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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

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.

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

Autumn at Old St. Paul’s

pumpkinsFor the past ten years, Old St. Paul’s has been growing and changing and building under the guidance, passion, and hard work of its clergy, staff, and congregation—and all of that sweat and love is definitely on display in Old St. Paul’s fall programs. What are we excited about for this autumn at Old St. Paul’s? Here’s just a taste:

“I’m excited about the Parish Breakfast and the start of the new choir season on September 13th, and the kick off of our education programs on September 20th.”

—The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley

“I’m most excited about working with our talented choir again. I’m so privileged to be working with them!”

—John Smedstad, Choir Director

“I am looking forward to the Sunday School Pumpkins and Potluck event.”

—Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach, Sunday School Minister

“Autumn has always been a special time for me because it’s always meant the beginning of a new school year and a fresh start on my responsibilities as a teacher. The excitement of new people, new spaces and a new program to implement made me feel engaged and vibrant; of course, the cooler weather and the loveliness of Baltimore in the fall helped, too. Now that I am on my second career as the Parish Assistant, I feel the same sense of being an integral part of an important organization with my ‘let’s get back to work and fun’ excitement. There are so many new things happening at our church, so many new people and so many fun events, I am energized. As the pumpkins and goblins morph into turkeys and football and then into ornaments and holly, Old St. Paul’s becomes the foundation of the holidays of fun, thanksgiving and joy, and I feel valued and enthusiastic because I am a part of something great!”

—Lynn Calverese, Parish Assistant

“You want to be careful about superlatives, but I foresee our church having the best fall we have had in my eleven years here as rector. Why? Our education programs are really taking off. Our Sunday School and Youth programs are growing and our forums series is spectacular. We have a growing number of fellowship opportunities this fall so that people can build stronger relationships in the congregation. In addition, we have begun exploring two new outreach ministries that could come to fruition in the coming months. Finally, our music program is really hitting its stride. I am looking forward to so much this fall.”

—The Reverend Mark Stanley

“I am so excited to see our wonderful choir return and see the list of all the interesting forum topics that will engage, inspire, and challenge us in the coming year. Additionally this year, I am extra excited to start a new program at OSP for families of babies and toddlers. Every month we will open up the church for the wonderful little kids of OSP and their parents to play and connect. It’s going to be a great year!”

—Kate Brantley, OSP Community Builder for Families with Infants and Toddlers

And as for me? Besides pumpkin carving (love it!) and all the terrific dinners, breakfasts, and get-togethers with my friends at Old St. Paul’s, I couldn’t be more excited about the start of the fall Forum series. The Forum has long been one of my favorite programs at Old St. Paul’s. Getting to learn from such a variety of people with my friends and fellow congregants, getting to get outside the normal worship rituals and rediscover the many ways that learning and asking questions can enlighten and lead us into worship—it’s definitely something to look forward to.

What programs, opportunities, and changes are you most excited about for this fall, whether at Old St. Paul’s or just in your own personal spiritual life?

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

Slow to Speak, Slow to Anger…

slow to angerI don’t have a good answer for how to address the unfiltered, harsh, and mean-spirited language that is often used all around us. All you have to do is look at the news to see people verbally attacking each other. There certainly should be room for disagreement and debate about important issues, especially in our personal relationships. Anger is a natural and appropriate response whenever we feel wronged. But there are ways to honestly express our views without degrading the worth of other people. Christians are called to strive to use words in ways that express respect for the dignity of every human being.

Americans cherish the right to freedom of speech, and we believe this sets us apart from many other countries. But Americans also value the responsibility of every individual to work for building up the common good. These two values are in tension because building up the common good might sometimes cause us to practice restraint about the words we choose to say out loud. In recent years, the practice of rugged individualism has often won out over the practice of working for the betterment of a more just and peaceful society.

Christians have a higher calling to follow Jesus and the disciples by trying to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Here are some quotes from the New Testament that challenge Christians to be careful about what we say.

be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”   —James 1:19

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up”   —Ephesians 4:29

get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth”   —Colossians 3:8

make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification”           —Romans 14:19

The Golden Rule to “do unto others as we would have others do unto us,” has been a cornerstone of all the world’s great religions. Those who call themselves Christians have a high calling to use words in ways that take into consideration the well-being of others, though this can be difficult in the heat of the moment when we are having an argument.

Brain researchers, along with Daniel Goleman and others working on the study of emotional intelligence, report that whenever human beings feel threatened or angry or fearful, there is a certain part of the brain called the amygdala that takes over, sending out neurochemicals that override other parts of the brain with powerful fight or flight messages. Throughout human evolution, this response has helped us to survive. But the problem is that when we are having an “amygdala hijack,” it’s hard to think rationally. For about ninety seconds (the typical lifespan of an “amygdala hijack”), we can only think about the fight or flight response, and rational reason is impossible. In the midst of a conflict, that’s why it is often so difficult to avoid blurting out things we later regret.

“Emotionally intelligent” people have learned to notice when they are feeling threatened or angry or fearful, and have developed the ability to pause for those ninety seconds before they say anything. That pause provides time for the neurochemicals caused by the amygdala response to settle down, thus allowing the rational mind to take over again.

One way to use this information is for us to take a “holy pause” whenever we are feeling upset. Once we notice we are feeling threatened or angry, we can say to the other person, “Let me take a moment to think about what you have said.” Then we can take ten long deep breaths, spanning about ninety seconds, to allow reason to return to us before we say anything else.

After taking a “holy pause,” we might have a better chance of coming up with words that are more thoughtful, realistic, and kind. At the very least, we might be able to achieve the ethical goal to “do no harm.” In the midst of taking a holy pause, and breathing deeply, we might even invite God to help us come up with the best words to respond.

The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley

Spanking Is Not The Way

Jesus advocated a non-violent approach to difficult situations. He taught us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and he told his disciples to put away their swords at the time of his arrest (Matt 5:39, 5:44, 26:52).  While Christ’s teachings on non-violence can be applied to international warfare, and adult interpersonal conflicts, I would like to focus on an important family issue – the spanking of children.

A 2013 Harris poll showed that 81% of Americans approve of parents spanking their children. Of course, parents want to correct the youngsters put into their care. Everyone can agree that discipline needs to take place in order to help our children grow and mature. One option is to use physical punishment. Sometimes the biblical verse, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24), is thrown into the mix.

Is spanking a violent act? Certainly not all these physical punishments are the same. Slapping a child in anger is different from a dispassionate and limited spanking. But can parents be moved beyond this one way of providing discipline, deciding that they will find more effective and less damaging ways of teaching children how to behave?

There are many secular reasons not to spank children. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Psychological Association assert that spanking can emotionally harm both parents and children, and that it is one of the least effective methods of discipline. (To see more from these sources, visit: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx or http://nospank.net/aap4.htm)

kiddosPediatrician Dr. Bill Sears writes that “hitting models hitting” and teaches children that violence is the way to solve problems. He advocates other avenues of discipline that have much better outcomes.

In the last few years, we have grown in awareness of the dangers of domestic abuse. If spouses should never hit each other, can we get to a place where can agree that it is also unacceptable for anyone to physically hurt their children? Shouldn’t the basic human right to not be hit or slapped by another person be the same for both adults and children?

That much used “spare the rod” verse can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “rod” (shebet) can be used for guiding and protecting rather than hitting. More than that, Jesus modified the eye-for-an-eye culture of his day with a message of non-violence. He offers a challenging but ultimately more life-giving path of compassion and refraining from ever hurting others.

For all these medical, psychological, and biblical reasons, Christian parents may want to rethink their use of corporal punishment in favor of using more effective and less damaging forms of discipline. After all, the word discipline actually means “teaching” and there are many non-violent ways to teach so that children will learn to become kind, compassionate, and loving like Jesus.

—The Rev. Mark Stanley

One Baltimore: Respecting the Dignity of Every Human Being

On Thursday, May 7, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley asked me to join her in distributing some flowering plants to businesses in Old St. Paul’s neighborhood that were damaged in the recent demonstrations. Mary knew there were at least seven places (Café Poupon, Coffee-Land, 7Eleven, Subway, Lumbini’s, the Indian Grocery Store, and Mick O’Shea’s), because she and The Rev. Mark Stanley had walked the block along Charles Street on Tuesday (from Saratoga to Pleasant) with brooms and dust pans in-hand offering to help clean up. Most of the businesses had windows broken and some had suffered significant theft.

At each place we stopped, we told whoever took the plant that we were from Old St. Paul’s and that we wanted them to know we were sorry they had been damaged and that we supported them as neighbors. Almost every recipient, at first, seemed somewhat surprised but soon were smiling and thanking us for the plant. And, as we shook hands, their appreciation was reflected in the look of gratitude in their eyes.

A few days before this, I stopped in at Coffee-Land to see how they were progressing (and, truth be told, to get one of their delicious cherry Danishes). They were busy serving customers and, when it was my turn, I said to the owner and his wife:

“I am so sorry for what happened to you. It is so very sad.”

He replied: “It was probably more good than it was bad. So many have shown love to us afterwards.”

This week, Mary had a banner made that reads, “One Baltimore: respecting the dignity of every human being.” One of the promises we make at baptism (or when renewing our baptismal vows throughout the year), is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Now this promise is displayed in front of Old St. Paul’s and is putting out a vision for the city.

one baltimore

We have a LOT to do in establishing “One Baltimore.”  As we try to find our way in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we can begin by looking for opportunities to connect. Smiling at people waiting at the bus stop and giving a pleasant “Good morning” might help break the ice. Engaging in short but sincere and caring conversations with strangers each day can give personal expression to our vow of “respecting the dignity of each human being.”

—Eileen Donahue Brittain, Treasurer for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore

Baltimore: Keeping Hopeful

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on right now.20150429_182115

Our city is still reeling from last week’s events as we begin to address the issues of stunning inequality, systemic racism, violence, and poverty.

In the midst of all this, many are also having their own personal crises as loved ones pass away or suffer illness, as unsatisfying jobs or the utter lack of them sap energy and optimism, as things don’t work out as hoped, as more die in Texas and Nepal and all around the world. —All of these things have the power to haunt and tear down all our stores of enthusiasm, hope, patience, and empathy if we allow them to.

In last Sunday’s Forum (led by The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley), we were encouraged to share I” statements about how these issues have made us feel or have altered our perspective on things. I didn’t share anything at The Forum, not knowing how to put it all into words then, but now, here, I’ll do my best:

Last week, I began feeling that nothing I’d previously held important—my work, my regular/daily concerns, my personal goals—was important anymore. In the face of my neighbors’ pain and struggle, all these things so personal to me seemed empty and small.

Last week, I felt exhausted, oscillating seasickly (and often selfishly) between an energetic desire to act and a great energy-sucking despair at not knowing what to do (or, worse, knowing what to do but being too afraid to do it).

Last week, I felt my whiteness (and all the racist advantages it gives me) with an incredible, constant keenness that made me feel terrible about myself and my society.

Last week, I felt the nature of my neighborhood—one of those within Baltimore’s “White L”—with both a tremendous guilt and also an odd (troubling) sort of gratefulness.

Last week, I often felt petulant, petty, resentful, and angry.

But that was last week. And while many of these feelings continue to linger in me and while many of the lessons I’ve learned from this past week will no doubt stay with me for years to come, I have—through meditation, church, friends, and family—come to a much healthier, more energetic, and more hopeful place.

Last week, my husband and I listened to Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about many of the challenges and problems that Baltimore’s been facing for so long now. During the Q&A session, one woman asked Coates what she could do to re-inspire her children who, given all that they’ve seen on the news about the world around them, have come to feel helpless, hopeless, and at a loss. Coates, to my surprise and great appreciation, replied (paraphrasing), “If Ida B. Wells didn’t give up hope, then your kids certainly don’t have a right to.

Last week, I let myself begin to feel hopeless. Because it was easy.

20150429_182144This week, I am practicing hopefulness because I believe it is what’s right. Consider John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God didn’t send Christ into a world deemed hopeless—but into a world deemed worthy of saving, a world full of possibilities, potential, and love.

And this means it’s all worth fighting for. This means it’s worth not taking the easy way out by falling into self-pity, hopelessness, and prejudice.

This week, I’m ready to take up the challenge Mary posed to us at our last Forum: to live by and look out across a twenty (thirty, forty, however long it takes) year horizon, and continuously open myself up to learn from and listen to my neighbors. For learning and listening are the tools of the hopeful.

–Katherine Mead-Brewer

Let Us Pray for Baltimore

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us in a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Last night, we gathered at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore to offer our prayers for the healing of Baltimore. Here is a copy of the prayers that we used, which were adapted in part from some prayers in the New Zealand Prayer Book for the Anglican Church. Friends from all around the country joined us in prayer last night, and you are invited to pray with us too.

Prayers for Baltimore        

Leader: Let us pray:

-O God of many names, lover of all peoples; we pray for justice and peace in our hearts and homes, in our city and our world. Amen

-We pray for Freddie Gray and for all who mourn his death. Amen

-for those who are angry about the ongoing problems of racism, income inequality, education disparity and police brutality. Amen

-for all who are hoping for accountability and systemic change. Amen

-for the young adults in our city who have lost hope and turned to violence. Amen

-for parents who worry about their children getting into trouble     Amen

-for the protesters and police, for the National Guard and the Fire Department. Amen

-for Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and all who direct law enforcement. Amen

-for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Governor Larry Hogan, and all in authority. Amen

-for religious leaders working with our citizens, and for community organizers who are bringing people together. Amen

-for the small businesses that have suffered due to vandalism and looting. Amen

-for reporters and those in the media who are telling our story to the world. Amen

-for teachers and educators who are making a difference in the lives of children. Amen

-for all citizens who live with fear and a sense of helplessness. Amen

-for those who yearn for equality and a kinder world. Amen

People: Be our companion and guide, O God, so that we may seek to do your will.

Leader: For the broken and the whole

People: May we build each other up

Leader: For the victims and the oppressors

People: May we share power wisely

Leader For the mourners and the mockers

People: May we have empathy and compassion

Leader: For the silent and the propagandists

People: May we speak our own words in truth

Leader: For the peacemakers and the agitators

People: May clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony

Leader: For the unemployed and the overworked

People: May our impact on others be kindly and creative

Leader: For the hungry and the overfed

People: May we share so that we will all have enough

Leader: For the troubled and the thriving

People: May we live together as wounded healers

Leader: For the vibrant and the dying

People: May we all die to live

Leader: Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be a cause of suffering to one another

People: May we ease the pain of others

Leader: Knit us together in mind and flesh, in feeling and in spirit

People: And make us one, united in friendship

Leader: Let us accept that we are profoundly loved by God

People: And need never be afraid

Leader: May God kindle in us the fire of love

People: To bring us alive and give warmth to the world.

Leader: Let us now name before God, either silently or aloud, those persons and problems that are on our hearts this day.

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All of us out together to sing over our street and neighbors

All Say Together:    The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach

Praying for Baltimore, Singing, and Walking the Block

Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.

At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.

march

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us out on a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.

As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:

Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!

Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!

For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.

By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.

Jess

Jessica Sexton, our Youth Minister, helps lead the singing march as our crucifer

It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.

It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach