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5 Tips for Making the Most of Lent

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

Lent can be a difficult time for some because it can seem like a second round of New Year’s resolutions, only with less fun and greater opportunity to feel like a failure. But this isn’t what Lent is meant to be about. In the forty days of Lent we are invited to remove any barriers in our lives that may separate us from the love of God. Lent is meant to be a time of focus and prayer, of acknowledging and meditating on Christ’s sacrifice as a preparation for the glorious celebration of his resurrection. To help keep spirits up during this Lenten season, consider trying out the following exercises:

  1. Remind yourself each day of why you are participating in the act of Lenten sacrifice. Why is Lent meaningful to you? By giving yourself these little reminders, it will help keep your motivation fresh, rather than leave you feeling like Lent’s just another diet or arbitrary restriction.
  1. Don’t forget to celebrate feast days on Sundays. Giving yourself Sunday as a mini-Easter and a day of rest not only gives each week a little built-in treat, but it can remind you that time spent worshiping and meditating on the Creator isn’t meant to be a time of punishment or hunger or dreariness—it’s meant to be a time of gratitude, fulfillment, and intention.
  1. If you’re sacrificing something as part of your Lenten observance, then consider also taking something up as well. Whether it be a designated time to pray or meditate each day, a new sport or outdoor activity, a new hobby such as gardening or writing, the taking up of something new and positive as a part of Lent can be a terrific, daily reminder that Lent is more than simply a time of sacrifice. It is also a time of anticipation and giving back.
  1. Make extra time for friends and family. Lent can sometimes feel like a time of loneliness or self-denial: the denial of fun, alcohol, desserts, movies, etc. But just because a lot of classic Lenten sacrifices impact our recreational activities, it doesn’t mean that Lent should also equal a sacrifice of our social lives. Don’t let Lent become a reason to stay indoors and away from others. Instead, use it as a time to show others how grateful you are to have them in your life.
  1. Rather than focus on feelings of guilt during the days of Lent, try focusing simply on self-reflection in general. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about both the bad and the good. For many people it’s all too easy to focus on the “bad,” on what they aren’t good at, at the things they’ve done wrong, the mistakes they’ve made. But Lent isn’t about feeling terrible and running yourself into the ground. It’s about coming to terms with oneself and with God, honestly and sincerely, so that you might also be transformed, receiving the grace of new life at Eastertime. So make time for prayer, meditation, and self-reflection, and let truth rather than guilt or self-pity be your guide. As Anne Lamott has so wisely said,

God loves you just the way you are. But God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”

berries

For more tips and ideas, check out this article on how to make Lent joyful from Ellie Borkowski with Life Teen and the article “Beyond Fasting” by Joe Lovino for umc.org.

Valentine’s Day: Seven Ways Faith can Enhance our Relationships

Katherine Mead-Brewer

Many people think of chocolates, roses, and poetry-packed cards when they think of Valentine’s Day. But Valentine’s Day can also be a time when we meditate on our loved ones and on the fact that we ourselves are loved. For those with faith—whether it be in the Christian, Jewish, or any other religious tradition—Valentine’s Day can also be a time to meditate on how this faith can be used to enhance our relationships. Here are a few ways that a healthy spiritual life can help us do just that:

  1. By entering into regular reflective practices such as prayer, yoga, journal writing, or meditation, you’ll not only help keep yourself healthier, but you’ll find yourself better equipped to help and empathize with the needs of those closest to you.
  1. A healthy spiritual life often means keeping an open mind to things miraculous, supernatural, or beyond ourselves. This exercise in open mindedness can help prepare us with the generosity, respect, and curiosity necessary to learn about the perspectives and beliefs of others. In this way, we deepen our relationship with God as well as with our friends and neighbors.
  1. Having faith typically also means that you are an active seeker of wisdom and understanding, leading many people into intimate conversations, intense study groups, prayer vigils, and other such settings. Engaging in these kinds of intimate activities with loved ones can be a terrific way of strengthening bonds of trust and understanding.
  1. Reading and learning about religious texts and histories is often an exercise in learning about the history of love. For Christians this is absolutely the case, as the Bible is packed full of scripture dedicated to the nature and power of love. Meditating on and sharing these passages with friends and loved ones can be a great way of sharing profound feelings when our own words would fall short. This can also be a good way to enhance our relationships with our children, discussing with them the power of love and all its various forms.
  1. Having faith is a lifelong process of growth and learning. By continuing to grow and seek God throughout our lives, we can sometimes stumble and find ourselves vulnerable or even embarrassed by or anxious about our own changing beliefs and feelings. But if we are brave enough to share these struggles with loved ones, then not only will we find ourselves drawn closer to God, but we may also find ourselves drawn closer to each other as well.
  1. For many, having faith also means being part of a faith community. Engaging with a faith community, whether through weekly services, gatherings, or other events, opens us up to make new friends while also giving us a safe, reflective space to share with current friends and family.
  1. A healthy spiritual life usually also goes hand-in-hand with having access to strong mentors in the form of priests, rabbis, and other leaders. By seeking out guidance from available mentors, we open ourselves up to the fact that there is much we can learn from others while also discovering how to become effective mentors and guides ourselves.

 

We love because God first loved us.

—1 John 4:19

ROSE

 

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.

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

Learning About BUILD, Listening to Our Community

build-one-baltimore-city-that-300x199

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

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

Holy Hospitality!

lynn at easter

My grandparents were true Depression Era citizens, and both Mom-mom and Pop-pop told me many stories about how hard it was to find what you needed during that time.  Pop-pop was out of work, and Mom-mom worked as a bobbin winder at The Linen Thread; she stood for ten to twelve hours a day in front of a machine and she was glad to have the work. My mother was only eight years old when she and her brother started walking the railroad tracks for coal dropped from the open-topped cars to supplement the wood Pop-pop chopped from his own five acre farm.

My mother is now eighty-three years old, and she still talks about how she and her brother and her parents worked the five acres with the help of their neighbors, and how Mom-mom and Pop-pop were famous for their canned fruits and vegetables, and how, at the end of the Harvest, there was always a huge outdoor celebration that featured a sit-down barbeque for over a hundred people.

Pop-pop stood at the front of the line of homemade picnic tables and always made the same speech, year after year. He thanked God for the beauty and bounty of the land, he thanked Herbert Hoover (and then Roosevelt) for the freedom of the USA, he thanked his neighbors for their help on his farm, and he thanked his family for putting up with him. At which point Mom-mom would chime in, “Amen!” and the food would be passed.

Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s generosity to all was well-established by the time my sister, brother, and I arrived. Every Sunday she would stop on the way out of church to ask the pastor about the local families:

“How is Miss Ann doing?”

“Did Mrs. McGraul have her baby?”

“Did Big Jim find work yet?”

As her workweek progressed, she remembered those talks with the pastor on the marble steps of the church and, after dinner each night, she would gather canned foods from her pantry, add a loaf of her homemade bread, a fresh-baked chicken, and a bag of her (justifiably) famous sugar cookies, and then we would take a walk. My sister, brother, and I would sit on Miss Ann’s porch and talk with her about our little adventures while Mom-mom went into the kitchen to put away the food she had brought.

Miss Ann, Mrs. McGraul, Big Jim, and all of Mom-mom’s other neighbors were always so grateful for her kindness, and would thank her over and over. She always responded, “God gave me a great gift with this life, and I want to return the favor.”

Mom-mom and Pop-pop are long gone now, but their hospitality and generosity live in my memory every time I set a tray of doughnuts out for the congregation on Sunday.For me, the talking and the laughing and the hugs that circulate around the hospitality tables at the back of Old St. Paul’s after the service (punctuated by a lot of Thank you so much, Lynn!) is a secular echo of the Eucharist that we all share.

Church Lynn-1 (2)

The Holy Hospitality of the Eucharist is accepted quietly and spiritually – the doughnuts, coffee, fruit, and homemade treats are shared as a banquet of friendship and community among the congregation, and now is the time for talk!

Church John-2 (2)

Chuck HospitalityConversation flourishes among the congregation as the children play in the aisles: future plans to get together are made, confidences are shared, and current issues are discussed. Old St. Paul’s is God’s House and this is a happy time.

As I always say, “Things go better with food!” I know Mom-mom and Pop-pop would agree.

–Lynn Calvarese