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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Reflections on Lent from Faith Leaders & Laypeople

For those of you interested in learning more about Lent and creative ways to observe it, just check out some of these stories from both our blog and from Episcopal News Service:


Archbishop of Canterbury: What makes a good Lent?

In this talk given at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Feb. 19, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reflected on what makes a good Lent for individuals, communities and society as a whole.

I took this photo at The Chapel of the Sacred Heart (1937) in Yellowstone. It's a memory I hold dear, a moment of quiet reflection in the heart of one of God's great wonders.

I took this photo at The Chapel of the Sacred Heart (1937) in Yellowstone. It’s a memory I hold dear, a moment of quiet reflection in the heart of one of God’s great wonders.

 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Lent Message 2015

“That cross that comes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the cross that’s put there at Baptism,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her Lent Message 2015.

Lent: what a relief!

By the Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes other people make mistakes, and sometimes we both make mistakes. A lot of communication is required in order for us to sort out what the mistakes are, and where the misunderstandings are, and to get to the point where authentic apologies are made. Now, that’s a tough process to go through, so I’d rather avoid it as long as possible.


Forty Ways to Care for Your Soul this Lent

By the Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

During the forty days of Lent, you are invited to take better care of your soul. Here is a list of some traditional and not so traditional spiritual disciplines that may help you to grow in the knowledge and love of God.


Brooklyn church art exhibit features fresh take on Stations of the Cross

To mark the season of Lent, The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew has invited 14 Brooklyn artists to contribute innovative works for a “stations of the cross” exhibit.

The tradition of walking the 14 stations of the cross, which portray the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, is an ancient Christian practice, but this exhibit “brings a new level of artistic expression to the experience,” according to a press release from the parish, part of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

EPPN Lenten Series: Engaging Poverty at Home and Around the World

This year, the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s Lenten Series focuses on “Engaging Poverty at Home and Around the World.” This Ash Wednesday reflection from Alexander D. Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement and Mission Communication for The Episcopal Church, is the first installment of the series. Each week, we will send an excerpt of the reflection to your inbox and provide you with a link to read the full reflection on our website.


Lent: Art & Our Relationship with Creation

By Katherine Mead-Brewer

Lent has long held special meaning for me, even if I haven’t always treated it with the respect it deserves. For me, Lent serves as a reminder of the tremendous mysteriousness of my creator and of just how small I am in the vastness of God’s work, of the universe’s many galaxies, planets, peoples, and creatures. Bishop Jefferts Schori captures this sentiment so well: the cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder … that we share that dust with all that has been created.



—Katherine Mead-Brewer

Lent: Art & Our Relationship with Creation

“The cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder that you are dust and to dust we shall return, that we share that dust with every other human being who has ever walked this planet, that we share that dust with the stars and the planets, that we share that dust with all that has been created.  We are made for relationship with creator and creation.”

     —Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori,

Lent Message 2015

Lent has long held special meaning for me, even if I haven’t always treated it with the respect it deserves. For me, Lent serves as a reminder of the tremendous mysteriousness of my creator and of just how small I am in the vastness of God’s work, of the universe’s many galaxies, planets, peoples, and creatures. Bishop Jefferts Schori captures this sentiment so well: the cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder … that we share that dust with all that has been created. It’s a

The geysers of Yellowstone National Park never fail to put me in awe of the dust and immensity of God’s creation. From their wild smells to their innate power to their strange beauty, they remind me to be humble and inspire me to both meditate and practice my art.

The geysers of Yellowstone National Park never fail to put me in awe of the dust and immensity of God’s creation. From their wild smells to their innate power to their strange beauty, they remind me to be humble and inspire me to both meditate and practice my art.

truly humbling thought, an amazing thought, and it’s one that I plan to remind myself of every day throughout this Lenten season both through the practice of my own art as well as in the appreciation and exploration of the art of others. Art and the practice of art often helps me feel better attuned to my world and my soul, knowing that I am using the tools my creator has blessed me with to try my hand at the act of creation as well. It feels like a sort of daily communion with God, a daily devotion that helps keep me on a healthy, reflective track. One way I’m hoping to achieve this and keep myself mindful and meditative this winter, is by following the online project, “Intent: A Daily Digital Devotion.” It’s something that anyone with an email address can sign up for, and it sounds like it’s going to be a terrific way to help keep myself focused this Lent. “Intent” is a project created by “young adults from several worshiping communities in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts … inviting one another into Lent this year with a daily dose of their own art, poetry, stories, photography, music and maybe even a cartoon or two” (Episcopal News Service,  Tracy J. Sukraw). For more information on this effort and how to sign up for it yourself, just click here.

Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” And while I understand this sentiment, I’ve come to think that the opposite might be true: Art illuminates the mysteriousness and beauty of the dust of everyday life. The dust that connects us all. Art can help us to carry this dust, to acknowledge it and accept it without being hindered by its weight or our fear of it.

What do you think? Do you have any quirky methods or ideas in mind for how to keep yourself mindful and reflective this Lent? What arts do you most enjoy experiencing, seeing, or practicing?

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

Lent: what a relief!

Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes other people make mistakes, and sometimes we both make mistakes. A lot of communication is required in order for us to sort out what the mistakes are, and where the misunderstandings are, and to get to the point where authentic apologies are made. Now, that’s a tough process to go through, so I’d rather avoid it as long as possible.

Some issues get swept under the rug because it would be more trouble than it’s worth to deal with them openly. Some problems are so pressing that one simply has to deal with them right away. There’s a sorting process where we have to decide which problems are worth delving into, and which ones are minor enough to drop.

The word ‘sorting’ reminds me that I need to clean out my attic and go through some old stuff so I can decide what to get rid of, what to keep, and what to recycle. I’ve been putting it off. I’m sure there are old issues built up in my life that I need to sort through as well. In the attic of my mind, there is junk stored away, old hurts, patterns, and feelings, that I have not wanted to address.

Mary's Europe Photos Summer 2012 267That’s why the beginning of Lent, this Wednesday, comes as such a relief. I can’t wait to set aside time to deal with my old issues because in the past I’ve felt so much better afterwards. Lent is a forty-day season set aside by the Church each year for the purpose of preparing for Easter, taking responsibility for things we have done and left undone, and for reconciliation with those whom we have hurt. Lent is a time for reassessing priorities, and for repentance; turning around and going in a different direction.

Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday when we acknowledge before God that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are mortal beings with a limited number of days to live. We recognize that God wants us to orient our lives around loving others, rather than hurting people and carrying around the burden of shame.

I’m already thinking about how I might live a holy Lent. I’ll set aside some extra quiet time to think and pray, and I’ll make lists of those things that are bothering me, about myself, in my relationships, and in the world. As I try to die to my old ways, I have hope that God will show me the path to live a new and resurrected life, renewed by Christ, and empowered for ministry.


—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Valentine’s Day: Celebrating Love for ALL God’s People

altar flowersThe modern Valentine’s Day is often a time for exchanging love notes, candies, flowers, and other such romantic tokens. The history of St. Valentine, however, tells a slightly different story—one filled with a variety of myths, rumor, and much heartbreak. Some stories claim that the man who would be St. Valentine was a priest who sought to marry young couples in order to bring them to Christianity and more in line with the Christian traditions of the time. Other stories claim that a 3rd century (A.D.) Roman emperor attempted to “ban marriage among young people, believing that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers,” only to have his edict challenged by a (soon to be martyred) Christian priest (HuffPo, 2/14/14). The truth, however, is lost in the mire of legend.

Today, we celebrate Valentine’s Day for entirely different (and usually secular) reasons. Unfortunately, though, we continue to greet the holiday under laws that still prohibit many of our neighbors from enjoying the sacrament of marriage. While the landscape in the U.S. is steadily improving for gay couples looking to say “I Do,” there are still many prejudices and obstacles that stand against them, and still many countries around the world where being gay is not simply a barrier to marriage, but is considered an offense punishable by exile and imprisonment.

Even in the U.S., however, the Episcopal Church remains sadly unique in its level of acceptance, celebration, and inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Old St. Paul’s, itself, has already conducted two same-sex marriages since it became legalized in the State of Maryland. According to The Episcopal,

“In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that ‘homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church’ (1976-A069). Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.

… In 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated; in 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all; and in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited.”

This Valentine’s Day, don’t simply celebrate the love you share with your family and significant other—celebrate how far we’ve come as a Church and as a country when it comes to accepting and respecting the love of others, and keep up the fight for a more just and Godly world wherein none of God’s children need fear or hide their love.


—Katherine Mead-Brewer

The Church and Change

“We’ve always done it this way.”

We hear that said in the church from time to time. On the one hand, this statement captures some of the truth of the church’s connection with history and the past. Christians have always celebrated the Eucharist and always tried to follow Jesus. The church tries to communicate what can be described as eternal truths. On the other hand, a term like “always” frequently gets you in trouble. As you start to delve into Christian history it becomes stunningly clear how much things have changed over time. The liturgy in the year 100 and the year 1000 and the year 2000 are all drastically different. The role of bishops has changed. The church has made changes in the way it views slavery and more recently women and gay people in the ordained ministry.

Change in the church is often a painful and difficult process. I remember working in a parish when it was decided to move the reading lectern because it was blocking the view of the altar. The conflict and raw emotion churned up was really quite amazing. I think that one of the dynamics was that if you made the change (moving the lectern) you seemed to be saying that it was wrong or dumb to have had it where it was positioned originally. A change can feel like a put down or insult to the way things used to be.

unnamed (1)A 16th century theologian to the rescue! Richard Hooker was a great Anglican thinker who, in 1594, wrote:

The Church has authority to establish that for an order at one time, which at another time it may abolish, and in both may do well.” (Laws, Book 5.8.2)

He seems to be saying that, guided by reason and the Holy Spirit, the Church should make changes. And that this is not an insult to the past. It just is that, in the past, they did things differently.

Unfortunately, some branches of the Christian Church still don’t get this 400 years after Hooker was writing. We pray for the church to continue to make changes faithfully and for the right reasons.

This post is also a plug for my upcoming forum on Anglican History this Sunday, February 15 at 9:30 am :

How Did We Get Here? The History of the Anglican and Episcopal Church.

Our English roots and experience in colonial America helped form our branch of the church. Join The Rev. Mark Stanley as we look at the crucial events and key people that created The Episcopal Church of today.

 The Rev. Mark Stanley

Confirmation & the Good Soil

Matthew 13: 8

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

10157136_737639976305263_5264824860499109626_nLooking back at the past 18 months since I started attending Old St. Paul’s, I feel blessed to count myself among those fortunate seeds.  In fact, I’m so certain that I’ve found good spiritual soil that I have decided to announce it publicly. On March 22, I will be confirmed into the Episcopal Church.

Although I was baptized as a baby in the Methodist Church, I’ve never officially chosen a denomination or even become a formal member of a church community. Up until a few months ago, I never even had a strong interest. Religion is a personal matter, why the need for a public display? Why don the label of any one denomination? Some of those thoughts come through for me in my father’s voice. He’s been a staunch atheist for as long as I’ve known him. Although he loves me and my mother (who’s every inch his intellectual equal), he can’t help but see our desire for faith as some misguided attempt to surrender our reason. That’s not the best soil for a seed to take root in, so I kept churches at arms-length for most of my life. In many ways, staying “nondenominational” is a great way to protect yourself from some of the less comfortable aspects of being a Christian in America. When a church takes a stand you disagree with or a scandal hits the news, it’s easier to protest: “I’m not one of those people.”

But I’m choosing to make Episcopalians, and Old St. Paul’s in particular, my people.

My priests, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley and The Rev. Mark Stanley, are helping me learn more about who these people are exactly. Through our weekly Forum series, we’re learning about the Episcopalian Church as an organization and as a faith community. In the next few weeks leading up to the Bishop’s visit in March, we will discuss topics ranging from Church hierarchy to the history behind the Book of Common Prayer to where the Church stands on social issues today. I feel tremendously blessed to have this information provided to me so openly, information that often feels buried either in the mystery of Tradition or the challenging language of the doctrine.

However, I believe I already know the most important facts about my new community. To paraphrase Mary, what binds Episcopalians together is our approach to learning about and practicing our faith rather than a strict set of beliefs. Back when I was church-shopping over a year ago, The Forum series had the greatest influence on my decision to start attending Old St. Paul’s regularly. In many ways, The Forum bridges the divide between my parents’ perspectives on faith by bringing intellectual rigor and curiosity together with faith. I could tell that this was a diverse community that really practiced what it preached. These were people committed to growing as Christians together.

In his Parable of the Sower, Jesus never specifies what types of seeds are being planted by the anonymous farmer. The seeds don’t have to be all alike. There’s room for the doubtful and the certain because we recognize that both have similar spiritual needs. We may not all grow into the same thing, but we do need some of the same nourishment. On March 22, I will make a public announcement, not of what I want to be when I grow up, but where I want to grow. How much luckier I am than a seed in getting to choose my soil.


–Evan Mead-Brewer

Sunday’s Forum (2/8/15) in Review: How is the Episcopal Church Organized?

The Forum: How is the Episcopal Church Organized? How does Old St. Paul’s Function?

(Led by The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley)

Sometimes (at least for me), it can feel like the Church has kind of a “secret (not secret) language” of “bishops,” “deacons,” “presiding bishops,” “general conventions,” “catholic v. Catholic,” and so forth. This kind of “secret language” can feel a bit shadowy or Man-Behind-the-Curtain-esque at times (I know it often felt that way to me when I was a kid). But today’s Forum got to the heart of this matter. The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley explained not only core elements of this “secret language” for Episcopalians, but also where this language comes from historically, how different positions and roles have shifted over time, and – the big fish – Why.

She kicked things off with a game. Designating one end of the room as “Yes,” and the other “No,” she instructed us to move from one end to the other (or hover somewhere in the middle) to indicate our answer to each of her questions (Is the outcome of the General Convention personally important to you? Do you identify as a Christian? Do you identify as an Anglican? etc.). Our responses to many of these were surprising and oddly funny, revealing how well (or how poorly) we actually understood the inner-workings of our church and denomination.

A point of particular fascination for me was learning that the Episcopal Church is in what’s called “full communion” with the Lutheran Church (as well as with a few other denominations). Being in “full communion” essentially means that we’re so tightly-knit with each other’s beliefs, values, and organization that we could go so far as to interchange our priests if our bishop wanted to for whatever reason. For example, as Episcopalians in full communion with the Lutheran Church, one of our priests could be assigned to lead a Lutheran congregation. Likewise, it would be possible for a Lutheran priest to be assigned to serve at Old St. Paul’s.

DSC1783My favorite part, however, was when Mary explained that what binds Episcopalians together is our approach to learning about and practicing faith, rather than any strict code of required beliefs. This, I felt, also fit particularly well with The Rev. Mark Stanley’s sermon, wherein he dissected a passage from the Gospel of Mark (1: 29-39).

In his sermon, Mark highlighted the importance of one’s approach to practicing faith. Through Mark 1: 29-39, Mark discussed Christ’s example of taking time to have fellowship with friends and family (Mark 1: 29-31), as well as Christ’s dedication to taking personal/private time for prayer and meditation (Mark 1: 35). As Mark explained, we can’t keep saying that we’re too busy to pray. In truth, we’re likely “too busy not to pray.” Prayer and fellowship – these methods of learning, practicing faith, and seeking Truth – are vital to keeping “spiritually sane.”

Thank you, Mark and Mary, for another enlightening Forum and worship service!

 –Katherine Mead-Brewer

(For more explanation regarding the organization and inner-workings of the Episcopal Church and Old St. Paul’s specifically, please feel welcome to either email Mary Luck Stanley or Mark Stanley, or visit:

A Meditation on Belonging

IMG_0391For several weeks this winter, our Old St. Paul’s front sign read: Black Lives Matter. In our Sunday forums, we often discuss not only issues of equality in relation to race, but also to gender and sexual orientation as well. (In fact, one of the first forums I attended at Old St. Paul’s was on feminism and the Church, led by Youth Minister Jessica Sexton.) Right now, our vestry is working to get a new ramp installed to enhance ease of accessibility to the church building, showcasing our commitment to also reach out to people regardless of ability or disability. What’s more, Old St. Paul’s continues to actively look for new ways to strengthen and reach out to the fullness of its community, both in and outside of the Church (hence, the number of forums now dedicated to addressing social justice issues).

As a feminist, as someone who spent part of her childhood as a P.K. (a preacher’s kid), who has family members of different races and sexual orientations, who’s lived through a parents’ divorce, who acknowledges evolution and climate change, and who’s had close family members suffer everything from severe illness to death to imprisonment, I have experienced some of the best and worst of church communities. Old St. Paul’s, however, has proven to be nothing but supportive, open-minded, and welcoming—a place dedicated to not only being a true and constructive member of its colorful community, but to encouraging this kind of belonging and community within others.

As a Christian, I have learned that, if you want to consider yourself as belonging to a community or family—whether it’s as an American, Christian, sister, friend, etc.—then you can’t simply come to the parties and celebrate the community’s accomplishments. You have to be there to help shoulder the burdens, pains, and debts of your community as well. At Old St. Paul’s, I’ve been blessed to see just this kind of belonging and community exemplified week after week in both its clergy and laypeople.

My husband and I have attended Old St. Paul’s for just over a year, and we’ve now decided to be officially confirmed this upcoming March. As my confirmation date approaches, I find myself filled with joy, gratefulness, and a renewed sense of belonging. I believe I have found a place where I know I’ll have friends when I need them, and where I will always be honored and glad to extend my hand when called upon.

Katherine Mead-Brewer


For more conversation regarding Community and belonging, be sure to check out The Rev. Mary Stanley’s recent post, “The Cost of Community.”

The Cost of Community

OSPThe Episcopal Church seems a bit tarnished right now, and it’s embarrassing to walk around town wearing my clergy collar. I’ve got to stop reading the comments on Facebook because it’s getting me down. It feels like we are living under a shadow here in Baltimore. I worry about those who might distance themselves from the Church to avoid being associated with all this suffering.

Many are upset in the wake of the terrible tragedy that happened in Baltimore when a cyclist, Tom Palermo, was killed when Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook ran into him with her car. People in our community are expressing a lot of pain as they grieve along with those who are most affected by this tragedy.

Reading through the kind messages left on the donation page for the Palermo children’s education, you see the ways people feel connected to what has happened; school friends of Tom’s, the cycling community, work colleagues, neighborhood friends, the AA community, and Episcopalians who feel upset as well. After living in this fine city for a decade, I finally understand why they call this place “Small-timore.”

At Church, every week we gather in a circle with our Sunday School families to sing the “Community Song.” We point to each other as we sing, “It’s you, it’s you, it’s you who builds community.”  We teach this simple song to our children so they will learn that each person has a part building community in our Church, in our neighborhoods and schools, and in our world. We want our kids to know the joy of feeling connected and cherished, especially by God.

But I wonder when we are going to break the news to the kids that there is a cost to being part of a community. Sure, when times are good and there are reasons to celebrate, it feels great being connected. But, when times are tough, and someone is suffering, it can feel pretty awful as we suffer along with that person.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “If there are human beings involved, there is going to be a mess, because people are messy, no doubt about it.” In healthy communities, people speak the truth in love, offering feedback and support when they see other members in trouble. There’s a another type of suffering that comes with the growing pains people experience when whole communities wrestle with tough issues and make plans to reform themselves and do things differently in the future.

I suppose we could avoid paying the cost of community by keeping ourselves apart from others, and by building up walls to ensure that other people’s pain and messiness does not affect us. But that would lead to a life of loneliness, and we would miss out on all the joy and personal growth that comes with friendship.

The organic rules of community dictate that there are puts and takes, and we all pay in, hoping that the community will be there to support us if we ever need it. But whenever we actively choose to suffer along with another person, we often discover a deep sense of solidarity and satisfaction, knowing that we have helped to ease another person’s burden through our compassion.

There is great joy to be found in the ups and downs of living in community. When times are good, we come together to rejoice in God’s blessings. When times are bad, God calls us to stick with those who are hurting, staying by their side, even though this might be costly. God ministers to each of us in our times of need through the willingness of other people to be with us, even when it’s messy. There is always more work we can do to grow in faith and understanding. God is with us now, working in us, and through others to bring about new life.

I can’t get that song out of my mind, “It’s you, it’s me, it’s us who builds community!

— The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Last Sunday’s Forum: “Loneliness,” presented by author, Rafael Alvarez

book coverLast Sunday’s forum used the book The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi – a professor at Johns Hopkins University – as a jumping off point for discussion of a peculiarly American malady: loneliness. The discussion was led by author and screenwriter Rafael Alvarez, who recently interviewed Nafisi – whose previous book Reading Lolita in Tehran was a bestseller – on the subject of loneliness.

In 2015, Alvarez will publish a book on the LOVE mural project co-founded by OSP parishioner Scott Burkholder and his friend Michael Owen. Alvarez’s current collection of short fiction is titled, Tales from the Holy Land.