During Lent each year, our worship takes on a particular form. Worship begins with "The Penitential Order"; the white and green hangings of Epiphany yield to the penitential purple of Lent; flowers disappear from the altar; the word "Alleluia" also disappears; instead, a variety of words express our sorrow and regret for the pain our mistakes and bad choices have caused God and others; a "Solemn Prayer over the People" replaces the Blessing for a season; we sing the simple and somber service music of John Merbecke; and we sum up our prayers by praying together, "Lord, have mercy."
"Lord, have mercy" is the response to each petition in the Prayers of the People we offer at both 8 and 10 a.m. on Sundays in Lent (p.383). One of the benefits of prayers like "Form I" (as this one is Identified in the Prayer Book), is that the scope of our prayers are lifted far beyond our own immediate concerns and what the Prayer Book calls our blindness, ignorance and sinfulness. In the fine print at the top of page 383, the Prayer Book directs:
Prayer is offered with intercession for
The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
The Nation and all in authority
The welfare of the world
The concerns of the local community
Those who suffer and those in any trouble
The departed (with commemoration of a saint when it is appropriate)
The way the Prayer Book elevates and expands my prayer life, was -- and remains --- one of The Episcopal Church's attractions for me; my first acquaintance with The Book of Common Prayer was courtesy of Father Field (never did know his first name) when I was an undergraduate at Carleton College. Founded by Northfield's Congregational Church, and with the Pilgrim Hymnal still in the College Chapel's pews, communion services were exceptionally rare at Carleton. However, with the chaplain's permission, Fr. Field celebrated Holy Communion according to the 1928 Prayer Book on Wednesday nights after the Library closed. By my senior year, I was hooked.
After the Blessing, Fr. Field would walk back down the aisle in the small basement space known as the "Chapel Crypt" offering the same devotional prayer. Years later I learned the original form of the prayer, first published in 1263 (in Latin, of course) was written by St. Thomas Aquinas.* By the end of my senior year, I knew it by heart:
O saving victim, opening wide,
the gates of heaven to man below.
Our foes press on from every side;
thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.
All praise and thanks to thee ascend,
for evermore, blest One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end,
in our true native land with thee.
Our prayers address the scourge of gun violence in three ways:
1) To the petition "[for] the President, the leaders of the nations, and all in authority," the intercessor adds, "that they may work together to end terror, warfare and gun violence," before concluding "let us pray to the Lord."
2) In the petition "for the widowed and orphaned," the intercessor defines those terms as "the vulnerable and defenseless," adding "for the sick and the suffering, for victims of violence, especially the gun violence this week in [states where there have been mass shootings]" These places come from the "Gun Violence Archive's Mass Shootings" page; find it here. This page describes where incidents involving four or more injuries or deaths happened and provides details and news sources; in the incidents this past week in Texas, Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma two people died and twenty people were injured. Perhaps because at least some of these incidents appeared to be "gang related," outside bars, and in areas less fashionable than Parkland, Florida, they did not make the national news. Nonetheless, these shooting deaths and injuries also happened to children of God. And,
3) The petition "For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation," surely includes gun violence without further specifying it.
Here's the catch in all our prayers regarding gun violence:
1) We probably need to let the "President, ... and all in authority," know that we are both praying for them, and that we expect them to work together to address gun violence.
2) The casualties from mass shootings are only a small fraction of the deadly toll exacted by gun violence: 15,595 people were killed by gun violence in 2017, and another 22,000 died as a result of suicide. Just because some may be using concern about "mental health" to direct attention from the tool of this violence to its perpetrators, heightened attention to mental health care and research would be a constructive change from current de-funding and prohibitions.
3) We may be part of the answer to our own prayers for deliverance. I'm wondering what that is going to look like for me as I write these words. How about for you?
Now onto other things of Lent:
I found Lent Madness fascinating again this week. Choices were incredibly difficult between such saintly folk as Deaconness Anna Alexander -- an African-American leader of Christian formation in Georgia, and Peter Claver -- a Jesuit who served the physical and spiritual needs of African slaves trafficked through Cartegena, Columbia. Yet, I wouldn't have known about either, if I hadn't participated. A very few copies of "The Definitive Guide" remain available for $3 each, but you can participate totally on-line by registering in the top right column here.
The Rectory Forum and Tuesday Supper have been introduced to "Luke," the evangelist who gets credit for both the Gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts. So this week would be a good time to join these gatherings of the "Good Book Club," as we get further into the 'orderly account" Luke wrote "...after investigating everything carefully from the very first (1.3b)..." You can sign up here to receive the Forward Day-by-Day devotion on the portion of Luke appointed for each day.
Thanks to the In-Reach Committee for last Sunday's Mid-morning Breakfast! Several tables of stalwart folks enjoyed each other's company and the delicious French toast, bacon and sausages prepared by Annie Rae and Susan & Tony Leonard. Thanks to them and to every one else who pitched in to help!
Happy to report that Sheward is back safe and sound from his vacation adventure, and that it looks like we won't have to call upon his snow-clearing expertise any time soon!
In faith, hope and love,
*The authorship of this prayer has special significance for me. I was ordained a priest on January 28, the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Ash Wednesday is always a poignant day -- a day when we admit our human weakness, willfulness and wanton disregard for other people and interests beyond our own. The tragic deaths of 14 high school students and three teachers in Parkland, Florida, amid the shooting still more, drives home how far we have fallen from the life to which God calls us -- one in which all shall ...
"sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
everyone can live in peace under their own vine."
Our Bishops, who went directly to the scene in Newtown upon receivling word of the school shootings at Sandy Hook, have reached out to the Episcopal bishop of Southeast Florida, to offer their prayers and assistance as colleagues who have also responded to the horror of a mass shooting at a school. They are among the founders, and Bishop Douglas is one of the co-convenors, of "Bishops United to Prevent Gun Violence," whose powerful letter Bishops Ahrens and Douglas commend to us all. You can find it here.
In their letter, Bishops United mourn the deaths of all who perished in Wednesday's shootings, and single out "... with particular sorrow Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old student at the school and leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, who died at the hands of the gunman." Later in the letter, they recall the death of Ben Whieeler, an active young parishioner of Trinity Church, Newtown (renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of lighthouses); three years ago, Ben's father David asked us, "to look at [our] children and then ask [our]selves, "Am I doing everything I can to keep them safe? Because the answer to that question, if we all answer honestly, clearly is no." That's the sort of candor that Ash Wednesday asks of us. In return, our Ash Wednesday prayers offered the Holy Spirit's aid in changing course -- otherwise known as "repentance."
We were also challenged on Ash Wednesday by the Letter to the Episcopal Church, from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, calling for a Day of Prayer on the Church's role for good and ill in the sexual exploitation and harassment by the powerful of those with less power and agency -- most often the exploitation and harassment of women by men. Presiding Bishop Curry and President Jennings recalled the biblical story of the rape of Tamar (II Samuel 13:1-22) in which " a young woman ... is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned. It is a Bible story devoid of justice." And it sounds amazingly current. You can find their letter here.
The poignancy of Ash Wednesday was also found in the silences, the readings, the attentiveness of worshippers, the prayers, and, at the 7 p.m. service, the Choir's beautiful anthem, and the hymns chosen by Music Director Mark Sullivan, plus his prelude and postlude. The brief child-friendly service at 5:15 p.m. was a special treat; I won't speak for the kids, but I needed to be reminded, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Thanks to all who helped us get ready for Ash Wednesday at the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, especially the LaFata family, Sue Shackford, Cindy Smith and Dennis Burke, among others. Two pre-birthday cakes took me totally by surprise! Thanks for the good wishes.
On the first Tuesday in Lent, February 19, our Lenten Soup Suppers will return. We will be joining The Good Book Club's reading and discussion of the Gospel according to Luke. The Tuesday discussion's will parallel those of Sundays' Rectory Forum. We will be joining Episcopalians across the world in reading and meditating together on the Gospel according to Luke in response to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's personal invitation -- which you can view here. On that same page, you can sign up to receive weekly updates, and/or to sign-up for daily meditations through Forward Day-by-Day here via your favorite electronic media. A few print copies remain, and clever posters with the daily readings, are still available in the church and parish office.
Lent Madness returned on "Ash Thursday" with a face-off between the saints on either side of Jesus in the window over our altar. It was a very close contest! Friday's, between Queen Margaret of Scotland and King Charles I of England seems to be heading for a very lop-sided victory (pun not intended). But I felt the winner because I learned things about both of them, and can better appreciate why they both have such ardent admirers. A few copies of "The Definitive Guide" remain available for $3 each, but you can participate totally on-line by registering in the top right column here.
The weather forecasters are doing their level-best to make us anxious about the snowfall they tell us is coming our way on Saturday night. Looks like the snow is expected to begin falling after 6 p.m. and be done by 4 a.m. I don't know how things will be in your neighborhood, but in mine, on the Green, the streets will have been plowed, and arrangements have been made for our sidewalks, driveway and steps to have been cleared, salted and sanded. So, I'm hoping that we can go ahead with our planned Mid-morning Breakfast of French toast, bacon and sausages on Sunday, February 18! Our In-Reach Committee has been making all sorts of preparations to greet us between the 8 and 10 a.m. services. Please plan to stay after or come early for the service of your choice, to enjoy a home-cooked breakfast together! In the event that my breakfast-hopes are dashed, I will send out a message early Sunday morning.
In the meantime, I look forward to continuing with you -- our Lenten prayers, reading God's Word, and holding onto God's call for us to live more fully the faith that has claimed us.
In faith, hope and love,
First of all, a hearty thank you to everyone who participated in last Sunday's Annual Meeting, the 274th for this parish. I heard that there were at least 94 of us in attendance -- making this the most well-attended parish meeting during my tenure.
From what I heard, we all appreciated how lovely the Parish Hall looked with its Evening ECW-sponsored improvements, and as set up by Diana Stovall and her helpers. Folks may've turned out for the In-Reach Committee's made-from-scratch tomato and chicken soups; if so,they were well-rewarded. Committee chair Susan Leonard had also organized for the meal to include fresh fruit, French bread and cornbread.
Enjoying this tasty repast and each other's company, we were in good shape to expedite the parish's necessary business. Along the way, we elected new officers -- a complete list of all officers appears below, and thanked those who were stepping down: Diane Barker, after six years on the Vestry -- the first three as clerk; Ted Sands, after five years on the Vestry -- the last three as treasurer; Caroline Herrick, after four years as a delegate to our diocesan conventions -- the first year as an alternate; Diane Kyle, after three years as Clerk of the Parish -- during which time she also helped organize the Evening ECW and its Tag Sales and Parish Hall improvements; and Katherine Frydenborg, after three years on the Vestry completing terms begun by others -- and helping to organize our Strategic Planning Process.
Thanks also to Sue Shackford for the photographs of our Tower and bell; both inside and out, that illustrated my talk. Most everything I said about the Tower and the bell -- their history and current status, is included in a written report among the printed "Reports to the 274th Annual Parish Meeting." Copies are still available.
"The Last Sunday after the Epiphany" may be the Prayer Book's name for this Sunday, but our Gospel reading is always about the revelation, i.e. epiphany, that happened when Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James and John on the mountaintop. This amazing epiphany of Jesus, "This is my Son, the Beloved..." concludes this season of epiphanies, and sets us up for the journey to Jerusalem, to the Cross and Tomb, that follows.
To get ready for that journey, we have two special observances during the coming week:
On Shrove Tuesday, February 13, we will gather for pancakes and sausages, and to witness the "Conflagration of the Palms." Cooking up carbs and fats, we will share a Pancake Supper beginning at 5 p.m.; and after dusk we will burn up the shriveled palms remaining from last Palm Sunday. They will become the ash for our observances the next day.
On Ash Wednesday, February 14, we will seek "...to make a right beginning...""... to the observance of a holy Lent ..." with prayers of repentance, reconciliation and hope. Our services will be at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m., with a special Child-friendly service at 5:15 p.m.
Yes, Ash Wednesday is also Valentine's Day this year. So, our ever-so-thoughtful Middle Schoolers will be helping us get our chocolate fix on this Sunday before Ash Wednesday and on Shrove Tuesday. Their chocolate sales will support their June outing to Camp Incarnation, and summer mission trip to the Dominican Republic. They'll be making the chocolates Saturday, February 10 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Parish Hall.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy commends "... reading and meditating on God's Holy Word..." as one of the disciplines of Lent. This year, Episcopalians across the world will be reading and meditating together on the Gospel according to Luke. Indeed, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has issued a personal invitation -- which you can view here -- for the whole Church to join the Good Book Club, and make this journey together starting this Sunday. On that same page, you can sign up to receive weekly updates, and/or to sign-up for daily meditations through Forward Day-by-Day here via your favorite electronic media. A few print copies remain, and clever posters with the daily readings, are available in the church and parish office.
Lent Madness also returns! There's new organization to learning about this year's figures from biblical to contemporary times who were "the lights of the world in their generation," and who may continue to inspire -- or sometimes alarm -- us in our day. "The Definitive Guide(s)" have arrived and are available for $3 each. Although partly tongue-in-cheek -- these folks have no need to compete for their haloes, the saints who advance to the final rounds of Lent Madness seem to speak to needs of the present in surprising ways.
I look forward to being with you on the mountaintop this Sunday, and heading toward Jersusalem with you in the days that follow.
In faith, hope and love,
*Parish Officers for 2018-19 are:
Senior Warden Rose Robinson; Junior Warden Sue Shackford; Treasurer Michael Crossley; and Clerk Susan Leonard;
Vestry Members are
Peter Marks, Mardee Moore, David Oshana;
Rebecca Evans, Mitra Kish, Bob McNamara
Bill Cuddy, Sudie Danaher, and Juliana Harris;
Delegates to Diocesan Convention are:
Jennifer Huebner and George Kral;
Alternate -- Susan Pogue
Nominating Committee for the
275th Annual Parish Meeting:
Caroline Herrick, Kathleen Jones, Diane Kyle, and Annie Rae plus the Rector and Wardens, ex-officio.
The clergy at First Congregation Church wrote this morning, announcing a Vigil on the Green at 6:30 p.m., this evening February 2. They have been directly supporting the Song family following young Ethan's tragic death on Wednesday. I plan to attend.
This Sunday is our appointed day to take counsel together for "... the renewal and mission of [Christ's] Church." Beginning with a soup brunch, the Annual Parish Meeting will follow Sunday's 10 a.m. worship service; we will quickly do the important tasks for organizing our life together: electing a new class of parish officers, Vestry and Nominating Committee members, and Delegate to diocesan convention*, and receiving written reports from 2017, including reports from the Treasurer and a budget for 2018.
Then we'll get to what I hope will be a fun part of the meeting. I have organized some great photos made by Sue Shackford into a slide show about our Tower, through the ages and as it is now. If you've never been up to the bell chamber, you will want to see the bird and squirrels' eye view with these photos.
This will be the 274th Annual Parish Meeting, which means that the next one will be the 275th, and perhaps a good time for some celebrating. We could start thinking about that!
The In-reach Committee has taken the lead in preparing a light repast to sustain us through our Annual Parish Meeting. The menu includes a couple tasty soups with rice, breads and fruit. Many thanks to chief organizer Susan Leonard and all who will help prepare and serve. Your help with clean-up would be appreciated.
Sunday School Director Laurie Varley will keep our younger parishioners happily occupied during the meeting. There will be a pizza for them to eat. Adults: No fair trying to slip downstairs and join the children! And remember, in the Episcopal Church, voting membership begins at age 16!
Oh yes, this Sunday is also Super Bowl Sunday! Not to worry, there will be plenty of time to get home after the meeting, well before even the pre-pregame shows begin; and the game itself doesn't start until 6:30 p.m. E.T.
In faith and hope,
*And the nominees are: Senior Warden -- Rose Robinson; Junior Warden -- Sue Shackford; Treasurer -- Michael Crossley; Clerk -- Susan Leonard; Vestry Class of 2019 -- Mardee Moore; Vestry Class of 2021 -- Bill Cuddy, Sudie Danaher, Juliana Harris; Delegate to Diocesan Convention -- Jennifer Huebner; Nominating Committee for the 2019 Annual Parish Meeting -- Caroline Herrick, Kathleen Jones, Diane Kyle, Annie Rae
We feature various authors from around our parish, commenting on topics of interest to our community. Enjoy! Comment if you are so moved!