Curiosity as Spiritual Discipline

Curiouser and CuriouserA sermon preached for The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, and Luke 12:32-40.

There’s a site on the internet called The Phobia List. It is exactly what it sounds like.  Hundreds of phobias are listed, arranged alphabetically. I learned a few things looking at it:

  • Theophobia is the fear of religion or the fear of gods.
  • Hierophobia is the fear of priests or the fear of sacred things.
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words and
  • Hellenologophobia is a fear of Greek terms or complex scientific terminology.

I suppose we’re all afraid of something. But as a spiritual exercise, it’s not at all a bad thing to think for a minute or two about our fears. Bishop Lane wrote us about our fearful times (letter in back) and we had two thoughtful, prayerful gatherings this week on that letter. Thank you all, who came. Our readings today continue that theme. They have to do with what we may fear, with God’s desire that we be brought through and beyond fear, and finally, our scriptures offer a hint of what a fearless world might look like.

We begin with an angry prophet Isaiah that, overwhelmed by fears, we can even misunderstand worship, turning ritual gatherings meant to connect us with the ultimate force of love in the universe into shallow occasions where a duty has been discharged or a commitment satisfied, but where our lives remain unchanged.

The Epistle reading, from Hebrews, is a beautiful hymn (almost) to faith—faith, in many peoples’ minds being the other side of fear.  By faith, Abraham obeyed, and looked, and followed.  By faith, Sarah laughed, and followed, and conceived.  In the letter to those early Christians, which we call the letter to the Hebrews, we’re given that famous definition of faith:  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”  But how to tap in to that faith, that comfort, if you’re overwhelmed by fear?

One of my favorite books is Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm. If you haven’t read it, maybe you saw the movie. In the story, Flora Poste, a smart nineteen-year-old from London, is orphaned and begins to write various relatives to see where she might live.  Eventually, she receives an invitation from the Starkadders, who think that Flora’s father had been done wrong by their clan at some point, and so they owe it to Flora to take her in.

She arrives at Cold Comfort Farm, the Starkadders’ place, that is just about falling apart.  And there are dreary characters in every direction.  The cows are named Aimless, Graceless, Feckless and Pointless.  The whole sad family is ruled by a matriarch, Aunt Ada Doom, who refuses to come out of her room in the attic because, years ago, as a girl, she “saw something nasty in the woodshed.”  We never learn what she saw, and it doesn’t seem as though anyone in the family knows.  It’s not even clear if she still knows what she saw.  But the fear that began in the woodshed has completely infected her.  That fear has changed her and made her small, and scared, and sad.  And Aunt Ada Doom’s fear casts a spell over the whole farm.

I don’t want to spoil the whole story for you, but I will say that the arrival of Flora Poste, and her commonsense way of interacting with each family member eventually helps Aunt Ada to leave the fear in the woodshed where it belongs, and step into life again.  And guess what?  As soon as the fear is let go, the whole family finds freedom.

It reminds me a bit of a post I saw and liked so much I shared it on the St. Peter’s FaceBook page this past week. In it, Benjamin Mathes, a 30-something blogger, described his part in a thing called “The Free Listening Project”. Mr. Mathes, who I’m guessing was a Bernie Sanders’ supporter, went to the RNC to learn “How to Listen When You Disagree” (that’s the title of his blog post). He stood outside in the heat with a sign around his neck that read “Free Listening” – offering himself as a person who would listen to whomever came along.

Most people who came up to him told him about their families, their jobs, and the things that brought them to Cleveland. Eventually, a woman came forward with an issue that mattered and about which she had strong feeling. It was a hot button issue, and it came with anger and emotion and vitriol.

Mathes observes that it takes a lot of forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage to listen in the face of disagreement. But he learned through this experiment that the one thing that makes forgiveness, compassion, patience, and courage even possible, is working to hear the person and not just the opinion. A fellow blogger who calls himself Agape, says it like this: “Hear the Biography, not the ideology.”

So when that woman stepped forward and spat out her passionate anger, Mathes said, “Tell me more.”

And I want us to notice two things here. The first is a stance of humble curiosity. He was not looking to make a point or enter into a debate. He came with no particular political agenda, no verbal shield and sword. He came with something better. Curiosity.

I always think that if you can let yourself get curious about something, that is a way to invite the Holy Spirit in. Difficult person making your life miserable? Can you get curious about them? Can you draw closer rather than further away? Takes practice but it’s a fundamental spiritual discipline, and one Jesus encourages us to adopt.

The second thing worth noting here is the focus on the person. Mathes sought to learn about the woman by asking her about her biography, her story, the things that shaped her life. The woman told a story and as he recounted her story, he wondered on reflection if she had felt his heart breaking for her.

That is love at work. You can call it empathy, you can call it love, you can recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit.

  • For Isaiah, that sort of encounter is real worship.
  • That is prayer, as we talked about it a couple of weeks ago – prayer as a stance, a way of being in the world that is a connected way. A way of love and communion… instead of a way of judgment, analysis, critique.
  • For Jesus, that kind of love at work is what he means when he invites us to wear a purse that will never wear out because it is filled with God’s own treasure – a way to begin to forgive each other and show love in practical, real ways.

And, notice something else, just to bring us home… There’s no fear here either. In the face of that kind of curiosity, that kind of love, fear just disappears, it evaporates. It left Cold Comfort Farm (just put it in your cue and watch it after the Olympics is over) and it left Benjamin Mathes’ heart.

If this is Kingdom living, then, gracious Lord, let your Kingdom come.

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We Interrupt This Program

keep-calm-and-fear-not-68A sermon not preached for The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Hosea 11:1-11Psalm 107:1-9, 43Colossians 3:1-11, and Luke 12:13-21. Instead, I read a beautiful and powerful Pastoral Letter from our bishop. But so that we might have all things: HERE is Bishop Lane’s Pastoral Letter, and what follows are my thoughts on Luke 12.

Every year on Christmas Day, for many years, Laura and Gordon Hall were ready. They had opened their presents, shared a festive meal, the dishes were done, but there was one thing more. Regular as clockwork, just before the sun set on Christmas Day, every year, Betty would come to visit.

Although Betty was nearby, the Halls rarely saw her. She lived alone down the road in an old farm house. Three barns stood behind the house and were rumored to be full, though no one was sure of the contents. Rumors occasionally circulated about Betty’s mysterious life. This was a New England town and one could imagine all sorts of things happening inside the big house. It was the stuff of a Stephen King novel. But no one really knew anything about Betty.

Then, each year, on Christmas Day, Betty would trudge down the lane. Stopping nowhere else, Betty would knock on the Halls’ door, reintroduce herself, and smile warmly. The Hall children would ask if it was Aunt Betty, as they liked to call her, and she smiled more broadly. Laura and Gordon would invite her in, but she would decline firmly. Then she would hand off a brightly wrapped tube, wish the Halls a Merry Christmas, excuse herself, and trudge back up the lane. And Betty would disappear into her house.

Over the next year she would not be seen often. There could be a sighting in the market or the pharmacy or the hardware. But most people could not recall what the woman in the old farm house looked like, and she would pass unnoticed. She attended no events and belonged to no organizations. She did not attend church or the annual town meeting. Her father and mother had died years before and she had no siblings. There was no husband or children, no family of any kind.

Few people approached the house other than the mailman. Occasionally packages arrived and then would disappear quickly from the porch. Few lights ever shined. On the whole, Betty remained a mystery.

And all the more so to Laura and Gordon. Each Christmas they, and apparently they alone, received a brief visit. They were unsure of her intention, but welcomed her. And every year Betty she left the same gift: a calendar for the year that was about to end.

When Betty died and a lawyer from another town appeared, having found her will hidden in a drawer, one of the images of her proved to be true: her house was crammed with things. Furniture, clothing, and lamps. Remembrances from concerts and horse shows and art exhibits and sports events, some decades old. In the barns were unused cars and even horse carriages. Jewelry, prints, accessories of all sorts, and huge stacks of calendars and wrapping paper.

Turns out, Betty was a hoarder. The big house had few usable rooms: most were so jammed with things that they could not be entered. There was great sadness about it: Betty was the last of her family, even though her ancestors helped to settle the area. The family’s things came to her. But she was also a compulsive buyer, especially calendars and wrapping paper.

Few questions about her were ever answered. Why did she have so much stuff? And why every Christmas did she visit the Halls to leave a calendar?

As many as two million people in North America have so many things in their houses that they cannot walk around. Situations vary, but one study concludes that clinging to material things is a response to trauma or sorrow.

  • Somehow the more things we have, the more we believe we can fill an emotional hole.
  • Or at least, create a barrier against immense pain.
  • For some there is also a sense of being busy and important.
    • Life’s real issues are kept at bay,
    • while our many things distract us.

The trouble is, people with so many things are never really distracted. They are chronically unhappy. They cling to material goods, while withdrawing spiritually, and living isolated lives.

***                   ***                   ***                   ***                   ***                   ***

Even if we are mindful of the unhappiness possessions can bring, we are still tempted to envy the landowner in Jesus’ parable. He has so much grain he has to build bigger storage facilities. Notice that Jesus does not find fault with this man’s success, which surely was the result of hard work. And it is only prudent to build bigger barns if the harvest is fuller than your storage permits. Then what is the problem?

The problem has to do with his soul. He has slipped into the illusion of equating material success with spiritual progress. It is a common illusion, and the logic of it looks so reasonable:

  • I am successful
  • therefore God has blessed me
  • If God has blessed me,
  • it must be in reward for my life

The logic seems impeccable, but it is wrong! And more and more we are learning to ask the question: at what cost has this prosperity come to my life or my organization or my country? Who suffers because of our success?

  • I love my iPhone but I and many Apple users are not blind to or uninterested in the working conditions at the Foxconn plants in China
  • or of the human costs of mining the rare earth metals needed for the chips

The thing to see is that success is not proof of spiritual attainment, but the result of complex factors. And the mistake the landowner made was to regard his material possessions as the ultimate measure of his worth and life. That the private enjoyment of his wealth was itself a soul-satisfying end.

We are sophisticated consumers, so we know that “stuff”, pleasant as it is, will only get you so far. But Jesus goes farther. He calls the landowner a fool.

  • For Jesus, life’s possessions only gain spiritual meaning when they link us in redemptive ways to other people.
  • Material possessions ought to be exchanged or shared in ways that enliven.
  • Simply stored, they become idols.
  • And we storers develop souls that become cut off, dried out, damaged.

Of course we must save.
Of course we must be frugal and
of course we cannot simply give away without planning and deciding responsibly.
But the undeniable reality is that people who cling to things lose their souls.

  • They are not only cutting themselves off from the spiritual depth that comes from relationships with others,
  • they are harming their ability to make those connections in the first place.

We are called to live lives that are rich in the love of God.

What became of Betty’s stuff? In a strange way, the annual gift of a calendar to the Halls was a clue to what happened next. The will directed that

  • some valuables be donated to the local historical society,
  • and that a few local organizations would receive nice cash gifts.
  • But most items, and the farm house, were sold, the proceeds being used to create a charitable foundation.

Now each year, children from poor families in the area receive college scholarships and a number of non-profits receive valuable gifts for their programs. Although she isolated herself, eventually clear purpose shone through her eccentricity, as the gift of a calendar hinted.

In a wonderful way, her name and her things live on, and hundreds of lives have benefitted. Betty’s richness was not the abundance of her possessions, not what she crammed into her house, but the abundance she has now shared.

By God’s grace, someday, the same will be said of you and me.

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Teach Us to Pray

Saint Thomas Aquinas in Prayer, ca 1428-1432. Found in the collection of the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum, Budapest. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Saint Thomas Aquinas in Prayer, ca 1428-1432. Found in the collection of the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum, Budapest. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

A sermon preached on The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections: Hosea 1:2-10,  Psalm 85Colossians 2:6-15, and Luke 11:1-13.

Today, I want to talk about prayer. I believe that we are to have confidence to approach God freely and frequently with the concerns of our hearts.

  • But it can be hard to feel that kind of confidence when we don’t know how to pray and aren’t sure what to expect when we do.
  • Intellectually, we want to know that prayer “works” in a way that makes sense.
  • We fear being disappointed or duped.
  • We want to be open but not naïve, faithful but not misguided.

The Scriptures have much to teach us here. Our Gospel begins with Jesus returning to his friends after having spent some time alone in prayer. And imagine he looked really changed. Not just rested and refreshed as if he’d spent a week on vacation in Maine. Not to underestimate what a week in Maine can do, but it had to have been more. He was more than just relaxed and refreshed.

He was recharged by something outside of himself – as if, as the psalmist put it, he had witnessed mercy and truth meeting, experienced what it meant for righteousness to kiss peace.  And so his friends wanted a piece of that. Teach us to pray, they asked.

Many of us think of prayer as a left-brain sort of activity. What are the words? I will memorize them and recite them. Bedtime prayers, grace before meals. But the very fact that the disciples were asking Jesus about this at that moment, suggests that they meant something deeper. You have returned connection to the living God, and we can see it. You are in a state of communion, connection, and love with the source of all. They were not asking for the magic formula: abracadabra, open sesame. They were asking for the something deeper that Jesus had access to.

Jesus answered with The Lord’s Prayer. And we can read that response as giving us a left brain prayer, but I want to invite you to resist that. Even traditions, maybe yours, that practice repeated iterations of the Lord’s Prayer as part of, say, a penance or as part of a personal devotion, do not think of the prayer as simply magic words. For me, The Lord’s Prayer is best understood as a set of signposts, categories to help us be in the same sort of communion and connection with God that Jesus knew, the same connection and communion that the Holy Spirit, who prays within us with sighs too deep for left-brain knowing, also invite us to enter into.

So, what are these signposts? First, we begin with God. Sure, our needs and wants and anxieties and guilt and fuss-budgety ways are nervously jostling for attention, but Jesus begins, grounds himself, by remembering who he’s seeking to relate with. God. The Holy One. Holiness itself. And for Jesus God is not only almighty but also father. (What a testament to Joseph!) His point in calling God “father” is to reckon God as loving, nurturing, tender-hearted and the fullest example of compassion he knew.   So, if that’s not Dad in your experience, “father” will not be the right word. Find the right word. Let that be your symbol of divine love.

There follows a series of askings – for food, for forgiveness, to be spared trials. And because we can be reluctant to ask or think ourselves unworthy of asking, Jesus underscores the importance of it by telling two stories all about how we’re really supposed to own our desires and ask. So, there must be something about approaching God honestly that is part of entering into deep connection with God. In the words of one theologian, “Prayer is not the place for pretend piety; prayer is the place for getting down to brass tacks.” Emotions you cannot express in public are not only okay with God but are required. So, start with God and ask openly and honestly.

Then there’s that “thy will be done” part. Hm. That’s different from me just asking for what I want. That’s learning to accept what you can’t get or can’t change. We know that Jesus prayed that in the Garden at Gethsemane: take this cup away from me, but if not, your will and not mine.

The Jesuit storyteller Anthony de Mello used to tell this story to illustrate that:

Two men were once walking through a field when they saw an angry bull. Instantly, they made for the nearest fence with the bull in hot pursuit. It soon became evident to them that they weren’t going to make it, so one man shouted to another, “We’ve had it! Nothing can save us. Say a prayer. Quick!” The other shouted back, “… I don’t exactly have a prayer for this occasion (again, that left brain notion of prayer).” “Never mind,” the other yelled back. “The bull is catching up with us. Any prayer will do” So he said the one he remembered his father used to say before meals. “For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly grateful.”

Nothing, de Mello’s concluded, surpasses the holiness of those who have learned to accept everything that is. Most times that’s not something we acquire on our own but by the grace of God. But prayer, Jesus seems to suggest, puts us in grace’s way.

Finally, in asking for God’s kingdom to come, there is another sort of prayer, another signpost, that asks for change but this time in us. And it takes us beyond acceptance towards personal transformation.

“Change not one thing in my life,” I once heard a very courageous person pray, “instead, change me.” Change me. Take my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Take my selfish, frightened soul and make me a person of generosity and love. Allow me to live with joy in a broken and troubled world. Or, echoing St. Francis, “where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

This may be the hardest prayer of all, and yet the most freeing. It shifts our perspective

  • from what we want to God….
  • from how others must change for us to be happy to God’s capacity to change our hearts.

Not just to accept what we cannot change but to be transformed, to move past, to shift to the new, uncharted path before us. And this prayer, together with the honest asking for what we want and the invitation to accept what we can’t change form a new position, a new perspective, a new stance.

And that, to me, is what this prayer – all prayer – is about in the end. It’s primarily a stance, a way of being in the world that is a connected way. A way of love and communion. Can you get this by just reciting the Lord’s Prayer? Some people can. Most of us need to take it apart and do bits of it slowly, meditatively, silently. But the signposts are all there.

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Salt the Earth

Salt of the EarthA homily delivered on Friday, July 22nd (the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene) at Camp Bishopswood, Hope, ME.  Lection: Matthew 5: 13-16.

This Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus took a walk with his friends. He walked by the sea or the lake and a large crowd followed him. They wanted to see what he would do and hear what he would say.These folks were farmers and watermen, the fellow who sweeps the street, and the alien from Syria/Mexico/Canada – wherever. The people who followed Jesus that day were ordinary people. Some were poor and destitute, lots were needy

  • folks looking for a little entertainment,
  • families with their picnic baskets, kids tossing a ball around.
  • The ordinary people.
  • The anawim in Hebrew, the people from the country.
  • They were the ones who wanted to have fun but who sometimes were worried and whose life sometimes could be bitter and hard, who cut corners on their taxes or their tests, and who sometimes died much too young.

But Jesus didn’t see them that way. In a golden moment of insight, he saw that they were the blessed ones. They were the ones who knew they needed God.

Notice: He didn’t say that they would be blessed if they behaved a certain way,

  • if they were good or noble or ethical or friendly.
  • if they followed the rules and were upright citizens
  • He said that in that moment without having done a thing, there was something special,
    • something sacred,
    • something transcendent,
    • something creative
    • something life-giving in the assembly of people around him.

Sweeping his arm out, he said, “Blessed are the poor, the meek, those who mourn…”

And then he went on to talk about what he meant. He said that all these blessed ones were those who made the world savory. It was important the disciples see what Jesus saw; that without that spice, without their savor, life would be flat, tasteless, without very much to relish.

It was those people, that unimposing crowd of anawim, of hoi polloi, of ordinary people that give life its flavor. And because of that they were a light to the world. Those people,

  • those ordinary people
  • who didn’t get a lot of breaks,
  • they were the ones who enlighten everyone.

In that moment, Jesus saw all that mattered and it has forever changed you and me.
In that moment, Jesus saw the blessedness of ordinary folks.

And the Gospel ends there but I always imagined Jesus turning back ’round to the disciples and he swept his arm around – and helping the disciples see, too – you, too, are among the blessed.

  • Your life matters,
  • you season and savor the world with all that is you,
  • that there is something that is special, something sacred, something transcendent, something creative in you.
  • And when you let yourself be yourself,
    • when you let yourself, your individuality season and bring savor, you are a light to the world.
    • You are, where is Katy Perry when you need her, Fireworks.
    • Bring your savor to the world and make ‘em go “ah, ah, ah” when you shoot across the “sky, y, y”

Be salt. Be light. Be who you are. Treasure who you are.

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Hospitality: A Glimpse at Heaven

A sermon preached on The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME. Lections:Amos 8:1-12Psalm 52Colossians 1:15-28, and Luke 10:38-42.

Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. Last week, a lawyer stopped the small band and invited Jesus to clarify in this border territory between Samaria and Judea, with Romans and Greeks and traders of all sort passing through: now, just who is my neighbor?

If you were here last week, you got to hear how Jesus turned the lawyer’s question inside out – answering with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of the parable, we learned, is not who deserves to be cared for, but rather the Kingdom invitation to become a person who treats everyone encountered – however frightening, alien, naked, or defenseless – with compassion. Like the Good Samaritan, we were invited to take risks with our lives and possessions

  • for the sake of being a neighbor to others,
  • for the sake of becoming a people marked by and open to God’s own hesed, loving-kindness, compassion

Now, Jesus has just finished the encounter with the lawyer and the group has continued on. Perhaps they walked another several hours. As dusk was approaching, they came by a house. A woman was outside. I imagine her as the extraverted sister. She had to have been doing something – bringing in clothes that had been hanging on a line and were now dry? gathering some vegetables or herbs from the garden for the night’s supper? out chatting with a neighbor?

Anyway, she sees Jesus and his followers and sees their fatigue. Had she heard of the encounter with the lawyer? Had they ever met before? We don’t know, but, filled with compassion and enacting the very neighborliness Jesus had just talked about, she invites Jesus to stay with her and her sister, probably settling his followers in their tents and sleeping bags on the lawn out front & back. And so, today, we get an account from Luke not about neighborliness but about hospitality.

In the same way that Jesus turned the lawyer’s question inside out, Jesus does the same thing with hospitality. Jesus’ focus with both of the two sisters is on the “one thing necessary” for hospitality: attention to the guest.

  • We can pay attention by listening,
  • by fixing dinner,
  • by making up the bed and putting out fresh towels
  • we can refrigerate the formula or heat up the bottle
  • we can find a safe place for visiting Fido so that Professor Snow does not make our ears bleed with his frenetic, loud, poodle barking
  • there are lots of things — but the key, says Jesus, is keeping attention on the guest.

And why is that key? Jesus suggests that when the balance tips from focus on chores done for a guest to “oh, these overwhelming chores”, we miss the grace that the guest, the neighbor, the stranger brings. We are as closed off to Kingdom living.

So, Martha really did get kind of frazzled, didn’t she? So much so that she forgot the generous impulse that compelled her to invite Jesus to stay with them in the first place. She got so focused on the jobs, that her resentment over her sister built. Why didn’t she just go to Mary and call out, “hey, Mary, would you and Jesus please set the table?” They might well have done it.

Then, the story could have moved on… there, they’d be at table, the teacher finally out of the sun, refreshed, with food before him picks up a loaf, blesses it…. etc. You know how it goes and how Mary, Martha, you would feel in the presence of one so connected to God, so connected to the earth and the grain that was grown, so connected to the stars just beginning to appear, and so connected to you sitting around the table, that along with the bread you, too, felt deeply blessed.

  • A joy so deep you can barely catch your breath comes upon you
  • And you cannot believe your good luck you invited him to stay,
    • surprised by his teaching,
    • blessed by his presence
    • wrapped up in such bliss that you begin to appreciate even your otherwise dizzy sister Mary, who, on more generous reflection, was so helpful in “keeping Jesus entertained” while you warmed over the lamb stew. Hey, I’m making it up – I can set the menu, too.

The point is this. If in the Good Samaritan Jesus invites us to risk sharing ourselves with others so that we may know God’s Kingdom here and now, in this story of Martha and Mary Jesus is showing us that hospitality is less about providing a service than it is about putting yourself in the position to receive a gift – that the one who comes into your space is a messenger of grace. How does the letter to the Hebrews put it? Who knows how many will have entertained angels unawares?

When Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He means now. That Kingdom may come from strangers, it may come with the precious gift of friendship, it may come around loving tables, it may come on dangerous roads.

This church has a history of gathering itself and risking something big for something good (to use William Sloane Coffin’s phrase). Risking something big for something good:

  • in the 1890s this small congregation recognized that the growing town of Rockland needed a hospital, that people needed care for body as well as soul, and established the Knox County General Hospital, remnants of which are the Knox Center and Knox Health Clinic right next door.
  • In the mid-20c, under Father Kenyon’s leadership, this parish reached out to an influx of immigrants from Albania, most of whom were Eastern Orthodox. Fr. Kenyon, who loved liturgy and was something of a liturgics scholar, recognized the connection between Anglicans and Orthodox traditions and reached out to that population. Their descendants are among the most faithful members of this parish to this day.
  • In the 1990s Dot Nystrom worried about what would happen to the folks who had been able to find a meal at Pratt Memorial now that the Methodists were moving out to Aldersgate. She found herself haunted by dreams from John’s Gospel of Jesus’ command to Peter to feed my sheep. And so she and Joy DeMotte, Marcia Birnbaum, Vicki Haskell, and Judy Willey took over the feeding, introducing Loaves & Fishes to St. Peter’s.

Such opportunities come along all the time, but congregations haven’t always been good at seeing or responding to them. They are particularly immune when things are going well. In a few minutes the Vestry are going to lay out for us some significant challenges we face as a parish. They are serious, but I want to tell you from my perspective this feels like a time of opportunity. And, while I don’t know what we all will decide, I know that this Vestry is the best I’ve ever known. Seriously. They are clear-eyed, open, and always seeking the spiritual center of practical, dynamic leadership.

They want to invite you into their conversations.   They need and want your input. My prayer is that you will remember yourselves as people who follow Jesus,

  • who look for and expect God’s in-breaking kingdom.
  • who continue to extend hospitality, even to one another, because you have seen for yourselves that guests can be messengers of grace.
  • and that together you are open to risking something big for something good because you are drawn to live as though God’s Kingdom is at hand.


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