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Yearly Archives: 2015

The Power of Presence

—Larissa Peters

I like to be independent. I don’t like seeming weak. I don’t like asking for help. But over the last couple months, I’ve had to. I’m currently facing a health issues. It’s nothing too serious, but it’s something that has been bewildering and, at times, left me feeling completely helpless and alone.

But what has stood out the most to me is what a powerful thing presence can be. I have been so grateful for people simply being present with me in these difficult days, and the power of presence has been reinforced for me over and over again.

Being on the receiving end of help has started a stream of thought for me about what presence means and why it’s spoken so strongly to me.

Presence is more than just being there.

Presence is being open, not necessarily available 24/7. That’s an impossible expectation to put on anyone. But I can’t describe the relief I’ve found in those who are present with me, not simply in proximity, but in spirit by letting me know I can call at any time and say, “I can’t. I can’t tackle this anymore.

Presence is listening. People know when the person they’re talking to is distracted. Sometimes you can’t help it, but a listening ear that is all there can be like fresh water to a thirsty person. Unvirtuous Abby once posted: “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference” (David Augsburger, Mennonite Teacher).

Presence is forgiving. It can be tiring. And sometimes the person in need doesn’t have room in his or her life to return the favor or even the mental space to remember to say thank you. Sometimes there can be hurt. But being present is being compassionate, overlooking wrongs.

Presence is active. It’s one thing to be available, but if someone is hurting, sometimes they have no idea or any capacity to state a need they may have. It’s recognizing, it’s noticing. At times my need was taken care of even before I felt it.

And most importantly, presence gives hope. The words or help of a friend has helped me face another day, it’s helped me stay positive, it’s given me courage—for no reason at all but the fact that I don’t feel alone in this.

As Advent is coming up, I find more and more richness in the name of Jesus: “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” His gift to us is His presence. He is someone who is wanting us to draw near.

“God with us” means that someone has an interest. Someone is nearby. Someone gives us the courage to face the next day. I’ve heard people say, “You shouldn’t go to God with a list.” And while that is valid, I honestly don’t think He cares if we end up going to Him in weariness with a request. I don’t think He tires of it. Knowing He is with me in unanswered health issues gives me peace. His presence gives me hope.

And it is through the presence of people that I’ve felt God’s presence as I walk through this.

fall nature

Photo by Hania Luna

Knowing the Spirit’s Comfort

—Larissa Peters

Recently in Old St. Paul’s Forum, we discussed our faith journeys and why we go to church.

As someone who attends church, I think this is important to do. But it’s hard. St. Augustine said, “What art Thou to me? In Thy pity, teach me to utter it.” That’s been my prayer for myself. Teach me, Lord, to be able to voice the peace and hope you’ve given me.

Something I often see in Christians is that they work from a context of needing to save souls for eternal life. And while it’s legitimate, it’s also a whole other world that is so far away from our thinking and our lives.

But I love what John says in 1 John 1:24-25: “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what He promised us—even eternal life.

It reads (as I understand it) that the reason for Christ coming was so that we could remain in the Son and the Father—and, oh yes, you also get eternal life…almost like an afterthought. So when Christ told us that He came for us to have life and have it to the full, He meant more than eternal life. He meant a full life here. Now.

Honestly, sometimes I ask, why couldn’t God have chosen to send Christ at the end of the world and let us all choose at that time? He could have left the world as it was with Adam and Eve and then at the end of our lives, Christ could die and save us. But what kind of life would He have given us then?

He wanted us to know the Spirit’s comfort. He wanted us to know relief from the guilt of sin while we lived. He wanted us to have the assurance of a better place than here. He wanted to be a part of our lives in our conversations, our prayers, our daily moments. He wanted us to have the confidence to enter into His throne room and pray to Him while on Earth. HE, the God of the universe, wanted to be a part of our insignificant dusty bodies.

“Eternal life,” though important, can often be irrelevant. My choice to follow God is a response to Him who interrupted history to be present in our lives.

ireland

Photo by Larissa Peters

The Poet, the Spider, & God

I have long been a dedicated reader of Wendell Berry, both his poetry and his essays, and often turn to his work whenever I feel a struggle in my soul for a moment of peace and wilderness.

His poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” especially, has always held tremendous power for me:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water …

Poetry in general holds a great deal of the stuff of God for me, reminding me to be mindful, present, and appreciative as I move through a world filled with the Creator’s wonder and mystery.

The Bible itself—like many sacred texts from around the world—is packed with poetry, from the psalms to the Song of Solomon. I suspect that this is not simply because of poetry’s popularity at the time of the sacred texts’ inception nor because this was the only art form available to its authors. Rather, I suspect that the use of poetry points to the fact that there are some things, some ideas and inspirations, that simply cannot be accurately conveyed through purely literal and linear forms of storytelling. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense to me that so many authors have turned to poetry to help them better capture in words the rapturous sensations and experiences of God’s presence in the world.

Another poem that continuously arrests and inspires me is Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”:

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

 

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Returning to this poem, I’m struck with the sensation of some gossamer thread of my own soul finally catching somewhere. I’m struck with a moment of peace in the midst of my constant web-weaving and thread-throwing. I’m struck by the strange power of God to speak to me afresh through the work of poets long-dead, unknown, or faraway.

I’m struck with a newfound appreciation for not only the mysterious, wonderful works of God, but for the gift of poetry that so faithfully reminds me that these catching-places are wonders deserving of constant pause, recognition, and gratitude.

Where are your catching-places? Do you find that poetry helps bring you back to these spots and moments, or is it something else—some other art, exercise, or discipline—that grabs your attention and reminds you of the beautiful wilderness of God?

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K.C. Mead-Brewer

All Hallows’ Eve: A Time for Remembering

Katherine Mead-Brewer

I’ve been thinking a great deal about death lately. Not only is it the week of Halloween, but I’ve also recently had more than a few friends suffer through major surgeries, vehicle collisions, and severe illness. And so maybe it’s because of these events and meditations that I’ve also been feeling especially grateful to have such a life- and living-centered faith. For although many focus on the torment and violent death of Christ, it is important to also constantly remind oneself of what it was he was dying for. To my mind, Christ was not simply a sacrifice, but a man who died for his dedication to the love, life, and eternity of the world. The legacy of Jesus then, for me, has always been a life-centered faith. A faith where the mysterious God empowers us to conquer death, where all things are interconnected and eternal rather than isolated, linear, and full of endings.

Despite this legacy, however, the Christian Church, like many religions, has left in its wake a tremendously bloody history thanks to the failings, fears, and prejudices of its practitioners over the centuries: persecution of countless men and women as witches, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other instances of war, terrorism, conquest, and “cleansing.”

As Halloween is nearly upon us, it strikes me as a strangely ideal time to pause and give a moment of remembrance to those who have suffered and to those who continue to suffer at the hands of people who claim to be acting in the name and service of God.

To aid you in this, I leave you with a prayer from Michel Quoist’s classic meditation, Prayers:

            Grant me, Lord, to spread true love in the world.

            Grant that by me and by your children it may penetrate a little

                        into all circles, all societies, all economic and political

                        systems, all laws, all contracts, all rulings;

            Grant that it may penetrate into offices, factories, apartment

                        buildings, movie houses, dance halls;

            Grant that it may penetrate the hearts of men and that I may

                        never forget that the battle for a better world is a battle of

                        love, in the service of love.

(Quoist, pg 103)

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Christ Church Cemetery, Alexandria, VA

Photo by Jessica Sexton, OSP Youth Minister

Helping Children to Find Faith

The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

What are your hopes for your child’s faith development? I asked parents to respond to this question, and it was moving to hear responses like,

Right now, my daughter loves coming to church and I really hope that enthusiasm continues.

I want my kids to know they are loved by others in our church, and loved by God.

I hope my children will be shaped by the Bible stories and the Christian traditions, learning how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

In the twenty-seven years I’ve been working on Youth and Children’s Ministry in the Episcopal Church, I have learned that children develop a Christian identity in the midst of their relationships with other Christians. Faith is caught and not taught. The development of faith is a matter of the heart, as well as the head. Faith formation takes place primarily in the midst of loving relationships.

As Episcopalians, we value education, yet it is not enough to just teach content to kids. The development of a love for God and sense of belonging as God’s beloved children, comes first and foremost as children experience other human beings loving and forgiving them in a Christian community. If faith is caught and not taught, then children catch faith by being in relationship with other Christians who will model for them what it means to walk the walk and talk the talk.

At St. Paul’s, Baltimore, we cherish children so they will know they are cherished by God. We do this by spending time together as a Christian community, and by modeling how to love our neighbors as ourselves.

kiddosWe are moving away from the “school model” of Christian formation where parents simply drop off their kids at their classes so that the “experts” can teach the kids content about how to be good Christians. We know this old fashioned model doesn’t work very well. So, we are moving toward an “extended family model,” where parents join their kids in their church activities in a variety of ways, modeling what it means to be participants in a Christ-centered community. If our church is more like an extended family, and we have weekly family reunions on Sundays, then we are all involved, taking turns helping out, and seeking to include all ages.

With more than seventy participants in our youth and children’s programs this year, we have become more of a homegrown volunteer and parent led co-op, than a slick professional enrichment program for kids. Parents especially, are expected to participate in programs along with their children. Faith development, for both the children and the adults, takes place within the context of friendship and community.

When it comes to faith development, it’s all about relationships with each other and with God. Think about it. The Bible is a big book full of stories about relationships that are blessed, broken, unjust—reconciled, healed, and transformed. We are building up the bonds of love in our Christian community, trusting that as we cherish each other, we are also cherished by God.

Supporting Our Growth

In contrast to mainline Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in particular, Old St. Paul’s Church in downtown Baltimore is growing! You can feel it on Sunday mornings. Our numbers are up in worship attendance, Children’s Worship, and Education Hour participation. We have expanded our fellowship opportunities and outreach ministries. This is all great news!

However, expanding programs means more financial demands on our church. As we enter Stewardship season, one of the questions we might ask ourselves is, “If I were to make a financial pledge for the first time, or if I were to increase my pledge, where would that money go?” Here are some responses to that question.

  1. With all the new babies being born, we are expanding our nursery care staff.
  2. Our breakfast program before the Education Hour and our Coffee Hour after church are a huge success. The hospitality costs for coffee, treats, and refreshments have gone up significantly this year.
  3. We would like to expand our Downtown Partnership security team to make sure everyone is safe and all program areas are covered on Sunday mornings.
  4. On kick-off Sunday, we had 70 participants in the Sunday School and Youth Programs, as well as 36 participants at The Forum. We are having to add staff such as a new “Middle School Youth Minister” and a “Community Builder for Families with Infants and Toddlers” in order to keep up with these needs.
  5. As we explore new outreach ministries, our newly formed Social Justice and Service Committee would like to look at ways our church could increase our financial giving to address needs here in Baltimore and beyond.
  6. After being rented out for many years, in 2015 both the Historic Rectory and the 309 Cathedral Street building came back under control of the church. The use of these buildings is a gift, but this also means more financial spending on repairs and maintenance to take care of these historic structures.

IMG_4792All these important needs and programs require money. The trajectory of our parish looks promising, but we need the financial support of all our members to support the expansion of our ministries. Your financial contributions are needed in order to keep our church vital and growing.

Stewardship Packets can now be picked up on Sunday mornings or can be mailed to you. You can also pledge online at http://www.stpaulsbaltimore.org/?page_id=1683

Thank you for your generosity!

—The Reverend Mark Stanley, Rector

Learning About BUILD, Listening to Our Community

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After the riots shook Baltimore, we at Old St. Paul’s, like many faith groups around the city, decided to reassess our methods of outreach and community engagement in order to better serve our neighbor Baltimoreans. Since this past June, various members of Old St. Paul’s have been serving on different discernment committees dedicated to doing just this. Today, we’ll focus on the discernment committee dedicated to researching the church’s possible partnership with the local nonprofit organization BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

As discernment committee leader Amber Herzer explains, “BUILD organizes congregations, listens to the needs of the community, and then works with the political and civic leadership to address those needs.” BUILD is thus, at its heart, a relationship-based outreach model rather than project-based. It uses “a true servant-leader model,” and is dedicated to “empowering, listening to, and supporting community leaders.”

When was the last time that you felt truly listened to? Amber asks. When was the last time you felt someone paying you sincere attention, someone seeking to understand your perspective and experience? —Think back to those rare times, and remember how empowering that can feel. How it can help restore a person’s sense of worth, power, and wholeness.

“Sometimes it can take more courage to stop and listen, than to charge forward,” Amber explains. “It’s the courage of humility. We at Old St. Paul’s do not have a solution for the city of Baltimore. We do have a collection of people well-versed in volunteering and social justice, however. Social workers, teachers, lawyers, city government employees, artists, activists—people who understand that our first reaction shouldn’t be Let’s Go Do Something, but Let’s Listen First.”

Eileen Brittain, also a discernment committee member, recalls the book of Jeremiah when she thinks of BUILD:

“But seek the welfare of the city…, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

—Jeremiah 29:7

According to Eileen, “Their strategy to put pressure on those who make the decisions and control the funding can cause situations to be changed. BUILD asks support of faith communities to appear at various meetings to show solidarity and be an ally to those who do not have a voice in the halls of power.”

Tom Andrews, another of the committee’s members, is particularly “excited about the possibility of Old St. Paul’s joining BUILD” for the way it seeks to bring “together people of various faith traditions, to get to know each other, to work together on the needs of the city, and to work with political leaders to address these needs.”

Committee member Bob Zdenek seconds this sentiment, saying, “BUILD’s significance is that it brings together diverse congregations, both clergy and lay leaders from throughout Baltimore City…. Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. …and that speaks to the importance of organizations like BUILD that can cut across racial, income, class, and geographic barriers.”

“BUILD is the long term,” Amber says, “because it is focused on changing the system and building relationships with people in other parts of the city.”

And while this may mean that BUILD engages the political system, it is important to note that BUILD itself is not political. “This element may feel uncomfortable to some,” Amber concedes, “but BUILD is not about picking sides. It’s about changing the current system. If the change we’re creating isn’t uncomfortable, then we’re not digging deep enough.”

Of course, there are still questions and challenges that the discernment committee are considering. “I don’t see a lot of new leadership development with IAF affiliates [which includes BUILD] other than clergy,” Bob explains. “There is usually a small group of lay leaders, but how do you build the leadership beyond a few people? …I think this is vital for Old St. Paul’s in particular, since we appear to be new to social justice and change initiatives beyond a few small services.”

 

For more information on BUILD, please join us for The Forum on November 1st:

Faith Based Organizing in Baltimore City

9:30-10:20 a.m. at The Grand, next door to the church

The Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate BUILD (Baltimoreons United in Leadership Development) is a 35+ year organization committed to organizing communities around their own self-interests.  BUILD is comprised of 35 congregations and 15 city schools. The Rev. Glenna Huber, priest in the Diocese of Maryland is clergy co-chair of BUILD.

—Katherine Mead-Brewer