Advent and Christmas Services

WINTERSONG: A CELTIC ADVENT MEDITATION on Wednesday, December 19th, 7:30 p.m. with folk singer Michael O’Leary and harpist Carol McIntyre. This is a lovely, reflective time of music and prayer, with readings for the season. Please join us. Freewill donation.

ALL CHURCH CHRISTMAS PAGEANT, Dec. 23rd at the 10:00 a.m. worship service. Led by the Sunday School, this is a marvelous time of telling the Christmas story together, lots of carols, lots of love and laughter.

CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLELIGHT SERVICE, Dec. 24th, 7:00 p.m. All are welcome to this festive service with Christmas lessons and carols, candlelight and Holy Communion.

CHRISTMAS MORNING: Dec. 25th, 8:00 a.m. A wonderful way to begin Christmas Day in a service of Word and Sacrament. Come, all ye faithful, and worship.


Advent Underway!–Welcoming the Stranger

Family Advent Wreath

This Advent our worship team decided to focus on the theme of “welcoming the stranger.” It’s a subject that has been close to our hearts, especially this time of year. We are concerned for the migrants and refugees in need of care, as they arrive in their new countries, especially here on our southern border. We recognize that Jesus and his parents, too, fled from danger, as refugees from violence.  One of our team members, Hilary Mattison, offered a reflection on the first Sunday of Advent, and we include it here. We also have been participating in the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: Hope for the Holidays. We hope you will, too.

Below is Hilary’s Reflection: Thank you, Hilary!

Welcome strangers!
Today I would like to talk about the historical Jesus. By that I don’t mean Jesus shining in the clouds, or Jesus the all powerful, or even Jesus as the Son of God. I mean just Jesus, a human person as yet unknown, in his mother’s belly.

And his mother, hugely pregnant, riding a donkey for days in a foreign land. Not by choice. Having been hugely pregnant myself and having once, separately, ridden on a donkey I can attest to what an undesirable, miserable situation it must have been to be about to give birth while bouncing on a donkey for days, in the heat and in the
dust. They simply had no other choice.

So here’s Jesus, alone really with his parents as a stranger in a foreign land. I can imagine that the ‘townies’ were none too pleased about the weirdos showing up from all corners, sitting on their park benches, crowding the local pizza joint, making lines at the gas station, not knowing rules and just being around and having needs and being different which was potentially bad and certainly a change. The Bethlehem-ers were probably feeling quite angry about it.

It’s clear that Mary and Joseph were not welcomed strangers. It was not “Hi – come to our town! Head over here for a hot shower and a meal while this crazy census thing happens. Thanks for bearing with us until this is all over.” It was more like closing doors, faces turning away, turning-down of eyes and no room, no room, no room – it was clear that there was no place for them there.

One person was kindly – which in this case meant making eye contact and talking to them, and then letting them sleep in the garage. “Come on in – welcome – I can see you’re going to give birth. The garage has a little heat from the house, and there are a few moving blankets on the shelf in the corner. The Camero won’t bite.” Thanks, right?
Although – in fact that pittance was quite helpful.

Just think about it. Being a stranger, no helpers, no family, no friends, everyone turning you away – they won’t even look at you – and then actually giving birth in a garage with just your husband helping. It’s terrifying. But there was simply no other choice.
I would say that the Holy Family were not welcomed strangers.

And here we are over 2000 years later. And I wonder – are we doing any better at welcoming? So this Advent, this Christmas, please consider with me what this phrase means: Welcome Stranger! Consider historical Jesus as Jesus the Stranger.
The traveler.

The unknown person.
The needy person.
The new person.
Maybe that different looking person.
Maybe a new family of migrants on their way to Egypt.
Maybe a foreigner.

Whatever your gut reaction is to those phrases, just for this month, consider trying out “Welcome Stranger!”

We are taught certainly – and we know confidently that these strangers are loved by God. Loved and precious.

What does it mean for us as Christians to act out “Welcome Stranger?”
What does it mean for our selves, for our church and for our community?

While considering this Advent, I have been thinking a lot about the stranger and who they might be.
Welcome Stranger!


Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

There will be an interfaith Thanksgiving service on November 19th, 2018, at 7:00 p.m., hosted by the First Baptist Church, in Gloucester. Interfaith clergy from Cape Ann and members of our various congregations will lead the worship. Music is by John Hicks.  Please join us for this time of prayer and song.

Here I Am–#YouthGathering2018–Cynthia Carney’s Wonderful Sermon

Dear Friends, our Stewardship theme this year is Here I Am–Send Me! Each week we’ve been talking about different ways we show up for God, our neighbors, near and far, and the ways we have changed when we have shown up. On the link below is a sermon by one of our ELCA Youth Gathering leaders: Cynthia Carney. Cynthia has been taking youth to the last three triennial gatherings; she loves it, and below is her sermon on her experience. She offered it on Reformation Sunday, October 28th, 2018.

10-28 Show Up sermon

Prayers for Tree of Life Synagogue

Dear Friends,

No doubt you are as dismayed and broken-hearted as I am about the recent shooting in Pittsburgh, on Shabbat in the Tree of Life of Synagogue. We have learned that 11 persons have died. These losses are unspeakably tragic. I ask your prayers for the victims’ families, those who were wounded, and for the entire congregation and community of the Tree of Life. I ask your prayers for the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We opened the church last evening for prayer and mourning in solidarity with them, and with the Jewish community there, here, and around the world.  One of my colleagues, the Rev. Maren Tirabassi, a UCC pastor and writer,  wrote a beautiful prayer for Pittsburgh based on Psalm 61.

Here is her prayer.

Prayer for Pittsburgh

God, we ask your presence
among the death at the Tree of Life –
for those shocked and mourning —
find comfort-givers,
for the wounded — healers,
for the fearful who shelter in place —
the fragile presence
of phone and internet support,
for those active in policing
in emergency care,
and gathering to offer
emotional support and counseling —
deep strength within themselves.

For we ask, with the psalmist,
that you set them on the rock
that is higher than fear,
become a refuge within and without,
a strong tower, enfolding tent,
and a shelter under your wings
for the aftermath of loss
and the crying to come. amen
(Ps 61)

Here are some of the verses from the Psalm:

 Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
    when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent forever,
    find refuge under the shelter of your wings.Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name…

So I will always sing praises to your name,
    as I pay my vows day after day.

 

On this Reformation Sunday, perhaps you might also join me in prayers for a reformation of action to change the climate of hatred we find ourselves living in, including the reform of gun laws.

Here is an article from The New York Times, with more on those who died.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/28/us/pittsburgh-shooting-victims.html

Wednesday in Holy Week-2018

The palms and procession are over. We are mid-week in Holy Week, the day before the Triduum begins, the Great Three Days. Wednesday in Holy Week, at least for me, feels something like Holy Saturday, a day of waiting, knowing that the rest of this week will be lived within the great drama of the Passion of Jesus, and the Resurrection. I usually have at least one sleepless night in Holy Week, and tonight is that night.

This summer, I had the privilege of taking a 30 day silent retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House. The retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Each week of the 30-day Ignatian retreat is spent on different aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus. The final days are spent on the The Passion of Christ and the Resurrection.  Part of the structure of the 30-day retreat is meeting every day with a spiritual director as we contemplated and prayed through the life of Christ. As we approached the Holy Week and Easter portions of the retreat, our directors encouraged us to stay with each movement of the Passion.  They suggested, as Ignatius does, that we accompany Jesus as the disciples did, as the people around him did. Try to envision the events from different perspectives, perhaps as a specific disciple, like Peter or John, or as Mary, Jesus’ mother; or even as some great poets and artists have done, imagine and participate as a less visible or unknown witness, perhaps even as the creatures who may have been present, a bird on a rooftop, a donkey lifting his dusty feet. We put ourselves in the stories as Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem, entering the city. Much as we do in the services of Holy Week, we prayed through the events of the Last Supper, the night in the garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the aftermath for the followers of Jesus, the time between taking him down from the Cross, laying him in the tomb. Then came that Holy Saturday pause before the Resurrection.

I’ve been meditating through the events of the Passion for many years, as I’m sure many people have. And every year, there comes a pull, a temptation, if you will, sometime in Holy Week, to flee the power of the story in some way, simply because of its power. Fleeing can take many forms, it can appear as avoidance, as distractions, as numbness, or dullness, as fatigue, as a refusal of the tasks, or the people one encounters. In Holy Week, fleeing can look like the disciples who were frightened or angry, or simply too tired to stay awake with Jesus in the garden as he prayed. During the retreat, when we approached the Holy Week scriptures and meditations, our directors encouraged us as we moved through the events. Over and over, quietly and gently, they reminded us to try and stay close to it. Jesus gave beautiful words for that kind of attentiveness: he asks us to abide with him, to remain with him through the movement of the days at the end of his life. The invitation is the same as it was in Advent, when Jesus told the disciples to be ready and prepared, to “keep awake.” Attending a death is much like attending a birth. At one point, as we waited for the Resurrection, my wonderful director, a nun from the Bronx, said a marvelous thing that I want to pass on to anyone who might be reading this: as you wait for the Resurrection, pray with it, contemplate it, and wait for it, don’t rush Easter–wait until you experience that moment that Jesus has risen for you. Wait until Christ is Risen for you. You’ll know it when it comes, she said. And she was right.

As we move into the Great Three Days, in anticipation of the Resurrection, as we wait and pray, may we abide with Christ, keeping awake with him, attending him through these last moments. May we experience the dawn of Easter, when each of us hears Jesus call us by name. May we know freshly, uniquely and truly, that Christ has risen indeed, for all of creation, for all of us, for me, for you.

sunrise EPRH

LENT, HOLY WEEK AND EASTER

Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. during Lent, we hold a mid-week contemplative worship service at 7:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. This year, we are sharing stories, poems, art, songs, that speak to us of our experience of God’s love.

HOLY WEEK:

Palm Sunday: March 25th, 10:00 a.m. with procession of the palms.

Wednesday: March 28th: 7:00 p.m. Holy Week Healing Service in the sanctuary.

Maundy Thursday: March 29th, 6:00 p.m. Maundy Thursday Dinner Church. A family friendly vegetarian meal, during which we share the Lord’s Supper, Maundy Thursday scriptures, songs, and reflect together on the Great Commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”

Good Friday Tenebrae Service: March 30, 7:00 p.m. A solemn, prayerful service commemorating the events of Jesus’ death, with the Seven Last Words, and Veneration of the Cross.

Holy Saturday: From 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. The church will be open for prayer.

EASTER SUNDAY: 6:15 a.m. at Good Harbor Beach, Ecumenical Sunrise Service.

EASTER AT ST. PAUL–10:00 a.m. Festive Eucharist, with special music, flowers, a marvelous joyful morning, with an Easter Egg Hunt after the service.

Lent Begins in Grief

 

 

On Ash Wednesday, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, as all of us know, by now, there was another school shooting in Florida, in which 17 persons died. Our Ash Wednesday service in the evening was heavy with the knowledge, grief and anger in the wake of the shooting.  It was good to put ashes on our foreheads, as a symbol of collective mourning, and also as a confession of our frailty, an acknowledgement of the brokenness so many of us feel regarding the culture of gun violence in our country.  I know many of us felt wordless with shock; I certainly did, and in that helplessness, the words of an ancient  prophet came as help:

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

There were children at the service, on Wednesday night, and I was so very grateful they were there, to be gathered in the arms of prayer that evening. The next morning, a parent in the neighborhood wrote me to say her child was afraid of going to school.  She was able to calm her son down enough, and she called the school to find out what the teachers and guidance counselors might be doing for him and other children. She, too, felt frightened by what can happen in the halls of school.

If we want to change gun violence in this country, prayers and thoughts are not enough. Lent calls us to fight evil with good. Gun violence is a clear and present danger to our communities; we are not helpless to change it. It is an evil we can fight with prayer AND action.  If you are looking for a way to use Lent as a time of healing and life-giving activities, consider taking action about gun violence, even if it is something as straightforward as calling your national Representatives and Senators, or perhaps registering people to vote. Gun lobbyists get people to vote. Peacemakers better be able to do that, too. Educate, advocate, vote, and get your friends to vote. The church has a public responsibility to speak and act in the matter of preventing gun violence in this country. If you doubt that, please check the Sermon on the Mount. We are Christ in this world, and I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t get behind assault rifles.

If you are interested in getting involved with and helping to work for change, then there are several organizations through which you can do that. Moms Demand Action is one I like; it’s a secular organization, https://momsdemandaction.org, but we have great resources within the church, too. I’ve listed them below with a pastoral letter from our bishops, written in 2013, and sadly, still needed.

Here’s a local organization started in Massachusetts by a MA resident and gun violence activist, John Rosenthal: http://www.stophandgunviolence.org

Church resources:

http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/COB_Pastoral_Letter_On_Violence.pdf