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My wife Jenn and I spent our initial Baltimore years developing our spiritual lives at a church in the suburbs. When we moved downtown we felt a need to find a church closer to our weekday community. We also felt a need to change how we were nourishing our understanding of God. We started attending Old St. Paul’s in the Fall of 2009.
Our first Sunday at St. Paul’s was the kickoff of The Forum, the adult education program. There was palpable excitement for the local celebrity speaker. The church had reserved the ballroom of the Tremont Grand, the hotel next door, for the special occasion. Gary Vikan, Director of The Walter’s Art Museum, was sharing a playful lecture on his recently released book, From the Holy Land to Graceland. It was immediately obvious that his deep knowledge of Byzantine art was matched by his deep wonder of rock and roll culture. The lecture was mesmerizing. It spoke to my mind, my heart, and my soul. It was what I hoped church could do. It was what I hoped I could do with my own life’s work.
When I started attending Old St. Paul’s, I was looking for direction. I was reasonably far removed from my engineering degrees. It would be hard to pursue a path in that trade, not to mention that I lacked the ambition to do so. I had an inkling to go into finance, but again I was not moved. I was dabbling on the business side of art, managing a friend’s mural project. I was moving forward, but with hazy vision and limited fire. Gary clarified for me what might be possible and kindled the notions of the value of art that were already floating in my head.
In the course of his lecture, Gary shared that he was from Minnesota. I took the divine connection to my home state as an omen. I stalked him out of the hotel and stopped him before he got into his car. I shared briefly about my work on the Baltimore Love Project and he gave me his contact info. Two weeks later, we met for coffee. I will be having lunch with Gary again next Thursday. It is something we have done consistently since our initial coffee nearly 7 years ago.
The introduction to Gary was pivotal to my career, but it is not the only thing Old St. Paul’s has done for my vocation. The church has been a consistent source of inspiration, purpose, and direction. And, just as importantly, it has often allowed me to provide the same for others. This receiving and giving afforded by Old St. Paul’s has changed my life. It is one of the most cherished and valuable things to me. As a result, I yearn to invest more of myself, my time, and my treasure into Old St. Paul’s being!
Interested in sharing the various ways Old St. Paul’s has changed you? Please either email The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley or include a comment directly to this post by typing in the discussion box below. You can also choose to receive email notifications of new St. Paul’s articles by clicking the “Follow” button on the left-hand side of your screen. Thank you & God bless!
This past Sunday, The Rev. Mark Stanley focused Forum on the history and use of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP). But what I thought would be a more purely historical lecture quickly surprised me by transforming into a lesson in Episcopal spontaneity and openness. To many, Episcopalians aren’t exactly known for their art, dance, spontaneity, or creativity. Our dedication and focus on the calendar and contents of the BCP is at once what binds us as a denomination, helping laypeople participate more easily and giving us firm ties to our historical foundations, as well as what often labels us in many eyes as staid, deeply ritualistic, and even unwelcoming of change.
This Sunday, however, I learned about a new face of the Episcopal Church and of our Prayer Book—I learned of possibilities like (what’s commonly known as) Rite III, The Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist, a guide to holding an exceptionally more free-form, creative, and spontaneous service than our typical fare. As you may have noticed in my epigraph, our Prayer Book outlines a style of service that not only allows for the possibility of having the congregation respond to the Word of God through dance, but through “other art forms” as well, through any respectful, reverent, and heartfelt art we choose! We could, theoretically, paint our response to the Word. We could (mindfully, lovingly) jazz-scat our response or line dance or write poetry, using our freedom and unique gifts to better pursue and strengthen our relationship with God.
In 1549, Thomas Cranmer came out with the first Prayer Book to help make worship more inclusive and participatory for the laypeople (helping translate services into English and welcoming laypeople to join the priest in things like saying the Lord ’s Prayer). Since then, the Episcopal Church has updated the Prayer Book four times (we now currently use the 1979 version; though, in the overall Anglican history, the BCP has been revised many times), working to make our services as welcoming, participatory, loving, open, and true to ourselves as possible. And while Cranmer may not have imagined a world where his idea for the Prayer Book allowed for dance, poetry, song, and art as responses to the Word of God, I think it’s safe to say that he would be glad to know the Episcopal Church has kept firmly to its tradition of inclusivity—working to welcome and encourage worship in its congregants that meets them where they are on their faith journeys, that helps them connect to their Creator through the talents and blessings said Creator has bestowed upon them.
I often feel funny in church, because I’m one for whom writing is the best meditation; it’s what helps me think more clearly and creatively about my day, my thoughts, and the world around me. I was the kid in class who was always taking notes, and now in Old St. Paul’s Forums and worship services, I’m that layperson who seems to always be filling up a notebook in between hymns. For me, writing is a way to better connect with not only what I learn in Forum, but what I feel after listening to the choir perform, what occurs to me as I listen to the sermon, and even helps clarify my thinking when it comes time to pray.
While we may not take up the wildness of the Rite III every Sunday as a congregation, know that this doesn’t mean you’re barred from taking it up for yourself whenever you need it. Try bringing a notebook or sketchpad to church with you one Sunday and see how that changes (or doesn’t change) your experience. Don’t ever be afraid or embarrassed to approach worship and responding to the Word as best fits and feels right to you.
For those of you interested in learning more about Lent and creative ways to observe it, just check out some of these stories from both our blog and from Episcopal News Service:
In this talk given at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Feb. 19, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reflected on what makes a good Lent for individuals, communities and society as a whole.
“That cross that comes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a reminder of the cross that’s put there at Baptism,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her Lent Message 2015.
By the Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes other people make mistakes, and sometimes we both make mistakes. A lot of communication is required in order for us to sort out what the mistakes are, and where the misunderstandings are, and to get to the point where authentic apologies are made. Now, that’s a tough process to go through, so I’d rather avoid it as long as possible.
By the Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
During the forty days of Lent, you are invited to take better care of your soul. Here is a list of some traditional and not so traditional spiritual disciplines that may help you to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
To mark the season of Lent, The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew has invited 14 Brooklyn artists to contribute innovative works for a “stations of the cross” exhibit.
The tradition of walking the 14 stations of the cross, which portray the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, is an ancient Christian practice, but this exhibit “brings a new level of artistic expression to the experience,” according to a press release from the parish, part of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.
This year, the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s Lenten Series focuses on “Engaging Poverty at Home and Around the World.” This Ash Wednesday reflection from Alexander D. Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement and Mission Communication for The Episcopal Church, is the first installment of the series. Each week, we will send an excerpt of the reflection to your inbox and provide you with a link to read the full reflection on our website.
By Katherine Mead-Brewer
Lent has long held special meaning for me, even if I haven’t always treated it with the respect it deserves. For me, Lent serves as a reminder of the tremendous mysteriousness of my creator and of just how small I am in the vastness of God’s work, of the universe’s many galaxies, planets, peoples, and creatures. Bishop Jefferts Schori captures this sentiment so well: the cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder … that we share that dust with all that has been created.
“The cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder that you are dust and to dust we shall return, that we share that dust with every other human being who has ever walked this planet, that we share that dust with the stars and the planets, that we share that dust with all that has been created. We are made for relationship with creator and creation.”
Lent has long held special meaning for me, even if I haven’t always treated it with the respect it deserves. For me, Lent serves as a reminder of the tremendous mysteriousness of my creator and of just how small I am in the vastness of God’s work, of the universe’s many galaxies, planets, peoples, and creatures. Bishop Jefferts Schori captures this sentiment so well: the cross that comes at Ash Wednesday is a reminder … that we share that dust with all that has been created. It’s a
truly humbling thought, an amazing thought, and it’s one that I plan to remind myself of every day throughout this Lenten season both through the practice of my own art as well as in the appreciation and exploration of the art of others. Art and the practice of art often helps me feel better attuned to my world and my soul, knowing that I am using the tools my creator has blessed me with to try my hand at the act of creation as well. It feels like a sort of daily communion with God, a daily devotion that helps keep me on a healthy, reflective track. One way I’m hoping to achieve this and keep myself mindful and meditative this winter, is by following the online project, “Intent: A Daily Digital Devotion.” It’s something that anyone with an email address can sign up for, and it sounds like it’s going to be a terrific way to help keep myself focused this Lent. “Intent” is a project created by “young adults from several worshiping communities in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts … inviting one another into Lent this year with a daily dose of their own art, poetry, stories, photography, music and maybe even a cartoon or two” (Episcopal News Service, Tracy J. Sukraw). For more information on this effort and how to sign up for it yourself, just click here.
Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” And while I understand this sentiment, I’ve come to think that the opposite might be true: Art illuminates the mysteriousness and beauty of the dust of everyday life. The dust that connects us all. Art can help us to carry this dust, to acknowledge it and accept it without being hindered by its weight or our fear of it.
What do you think? Do you have any quirky methods or ideas in mind for how to keep yourself mindful and reflective this Lent? What arts do you most enjoy experiencing, seeing, or practicing?