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Call No One Father

The Rev. Mark Stanley

Isn’t it time that we stopped using the title “Father” for priests? Even though Jesus said, “Call no one Father” (Matthew 23:9), I don’t think we need to use the literal sense of that text as the foundation for this change.

I would start with the baptismal theology of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer. One of the great thrusts of our current Prayer Book is honoring the ministry of the laity. What is most important is that we are all baptized. As baptized members of Christ’s body, we have ministries either as lay or ordained people. So why should priests get a special (and seemingly superior) title? What is meant as a sign of respect towards the clergy seems to reinforce an outmoded hierarchy.

I know a priest who likes to be called Father because “I have worked so hard for this role and I want the respect this vocation deserves.” This is certainly a valid concern in a societal context where all authority figures are getting less respect. My response is that authentic respect flows from who we are and not what we are called. Our pastoral leadership and spiritual presence, and not any special title, will be the real source of a congregation giving us authority.

In addition, with the ordination of women in 1976 we have changed who can be in the priesthood. Is there an equivalent title to “Father” for women? Some women clergy like being called “Mother.” Others can’t stand it. It doesn’t help that “Mother” is also a title used by Roman Catholic nuns. In the Episcopal Church we have both genders ordained. This decision has consequences. We just can’t have one gender with a standard title that does not work for all. This seems like a simple issue of justice. Are men who like the title “Father” willing to let this title go for the sake of our clergy sisters?

Is “Father” really even the best title to describe what a priest does? I remember being a newly ordained 25 year old priest and having an elderly woman in our parish continually calling me “Father.” Do I really function like a father to her? This puts me in the parent role and her in the child position. It can actually be harming the spiritual development of parishioners to be putting them in this infantilizing position.

Furthermore, using the title Father creates the potential for theological confusion. Imagine a priest about to lead the Lord’s Prayer. It is then announced “Father Smith will now lead us in the ‘Our Father.’” Here is a situation where you are calling God “Father” in close connection with calling the priest “Father.” Is this ordained human being really in the same role as the Divine? Unfortunately some people already fall into that misunderstanding. Having a spiritual leader with the same title as the first person of the Trinity is just not a good set up for anyone.

In general I think people should be able to be called whatever they want. However when a title has the potential of getting in the way of the mission of the church, I would hope that people would be willing to make a change. Even if that change requires the sacrifice of a beloved title.

I don’t have the answer to what priests should be called. I do know that whatever we are called it should be the same title for both men and women. I find that it feels great to be a pastoral leader who is on a mutual first name basis with the people in my parish. They seem to like it too. So I propose we stick with the most meaningful names we have, our baptismal namesthe names with which we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

 

 

Prayers of the People following Charlottesville

The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

 

God of compassion, You understand the sadness, anger, and fear that we feel over what happened in Charlottesville last weekend when racism, bigotry, and hatred were on full display.

Enfold us with Your care.

 

God of empathy, You suffer with those who are hurting.

Bring comfort to all who are grieving.

 

God of wisdom, Your nature is to reveal truth.

Show us what we need to see more clearly.

 

God of justice, You created all people in Your image, and declared that humanity is good.

Guide us so that we can live into our own goodness by building a more just and equal society.

 

God of power, You have promised to bring transformation and new life.

Rain down Your love so that lives will be changed.

 

God of solidarity, You always stand with the victims, the oppressed, and the persecuted.

Open our hearts so we can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

 

God of repentance, You know our sins and You love us in spite of our failings.

Give us the courage to repent, especially when we are tempted by selfishness and intolerance.

 

God of grace, You love all people unconditionally, and You cherish every living soul.

Help us to see all people through the eyes of love, showing respect for the dignity of every human being.

 

God of courage, You inspire people to do heroic things in the service of others.

Grant us the will to dismantle systemic racism, white supremacy, and antisemitism, and to become champions of the oppressed.

 

God of all, You have shown us the ways of loving-kindness.

Thank You for giving us hope that we can follow in the footsteps of Jesus by building the beloved community.

 

Here our prayers, O God, for we need Your help.

Amen

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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

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.

Origen: Heretic or Saint?

By The Rev. Mark Stanley

For the first time in my life, I am presenting a resolution to the Diocesan Convention–a resolution on the topic of the early church theologian, Origen of Alexandria. I realize that it is pretty nerdy, but it has been bothering me that such a brilliant man was never canonized as a saint. Many early church scholars, including Henri Crouzel, SJ (Professor of Patristics at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse and the Gregorian University in Rome), have asserted that Origen has been “unjustly branded a heretic” (Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, pg 503). Trying to correct this wrong, I am presenting a Resolution at the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland’s Convention on May 13, 2016 for Origen of Alexandria to be included in the Episcopal Church’s calendar of “saints.”

OrigenBorn to Christian parents in 185 AD, Origen spent the first part of his career as a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt. During the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Septimius Serverus in Alexandria in 202, in which his father was killed, teenage Origen desired martyrdom but his mother prevented him from leaving the house by hiding his clothes. Because of his Christian faith, Origen chose to lead a strict ascetic life of fasting, prayer, and voluntary poverty. According to the historian Eusebius, Origen supposedly even castrated himself because of his misinterpretation of Matthew 19:12. (Recent scholars have questioned the truth of this story, however, speculating that this may have been just a rumor circulated by his detractors.) In 250 AD, during a later  persecution, Origen was imprisoned for being a Christian and cruelly tortured, after which he survived only a few years.

Refusing to deny his beliefs, Origen’s willingness to undergo personal suffering gave witness to his dedication to Christ. Origen, who was renowned for the breadth and depth of his scholarship, wrote influential works in the fields of theology, textual criticism, biblical commentary, preaching, and spirituality.

Hundred of years after the death of Origen, the Emperor Justinian instigated Origen’s condemnation and had many of his works burned. In 553 AD, the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople seems to have condemned Origin as a heretic. That this council actually condemned him is both “enigmatic and problematic” (Philip Esler, The Early Christian World, Volume 2, pg 262). The Catholic Encyclopedia (volume 11, pg 308) even states that Origen “does not deserve to be ranked among the promoters of heresy.”

Scholars today call Origen “the church’s first systematic theologian” and “the foremost biblical scholar of the early church.” Saint Jerome proclaimed Origen the “greatest teacher of wisdom and knowledge after the apostles.” Yet many of Origen’s works did not survive due to his condemnation several centuries after his death. This needs to be corrected. Some of this later criticism comes from Origen’s wide ranging philosophical speculation at a time when Christian orthodoxy was still forming. It is problematic to label as heresy Origen’s theories about the pre-existence of souls or the Son being inferior to the Father (which he may not have actually claimed) since the church at that time did not yet have official teachings on these matters.

Unfortunately some of the accusations against Origen were actually due to misunderstandings of his writings as well as the attribution of later speculations by his followers to him. Another point of controversy is Origen’s concept of Apokatastasis, that all creatures (even the Devil) could ultimately be reconciled with God. While scholars today debate whether Origen truly taught a version of Universal Salvation, Origen’s emphasis on the patience and enduring mercy of God, rather than on Divine punishment, might be seen in our own day as not heresy but as Good News. The great Anglican historian Henry Chadwick puts it this way, “If orthodoxy were a matter of intention, no theologian could be more orthodox than Origen, none more devoted to the cause of Christian faith.”

Origen is deserving of a place on our liturgical calendar with his rare combination of scholarly genius and a saintly life dedicated to Christ. The next step is a Resolution recommending Origen be included in the next edition of A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations. Then, on to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2018 to work for final approval from the national church.

Origen scholar, The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Lyman, states, “if anyone represented Anglican rationality, love of scripture, and holiness of life, it is Origen.”

Supporting Our Growth

In contrast to mainline Christianity in general and the Episcopal Church in particular, Old St. Paul’s Church in downtown Baltimore is growing! You can feel it on Sunday mornings. Our numbers are up in worship attendance, Children’s Worship, and Education Hour participation. We have expanded our fellowship opportunities and outreach ministries. This is all great news!

However, expanding programs means more financial demands on our church. As we enter Stewardship season, one of the questions we might ask ourselves is, “If I were to make a financial pledge for the first time, or if I were to increase my pledge, where would that money go?” Here are some responses to that question.

  1. With all the new babies being born, we are expanding our nursery care staff.
  2. Our breakfast program before the Education Hour and our Coffee Hour after church are a huge success. The hospitality costs for coffee, treats, and refreshments have gone up significantly this year.
  3. We would like to expand our Downtown Partnership security team to make sure everyone is safe and all program areas are covered on Sunday mornings.
  4. On kick-off Sunday, we had 70 participants in the Sunday School and Youth Programs, as well as 36 participants at The Forum. We are having to add staff such as a new “Middle School Youth Minister” and a “Community Builder for Families with Infants and Toddlers” in order to keep up with these needs.
  5. As we explore new outreach ministries, our newly formed Social Justice and Service Committee would like to look at ways our church could increase our financial giving to address needs here in Baltimore and beyond.
  6. After being rented out for many years, in 2015 both the Historic Rectory and the 309 Cathedral Street building came back under control of the church. The use of these buildings is a gift, but this also means more financial spending on repairs and maintenance to take care of these historic structures.

IMG_4792All these important needs and programs require money. The trajectory of our parish looks promising, but we need the financial support of all our members to support the expansion of our ministries. Your financial contributions are needed in order to keep our church vital and growing.

Stewardship Packets can now be picked up on Sunday mornings or can be mailed to you. You can also pledge online at http://www.stpaulsbaltimore.org/?page_id=1683

Thank you for your generosity!

—The Reverend Mark Stanley, Rector

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.

410-937-9957 Laurie DeWitt, Photographer

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)