September 16th is Rally Day, 9:00 a.m. begins our annual registration and kick-off morning for the Sunday School. We have a terrific team of teachers ready to welcome children to classes, fun, and fellowship this year. We offer classes from lower primary to upper primary, with a confirmation/youth class for middle school.
Please join us for our wonderful annual yard sale! A community tradition. Treasures old and new! Food, fun, fellowship! Great bargains.
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.
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.
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.
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
- “Community Violence,” a social message http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Community_ViolenceSM.pdf? _ga=1.130333711.1614659498.1391546494
- “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness,” a social message
- “Hearing the Cries: Faith and Criminal Justice,” 2013 social statement
- “For Peace in God’s World,” a 1995 social statement
- “Ban of Military-Style Semi-Automatic Weapons,” 1989 social policy resolution
- “Community Violence – Gun Control,” 1993 social policy resolution
This Sunday, January 28th, we will hold our Annual Meeting immediately following the 10:00 a.m. Worship Service. If you are available to help set-up and clean up, provide food, or other assistance, please call the church office 978-283-6550, or write us, email@example.com and let us know! Set-up is Saturday morning! Annual Reports are available in the church office. Thanks everyone for a wonderful year!
This week, on Sunday, January 28th, we will be holding our Annual Meeting, immediately following the 10:00 a.m. worship service. As I wrote the Pastor’s Annual Report, I found myself once more plunged into gratitude for this community. It is no surprise that Annual Reports can become Epiphanies in their own right, a window into the ways God is working among us. As I read through it, I found myself chuckling, rejoicing, praying, remembering, celebrating, planning, thinking, but most of all, thanking God for all of you, who are this Body of Christ. Annual Reports are available at the church office, should you need one. If you see Carol Gray, our Parish Administrator, please say thank you to her for her devoted work last week to edit and produce it. Thanks to all who contributed their reports and for all that we have been this year. Jenn Klopotoski designed the outstanding cover page, basing the illustration on a project she did with the children. (Above). The art is based on the verse from Micah 6:8 so many of us love:
O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Last week, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, the children worked on another creation based on Jesus’ call of the disciples when they were mending their nets: Mark 1: 14-22. Between the two of those art projects, the Sunday School has expressed something of the core of our self-understanding as a congregation, as disciples. The caption reads: Walking the Way of Jesus, We are Schooled in the Light of Christ.
See you Sunday! 9:00 a.m. for Sunday School; 10:00 a.m. for Worship, and 11:30 for the Annual Meeting.
The readings in Advent always take me to a place that theologians call the “margins.” Between Isaiah’s prophecies and John the Baptist, I get caught up in the fullness of their vision of the Reign of God, the richness of their dreams, the urgency of their prayer. Advent calls us to draw near God, even as the prophets announce that God is already drawing near to us. The Reign of God, John the Baptist cries, draws near in Christ. The yearning for God expressed in Advent, can take us to the margins of our lives, as it took Jesus.
During my sabbatical this year, I spent three months traveling around the country, visiting intentional communities that seemed to me to exemplify the biblical vision of Beloved Community, groups of people whose souls have caught the prophetic vision of the Reign of God, and are striving to live it in community–this is what church is, of course, but these folks were also forming intentional communities to express that vision in their every day lives, sharing homes, resources and a mission to their neighborhoods.
Beloved Community is a term that became popular during the Civil Rights era in the United States, but its history is older, and its modern expression goes back to the turn of the 20th century. Beloved Community is the language for an ideal—or a vision, a metaphor for the reign of God, or the kingdom of heaven—in religious terms, a horizon toward which we move, also a biblical vision, articulated in scripture. The biblical prophets point us in the direction of Beloved Community; Jesus’ teachings do as well, based as they are in prophetic faith, teachings that break into history with transforming love, working within individuals and in communities. Beloved Community can be thought of in a variety of ways: a community of repentance, a community of memory, a community of hope, grace, revelation, love and justice. The modern use of the phrase is attributed to philosopher Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1913, Royce wrote, ‘“My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.” Beyond the actual communities that we directly encounter in life there is the ideal “Beloved Community” of all those who would be fully dedicated to the cause of loyalty, truth and reality itself.'( See: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/royce/). Later the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would adopt this language of Beloved Community, and popularize it in his sermons and speeches, as something that was achievable, rather than a far off horizon of vision. It was a realistic goal: “In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” For King, the method to achieve this goal was creating a critical mass of people trained in the theory and practice of non-violence. “Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.” (From The King Center: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy#sub4)
The Beloved Communities I visited were all informed by the powerful stream of imagery, theory, teachings, and practice about what it means to create just and loving communities, exemplified in the biblical prophets and in Jesus’ teachings, in Dr. King’s work, and those who came after him. Most were Christian or interfaith communities, and all of them lived close in with people who have been, or may be still on the “margins” of our society. Now, here’s what this has to do with Advent: Jesus lived on the margins–this isn’t a new thought in Christian theology; it’s a foundational understanding of Jesus’ identity. From his birth in a rural village in the out-post of the Roman Empire, to his death on the cross, Jesus makes his home with the “anawim,” the Poor Ones. (See Raymond Brown: The Birth of the Messiah).
This year, because of our divisive politics, and some of the cruel measures being taken against the people Jesus calls us expressly to love, I find myself feeling an even deeper urgency to understand, help, and advocate for those who are being pushed to the margins of security because of poverty, immigration, discrimination of any kind, racism, sexism, classism, disabilities, mental illness, addiction. Anger and prayers about injustice are not enough; faith is active in love. Jesus lives there, in the lives of people who are struggling for justice, truth, and love. Advent can take us into the blessing of those struggles, if we are not there already.
Here is an example. I call it the first principle of the discipline of loving the neighbor: get to know them. In one of the communities I visited, the members simply took regular walks in their neighborhoods, making it a point of learning about the lives, needs, and struggles of everyone who was within walking distance of their communities and churches. What they found, and what we will find, should we do it, are the intersections of our lives. Everyone needs safety from violence. Everyone needs food. Everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs health care. Everyone needs dignity and respect. Everyone needs decent work. Everyone needs love. As they got to know who their nearer neighbors actually were, it expanded their sense of belonging and opened their hearts to generosity and curiosity about their differences and their shared experiences. They discovered, as we may discover, common struggles, our interdependencies, our interconnections. Refugees live nearby; homeless shelters are down the street; food pantries and soup kitchens feed the person next-door–we ourselves may need those same soup kitchens, too; local libraries offer help with ESL classes, and filling out government documents and forms; neighborhood houses of worship host health clinics and homeless families in transition. Soon the word “stranger” became and becomes the word “friend.”
Charles Marsh writes in his book on Beloved Community, “We must learn how to perceive the living God who is building a new world in unexpected places and shapes; indeed, we must learn what it means to enter the new world of God. In short, we must relearn the meaning of being a Christian. For if Jesus Christ is Lord of the church and over all creation, power, and principalities, as Christians believe, then our first order of business must be to learn again how to participate in the gift…But let us not for a moment conceal from ourselves the fact that obedience to this vision–our actual acceptance of what the Bible proposes: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”–is a step into space, “an undertaking of unknown consequences, a venture into eternity.” Christian discipleship leads one into the most passionate worldliness and the experience of life’s polyphony, its beauty, anguish and complexity…in church we are taken up, perhaps even against our will, into a fellowship of astonishing variety and difference. In church, we are taken into “Christ-time” …and given the hope that our fragile and infrequent experiences of reconciliation will one day become an eternal feast” (p. 214-215). May this Advent take us to the margins, out past our comfort, and gather us up into that astonishing world of “Christ-time” and “Christ-love”, toward the unexpected and mysterious down-to-earth ways that the love of God might be born anew in us and in our beloved communities.
During Advent, there are several events here at St. Paul to enter the season of waiting and preparation. Christmas Services are listed below as well.
On Wednesday Evening, 7:00 p.m. , Dec. 13: Advent Evening Prayer and Reflection: The Gifts of Advent. This is a time of reflection, prayer and conversation about the gifts of this season–this Wednesday, we’ll focus on the gift of patience.
Sunday, December 17th, at 10:00 a.m. Christmas Pageant! The congregation and Sunday School of St. Paul will hold our Annual Christmas Pageant. Everyone is welcome to be a part of this; costumes are provided on the spot! It’s a wonderful time! We hope you will join us.
On Wednesday Evening, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 20th: WinterSong! A Celtic Advent Meditation. Local folksinger Michael O’Leary and Celtic harpist Carol McIntyre will present a beautiful evening of Celtic music related to Advent and midwinter. All are welcome. Freewill donation for the musicians.
Sunday, December 24th 10:00 a.m. : The Fourth Sunday of Advent. This is a Sunday that lifts up the life and ministry of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, her wonderful song, “The Magnificat,” and what she means for us as an exemplar of faith.
Sunday, December 24th 7:00 p.m.: Christmas Eve! Please join us for a Christmas Service of Lessons and Carols, with Holy Communion, come to the manger and sing with all creation: Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to all people on earth.
Monday, December 25th, 8:00 a.m.: Merry Christmas! Join us for a lovely early Christmas Morning worship service, with carols, Holy Communion, and plenty of Joy!
What a wonderful Reformation Sunday! It was a marvelous morning. On behalf of the Church Council and the congregation, I extend our collective gratitude to all who made it a terrific day: especially to Kathy Eckles, and her team: Chris Larson, Deb Coull, Rob Grenier, Chris Grenier, Dianne Richards, Carol Gray, Coreen Scharfe, Barbara Jobe, and everyone who pitched in to transform the Undercroft. The flower arrangements and table settings were inspired! Thank you to the Grenier family for our Reformation feast, featuring German breakfast foods. It was a delicious experience! A special thank you to Carl Johnson for his inspiring preaching! You melted our hearts. Thank you to Ed Garner for his Reformation Door! Gratitude to our choir and Ted Stoddard for their marvelous musical leadership! The roof came off. Thank you to the historians among us who made the Reformation timelines: Chris Grenier, Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Laurie Jamieson, Fred Peterson, Sandra Jamieson!
Tremendous thanks to the Church Council for their leadership and planning throughout our Refo 500 season this October. My heartfelt thanks to the Council, Carol Gray and Mary Meader for the surprise anniversary gift of a Reformation Stole and ruby slippers. And joyful thanks to all of you for a further lovely surprise: the beautiful anniversary treasure chest full of such beautiful letters. Thank you to Nat Crosby for designing and making the treasure box. It was a wonderful wonderful day, a once in 500 years event!
There are many pictures of the morning on our Facebook page which you can access here.
All of October 2017 has been dedicated to raising our awareness of the roots and the ongoing significance of the Reformation, through worship, classes, discussions, and special events. Many of us working in the church feel that we are undergoing another kind of reformation in this 21st century. The good news: the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ moves in every age. My reformation prayer for all of us comes from a collect in our ELW, p.304 : O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us an your love supporting us; thought Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
With a full and grateful heart,