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Building the Beloved Community

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Many in the United States are feeling that their basic human rights, privileges, and safety are being threatened. There is a lack of civility in our public discourse and an uptick in the number of hate crimes in the U.S. Yet each morning also brings news of radical changes in the capacity of our country to practice Christian principles such as compassion, mercy, service to others, welcoming strangers, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

We Have Room for YouInstead of allowing politicians to determine our “frame of reference,” it’s time for us, as Christians, to lift up the “frame of reference” that supersedes all others. We are followers of Jesus Christ. And the values that Jesus lived out are the ones that we are called to put first in our own lives. Our Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that every person is created in the image of God and is a beloved child of God who is worthy of our care.

It’s time for us to renew our efforts, as followers of Jesus, to practice the spiritual discipline of loving kindness. We take seriously St. Paul’s words from Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

The world’s major spiritual traditions have asserted the principle that if individuals look within and work on generating loving kindness, then that love has the power to ripple out into our relationships and communities, and to change the world. When we are feeling powerless to change what politicians and others are doing, we can still practice loving kindness as a way to transform the world into the “Kingdom of God.”

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invited people to build “The Beloved Community.” According to The King Center, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace and justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”

Let’s build The Beloved Community by practicing the sacred art of loving kindness, one action at a time, and so transform our world into a more just and loving home for all.

March for Refugees: Pray, Act, and Walk

A message from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton

“Cursed is the one who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Do you know what it feels like to be rejected – not for anything you’ve done, but because of fear of your skin color, religious faith, orientation, or national origin?

I have…and it doesn’t feel good. Rejection makes you feel unworthy, lonely, and angry.

It’s even worse if you’re rejected by a nation that likes to pride itself for providing safe harbor for refugees.  When you and your family are desperately trying to escape violence, war, poverty, and oppression, and a country rejects you, it makes you feel like you’re just a worthless piece of refuse that can be thrown or shipped away.  You and your family have been rejected because of what others have done who look like you, and your life just doesn’t seem to matter that much to alter the equation of injustice.

One of the driving forces in my ministry is to lead by word and example the Gospel, the “good news” of Jesus Christ, that God loves you – not the bad news that the world rejects you because of who you are.

There’s simply too much fear and hate that’s driving much of our national agenda now, and those emotions are the opposite of Christian faith and the values of our nation.

As your bishop, I stand with thousands of Christian leaders opposing the executive order by President Trump to ban refugees from some predominantly Muslim countries. For more background on this ill-advised policy please read the statement from The Episcopal Church’s President of the House of Deputies.

That’s why I’m asking you to join me this Saturday, February 4, 9:00 AM for a “March for Refugees.” We’ll begin at Old St. Paul’s Church, 233 North Charles Street, Baltimore, march up Charles Street to the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 East University Parkway. At 11:00 AM we’ll have a service of prayer, music and testimony ending by Noon. Further details are below.

If you can’t march Saturday, you can still act by “praying with your hands.” Write or call your elected representatives in Congress and President Trump. Tell them your thoughts about our nation’s stance against those seeking refuge. Be sure to stress your values as a follower of Christ. How to contact them and a sample letter or script are on the Episcopal Church website.

Let’s stop the hate. As Christians, let’s stand up to fear, bigotry, and injustice.  Clergy, wear your collars. Parishioners, bring your signs and singing voices. Let’s walk, speak out, and pray for refugees – the “strangers” in our world whom the Bible tells us to receive as Christ himself.

Faithfully yours,
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Episcopal Bishop of Maryland

MARCH FOR REFUGEES

Episcopal Diocese of Maryland
February 4, 2017
9:00-11:00 AM

Starting at St. Paul’s Church, 233 Charles Street (corner of East Saratoga) and ending at the Cathedral of the Incarnation (4 E. University Parkway).To carpool to the start, meet at the Cathedral at 8:30 AM. To return to parked cars downtown, the Charm City Circulator leaves 33rd Street and St. Paul Street for free after 9:00 AM.

Parking is available at the St. Paul Place garage. From St. Paul Street, enter the garage through the alley just past Saratoga and the Embassy Suite hotel or from Saratoga Street enter behind the church. Take elevator to Level 2 (Charles Street side) and use the pedestrian walkway to Charles Street. Turn right and enter the church to validate inside (one dollar for all day).

The march route is up Charles Street for 3 miles. We will walk on the sidewalks.

Please follow this link and share this event on Facebook

Epiphanies, Hopes, & Tiny Owls

Katherine Mead-Brewer, St. Paul’s Member

One of my dearest friends recently moved from D.C. to Austin, Texas. She was nervous but also enthusiastic about the change; she wanted a new city to explore, new opportunities, new weather. But when she and her husband got there, nothing was as they’d expected. There was loneliness and job uncertainty and personal insecurities and missing their church family. I couldn’t figure out why something like this, such a heavy disappointment, such a heavy sense of fear about making a wrong/expensive/isolating decision, should fall on someone who’d only ever loved the world around her, someone who’d only ever brought happiness and light to all fortunate enough to know her.

At first this seemed like just one more negative to pile onto the aggravation-heap that became 2016 for me. What recourse did my friend have? They couldn’t move back; they’d put too much money into their new (first) house. And I couldn’t even reach out to her as I normally would’ve, because now we were hundreds of miles apart. I couldn’t wrap my arms around her or bring her ice cream or invite her out for coffee.

For a fix-it personality like me, this issue has recently felt all-consuming, touching nearly every corner of my life. So many problems seem to have clear solutions to me—just as, I imagine, they likely seem clear to others in their own ways—so why can’t I manage to fix any of them? Why are so many of my friends now living in fear?—afraid that they’ve made the wrong decision regarding their job, their schooling, their home? Afraid for their own personal safety when only a few weeks ago they were optimistic about the entire country’s future? How do we begin to move forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as a country, when everything feels so wrong?

This past Sunday, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley preached on the fact that now, as we come out of the season of Christmas, we enter the Christian season of Epiphany. A time of revelation. The season that celebrates when the Magi finally found the infant Jesus, their own revelation, a symbolic epiphany for all of us.

Of course, simply reading this story from the Bible can make the entire thing sound easy and magical. They came bringing gifts! They followed a star! When really, I can’t think of an experience that sounds more fraught with discomfort, danger, and uncertainty. A hard journey through alien lands, traveling far from their friends and loved ones, enduring grueling encounters with selfish, paranoid leaders who would hurt others in order to further their own ends—leaders who would sacrifice an entire generation of sons simply to ensure their own continued reign.

In many ways, the season of Epiphany is exactly where I am right now. It’s a time of hardship and trials. A time of maddening limbo and grave uncertainty. But as Christ’s story reassures us, this is also a time of great revelation and discovery. This is a time when we stand up to those who would victimize us and our neighbors, even if victory seems impossible. Even if we feel powerless or inadequate. This is a time when we allow ourselves to recognize the discomfort and painfulness of our journey without succumbing to it. This is a time for persevering in the face of great obstacles and insecurity.

Just the other day, my now-Austinite friend sent me an email—the first hopeful one she’s sent in a long, long time—and in it she included the photograph of a young screech owl nesting in the tree in their backyard.

“There is a TINY OWL in my backyard,” she wrote to me, ecstatic.

“It’s a sign,” I told her. “It’s a sign that you’re supposed to be where you are. It’s a little blessing.” A little epiphany. A little emblem of hope, wonder, and beauty in the midst of so much strife and loneliness.

To me, a firm believer in signs and symbols, it seemed clear that this tiny owl was a piece of God reaching out to give comfort. A mysterious, winged creature–not so unlike the Holy Spirit.

rosemary

Rosemary peeking out her front door. Photo by H.S.

And though my friend remained dubious about what exactly (if anything) the owl symbolized, she and her husband quickly named the little fellow Rosemary. Rosemary for remembrance. Because though it can be difficult to know the path forward when everything at your back is continuously shouting for your attention, continuously trying to pull you down and tie you up, always remember that life is peppered with tiny owls epiphanies, with sparks of hope and moments of inspiration, pointing you forward. Pointing you toward something better.

 

 

Thoughts on Advent, 2016

Larissa Peters, OSP Congregant

I’ve put this annual reflection off, and now it’s January 2017. I haven’t wanted to write it because I don’t like to do things for the sake of doing them. I don’t like saying rote things that could be counted as trite, like I haven’t thought about it. Especially to those who are going through pain. I’ve been the recipient of that, and it sucks.

And I’m weary. A lot of people have said that. They have said they are excited to get rid of 2016. But even that makes me weary. I don’t have a lot of hope for 2017.

There have been quite a few I know who have just been through it. Like you wouldn’t believe. Family members sick, broken relationships, internal turmoil, death…. And others  who have been waiting—waiting for jobs, for a change, for health….

And I work for an int’l development agency, and we’re inundated with news of Syria and millions of refugees fleeing. We hear of children trying to cross the border into Texas because of the violence in Central America. And our country is incredibly divided, not to mention our own families at times. And it’s exhausting.

So I want to be careful about saying just words.

As I began this advent, I thought—I’d like to reflect on PEACE. We need peace in us, in our world, all that…isn’t the Christmas story full of peace?

But then I couldn’t find it. Do you know how many times ‘peace’ is mentioned in the Christmas story? Once.

You can’t force a meditation. And truth be told, there wasn’t much peace. Israel was occupied, under another regime. There’s a lot of waiting. And in that waiting, so much anxiety. So much fear and doubt.

And when I read the part about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It hit home. How tired they must have been. Finally getting there and hearing, “No room.” Mary had to have thought (well, I personally would have thought), Of course, this is just about how I’d expect everything to go based on this year….

How exhausting it must have been for Mary, both physically and mentally. Was she full of doubts?—doubts that others had certainly placed in her. Fears she herself couldn’t help but have.

And when they arrived at an inn where they expected to hear yet another, “No room,” only to instead land in a stable, placing their baby—whom they had been told is the Messiah—in a feeding trough, Joseph must have felt incredibly inadequate as a husband and a father.

I’m sure the shepherds couldn’t have come at a better time, bursting in shouting, “Where’s the Messiah we’ve heard about?”

I see both waiting (Simeon, Anna, Israel) and journeys taken (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) in the Christmas story. But the process is the same. The emotions are the same. The inner turmoil and questions still exist whether you are stagnant or wandering.

Were the wise men disappointed to find a baby in the end? How many times did Simeon and Anna ask God, “How long, oh Lord? How much longer?”

And then Mary and Joseph again having to get up and flee for their child’s life—really holding the destiny of mankind in their hands—leaving an entire town weeping behind them…because of them.

So often, I tend to get into myself, and my path feels tired, full of doubt, unrelatable. And just when I think I’ve arrived where I wanted to go, it wasn’t what I expected or it’s even scarier than I’d imagined.
Or I never move.
At all.
And everyone else does.
It can feel incredibly lonely sometimes. And very far from peaceful. And the people I thought I could trust—well, they disappointed me.

So what’s left? What small piece can I take with me as I enter into a new year?

20160828_145216I’d like to be like those shepherds. I’d like to be able and willing to show up in the right moment because I took the opportunity—without hesitation, confirming to a fellow wanderer that they are on the right path. So much of the violence, pain and hatred of 2016 may not have been directed specifically at me or happened to me, but if I can come around and just be someone who says, “I’m here with you,” then I want to be that person.

I’d like to continue on waiting (or moving) despite my fears and doubts. So I have to ask, how could all these people do that? How does anyone? Really, there has to be a very deep motivation for either one—greater than all our unmet expectations, disappointments, and feelings of inadequacies and loneliness.

The wise men, shepherds, Joseph, Mary—all had a deep pull, that only a very deep calling could keep them going.  Something—that in the midst of the oppression, fears, doubts, weariness, murderous threats, fleeing, loneliness, trouble—something greater gave them a reason to continue. And continue in what may have seemed to some a bold or scary choice. I want this courage and this passion. This I want to remember and hold on to.

Theirs was a deep hope in the belief that Mary carried the Savior of the world, and that he was called the Prince of Peace.
There. Peace.
Let me again repeat this line from that old Christmas carol: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight …”

 

This article was originally published on Larissa Peters’ blog, In Other Words Poetry. For more of her writing, visit: http://www.inotherwordspoetry.com/

 

Coming Together for a Day of Service

—Amber Herzer, Chair of OSP’s Social Justice and Service Committee

This year, Old St. Paul’s established a relationship with Civic Works and sponsored the Ricky Meyer’s Day of Service. Civic Works is a local non-profit that’s been working in Baltimore for twenty years, with a focus on strengthening Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service.

Our partnership with Civic Works enabled thirty OSP congregation members and over five hundred other Baltimore citizens to spend a day volunteering together across the city. The congregation’s financial gift was used to purchase trees, flower bulbs, tools, trash bags, paint, garden gloves, and refreshments to sustain volunteers.

Together, the five hundred volunteers planted over 120 trees and 6,700 bulbs at the REACH! Partnership School, YMCA, eight city parks, a senior housing center, and more. Volunteers assembled one thousand energy-saver kits with Civic Works’ Baltimore Energy Challenge, made one hundred school supply kits for students in need, and crafted one hundred seed-bombs to help spread native flowers. Volunteers performed vital repairs at four homes belonging to low-income seniors, beautified six vacant lot green spaces along with a historic cemetery, built a rain garden in a city park, and made improvements to our Real Food Farm and Little Gunpowder Farm. The team at Civic Works beautifully stated,

“The rich and diverse community of volunteers who participate every year are a testament to the perseverance and boundless love present in our city.”

Fellow volunteer and Civic Works board member Robert Zdenek expanded on just this point, saying

“it was thrilling to observe and participate with more than thirty fellow OSP congregants to contribute to the Ricky Meyer Day of Service, our signature volunteer event at Civic Works. Community engagement and revitalization takes so many forms, from planting bulbs and trees to cleaning up parks and streets. The net effect is two-fold: a safer, more engaged community, and the individual and collective smiles of over five hundred volunteers.”

Throughout the day, congregation members were able to work with and learn from each other, engaging in meaningful conversations, sharing laughs, and creating new friendships. The pouring rain wasn’t even a deterrent! Amber Herzer, the OSP Social Justice and Service Chair noted,

“This was the first time the church participated in this city-wide volunteer day. It was a joy to participate and know that our church’s financial contribution facilitated the success of this important community activity.”

We look forward to hosting another Day of Service event in the Spring of 2017.

If you have any questions or would be interested in joining us for our next service event please contact Amber at AmberLHerzer@gmail.com.

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An Invitation to Pledge: because it will make you feel good!

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Experience has taught me that pledging to the church makes people feel good. I know it’s hard to believe, especially when money is already tight, but I have heard church members talking about what a positive difference it has made in their spiritual lives once they made the commitment to pledge.

There is something wonderful about choosing to move from being a guest at church to becoming more of an owner; a full and complete member of our community. People who pledge feel they have more of a voice and vote about important decisions in their church. People who pledge report feeling a sense of satisfaction because they are pooling their resources so that shared values are strengthened and passed on to the children of our congregation, benefiting everyone.

Think about that for a moment. How much is it worth, in this day and age, to experience the inner peace that comes from knowing you are doing all you can to uphold the values of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and respect for the dignity of every human being? How much is it worth to know that you are positively impacting the children in our midst? Wouldn’t we all agree that we want children to see through the eyes of compassion, justice, and hope for new life?

Is that sense of joy worth making sacrifices for? Does going to church, and taking your family, enrich your life? Might it be worth it to give up one night out a month and instead give that money to the church? What is your inner peace worth?

Pledging is making a promise to the vestry that in the coming year we will fulfill our financial giving to the church. Our pledge totals allow the vestry to create a realistic budget, planning to support programs in the following year, and knowing that the church will have the funds necessary to pay for them.

You are warmly invited to make a pledge to Old St. Paul’s Church for 2017. Consider how much you feel good about giving each week, and then multiply that by 52 weeks. You may fill out a pledge card at church, or fill one out on our website by clicking here. Those who pledge by November 30th will be invited to the Early Pledger Celebration. God loves a cheerful giver. Know that you are cherished at Old St. Paul’s.

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Different People Around the Thanksgiving Table

—The Rev. Mark Stanley, Rector

A friend just expressed to me his concerns about his upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. His relatives who come to gather around the table have views from across the political spectrum. After a particularly divisive Presidential election, he is worried that the conversation at this meal will become uncomfortable, heated, and maybe hurtful.

Here at Old St. Paul’s we too gather around a meal—The Holy Eucharist. Around our altar table we too have a broad variety of opinions. Some are delighted with the outcome of this recent election, and some are devastated. With such diversity, how do we move ahead as a healthy and caring community?

mark-stanleyIn this congregation, we want people to express themselves and to be authentic. Being genuine with each other is a way we learn and grow in real relationship.

Can we balance our need to express ourselves with the possibility that others might feel excluded or put down by what we say? Followers of Jesus are invited to pay special attention to anyone who is hurting. Some in our community are worried and fearful after this election. There is concern that the rights and needs of certain groups in our society, particularly the most marginal, are being threatened. Others in our congregation have felt unfairly labeled because of the way they voted. Now is a time for sensitivity, especially with regards to all things political. Being thoughtful about how we come across shows our love and respect for others.

It takes energy to be a healthy and loving community. Real listening, respect, and compassion go a long way to keeping us connected. I give thanks to all of you for all your good work in building up the Body of Christ here at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore.