The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s Sermon of January 19th, 2020

Several of you have asked for the Rev. Val Roberts-Toler’s sermon of January 19th. We welcome Val to the pulpit. She and her husband The Rev. Printice Roberts-Toler are both retired United Methodist pastors, and have been attending St. Paul for the last few months. In this sermon, Val preaches about discipleship and her experience in coming to this congregation.

It is the Patriot’s fault. Every Sunday afternoon when they are playing, my husband the avid fan, is sure to be watching. I am not a fan of football. But we have a good deal. He watches and I go wandering. I go off to the beach or to a movie or to hear a speaker or to listen to live music.

That is how I ended up at Jalapeno’s, a Mexican restaurant in Gloucester that Sunday afternoon listening to Celtic music. And that is when Michael O’Leary and I got to talking.  It was Michael who suggested this church and this pastor. And that is how we ended up here. We came that next Sunday and we never left!

“What are you looking for?”(vs38) Asks Jesus, of those first two disciples who had first followed John and who then began to follow Him.

I believe that what the disciples were searching for, what we were looking for and what so many people all around us are searching for are the same.  Augustine captured this best when he prayed, “You have made us for yourself, Oh God, and our hearts are restless until we rest in Thee.”

Our search for a church was a search for the Beloved Community. Pastor Anne referred to that in your wonderful directory, as “a community of repentance, a community of remembrance, a community of hope, love, revelation, and justice.” We are not meant to journey after Jesus alone, we need each other.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth celebrates the faithfulness of that particular community. It reminds us that we are called into fellowship.  “God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs9) Paul says that this is a community filled with grace. It is a community that is not lacking in spiritual gifts.

And so on this Sunday before your annual meeting. I want to offer my own epistle by celebrating this community, your spiritual gifts, and the grace which we are experiencing here. And in the end, I also want to issue a challenge.

I know that you treasure this church, but sometimes it is a good thing to hear the perspective of an outsider.  I want you to know how amazing this church is. And while I am brand new to this church, I do know a lot about churches having served seven of them. And so “to the church of God called St. Paul’s grace to you and peace…”

So often I can sense the connection Pastor Anne has with all of you.  To a person people have shared how much you love and appreciate your pastor. The fact that Pastor Anne has been here for so many years is really such a strength.

You also love one another. And that is a beautiful thing and it is pleasing to God! (not always true)

The liturgy and the music and the sacrament are all powerful for us. I often keep my bulletin so I can read over the prayers.  I find myself humming the hymns. (Wade in the Water) (Postlude PTTLTA)Each word preached or prayed, sung or spoken speaks to both of us.

You had the vision to grow this church through investing in family ministries, and you stepped out in faith and then God sent Robin along.  She is brilliant. Every church needs a Robin.

 You are a church that welcomes people to get involved and to share their gifts. Rejoice that Abbey’s ministry has been nurtured here. Every person whose life she will touch, and there will be many, are the fruit of your ministry.

Your concern about caring for the environment is especially important as, we live surrounded by the stunning ocean, which so needs our care. You are reaching out to the hungry and to the homeless after the manner of Jesus.

Your stewardship is fantastic. Having a fully pledged budget is rare and it says so much about how truly invested each of you are in this ministry. Too many churches are living off of endowment funds.

Just as Isaiah talks about Israel as a light for the nations. So I believe that this ministry is a light for the Northshore and beyond. You have much to celebrate as you look back at 2019 but as you look ahead to 2020 and beyond, I want to challenge all of us.

As the people of God we are called to be a people on the move. In a bad news world we simply cannot keep the Good News of the Gospel to ourselves.  And especially on this weekend when we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy we are reminded that we always need to be asking the question—who is missing? Who is missing from the table?

Neither John nor Andrew could keep the news of Jesus to themselves. They just couldn’t. I don’t think that Michael O’Leary considers himself an Andrew, who went to bring Peter to Jesus but that is who Michael was to me that afternoon. Michael spoke up—will we speak up?

With the Psalmist may we faithfully be able to say, “God has put a new song in our hearts… Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord…We have not hidden your saving help within our hearts, we have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; we have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”

So who is it in your circle, that you work with, live near, go to school with who is restless and filled with longing to meet the living God and longing to belong to a caring community? Who might be sitting next to YOU at Jalapeno’s?!

Having served UMC churches for decades, you might wonder why we drive right by one to come here.  When recent legislation has limited the full participation of the LGBQT community, we could no longer support our denomination. It was a deal breaker for us, as it is for so many, especially for our young people.

 I so appreciate your mission statement, from the church council, “we are a community that strives to follow the message of Jesus’ unconditional inclusion…we welcome all persons, all ages, all ages, genders, sexual orientations ,races and faiths..

 Yet because the LGBQT community has been wounded by the church at large, I believe we have to be very intentional about advertising our welcome. As a pastor friend once said, “We have to let them know that the electricity in the fence has been turned off!” That this is a safe place. How might we do this?

I am working with Young Life.  (A+R) Of the six churches we visited there very few young people. So YL goes to where the kids are. I believe that young people are literally dying to know Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. I believe they need us, the beloved community. In my last church, about this size, there were 7 kids who were hospitalized for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Through YL I have met several immigrants. One young man grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. He and I have become friends. Recently I was helping find him a used car—his first car.

 It was eye opening to me to see how difficult it is to navigate the system of buying, insuring, and registering a car. This process was totally foreign to him. And again on this MLK weekend, I have to say, I was painfully aware of white privilege… I have to wonder if he would have been treated as well if I had not been present. Gloucester is filled with refugees who are far from home and who need the Lord, “who is our dwelling place for all generations” and who long for community

Will we dare to say to them, “Come and See.”

The temptation is to guard what we have to want to protect it. None of us likes change. And I confess that, already, I find myself thinking what if we grow too much, will we need two services. Will there be enough parking? Not to make you nervous, but…church growth experts tell us that once a church is 80% full—we have to start looking ahead…

 Let me close first by thanking Pastor Anne for trusting me with this pulpit, and then you for this ministry and for your faithful service to God that has created this place.

And finally with the words of our next hymn. “I come with joy to meet the Lord, the love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now our friends, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound by all that God has done we’ll go with joy to give the world, the love that makes us one.”

Amen

The Rev. Val Roberts-Toler

Annual Meeting, Annual Report and Constitution

Our Annual Meeting is this Sunday, January 26th immediately following the service. If you wish to see the Annual Report, you can access find it here. If you wish to see the St. Paul Constitution, By-Laws and Continuing Resolutions which we plan to ratify on Sunday, you may see it here.

Annual Meeting: Sunday January 26th, 2020 Immediately after Worship with Lunch to Follow.

Every year in January, our congregation prepares an Annual Report for our Annual Meeting. This year we are publishing a little differently. Instead of producing 80 hard copies of the Annual Report, we have decided to be more conscious of our paper use. Last year, we had so many paper copies left over, we decided it would be an irresponsible use of paper to make so many this year. Instead of paper copies, we will be sending electronic copies by email. If congregants do not have email or computers and need a paper copy, we will make a limited number of them. Please let us know by email or telephone that you need a reserved copy.

This is also the case with our Constitution. As you know, we are ratifying the updated Constitution for which we voted last year. If you need a hard copy of the updated Constitution and By-Laws, please let us know, and we will copy one for you. Otherwise, we can send you an electronic version.

This year’s Report presents an overview of our congregational life. You will be delighted when you read it to see all that has happened this year. As always, I’m left with awe and gratitude for all of you. It is a blessing and privilege to serve as your pastor.

Scientist and Seminarian: Climate and Community in a Changing Cape Ann

SATURDAY, January 18th, 3:00 p.m. St. Paul Lutheran Church sponsored by St. Paul Peace and Justice Team.

Join us for a wonderful presentation on the science of climate change on Cape Ann, and theological frameworks for considering our relationship to creation and the climate crisis. Abby Johnson is a seminarian attending United Lutheran Seminary, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, and an environmental theologian. Kyle Johnson is a Climate scientist actively working on climate resiliency. We are looking forward to their time with us.

Bishop Hazelwood’s Visit–November 10th

On November 10th, Bishop Hazelwood joined us for worship, luncheon, and a book signing. He was delightful as always. He introduced the congregation to his new book Everyday Spirituality, beginning his sermon with a story of his own struggle to find spiritual practices meaningful to him. Traditional spiritual practices did not come naturally to him. He is a seeker, he says, for spirituality that has meaning for him everyday, that isn’t set apart from his daily existence or daily tasks. In the introduction, he writes:

“This is a book about everyday life. In living an everyday ordinary, seemingly routine life, we are living out a spirituality. Not the kind of spirituality that’s set apart. Not the kind where you go off to a retreat center for silence and good food and walks in nature. I’ve got nothing against that, and in fact, I enjoy those retreats myself. But I need a spirituality that is real for me on Mondays at 6 a.m. when the alarm goes off, and Thursday during dinner with my kids, and Fridays between the grocery store and the gym. This is a book that connects the stuff we do every day, every week or every so often with God.”

He has developed a card game to go with the book to use in small groups or at home or with friends or the congregation, as we did during the sermon on Sunday. Each card has a question on it inviting a conversation about our own experiences, or something important to us. For example, what are three things you’d like to be remembered for after you die, or one I liked very much: “Once, this really weird thing happened to me…Tell us about it.”

After the service, during the lunch, I heard snippets of conversation as I walked around tables or greeted people with their coffee. I could tell the Bishop had connected with the congregation, because people were talking about their own spirituality. One person talk about being in the woods in northern Minnesota, “that’s my spirituality, he said.” Another person told me about his experiences sailing as a crew member of a historic Gloucester ship, the camaraderie. Someone else talked about her photography. It was exciting for me to see the conversation from the worship service continue when we went downstairs for lunch. The thing you want most, as a pastor, or at least what I what most as a pastor is that faith be alive, a “living, busy, active, mighty thing” Luther called it. It’s always wonderful to see that in people’s lives, and I saw it on Sunday. After he finished his corn chowder and salad, Bishop Hazelwood stayed at his table with us in the middle of the room; people came to get their books signed, then sat down and began to talk with him about their experiences. He’s an inviting, personable man, and we connected with him, and with his book. Most of all, we connected with what is holy in our lives, with God in our everyday lives. All in all, a wonderful morning.

From the Everyday Spirituality cards.

Late Summer Update

Dear Friends,

It has been a busy summer at St. Paul. In addition to our usual summer activities, we began a construction renovation project on the education wing in July. This is a major overhaul of the building which we have been planning for the last several years. If you haven’t been by the church to see the new windows, new siding going up, scraping and painting of the whole church, please come by. It’s wonderful to see what is happening. The new windows let in much more light, and they are easy to use!

Robin Carlo, our new Assistant for Family Ministry and Outreach, has been working and planning this summer. We are excited to announce that Rally Day will be on September 15th. In a departure from past years, we are meeting at 9:15 a.m. on Sundays. Our theme this fall is Creation. Many churches have begun using these lovely autumn Sundays as a time to focus on creation in their classes and worship.

The Yard Sale was lovely and successful, even in the midst of our construction project. It was smaller in terms of items for sale, as we did not have rummage sales this year. But the crowd was delightful, a steady stream of shoppers, who enjoyed delicious food, found bargains, and chatted with neighborhood friends and visitors. Our thanks to Yard Sale organizers.

This spring, we decided to form a new peace and justice group. We’ve had one in the past, focused on racism from 2015-2018. The group wanted to study Pope Francis’ Laudato Si this summer, and met on the beach, when the weather permitted to read and discuss the Pope’s powerful encyclical on the climate crisis and our response as followers of Jesus. The group will continue to meet this fall, focused on care for creation and climate change.

We have a new organizer for our Open Door/Cape Ann Food Pantry commitment to provide meals four times a year. One of the evenings was in late July, and as always, our beef stew was a hit. Thank you to all who made that possible.

In late August, I participated in an annual ecumenical and interfaith arts camp, Cape Ann Arts Alive, held at St. John’s Episcopal Church. This year our theme was the 400th anniversary of Gloucester, which is coming in 2023. The children come from all over Cape Ann, some as far away as Cambridge. The program is funded by grants from the Episcopal Diocese, and other cultural associations.

Much more has happened of course. These are some of the highlights. We look forward to worship returning to 10:00 a.m. next week, September 1st. There is a month left of summer–and we hope you enjoy it.

Pastor Anne

A Sweet Surprise from the Twitterverse

A sweet surprise: This morning, as I visited social media, one of the ways I keep up with the church around the world, friends and world news (don’t worry, I check sources), I came across a beautiful question by a young Episcopal priest asking people to reflect on their experiences of Holy Communion. For those of you who use twitter, please visit our Twitter page, as I posted her question and the over 100 people’s responses to it. Reading it was like reading a litany of joy. They are short answers, so it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to read them if you want to. Writers reflected on the way receiving communion dissolved barriers, the way it moved their hearts, what it felt like to walk forward with open hands, what it is like to look into someone’s eyes as they receive, what it is like to hear one’s name in communion, what it is like to sit down afterward and take in the holiness of the moment, the profound reality that Christ is really and truly present in the elements. There were so many, I can’t reproduce them here. But here is question:

“Instead of getting too bogged down in the negativity, I’d like to start a thread in which we share our extremely meaningful experiences of the Eucharist, regardless of our denomination. ”

They are worth reading, prayers of gratitude for what we have received.


The writer is an Episcopal priest and writer The Rev. Erin Jean Warde @erinjeanwarde (on Twitter), if you want to follow her. Here is an article she wrote recently for the Mockingbird, an on-line journal on religion and all kinds of other things. https://www.mbird.com/2019/06/sobriety-broke-me-to-pour-me-out/

Special Congregational Meeting June 23rd

On June 23rd, immediately following our 10:00 a.m. worship, we will hold a Special Congregational Meeting on the Education Wing Renovation project, and funding. We will be voting on the project and proposal. If you are a voting member, please attend. If you have questions, please send an email to office@stpaulcapeann.org and we will forward to the appropriate person to answer your question.