Celebrating Wisdom & St. Cyril of Jerusalem
“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden for God is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as the Spirit approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, and to console.”
—St. Cyril of Jerusalem
In Greek Orthodox services, priests often punctuate their actions with the (sung) declaration:
This is wisdom; let us be attentive.
And while I’ve never been Greek Orthodox myself, this phrase has always struck me as something at once tremendously useful and profound. After all, it isn’t often when Wisdom is pinpointed and called out for us in everyday life.
Last Wednesday evening (3/18), my husband, Evan, and I joined fellow Old St. Paul’s member Steve Tollefson to participate in a celebration of The Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem at The Church of the Redemption (led by The Reverend Jim Perra, former member of Old St. Paul’s). And, reflecting back on it now, I feel as though the entire night could’ve been punctuated with a great big exclamation point: THIS IS WISDOM; LET US BE ATTENTIVE. I’m not normally one who keeps quiet in a conversation, but in this group, I found that all I wanted to do was be attentive and listen.
First, we learned some of the history of St. Cyril, born in Jerusalem around 315 and made bishop of Jerusalem in (approx.) 349. As the bishop of Jerusalem, Cyril had a particular influence on the early liturgical forms of Holy Week for Christians, as thousands of believers made their annual pilgrimage there. Because of this and how those believers then returned home to spread news and practice of these liturgical forms, many of these decisions and practices continue on as our Christian inheritance today (such as the palms of Palm Sunday, for example). Cyril also had an important hand in helping to shape and vote on our Nicene Creed.
This history led us into a terrific discussion regarding not only the Nicene Creed but the possibilities and beauties of other Christian creeds, including one I’d never heard of before: the Maasai Creed.
“The Maasai Creed is a creed [that was] composed in about 1960 by Western Christian missionaries for the Maasai, an indigenous African tribe of semi-nomadic people located primarily in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The creed attempts to express the essentials of the Christian faith within the Maasai culture.”
–On Being, “The Maasai Creed,” Jaroslav Pelikan
And there’s a lot to appreciate about the Maasai Creed. For example, consider the phrase: “We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing that the meaning of religion is love.”
One of my personal favorite elements, however, is the line: “live the rules of love,” as in, “All who have faith in him [Christ] must…live the rules of love….”
This is wisdom. Let us be attentive.
It makes me wonder, if we were to create a creed that “attempted to express the essentials of the Christian faith within the [Baltimore] culture,” what would it look like?
**A great big Thank You to The Church of the Redemption, Steve Tollefson, and to The Reverend Jim Perra. And a special thanks to 4th Century Spanish nun, Egeria, without whose journal we would not know near as much regarding the practices of those original liturgical Holy Week practices as we do today.
My grandparents were true Depression Era citizens, and both Mom-mom and Pop-pop told me many stories about how hard it was to find what you needed during that time. Pop-pop was out of work, and Mom-mom worked as a bobbin winder at The Linen Thread; she stood for ten to twelve hours a day in front of a machine and she was glad to have the work. My mother was only eight years old when she and her brother started walking the railroad tracks for coal dropped from the open-topped cars to supplement the wood Pop-pop chopped from his own five acre farm.
My mother is now eighty-three years old, and she still talks about how she and her brother and her parents worked the five acres with the help of their neighbors, and how Mom-mom and Pop-pop were famous for their canned fruits and vegetables, and how, at the end of the Harvest, there was always a huge outdoor celebration that featured a sit-down barbeque for over a hundred people.
Pop-pop stood at the front of the line of homemade picnic tables and always made the same speech, year after year. He thanked God for the beauty and bounty of the land, he thanked Herbert Hoover (and then Roosevelt) for the freedom of the USA, he thanked his neighbors for their help on his farm, and he thanked his family for putting up with him. At which point Mom-mom would chime in, “Amen!” and the food would be passed.
Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s generosity to all was well-established by the time my sister, brother, and I arrived. Every Sunday she would stop on the way out of church to ask the pastor about the local families:
“How is Miss Ann doing?”
“Did Mrs. McGraul have her baby?”
“Did Big Jim find work yet?”
As her workweek progressed, she remembered those talks with the pastor on the marble steps of the church and, after dinner each night, she would gather canned foods from her pantry, add a loaf of her homemade bread, a fresh-baked chicken, and a bag of her (justifiably) famous sugar cookies, and then we would take a walk. My sister, brother, and I would sit on Miss Ann’s porch and talk with her about our little adventures while Mom-mom went into the kitchen to put away the food she had brought.
Miss Ann, Mrs. McGraul, Big Jim, and all of Mom-mom’s other neighbors were always so grateful for her kindness, and would thank her over and over. She always responded, “God gave me a great gift with this life, and I want to return the favor.”
Mom-mom and Pop-pop are long gone now, but their hospitality and generosity live in my memory every time I set a tray of doughnuts out for the congregation on Sunday.For me, the talking and the laughing and the hugs that circulate around the hospitality tables at the back of Old St. Paul’s after the service (punctuated by a lot of Thank you so much, Lynn!) is a secular echo of the Eucharist that we all share.
The Holy Hospitality of the Eucharist is accepted quietly and spiritually – the doughnuts, coffee, fruit, and homemade treats are shared as a banquet of friendship and community among the congregation, and now is the time for talk!
Conversation flourishes among the congregation as the children play in the aisles: future plans to get together are made, confidences are shared, and current issues are discussed. Old St. Paul’s is God’s House and this is a happy time.
As I always say, “Things go better with food!” I know Mom-mom and Pop-pop would agree.
Youth Sunday comes to Old St. Paul’s
Since 2006, Old St. Paul’s has prided itself on having a thriving youth group for teens, but it wasn’t until this previous Sunday that it celebrated its first official Youth Sunday. Youth Sundays can vary widely from church to church, including everything from special announcements regarding youth group activities and achievements to youth-led sermons.
At Old St. Paul’s, Youth Sunday came in the wake of our Youth Confirmation Retreat, led by Youth Minister, Jessica Sexton and vestry member, Georgina Anton. Through the advent of our Youth Sunday, Jessica sought to inspire our youth to consider how they might use their spiritual gifts in service to the church, encouraging them to take on new roles and responsibilities both in and out of the worship service.
This means that, with the exception of the choir, our youth group took on allnon-ordained roles in the Youth Sunday worship service: acolytes, chalicists, hosts/ushers, readers, and Prayers for the People. For though our church recognizes no specific rules regarding age for these positions, these roles tend to most often go to adult members of the congregation (save for the role of acolyte). Each position in the worship service inevitably holds greater and greater meaning the more involved, mature, and educated a person becomes on each element and how they all fit together on Sunday morning.
This Sunday, our sanctuary was refreshed by a host of new voices, reminding us that wisdom can come from any thoughtful, reasoning person—no matter their age, background, or any other difference that’d seek to divide us.
In the morning’s Forum, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley led us in a discussion on Social Teachings and the Church, touching on everything from the Church’s role in taking moral stands on matters of social justice to issues of the Church’s continued relevancy in today’s world. And while our discussion was spirited, diverse, and thoughtful, I found myself grinning about parts of it during the worship service. What’s the Church’s continued relevancy today? —A strange question in a community where youth members—many of them not yet confirmed in the Church; many of them still on the fence about whether or not being confirmed is even what they want—would come together to help lead us in a worship service, would acknowledge us as a community worth investing in, worth working for, worth seeking wisdom from and imparting wisdom to.
Our relevancy, the Church’s relevancy, as Mary went on to explain, isn’t founded in what moral or social issues it stakes itself to, but in its members, young and old, and in helping guide and support those members on their way to discerning the capital-T Truth together.
Thank you to all our youth members: Jack Stanley, Hannah Stanley, Sophie Allen, Andrew Bickford, David Giordano, Kenny Gaisor, Nathan LaClair, Elizabeth Greisman, and Erin Barringer, who served this past Sunday! And a very special thank you to Jessica Sexton and Georgina Anton—without you, none of this would’ve been possible.
Creating Soft Spaces in Church and in Our Lives
Several years ago we started having a baby boom in our church, so we decided we wanted to create a “Soft Space” for families where they would feel comfortable and safe worshiping in our sanctuary. We saw the need to provide childproofed space for babies to roll around and play on the floor while their parents were in worship. We proposed to remove just one pew so that an enlarged space could be equipped with a super soft carpet, stuffed animals, and a pew door.
The initial proposal was well received in general, but a member of our vestry became upset at the thought of us doing anything to change our historic building. To address this person’s concerns, an architect was consulted, and a variety of locations were considered for the new Soft Space so that it might be low profile while offering easy access to exits and bathrooms. After a great deal of discussion, vestry members were polled. In the end, there was overwhelming support to move forward with the creation of a Soft Space that would provide for the practical needs of families, and also serve as a symbol of our church’s welcome of young children. Soon after it was completed, a parishioner gifted the Church with an enormous teddy bear to welcome families into the new Soft Space.
Fast forward five years, and we now have added a second Soft Space and dozens more children to our membership. In fact, we are already thinking of adding one or two more Soft Spaces to accommodate the many new families who have joined our Church. At a recent newcomer event, we asked people to share their first impressions of our Church. One young woman said, “At my wedding a few months ago, my guests were delighted to see the space for children with the huge teddy bear. My first impression was that this Church was trying to be an inclusive community.”
It’s true that, for the past decade, we have been working to build the kind of Christian community where people can come and feel accepted for who they are, nurtured through friendship, and loved unconditionally by God. We set out to create a Soft Space for families, and, in the process, we have created a whole Christian community that is one big soft space for everyone who enters our doors. Through Forums and workshops, we have worked on ourselves, asking, “How can we relate to people in ways that are open, civil, kind, and compassionate?” I could not be more proud of the members of our Christian community for their efforts at following in the footsteps of Jesus.
I wonder what more we could do to have our Church serve as a soft space for the people of downtown Baltimore, where we are surrounded by hardscape. How could we provide a soft space during the week for those who are bustling to and from their jobs downtown? What ministries might we develop to provide more of a soft space for the homeless people who sleep on our front portico most nights? Our Church community seeks to offer holy hospitality, and we do a great job of that on Sundays, but still, I wonder what more we could do for folks on weekdays.
—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
(Photo credit: Laurie DeWitt)
Rite III: Spontaneity & Creativity in Worship
Proclaim and Respond to the Word of God:
The proclamation and response may include readings, song, talk, dance, instrumental music, other art forms, silence. A reading from the Gospel is always included.
–Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1979, pg. 400
This past Sunday, The Rev. Mark Stanley focused Forum on the history and use of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP). But what I thought would be a more purely historical lecture quickly surprised me by transforming into a lesson in Episcopal spontaneity and openness. To many, Episcopalians aren’t exactly known for their art, dance, spontaneity, or creativity. Our dedication and focus on the calendar and contents of the BCP is at once what binds us as a denomination, helping laypeople participate more easily and giving us firm ties to our historical foundations, as well as what often labels us in many eyes as staid, deeply ritualistic, and even unwelcoming of change.
This Sunday, however, I learned about a new face of the Episcopal Church and of our Prayer Book—I learned of possibilities like (what’s commonly known as) Rite III, The Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist, a guide to holding an exceptionally more free-form, creative, and spontaneous service than our typical fare. As you may have noticed in my epigraph, our Prayer Book outlines a style of service that not only allows for the possibility of having the congregation respond to the Word of God through dance, but through “other art forms” as well, through any respectful, reverent, and heartfelt art we choose! We could, theoretically, paint our response to the Word. We could (mindfully, lovingly) jazz-scat our response or line dance or write poetry, using our freedom and unique gifts to better pursue and strengthen our relationship with God.
In 1549, Thomas Cranmer came out with the first Prayer Book to help make worship more inclusive and participatory for the laypeople (helping translate services into English and welcoming laypeople to join the priest in things like saying the Lord ’s Prayer). Since then, the Episcopal Church has updated the Prayer Book four times (we now currently use the 1979 version; though, in the overall Anglican history, the BCP has been revised many times), working to make our services as welcoming, participatory, loving, open, and true to ourselves as possible. And while Cranmer may not have imagined a world where his idea for the Prayer Book allowed for dance, poetry, song, and art as responses to the Word of God, I think it’s safe to say that he would be glad to know the Episcopal Church has kept firmly to its tradition of inclusivity—working to welcome and encourage worship in its congregants that meets them where they are on their faith journeys, that helps them connect to their Creator through the talents and blessings said Creator has bestowed upon them.
I often feel funny in church, because I’m one for whom writing is the best meditation; it’s what helps me think more clearly and creatively about my day, my thoughts, and the world around me. I was the kid in class who was always taking notes, and now in Old St. Paul’s Forums and worship services, I’m that layperson who seems to always be filling up a notebook in between hymns. For me, writing is a way to better connect with not only what I learn in Forum, but what I feel after listening to the choir perform, what occurs to me as I listen to the sermon, and even helps clarify my thinking when it comes time to pray.
While we may not take up the wildness of the Rite III every Sunday as a congregation, know that this doesn’t mean you’re barred from taking it up for yourself whenever you need it. Try bringing a notebook or sketchpad to church with you one Sunday and see how that changes (or doesn’t change) your experience. Don’t ever be afraid or embarrassed to approach worship and responding to the Word as best fits and feels right to you.