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It Takes a Village: Finding Helping Hands at Church

—Tara Kirk Sell

Since Greg and I had Sennet, we’ve had our hands full with kids. One of the things I love about our Old St. Paul’s community is that when we come to church there are so many people ready to lend a helping hand or hold a baby for a few minutes. Sometimes, my arms are just tired and so it’s really nice to have people around who enthusiastically give Greg and me a moment to rest and recharge.

The other day when we stood up front to support Michael and Suzanne during Gabriel’s baptism, we were in turn supported by other members of the church when we plopped Sennet down in Kate Brantley’s arms and left Torin with Doug, Francine, and Ramy. Sennet spent the time grabbing Maggie’s hair with her toes and I could see Torin’s head poking up as Doug held him to show him what was going on. They were happy, safe, and welcome in the arms of friends.

When we came to the goodbye party for Chuck and Lynn, Sennet was passed from person to person as Greg and I chased Torin and renewed our friendship with other people. After a while, Greg and I said to each other, “We better go figure out where our baby is,” but we were entirely sure she was happy and well cared for being held by different members of our parish.

It is acceptance and compassion and welcome and love all wrapped up in one. That’s why I love it here at Old Saint Paul’s.

 

tara-ks

Photo courtesy of The Weaver House

Tara Kirk is an American former competition swimmer and breaststroke specialist who is an Olympic silver medalist. She is a former world record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke.

What Happened at the Maryland Diocesan Convention

–Keith Murray

Last Friday and Saturday, your delegation attended the 232nd Diocesan Convention in Ellicott City. Representing Old St. Paul’s were The Reverend Mark Stanley, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley, The Rev. Dr. Chris Dreisbach, Youth Minister Jessica Sexton, Ed Tabor, and me.

Friday began with a convention-wide Eucharist, including an inspiring sermon about Pentecost by Bishop Knudsen. Following that, we discussed each of the resolutions brought before us. Resolutions addressing clergy and lay compensation, alcohol use guidelines, diocesan canons, Cathedral Chapter bylaws, and mandatory diocesan training all passed either as presented or with slight modifications.

Also passed was a resolution to establish a relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico, who had a delegate attend the convention, as well as Mark Stanley’s resolution to have Origen of Alexandria included in the calendar of saints was passed and moves along to be considered at the next General Convention. Way to go Mark!

A resolution to give ten percent of the Diocese’s unrestricted endowment, as an initial reparation for the church’s ties to slavery, to the Union of Black Episcopalians was “committed to diocesan counsel,” which means that it will be further studied and likely reconsidered at a future convention.

The keynote speaker was the Very Reverend Michael Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, who preached on themes involving the social justice issues of racial disparity and injustice, current events including Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown, the death of Freddie Gray and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Saturday morning began with Morning Prayer and another business session. Bishop Sutton’s address included a description of his recent three month sabbatical for which he is extremely grateful.  Bishop Sutton also had high praise for Bishop Knudsen’s ministry among us and we were reminded that she will retire in 2018. Plans for identifying her successor will need to be considered by the time the next convention convenes in 2017.

Bishop Sutton’s message in his address was a renewed initiative concerning the meaning of love. He talked about how we might go about that in a three step process—Encounter, Engage, and Reconcile. He weaved in a continued commitment to the basics of good worship, music, and mission simultaneously.

While it is easy to focus on just the “business” of the Diocesan Convention, it is inspiring to be reminded that there are many committed people, both clergy and lay, who are passionately endeavoring to spread the love of Christ throughout our diocese. Thanks be to God.

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Healing Waters

Katherine Mead-Brewer

This past Sunday, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley gave a sermon on John 5:5-9:

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.

Mary made an excellent observation in her sermon, highlighting the fact that a major turning point in this passage is the moment when the ill man finally makes and gives voice to the decision to be made well. By asking the man if he wanted to be made well, Jesus showed him respect and care, giving him hope, while also still leaving the power of choice entirely within the man’s hands. Instead of telling the man what he needed, Jesus asked what he needed–what he wanted.

Do you want to be made well?

The poignancy and painfulness of this struck me hard and has lingered with me ever since. The tragedy of many diseases is that they can suck away much more than simply our physical health. Like a parasite’s self-defense mechanism, the disease strikes out not only against our physical selves, but against our emotional and psychological selves as well, often keeping people from wanting anything at all, let alone wanting to be made well.

What many people don’t realize until they themselves are sick is that it takes energy to want things. It takes energy to decide to eat, to decide to go out with your friends or spouse or children. It takes energy to call your mother for help. It takes energy to schedule a doctor’s appointment. It takes energy to want to take care of ourselves. And more than these, it takes a true and sincere understanding that we are worthy of these desires. We are worthy of other people’s help, attention, and time. We are worthy of being made well.

When I suffered from depression as a young woman in college, I was stunned to discover that I no longer recognized myself. Who was I? Where had I gone? Surely this person who couldn’t eat, couldn’t leave the apartment, couldn’t hardly work up the energy to get dressed in the morning—surely this person wasn’t me. And this denial only made things worse. It only further fed the disease that daily convinced me everything was worthless and that I, the person who was no longer even Katie, was at the very bottom of the worthless pile.

It wasn’t until my father came and visited me in person, physically reaching out to pull me up and remind me what I was capable of, that I felt strong enough to want things again. To want to be made well.

I imagine my father’s face when I think of Christ reaching out to this man at the pool of Beth-zatha, reaching out to this man and reminding him that he can stand and walk and be made well. All he has to do is the hardest thing in the world: He must want to be made well.

Through his words and actions, Christ tells this man here at Beth-zatha, Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. I, too, want you to be made well. You are worthy of me and my help. You are worthy of being made well.

As we continue the healing ministry passed on to us from Jesus, we too can use our words and actions to show others that they are worthy of being noticed, reached out to, and cared for. They are worthy of being made well.

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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

 

Forty Ways to Care for Your Soul this Lent

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.

  1. Call old friends to catch up, and thank them for being in your life
  2. Listen to music that moves you
  3. Refrain from gossiping and saying unkind things about others
  4. Go on a news/media fast for a period of time to lesson your anxiety
  5. Take more naps
  6. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen
  7. Clean out your closets and get rid of the unwanted stuff in your life
  8. Write a letter to a person who has wronged you, and then throw it away
  9. Participate in worship
  10. Give up drinking alcohol for Lent
  11. Set aside time each day to sit quietly with God, praying
  12. Read a book on spirituality by Henri Nouwen or Anne Lamott
  13. Give up eating out as much and donate that money to feed the hungry
  14. Make a list of five year, ten year, and twenty year goals for your life
  15. Spend more quality time with family and friends
  16. Participate in a class or retreat at your church
  17. Consider taking a break from people who are a toxic influence in your life

    Mary's Lemons

    I took this photo in Sorrento, Italy, where the lemon trees bear the largest and most flavorful fruit I’ve ever tasted. It reminds me that the fruits of the spirit will grow abundantly in the right setting.

  18. Exercise daily, breathing deeply, and giving thanks to God for your body
  19. Make a list of those whom you may have hurt
  20. Consider taking responsibility and making apologies
  21. Work to mend broken relationships
  22. At the end of each day, create a gratitude list
  23. Read the New Testament
  24. Cook and eat more consciously, making healthier choices, to be truly nourished
  25. Take stock of your finances and create a plan that reflects your values
  26. Tour a museum to enjoy looking at art
  27. Watch movies that make you laugh and cry
  28. Write a list of the things for which you feel sorry, your sins, and then ask God to forgive you, burning the list afterwards
  29. Spend time in nature noticing God’s hand at work in creation
  30. Go to the doctor or dentist, to care of your body
  31. Practice Breath Prayer while driving and waiting in lines, inhaling and exhaling and saying a mantra like, “God in me. Me in God.”
  32. Pick out a person you are worried about and do something thoughtful for them
  33. Choose a justice issue that worries you and talk with a friend about it
  34. Go to Starbucks less often and send the money you saved to your favorite charity
  35. Write a little every day, perhaps in a journal, even if it is just lists of things that are on your mind
  36. Take a road trip with a friend
  37. Consider how your work can be more like a ministry, day in and day out
  38. Make a list of the hymns and readings that you want to have at your own funeral
  39. Do less or do more, to achieve better balance in your life
  40. Resolve to spend time with people who may help you to become the person God intends you to be

 

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

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