Involvement of Laity { or Why I love The Episcopal Church: Part 2}

Today I was reminded of another reason why I love The Episcopal Church.

After Bible Study on Wednesday mornings, I attend Mass. Usually one person assists the priest and the transitional deacon with preparing for and serving the Mass. Today the usual server was not there, so I stepped in .

It is the custom at this particular weekday service for the lay reader to also serve the chalice during Communion.  Since I am an experienced  and licensed lay chalice bearer at Beach Parish, I felt comfortable serving at Wednesday Parish.

However, since I have not read lessons aloud in worship for several years, I felt a little ” rusty” in this role. Thankfully , the appointed lessons for today did not include any hard-to-pronounce names of either people or places. {Whew!]

One of the best aspects of our Church is that lay people are encouraged to have active roles, both in liturgy and in the government of the church. Both the parish level and that of the Diocese allow for laypersons to serve God through serving on commissions, committees and as elected vestry people, convention delegates,  ect,

In the Catechism { found in the back of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer} the questions states  the following—Q: Who Are the Ministers of the Church? A:The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests , and deacons. 

Note who is listed first. Lay persons are first. The ‘work of the people’ is to be carried out by the people in the pews. As I discern{ with a lot of prayer and practical help by good people wiser than me}  where God might be calling me into next, I am aware of this fact.

The Church is not a building; it is her people. Christ is at the center of all we do, but it is important to remember that WE are instruments of Christ’s work in the here and now. Our duty when we leave Mass is to take Christ into the world  and be witness by what we do our thanksgiving for what Christ has done for each of us.

Lay people are  Christ’s literal ‘ hands and feet. The church cannot be the Church without lay persons.  Good clergy inspire and equip lay people to find and carry out their own ministry. Faithful laypeople remember what Christ taught when He was here, and remember that He died and was brought to the Father so that we may share in the glory also.

Today I am thankful to be a part of a Christian tradition that honors the gifts of laypersons.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Communion- COMMUNITY{ Or Why I Love The Episcopal Church: Part 1}

There are many reasons why I love being an Episcopalian.

First of all: My name is Sarah. I love Jesus, and I am proud to be an Episcopalian. 

{ Credit to Bishop, Russell Kendrick, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, for that phrase. You have to be in my Diocese to understand why I made that statement as I did}

There are many reasons why I feel blessed to be an Episcopalian.

The first one that comes to mind is COMMUNION.  At least once weekly I attend Mass at one of two parish homes and I am given The Bread Of Life and the Cup of Heaven. I come to the altar and the priest and her or his assistants distribute the blessed elements. Somehow{ don’t ask me how because I honestly don’t know} that Christ Himself is present. I actually have a personal encounter with Christ. No matter where I attend Mass, and which priest consecrates the elements, I know there is a mystical union between myself and Christ at the altar.

My siblings-in-Christ surround me at this blessed moment. If I carry any negative feelings towards anyone, I leave them at my pew. { Full disclosure, sometimes this can be really hard , and I only succeed at all with God’s Help. } When the priest says” This is Christ’s Body, broken for you– I know that I meet my Lord in a tangible way.

For me, when I join  other Christ-followers at the altar, all the worldly things that divide  humanity disappear. In Christ there are no distinctions; all of us are one community in Jesus. 

Community= COMMON + UNITY. 

The Eucharist is the part of the Mass, where believers unite as one Body of believers. Perhaps this is the only time each week that the stress surrounding what divides humanity melts away. At the Communion rail, there are no Democrats nor any Republicans. There are no Americans and undocumented aliens { Say WHAT?} There is no distinction of skin color or “brand” of Christianity. There are only Christ-followers.

Meeting Jesus in the mystical supper knowns as The Eucharist gives me strength and courage to face the crazy, divided world that we face currently. The ritual of the mass reminds me that only Christ has that “peace that passes all understanding”.  Around the Communion table, divisions among and between Christ’s followers cease.

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. We praise You, we bless You, we adore You, we glorify You, we give You thanks for Your great glory

Amen.

 

Free Speech, Football and Unity rather than Uniformity.

Anyone who knows me at all knows what a HUGE Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan I am. I like to joke that my ” first religion was Pittsburgh Steelers football.  We are now into four generations of my Dad’s family cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I also come from a long line of veterans.  Many of the people whom I love and respect as siblings-in-Christ are veterans. These brave souls went to war to protect our freedoms. The freedoms they fought for { and still fight for now} include our basic First Amendment rights to free speech  and peaceful assembly.  No ” liberal” created this law, our founders did so as they wrote the Constitution of our great nation.

Freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are included in the Bill of Rights.

The players who chose to sit or kneel during the pregame National Anthem are doing nothing wrong. While I will always stand when our  National Anthem is played; I respect the Constitution enough to let others protest silently.

If you feel it is right to stand, then stand { I do}  If the words or the history of the National Anthem make you want to sit or kneel, then please do so without harassing others. Respect the person sitting next to you and she or he will probably respect your choices. Be nice.

One of the blessings about the American Episcopal church is that, in spite of the sociopolitical disagreements we have among ourselves what matters the most is Jesus. When we come to the altar with our hands outstretched to receive Christ present in the elements, we put aside our differences. For that one moment the community is united in Christ Jesus.

As the song says:

” In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth”

 

I love my country. But it scares and saddens me to see that something such  basic to our identity as free speech is being deemed ” Un-American”. Free Speech was part of the ” great experiment” that became our republic.

The United States is, thanks be to God, not a monarchy. One person cannot bend the laws to serve his or her whims because our founders’ wisdom and foresight made provisions to protect the people from tyranny.

Remember, we are all Americans. Christians, especially, answer to an authority Who is higher than any human political leader{ And I use the word political in this sense to mean human-created governments— rather than meaning political organizations who support and elect government officials}

Christ is King.

Amen.

Pensacola Rocks

Today I had a commission meeting downtown. Since Best Dude had to work, he dropped me off early downtown and I strolled along The Market . I stopped to take a selfie with the USMC Pelican { Best Dude is a Marine} As I prepared to take the selfie, I saw a ” Pensacola Rock”

Excited, I picked it up .

The front of the rock looked like this:

pcolarock01

 

{ Please forgive my messy nail polish. }

On the back, the rock looked like this:

pcolarock02

{ Please forgive my foot. It ” photobombed” . How uncouth!}

Anyway, it may sound silly, but I felt like that simple act of kindness by the rock-painter was God’s way of telling me that I am finally home.  It is good to be a part of a community that has :

A downtown. business district  rather than fast food, Dollar General stores, and gas stations that litter the ” town” from where we moved.

More than  one good eatery.

Several Episcopal parishes, and the Diocese headquarters. I’ll have opportunities to serve with and learn from some of the best lay and clerical leaders in this part of God’s Kingdom.

Opportunities to  make a difference in my immediate community; practicing the #LoveInAction Christianity that has always been my passion.  My gifts shall not be wasted here; and I can live more fully into my Baptismal Covenant.

Pensacola has two mosques and two Jewish synagogues; in addition to the numerous Christian churches of every denomination imaginable.

Although I was NOT raised in a city of any size; as I walked { ALONE} down one of the main drags of Pensacola, I felt at peace. Although I walked ‘with a purpose’ and was vigilant of my whereabouts and that of my possessions; I had no fear. {{ the bear spray canister within easy reach helped my feeling of security}

I belong here.

Best Dude and I have only been Pensacola residents for a month, but so many opportunities are opening up for me.  For instance on Wednesday I collected an application to serve as a volunteer ” reading buddy” at the school with whome one of my parishes has an ongoing partnership.  Next school semester I plan to join the pool at the local community college and start doing water aerobics twice weekly with a friend. For one Sunday this Advent, I will help out that same friend by singing in the Christmas cantata in the small Episcopal parish where she is Music Director .

Pensacola, I love you!

Namaste, y’all.

Cleared to be ACTIVE

Yesterday I had my three-month follow-up appointment with my neurosurgeon. After looking at the x-rays that I’d gotten taken before my office appointment; he basically informed me that the fusion is healing on-schedule and the ” hardware” is still in its place. { Whew}

I asked him if I am cleared to start my usual exercise routine and he answered in the affirmative. Yay! Up until now, my exercise routine has been walking our dog around our new neighborhood. While this has served the dual purpose of 1} keeping me in shape and 2} allowing me plenty of time to learn my way around the neighborhood by sight. { I am autistic and am very much a visual thinker and learner.}

Anyway, Seamus { our big Springer Spaniel} and I took a run all thy way to where the main road cutting through my immediate neighborhood meets the highway that runs along the northern bay that borders my city and county. Since both the dog and I were a bit winded; we stopped at the top of the slight slope that leads to the highway. Looking at the water, I whipped out my phone and snapped a photo of the still bay located many feet below the bluffs where we now live.

Here is a photo { edited to bring out the colors and clarity}

escbayfl

This photo was taken at approximately 7:30 AM CST.  As shown in the photo, where Best Dude, Big Dog and I live is way above sea level.  We had concerned yet misinformed loved ones inquire about how much damage we sustained from the storm that hit Florida recently. Because of our westernmost in Florida location and  the elevations of our part of the city; we were completely safe from ‘Irma’.

Full disclosure: Big Dog and I walked slow-ly back home after I snapped the photo.

Becoming a Butterfly

Yesterday evening I was meditating on change and metamorphosis . After all , I had attended a Cursillio ” closing” Mass with some friends, and could not help but recall how much God has changed me in the almost-10 years since I made my Cursillio weekend.

I was a new Episcopalian; eagerly waiting for my confirmation later that spring. { My Cursillio occurred in April 2008, and my confirmation occurred in May of that same year}

Anyway, at the time that I went through the Cursillio weekend, I was but a tiny caterpillar. I knew I wanted to follow Jesus more deeply, but I did not know how he would let me know what He needs me to do.

Since I’d grown up in a rather ” mixed bag ” of monotheism and had not been baptized until the age of 20, I’d lacked much by way of adult Christian formation. Sure I knew that Jesus, God Incarnate, came  lived and was put to death for my sins— but that’s where my formation pretty much ended. I knew I wanted to follow Jesus to the best of my ability, but I lacked to tools as to how to follow Him well.

Anyway, this tiny caterpillar that I had been grew until she went into her chrysalis. From the outside it looked to most people{ including myself} that not much change and growth was happening within. Yet God was working, and the Spirit was blowing in and through me. God, Who formed me and knows me, was slowly putting together the parts that will eventually become a Sarah with a more adult faith.

As with natural, somatic growth, spiritual growth has its painful moments. Circumstances in my spiritual biography had me wishing I could just stay forever in the hard , protective shell of a chrysalis. Thankfully God brought people into my life who helped { and continue to help} me see God’s vision of Sarah the Butterfly.  Circumstances led me to stay longer as a chrysalis than most people need, but in hindsight , I am happy that God ‘s plan for me included a long dormancy.

These past few months have been wrought with much change in my life. But I know now that this change has allowed me to emerge from my spiritual chrysalis as a new butterfly. My ” wings” are still weak from so much time in the chrysalis; but with God’s help I’ll be strong in ” flight” .

Last evening I was led to meditate upon this lesson from 1 John :

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that bit did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be had not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

As a child of God, each of us is part of God’s plan. In good time, God shows us God’s Plan. Some have short times in their  ” chrysalis”. Others, like me, need a bit more time to develop into the  mature  Christian we are all called to be.

In the Name of the father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

Matthew 18:21-22

This week’s Gospel text is familiar, yet hard for many of us to hear.

Jesus speaks plainly about how we are to forgive members of our Christian community when the hurt us.  Peter asks him, and for once Jesus is clear in His response.

Jesus says:

” Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “LORD, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. ”

That’s  a heck of a lot of forgiveness. Although I math is surely not my forte, forgiving someone seventy seven times is a lot of forgiveness for anyone. 

What I want to ask Jesus when I eventually meet Him is this:

” Ok, Jesus, I get that forgiveness is required. But what I can not figure out is how to forgive an entire group of people who have wronged both myself and others and seem totally unrepentant? I understand forgiving someone individually, but when a collective group of people who claim to follow you continue to sin against others?”

I suppose I will have to wait to find out Jesus’ response to that question.  All kidding aside, forgiving a group of sisters and brothers who act in ways that are contrary to Christ’s teachings is hard for me. What des a Christian do when a part of Christ’s Body on Earth is so spiritually comatose that they only care about themselves and refuse to be accountable for their actions? How am I supposed to forgive a group ” seventy-seven times”  when all I can recall is that they just don’t seem to want to change. 

I know what Jesus says I need to do. Regardless of who has sinned, it is my responsibility to forgive them. Yet forgiving groups of people who have made it their business to hurt myself and people I love is challenging.  While I’ve forgiven them individually, my mind and heart struggles to completely { or seventy-seven times} forgive them as a collective body.

The struggle is real, y’all.

Amen.

 

Phoebe: DEACON, not ” deaconess”

Today in Bible study we finally finished St Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome. Whew. I adore my Bible study group, but I am glad we are switching gears next week to look at the Acts of The Apostles.  St Paul confuses, angers and bewilders me most of the time, and it will be a nice change to study something else other than one of the Pauline letters.   What struck me today was this woman, named by Paul himself as ” a deacon”.

phoebethedeacon

 

Yep. She is a deacon, not a ” deaconess”.  Some Bible translations call her a ‘servant’ which is the role of the diaconate in today’s Church.

Look here:

New Revised Standard Version
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae” {Romans 16:1 NRSV}

Phoebe was named by Paul as a servant-leader { a deacon} in the Church. Not only did Paul know her name, but he also knew of her trustworthiness and faithfulness.  Unlike some of the Pauline literature found in canonized Scripture, here St Paul openly affirms Phoebe’s gifts and skills as a leader among the early Christians in that place.  In spite of what Paul { or another person who maybe studied under Paul} says in other Scripture sources, this passage at the ends of Romans shows that Paul did recognize that women had callings to serve God as leaders.

Amen.

” Mother Mary Comes to me, Speaking words of wisdom….”

Today, September 8, is the Feast Day of Mary– Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As an Anglo-Catholic this day is important to my spirituality. If it were not for Mary, we would have no ” God-With-Us. She answered the call to bear and raise  God  Incarnate. As much as I love my more Protestant-leaning friends, I think they miss something by discounting Mary’s place in the Church. As an Anglo-Catholic I do not ” worship” her. Rather , I honor her as the Mother of God Incarnate. God’s Self came to Earth, born of a woman as is and was every other human. To not honor Mary is to push Jesus’ humanity aside.

As fitting for today, I spent much of my prayer time giving thanks for :

  1. My own Mother  who birthed and raised me. I think she did a great job with me; especially since we’ve always been two entirely opposite personalities. But she is my Mom, and she made sure I was fed, clothed, and safe. Plus I like to think that she instilled some of her best qualities into both my younger brother and myself. Both of her children are loyal friends, good stewards of resources, and animal lovers . 
  2. Also, I am incredibly grateful for those women who have ” mothered” me throughout my life and continue to do so.  Some of the best ” mothers” I know have never given birth to children of her own yet they have  “mothered” myself and others. These women used their God-given gifts of nurturing to develop the skills and gifts that God has instilled into us. They know how to lead by example; and how to gently correct someone who has erred. These women instinctively knows how to calm down someone who is upset In spite of what society and Hallmark tell us, mothering occurs much more often than just the box of biological motherhood.  It is my hope and prayer that will be a Christ-bearer to people I meet; and maybe even ” mother” a young person the way I have been ” mothered”. We never stop growing and learning, and God gives us people in our lives that point to Jesus. the original disciples had Jesus Himself as a flesh-and-blood human f to teach and guide them. While we still have Jesus, we need people to show us the way to Him, and to grow towards Him.

City Life So Far

Five days ago Best Dude and I closed on our old house and our ” new” { built in 1965} house in town. It has been a whirlwind of activity and chaos; so forgive my lack of correspondence on this blog.  We are up to literally our knees in boxes , bubble wrap, trash{ from unpacking all the boxes} and laundry  {sweaty towels and clothes stink}  Plus, we keep realizing essentials that we have yet to unpack from our POD.

Thanks to some help from some wonderful friends, I made a big dent in the piles of stuff still in the POD. We do have all our furniture and linens unpacked, so the house is livable.   However, I occasionally must stave off the panic I feel when I see all the clutter in our living space. Our house is not big, approximately 1300 square feet — so space cannot be wasted.  We are slowly purging more stuff that we do not need.

Our poor old dog, Seamus, is not quite sure why he is here and probably still wonders when we are gonna leave this place and go ‘ home’. Thankfully all of our utilities are turned on; the last to get installed was our cable TV. { Frankly I did not miss T much; it was a nice reprieve from all the “news” that eats at my soul daily. We’ve yet to unpack our books; and I look forward to filling the house with my favorite tomes. Yesterday I unpacked just a few books and put them on our mantle for now { Best Dude has to build shelves for all our books, but that is a project that will wait}

In all this chaos, I need to take care of my own needs. Chaos does not become me at all.

This includes sleeping well{ Best Dude makes sure I am well-rested} , eating enough { I tend to eat less when stressed– unlike most people who eat more when life is off-kilter. } and tending to my spiritual/emotional needs.

While Best Dude and I plan to stay at our current parish home; but I really like the midweek Bible-study and Healing Mass that I’ve been attending on Wednesdays at Bigger Parish.  I’ve discovered that the midweek refresher ” recharges ” my spiritual batteries and gets me through the weekend. In addition, I really like the people who gather at Bigger Parish on Wednesday mornings; and when I could not go this past week  I felt something missing. So, I will look forward to Wednesdays

Change and chaos— even healthy change and chaos  is NOT my forte. But with a little help I am managing much better than I’d ever managed a major life change. At the age of over-40, I am finally growing into the person I am supposed to be.

cityiris

Like this wild iris I shall grow and thrive here in town. While I do not expect quick results; I know that I am ” planted” here for a reason.