Thursday, February 2, 2017

Praying the Beatitudes

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’ve continued to mull over what it means to remain spiritually grounded in such a time as this; I preached on Sunday about having God’s vision of the beatitudes to see blessing in places where the world does not. Poverty, mourning, hunger, persecution—those are not particularly comfortable places to be. But Jesus calls them blessed, and calls us to see that as well.

This is a profound discipline: we must be grounded in the vision of God’s love and power as equally as we are opposed to hatred and violence. On the one hand, spiritual sustenance is easy to understand. Of course it’s important. What actually happens when we pray, though, can use some thinking-through. Prayer brings us before God, of course. We make ourselves available to love and be loved. The other important thing about prayer is that we are better able to put struggle, anxiety, and conflict in context. Prayer helps us to widen our view. We are not the saviors of the world. We have some work to do, but it’s not up to us completely.

Hopefully, being able to put ourselves and the world in the context of God’s love, we can also do so for those with whom we disagree. In all the best activism on the part of those who are oppressed, it can be easy to forget that it is hatred and fear that are the enemy, not the people who seem to promote them. In prayer, we glimpse a unitive reality in which we are equally in need of God’s grace and compassion. Even if just for a moment! Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. When we are hungry for justice, we must know that even in our hunger we are being filled by the grace of God, as that hunger is God’s life living within us.

This evening, take a moment and really pray the beatitudes. Look with God’s eyes to see blessing in the world, and allow your heart to perceive it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Transition, Blessings and Griefs and Information

Dear People of Christ Church,

Since I announced on Sunday at the annual meeting that my ministry here will be ending on March 5, I’ve had occasion to talk with many of you about the joy and sorrow of a time like this. (My letter of Sunday afternoon is also on our website.)Transitions are, inevitably, hard. It’s hard to trust to what feels like an uncertain future. It’s hard to figure out the dividing lines between blessing and grief.

In church, we are in the business of death and resurrection, bearing witness to new life. This isn’t a death, but it is a time of entering into a liminal, in-between space that can feel a little ghostly. This is where what-has-been nurtures the seeds of what-will-be. That takes faith: faith in God’s promises to lead God’s people forward, faith in parish leaders and the diocese, and, most importantly, faith in the love of Christ that brought each of you here. A church isn’t just any organization; it’s the Body of Christ! You were called into this community because you have something to share with the world and God’s people here in this place. That calling is much, much broader and more important than any one clergy person who might serve in your midst at any given time. In the months after my departure, you will need to focus on the work before you, on nurturing your community and discerning your future. During that time, best practices require that past clergy not maintain contact with the parish (either in person or via social media, etc). That can feel difficult, but it’s also not forever.

And I’m not gone yet! Over the next six weeks, will have plenty of time to meet for coffee, dream, and pray together. Please let me know if you would like to sit down one on one to talk: that is what I would most like to spend my time doing for the rest of my time here! Rev. Norm will be leading an adult ed series for three weeks beginning on February 5 on social justice movements and the church, with a particular focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. We’ll have a good party to celebrate our work together, and your wardens and vestry will share information about what’s going on as you move into the interim period. As Sasha said on Sunday, it’s crucially important to remember that Episcopal Church polity allows for a great amount of autonomy for parishes in transition. You will be in charge of the search committee and you will be in charge of who is eventually called to be your clergy. And, above all that, remember the power of God’s love that lead you to Christ Church will lead Christ Church and all of you forward into a brilliant future.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Departure Letter

Dear People of Christ Church,
For the last nearly 11 ½ years, my weeks have been anchored by that greeting. Now I write to share the news that my ministry at Christ Church will be coming to a close. My family is moving to Pittsburgh as my husband accepts a call at St Paul’s, Mt Lebanon, and my last Sunday with you will be March 5. We announced the news at the annual meeting this morning.

My ministry at Christ Church has been a profound blessing to me over the last years, and I hope to Christ Church as well. When I arrived, there was so much uncertainty. The parish had been through some years of decline, and it seemed that closure was not far away. Quite quickly, though, we discovered that God had some work in mind for us to do; in broadening our welcome to families with children, in starting Diaper Depot, in expanding our offerings for students and young adults, and in securing the amazing building we have inherited. One year of temporary “priest in residence” expanded into three more years as priest in charge, and in 2009 the parish discerned a call to move forward with me serving as rector. In the time I’ve been at Christ Church, I’ve started a blog, traveled to East Africa, given birth to two children, had one essay in a book, and compiled three months worth of poetry and had it published by the former Back Pages Books. The last 11 ½ years have been a time of deep transformation, growth, and nurture both of my professional life and my soul.

And, yet, the pattern of our life in Christ is always transformation and growth more deeply into the heart of God. Christ Church has been transformed in the time I’ve been here just as I have, and now the next chapter of our lives will begin. As many of you know, I’m a Massachusetts transplant. I grew up in northwest Pennsylvania, so our move is in some ways a homecoming for me. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is in a fascinating time of transition, growth, and rebuilding, and I am confident there will be new opportunities to exercise my ministry. God always has more surprises in mind.

Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.


From the Wardens

Dear People of Christ Church,
The news of Sara’s departure filled us with a range of emotions. We are delighted that she and her family have this opportunity. We are grateful for all that Sara has done for Christ Church and for us personally. And we are deeply sad to think about her leaving. We are also confident in Christ Church and in our future together. Thanks to the hard work of the entire congregation over the last eleven and a half years, we are a strong community. While the transition may be painful at times, we have no doubt that it will also be a time of reflection and growth for Christ Church.

The transition process is new to us and to many of you who have joined Christ Church during Sara’s tenure. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone: the Diocese of Massachusetts provides support and resources to congregations during transitions. As wardens, we have already met with the diocese’s Director of Transition Ministry, Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa, to discuss the steps and timeline of the transition process. He will return to meet with vestry again on Monday.

During this period of transition, there is a lot to do, and we will be calling on each of you to help. We recognize that all of us have many commitments, but we hope that you will prayerfully consider whether there are some new roles you could take on at Christ Church for this transition period. In the meantime, we will do our best to be in regular communication about next steps. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
We are grateful for the opportunity to serve as your wardens and for all the gifts of the Christ Church community.

Chris Leonardo and Sasha Killewald, Wardens

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. – Matthew 18:20

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baptism, the Spontaneous Outpouring of God's Love

Dear People of Christ Church,

I hope those of you who gathered for church on Sunday after the blizzard enjoyed our service in the parish hall as much as I did. When I got to church at 7:30, as I usually do, I discovered there was no heat; the church was 33 degrees and the boiler that heats the church sanctuary was silent. Our repair folks came out soon enough, but to move a space that large 30 degrees takes some time, so as people began arriving to help we got busy moving chairs. Sundays after large storms are never too full, so the 55 or so of us who gathered fit easily in two concentric circles in the hall. I put a small table at the center for an altar and preached with no pulpit and no text. I do that anyway at 8:30, but with a bigger crowd the energy was quite different.

I’ve preached in different ways over the years I’ve been at Christ Church—there are years in the pulpit and years out of the pulpit. I’ve sometimes used my manuscript as a text to read and other times more as an anchor I rarely look down at. Preaching feels more spontaneous and connected without that safety blanket—it’s just you and me and whatever the Holy Spirit allows me to remember about my planning—but can be hard. Our text for Sunday, though, was a perfect reading for not having everything written down in front of me.

There’s always something confusing about the baptism of Jesus, our Gospel for Sunday—we tend to think of baptism as a moral event, the necessity of which comes from our own human moral failures. Even if we might not take this argument all the way to the end, there’s a hierarchy implicit in baptizing that makes it seem like a flow of power from powerful to powerless. John named this, too—he wants to receive what *Jesus* has, and sees himself as powerless to give Jesus anything on his own. He doesn’t see how he has authority over Jesus in being able to perform the rite.

Liturgical stuff gets us in trouble like this all the time. We’re quick to superimpose the hierarchies on the world onto our faith. That’s what John was doing…remember how he made that comment about being even unworthy of tying the thong of Jesus’ sandal? He does it again here.

We ask the same question. If part of what happens in our baptism is a sinful person being formed in a moral community (which, make no mistake, it absolutely is), then why does Jesus “have” to do it? We’re obsessed with freedom and individual choice so there seems to be something at stake in whether it’s necessary. It might be necessary for us, but is it for Jesus?

That’s what was great about preaching this piece without a text. Jesus’ baptism was just about the love of God. That’s it. No hierarchy, no authority, no “you should be baptizing me, not me you.” Just love. The most simple thing. Anyone can do it.

The rite itself is just occasion for us all to get clear about God’s love in Christ. Anyone can be a Christian. There’s no esoteric secret knowledge required. You don’t even have to be sure about everything! Your doubts and questions get to come along. In baptism we take on God’s love. We receive the memories of thousands of years of God’s faithfulness, in Creation, in the calling of the people of Israel through slavery and exile and return, in the birth of God as human in Christ, Christ’s self-giving love and the resurrection. All of God’s love and faithfulness become ours in baptism. Jesus is baptized, and we can be baptized, and it could not be more simple. Just like preaching without a text… Sort of.



Thursday, January 5, 2017

Other Roads

Dear People of Christ Church,
Tomorrow is Epiphany (if you have a hankering for church, St Paul’s in Bedford is doing a noon service). One of my favorite lines in the Gospels is this short description of the Magi as they leave Bethlehem:

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

What is this other road? Did they always follow the instructions given in dreams? What are all the other roads we take or don’t take? Maybe they learned from a bad experience that you should always listen to that stuff? The Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken has always seemed a bit self-congratulatory to me—the narrator seems to boast that it’s “made all the difference” they took the road less traveled—but Matthew’s Gospel is so matter of fact about it that you wonder if there must be more to it.

Thinking about the alternate roads often becomes an exercise in nostalgia—thinking about what might have been if we’d done something else (or thinking about who we were when we made those decisions), we are easily blinded to the graces of what is. On the other hand, a la my annoyed interpretation of Frost, there can be a brittle defensiveness to being sure we did the right thing. But the magi are drama-free; they just know that Herod’s out to get them, and they keep going.

In addition to Magi’s attentiveness to their dreams, the other thing I also love is that they found the other road. We don’t have stories about them returning to Herod because they knew how to do things differently. They were attentive not just to their internal senses, but to what was around them. This is hard: often times we get absorbed into our own personal realities and don’t notice anything else. There’s also an opposite temptation, to be so externally focused we lose our bearings and can’t hear anything from our interior selves. They all are in conversation; it’s more of a double helix than two poles to balance.

Tomorrow, with the Magi we leave Bethlehem, all on our own roads. The light of the manger will be brought to all corners of the world in this season of Epiphany to the extent that we bring it with us. We’re celebrating Jesus’ baptism on Sunday, so we’re reminded of how we are one in Christ as members of one another and the church; in that same double helix way of interior and exterior, we travel together and apart.
What will you bring with you as you leave the manger? What will you leave behind?


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Work of Christmas

Dear People of Christ Church,
Blessed Days of Christmas to you! I’m away from the office until January 2, but wanted to pass this on to you as you make your way through these twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. I’ve shared it before; it comes from the theologian Howard Thurman, published in his book, The Mood of Christmas and other Celebrations (1973).

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

Please come on Sunday for Christmas Lessons and Carols at 10am (no 8:30 service). On Sunday, January 8, we’re back to our regular schedule with children’s education at the 10am service and our usual 8:30 spoken Eucharist as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus that kicks off Epiphany season!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

An Advent that's Bigger on the Inside

Dear People of Christ Church,
Continued Advent blessings to you! Thanks to everyone who was part of the pageant on Sunday… it was nice to see it back on Sunday morning, just as it was nice to have it in the evenings for the last few years.

At vestry on Monday night we were invited to reflect on what words tell our Advent story. I shared that, while I’m not as big of a Dr Who fan as many of you are, a line from that comes to mind—this year my Advent has been bigger on the inside. It’s been a slow unfolding all the way back to the weekend after Thanksgiving; as long as the season of Advent ever gets (next year Advent four is on December 24, so we’ll barely have three weeks of it). It has felt spacious in a way that December, with Tuesday night education and the pageant and school concerts and all of it doesn’t always lend itself to.

Advent is waiting and unfolding and preparing and paying attention. There’s often a bit of a let down by the end of it; wishing I’d waited better or contemplated harder or whatever else. This year feels different; not because I think I’ve done such an admirable job of “Adventing” so hard, but simply because I am feeling so grateful to be led forward into this mystery of God. I know it’s not going to all be perfect. I’m not going to brilliantly articulate the meaning of the incarnation in my sermon tomorrow better than I ever have. I’m not going to find some new and profound insight on what it means that God becomes human and why it matters. I’m not going to get my children and my home looking flawless for the holiday. And that’s fine! Rather than looking at my own failures this year, I’m looking at so many blessings. Thank you for being part of the journey together.