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Gratitude, Generosity, & Happiness

—Carol Sholes, Stewardship Task Force, Chair

On a recent Sunday, The Rev Mary Luck Stanley preached about gratitude and how it can change your life. She called gratitude the “mother of all virtues” and spoke about how gratitude is acted out as generosity. The Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19) talked about the gratitude of one of the ten lepers who was healed by Jesus, while noting the lack of gratitude of the other nine. This sermon provided me with an opportunity to think about where I am on the gratitude scale. Am I like the “one” being grateful and showing my gratitude, or like the “nine”—happy, but not taking the time to really think about being grateful and generously showing my gratitude for said happiness? Sometimes I am definitely the “one,” but too many times I am part of the “nine.” I have wonderful ideas about how to generously show someone my gratitude, but then life takes over and I don’t follow through.

What better place to count your blessings than church? What better way to generously act on your gratitude than by making a pledge to Old St. Paul’s? As I reflect on my blessings and the role St. Paul’s plays in my life, I am grateful and happy to give generously. I don’t want to miss this chance to be the “one” who is grateful and generous, and not one of the “nine” who misses out on the opportunity to show my gratitude.

I will be increasing my pledge for 2017 because I am excited about so many things that are happening at our church. I am proud that our community is not only a great place to be, but is actually growing—not the typical story at an urban church, but it is ours. This year we have more children, more events, more outreach, and more people giving their time as we continue to maintain our beautiful historic buildings and provide a lovely Sunday service with amazing music and opportunities for Christian education for all ages. All of this needs our support.

Every member of the Vestry has completed their pledge for next year and they have all prayerfully reflected on their ability to increase their pledge for 2017. Please consider your blessings and what Old St. Paul’s means to you and your family. Then ask yourself if your gratitude can be expressed by giving generously to your church in 2017.

You can pledge online by clicking here, and if you pledge by November 30, you will receive an invitation to our Early Pledger Celebration at the Ritz Carlton. Our Stewardship Campaign will culminate with sealed pledges being blessed on the altar on December 11.

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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

Grateful to God for Rain in West Africa

Reading Katherine’s post, “Experiencing the Presence of God through the Weather,” was very timely for me because I felt the presence of God in the weather this morning. I am currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in West Africa, and the weather here is quite different from Baltimore’s. The hot season (108 degrees when I arrived on Saturday) is hanging on longer than normal, and the seasonal rains have been slow to begin.

Village of Saaba
Village of Saaba

As I looked out the hotel window this morning, I could see the storm clouds gathering in the distance. Very soon, high winds kicked in, bringing a swirl of dust and trash blowing through the streets. The clouds of dust in the sky, after months of no rain, suddenly made it look as if it was night again. The streets emptied as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (cars are less common here) all took cover. The raindrops started to fall, slowly at first, then began beating down on the dry clay soil and dusty pavement.

Rain is a precious commodity in this part of the world as the Sahara desert advances southward. There is less rainfall every year, not so much due to God, but rather because of our collective inability to care for the environment that God created for our well-being. When it does rain, people are so thankful—their lives and livelihoods depend on it in a country where many people still eke out a living through rain-fed, subsistence farming. (Remember this the next time someone claims that climate change is a hoax.)

By the time I left to go to work, the rain was already starting to taper off. It did not last long, but it is hopefully the start of another agricultural season for farmers here. When I reached the office, my Burkinabe colleagues were all extremely joyful and grateful for God’s answer to their prayers for rain. Thank you, God.

—Post & Photo by David Leege

David Leege works for Catholic Relief Services, which implements international relief and development programs in 100 countries around the world. He travels internationally from time to time to provide technical support to CRS programs.

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

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.

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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.

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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

For Baltimore: A 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

Climate Change: Fragile Earth, Our Island Home

“At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being.”

—Eucharist Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer, pg 370

Growing up Methodist, I never encountered this prayer. But as an Episcopalian today (freshly confirmed!), I thank my blessed stars for Eucharist Prayer C, because it stops me in my tracks every time. Unlike so many other prayers, creeds, and rituals (however important and valuable), this one always zings straight to the heart of me, reminding me of the vastness of the universe and of the Creator’s role in this vastness (not limited to me and my limited imagination; not limited to fragile Earth, my island home).

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

As well as a Christian, I am an environmentalist, and both have led me to a firm belief in the reality of climate change and of my significant role as a human being in the exacerbation of this phenomenon.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve done all I can to alter my behavior accordingly. This doesn’t mean I’m doing all I can to honor and protect the sanctity of Earth, fragile Earth—my sacred, God-given island home. And why? Because I’m imperfect. Selfish. Wasteful. Thoughtless. A sinner.

But, as with all sins, there are ways to repent and reform. There are other roads to take. So, where are they? What can I do today to change these things? What actions and new roads can I take now?

As poet Wendell Berry explains in his Yes! article, “To Save the Future, Live in the Present,”

“None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why ‘Take…no thought for the morrow…’ is such excellent advice. … I am not an accredited interpreter of Scripture, but taking thought for the morrow is a waste of time, I believe, because all we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today.” (emphasis added)

I love this advice from Berry (as well as his poetry!), because it speaks to me as both a Christian and environmentalist; it reminds me that both of these identities are activist ones, demanding action today rather than countless empty promises, pity parties, and nail-biting worries for the future.

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This isn’t scripture giving us an “out” to stop worrying about issues like climate change or to leave such things for future generations to figure out; it’s a moral imperative to take action and do what’s right today. Now.

Or, as Berry puts it:

“The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stopping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once were called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’”

And there are many things we as individuals can do today to “start stopping” our wasteful behaviors and become better stewards of these divine gifts. For myself, I’m working to spend more time out in nature (both urban and rural); to dedicate more time to reflecting on and learning about Nature’s variety, strength, and fragility; and to adopt more conservative energy-use habits at home (such as unplugging computers and other appliances when not in use, avoiding the overuse of AC and heaters, avoiding the use of cars when possible, and by keeping more aware of my water usage). I also strive to keep myself as up-to-date on the latest energy and environment-related legislation as possible. But these are only starting places.

Don’t let worries of the future draw you into complacency in the here-and-now. Don’t let the vastness of the issues at hand convince you that you have no role to play or that the solution lies in the hands of others. Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re an activist—charged to love the world as God loves us, to love and care for the whole package: this fragile Earth, our island home.

Now, my fellow activists, let’s go act. (Now!)

–Katherine Mead-Brewer