…” and “be still.”  It’s embarrassing.

C’mon!  How are we gonna change the world with “do not fret…” and “be still”?  

This week’s Gospel reading shows John’s audience hearing his passionate preaching and asking, "What then should we do?"  His response in simple: If you have clothing others need, share yours.  If you have food others need, share yours.  Don’t take more that you need.

Having insulted them as “brood of vipers” and engaged their attention, having proclaimed God’s bold message and opened their hearts, this was the best John could think of to ask?!  He had them in the palm of his hand and he made a request so mundane?!

Yep.

I’m thinking that God is asking of us to start where we are, as we are, in simple and realistic ways to heal the world -- with the homeless of the Skagit Valley and the children in our schools and individual commitments to love in tangible ways.  Be there.

So I’m going to trust God and still myself a moment.  Who knows how God might use that?!  “Don’t just do something, stand there!!”

Our readings this week call us to joy.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!  Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”  Know that there is more than this moment.

What if we were to live that invitation to joy by starting in stillness and trust, instead of vehement discussion and hasty reactivity?  It wouldn’t appear dramatic.  Not an easy fix for the troubles of our broken world.  But a beginning.

Maybe that is what Advent is about: beginning again where we are to lean into God and act from a place of sacred stillness.  

The danger, of course, is that we “confuse ‘stagnant’ with ‘calm’ and call it holiness.”  (Thank you, Joan Chittister.)  The danger is that we pray and prepare and never actually DO anything. The danger is we will miss the moment when thoughtful, moderate people must act boldly.

Still, when I asked God to show me what God wanted me to see, that is what I saw: “do not fret…” and “be still.”  

I’m gonna take some time to pause, to listen.  To sit in contemplative prayer.  To sleep, perchance to dream.  To participate in yoga.  To join the volleyball folks for lunch.  To heal.  And to give the Spirit of God a little room to nudge and inspire… in order to be better equipped for powerful action. 

Then I will stand with the supporters of Planned Parenthood in public witness on Saturday morning.  I will think and pray with others and Joan Chittister about the contradictions of life.  I will pray with you and preach repentance, joy in the darkness, in our public worship.  I will help organize interfaith conversations in Skagit County.  I will wear my scarf in solidarity.  And I will remain alert for God’s next move.

We are changing the world.  

What do you believe?  Let’s talk.  

helen

helen@mcpeak.org


Say Hello to Andy


IMG 5731

Let’s face it...St. Paul’s is hardly what one would describe as a “youthful” congregation. A quick look around the sanctuary during a Sunday service will confirm that most of us, with a few notable exceptions, are what one might politely describe as “getting along in years.”  

Which is one of the reasons that Andy stands among our St. Paul’s congregation. Another reason is that he’s just a super kid. If you’ve been attending St. Paul’s during the last couple of months, you’ve probably noticed him. He’s a good looking young man with a warm and ready smile, excellent manners, and a quiet sense of confidence when it comes to mixing comfortably with so many adults — which is particularly impressive when you consider that he’s just 12 years old. 

Andy’s folks attend services at La Iglesia de la Resurrección, but Andy has chosen to worship at St. Paul’s because he wants to participate in the English liturgy. If you were at our service on November 1, you might even have heard him lend his voice to the Prayers of the People. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I would have had the self assurance to attend a church service on my own when I was 12. Although his parents provide transportation, I’ve also seen him riding his bike home after service. That’s dedication.

I recently recruited Andy to help change out the sign board on the front lawn — a task he was happy to assist with, and which made my job of finding and placing the letters not only a lot faster, but a lot more enjoyable. Those of us with grandkids know that spending time with young people is a special blessing — and when I think of the future of St. Paul’s, it’s heart warming to think that Andy might well be a part of what that future looks like. It that’s so, we’re in good hands. 

So, when you see Andy, give him a handshake and/or a pat on the back and thank him for being a part of our St. Paul’s family. He’s the kind of kid that will really appreciate that. 


Congregational Conversations

There is a lot of discussion going on these days about the future of the Episcopal Church in Mount Vernon, Washington. By this, of course, I am referring to the future of St. Paul’s. The two are, afterall, one and the same. 

This discussion is taking place within our Vestry, the Planning Task Force that has met throughout the month of October, and among congregation members. There will no doubt be times when these discussions take us outside our comfort zones — but as the priest of a congregation in Boise once told me, “It’s not the things we talk about in a relationship that weaken it…it’s the things we don’t talk about.” 

With Helen’s help, Bev Blomgren, Carol Boss, and Dottie Evens have organized a series of “Congregational Conversations” that have invited our St. Paul’s family to come together for a meal following the Sunday service and discuss questions that get to the heart of what we want for our church and our lives in it. The questions, and the respsonses to them, have been posted in the Parish Hall and will now be included on the St. Paul’s website. Listed below are the questions and a summary of how participating congregation menbers answered them. 

Note: Duplicate responses are not typos, but simply a case of more than one person saying the same thing.

RESPONSES TO CONGREGATIONAL CONVERSATION QUESTIONS 

October 18, 2015

1) What do you believe are the most important challenges and concerns that St. Paul’s is facing at this time?

  • Communication – both within our congregation and within the community
  • Deciding who we are as a church congregation and getting the word out
  • How to proceed from the present into the future with the Cluster no longer in existence
  • Articulating our vision
  • Competition with other churches
  • Focus
  • Focus
  • Relevance
  • Defining personal and communal ministry
  • Engaging the members of our congregation in ministry, stewardship, and fellowship
  • Defining our relationship with Resurrección 
  • Financial health – how to pay for clergy, staff and the upkeep of our facility 
  • Money for future operations and to hire a full time priest
  • Keep our doors open to be able to have a religious being and outreach
  • Keep clergy
  • Financial support for full term clergy
  • Keeping Helen
  • Money
  • Money              
  • Plan for staffing
  • Staffing
  • Staffing plan
  • A plan for staffing
  • The biggest challenge I see for St Paul’s is growth.  We are at an organizational style change point; changing to a Program-style of leadership.  The way we function as a church needs to change for us to grow.
  • Stuck between pastoral and program models
  • Getting young adults involved
  • Low numbers
  • Low congregation number
  • Growing our numbers
  • More people
  • Children’s coir
  • Young people choir
  • Sunday school
  • Sunday school 
  • Sunday school

2) How are we being equipped in our spiritual and prayer life to meet these challenges?  How could this be enhanced?

  • Communion
  • Eucharist
  • Yes, by attending 11:00 service on Sunday
  • Weekday Eucharist
  • Add Eucharist to Wednesday Mary Guild
  • Prayer life
  • Intentional prayer
  • EFM
  • EFM
  • More social time together
  • Groups
  • Small groups good
  • Let know about Mary’s, Monday Women’s meetings
  • Small groups are good start, encourage conversations
  • Small groups – Mary’s Guild, Women’s Monday night, Men’s breakfast – advertise them more
  • More people in the church need to know about our “small group” meetings
  • I think we need to be explicitly welcoming to families with children – Sunday school, youth group, daycare, parent’s night out, etc.
  • Excellent preaching
  • Helen does a good job
  • Work on grant to keep Helen           Question 2, continued
  • Advertise the church. Can newspaper help us?
  • Communicating (List?) “What I am reading” – because….Share book reports
  • Personal spiritual reading (book club)
  • Put webpages in bulletin
  • Improved e-newsletter letting us know what the congregation is being equipped to meet our challenge
  • Website
  • Reader board updated
  • Task force
  • Congregational conversations
  • Need for active outreach to pull the congregation together.  We have a priest who is committed to outreach

3) What is God calling the community of St. Paul’s to do within our congregation and within the community?

  • Use information from MBIN & Heart-to-Heart to develop plans for helping in community
  • To figure out who we are
  • God has put resources in front of us – we have to discern how best to use them
  • Community service
  • Care for people in all walks of life no matter the situation
  • Bridge between Latinos & Gringo communities
  • I think we need to nurture our relationship with the Hispanic community – through our school, 
  • day school and Resurrección
  • To define our relationship with Resurrección
  • Help with Resurrección summer camp program
  • Work with Friendship House & Family Promise
  • Friendship House
  • Family Promise
  • Our help in feeding the homeless
  • Support Friendship House, Family Promise
  • Help and feed the homeless
  • Homeless
  • Always being open to help in case of a disaster
  • Participate in community disaster planning
  • Disaster help – building available
  • To practice hospitality to and incorporation of new participants     Question 3, continued
  • To develop many different ways & times for people to engage
  • Explore types of prayer & spirituality
  • Need EFM discussion & prayer ongoing
  • Read more Bible TOGETHER
  • Relax & play
  • Train ourselves for pastoral calling & caring
  • Work with vulnerable, especially aged
  • Look for ways to serve each other on on-going basis
  • To take care of each other
  • Pray for each other
  • Within our congregation – support & strengthen each other – service
  • Without congregation – support & strengthen each other through service
  • To serve those outside of St Paul’s
  • Use building for more music & art
  • Host music ministry
  • Provide venue for music
  • Host and offer educational programs
  • To be a certain kind of person & you learn what that means by paying attention during the service

4) What traditions and activities of the church would you like to see in the life of St. Paul’s?

  • Hospitality, music – keep the theology of the Episcopal Church alive in the community.  More about history.
  • “Praise & Prose” e-letter – sharing thoughts & insights, communication
  • Social events encourage our spiritual life
  • Parish Life activities:  family movie night with simple meal, Blessing of the Brooms; Suds & Spuds 
  • Saturday night suppers
  • Saturday night suppers
  • Brunch potlucks
  • Good coffee hour
  • Encourage more art & music
  • Music with the choir
  • Rich music in worship
  • More sung liturgies on particular occasions
  • Prayer book liturgy
  • Scripturally based preaching
  • Continue the Eucharist weekly
  • Continue Helen’s brilliant sermons
  • More traditional Eucharist Prayer Service II
  • All-inclusive communion/Eucharist
  • Honest & authentic stewardship
  • Shared leadership
  • Real bread, real wine  Question 4, continued
  • Sounding board for priest
  • Christian formation on Sundays and during the week
  • Adult Bible study
  • EFM
  • Adult formation on different days, times
  • Adult formation – Sunday school for adults
  • Adult formation
  • Small groups for study & nurture
  • Lenten Soup & Scripture
  • Retreats
  • Book club
  • Continue interactions among congregations
  • Outreach to the Hispanic community
  • Continue to support Resurrección Summer Camp
  • Easter vigil
  • Seder dinner
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Shrove Tuesday pancake supper 
  • Los Posadas
  • Antique sales
  • Auctions – small
  • Bake sale
  • Bazaar – crafts
  • Benefit concerts
  • Blessing of animals
  • Blessing of the brooms
  • Bridge for the community
  • Continue benefits
  • Easter egg hunt
  • Easter egg huntQuestion 4, cont
  • Plant sale
  • Plant sale
  • Revive the evening of desserts and auction
  • Revive the plant sale
  • Rummage sales
  • Rummage sales
  • Susan Creighton workshop
  • Tea & bake sale
  • Bring way more kids to church
  • And way more kids for youth group
  • Children going to Sunday school
  • Kids as acolytes
  • Youth and children programs
  • Children’s/youth group programs
  • Ideas for youth activities – from St Paul’s youth
  • Bowling
  • Camping
  • Camping
  • Chase night
  • Chess tournament
  • Fort building night
  • Ice cream party
  • Ice cream night
  • Movies night
  • Nerf wars
  • Sport night
  • Swimming
  • Water fights

August 2, 2015

1) How long have you attended St. Paul’s?  What drew you and what keeps you coming back?

  • Have been here since 11/20/13.  Friend in Boise gave recommendation - come back because of great sermons, welcoming people.
  • Been here since 2004.  Family / Ministry
  • Have been here 6 years. Felt at home, spiritual home, good
  • Have been here 21 years. Episcopal in Valley, home base
  • Been here 10 years. Episcopal, immediate home base, spiritual home
  • Been here 68 years, all my life. My mother drew me. The people are my other family.
  • Have been here 10 years. Had attended before, close to home, wife drew me
  • Have been here 20 years. Community, Family of the church
  • Been here 30 years. Episcopal, the people, it’s home, time change, numerous times, attended both services
  • Been here 1&1/2 years. Attracted by the friendliness of the people, continue to return for that reason, like the worship and the people
  • Been here 21 years. The people make us very welcome; they have become our closest friends.
  • Have been here 15 years; have been here 3 years or less. Helen, congregation, service/music, kindest people in congregation (2 responses)
  • Been here 20 years; been here 5 months. The people are my family. (2 responses)
  • Been here 13 months (2 responses).  Close by, changes, nothing
  • Always an Episcopalian. Always will be.

2) Since you’ve attended St. Paul’s, how has the service schedule changed?

  • I would prefer earlier service so I could get an earlier start on my day
  • It was 9:30, 10:30, & 11:30
  • Prefer 11am
  • Any time
  • Since we attended St. Paul’s the service has always been 8am & 11am
  • It was 9:30am, 10am, 11am
  • Need an earlier service to attract younger families
  • An earlier service allows more of the day
  • It was 9am morning prayer, 10am main, 9:30 combined, 8am, and 11am.  Prefer 10 am
  • Service has changed numerous times - 9, 10, 11- I’ve gone to all including 8am
  • If I don’t go to church on Sunday, it messes up my whole week!
  • We at one time had Sunday School  between services
  • I like the schedule now - except the late service could be earlier
  • It was 8am and 10am with adult group in between, changed due to cluster
  • Service changed 9:30 to 10 to 11 - 11am is too late
  • Changed from 10 to 11 - too late
  • Service at 10am is the best
  • I would like earlier - 9:30 or 10am
  • Service too long - starts too late 

3) What makes Sunday different for you than other days of the week?

  •  A day to focus, reflect, try to refresh
  • Church is my Sunday, quiet - family time
  • Attending church
  • Worship, getting close to God
  • Gathering with church family
  • Enjoy our clergy
  • I feel the love, peace and joy of God in the service with the dear people
  • Sundays were often more stressful since they were before Monday
  • Now Sundays, since attending church, they are more reflective and revitalizing - renewal
  • Music throughout the service!
  • Come together to worship, to refresh your soul
  • Eucharistic Prayer 
  • Story of our salvation history and God’s faithfulness
  • The great Amen
  • No difference - I esteem them both
  • I attend church
  • I work every other weekend, it’s a day off and a day for church
  • Busier
  • Don’t have to get up early
  • More fun - play more
  • Hard to be an active member if have to work  

4) What is the most meaningful part of the service for you?

  • Music
  • Sermon
  • Communion
  • Communion
  • Sermon
  • Eucharist
  • Music
  • Fellowship
  • Sermon
  • Morning Prayer
  • Liturgy
  • Sermon
  • Sense of community
  • Forgiveness
  • Bringing the Bible lessons to present
  • Communion Service
  • Singing
  • Music
  • Communion
  • Communion
  • The Peace
  • Helen’s sermons
  • Eucharist
  • Spending time with members of my congregation
  • Music
  • Every part - all fits together
  • Connection with community
  • Relationship with community
  • Sermons are tremendous help
  • Communion
  • Music
  • Clergy message
  • At communion time, after I go back to my place, I look at all the people and realize how much I love them

5)  What do you enjoy about the singing?

  • Choice of music is excellent.
  • Music is difficult
  • Need more uplifting timely music with traditional
  • Togetherness
  • Joy
  • Singing when all join in with familiar hymns
  • I like some of the hymns, but not the slow draggy ones. I’d like to explore some more contemporary songs from Wonder, Love & Praise. I appreciate the way hymns usually mesh with the lessons & sermon
  • It’s a joyful noise to the Lord
  • Like mixing contemporary & traditional 
  • We love the choir: choice of hymns, prelude, postlude
  • All are skillfully chosen for the lessons
  • Everything!
  • Our choir is terrific and a joy to sing along with
  • Lively songs not dirges
  • Learning new songs for the choir
  • I enjoy singing period!
  • Listening to other people
  • Harmonizing, just singing, joy, selection of meaning music fitting with liturgy
  • Good acoustics help
  • Singing of Psalms & Gospel music

6) When people ask you why you are an Episcopalian, what do you tell them?  How do you describe St. Paul’s to people who haven’t visited here?

  • Welcoming
  • Open to all
  • I love the freedom to express our thoughts openly without fear of retribution.
  • St. Paul’s is very friendly
  • Raised in the church
  • No reason to change
  • We are inclusive
  • Traditional
  • Bible readings
  • Music
  • No one asks
  • Friendly
  • Truthful
  • My Mom took me to an Episcopal church when I was young - I have gone ever since
  • St. Paul’s is my church family and then I ask them to come to a service.
  • TEC is the via media
  • We are inclusive and look forward to meeting new people.
  • St. Paul’s has its struggles but we are a loving place.
  • You don’t have to check your brain at the door. You are encouraged to question and find answers. The TENT is huge and we do not try to define or limit “God’s children”.
  • Lucky
  • Met Episcopal priest - trusted
  • Liberal - open to different ideas and not told what you have to think
  • Formal service
  • We are very open and accepting of all people
  • We have a broad theological diversity
  • People are involved in service to the community
  • I can sit, stand, or kneel as you wish
  • I am a cradle Episcopalian but I would be one anyway
  • I like being able to think along with believing
  • Our open & accepting attitude is the best!
  • I like the openness of the faith to question
  • I tell people it is an accepting place


stpaulmv@comcast.net