Friday, October 27 2023
Dear Ones of St. John’s,
If you were in church this past Sunday when the bells rang (no shade if you weren’t!) you may have noticed that when the altar party processed in we bowed toward the altar and then turned and bowed toward the people, toward you. Many priests and congregations are familiar with the practice of reverencing the altar when entering and exiting a liturgy, “reverencing” being the word that describes the bowing of the upper body forward. Fewer places also reverence the people, although it is a common practice in plenty of communities. I want to tell you what it means, and why I like to do it.
First, the word reverence is important, because it describes why we bow. We are offering reverence – noticing the image or presence of Christ in a symbol, sacrament, or person. Many people reverence toward the altar because it is where our sacrament is blessed and made. Also, behind the altar is where our reserve sacrament is kept, in a special place. Reserve sacrament is bread and wine that has been blessed, which means it already holds in itself the mystery of Christ’s presence. So we offer reverence, recognition, of this presence that is in the reserve and will soon be present on the altar.
There is another place where God’s own image rests each time we gather, however. God’s image resides in the congregation as well, in each of you and in the presence of all of you together. I never feel right reverencing the altar and reserve without also turning to recognize the presence of God in the congregation. That is why you’ll see me turn and bow toward you.
You are welcome to return the reverence, if you feel so moved. But you do not have to! One of the great things about our Episcopal tradition is that our liturgy offers many ways to engage our bodies in prayer and liturgical action. But unless you are a priest, deacon, or altar server, all of them are optional. You can try out things like making the sign of the cross, reverencing the presider when she reverences you, kneeling at the confession, and walking forward to physically receive the sacraments, or you can simply be among us as you are without doing any of those things. You can try one or two and reflect on how it feels, then try out not doing them and see what that’s like, too. It’s a choose your own adventure, in this way, as you find the rhythms and practices that best refresh and renew you for your life in the world. This is, after all, what church is for: to offer moments of transformation, big and small, that give us the courage, hope, joy, and love to be Christian in the world.
After three weeks with you I can confidently say I am experiencing this transformation from being in your midst. It is good to be with you.
Can’t wait to see you Sunday,
Friday, October 20 2023
Dear Ones of St. John’s,
I am sure I am not the only one among us who has been watching news from Israel and Palestine in dismay and horror. I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when I was a transitional deacon, and it breaks my heart to think of the destruction taking place there now. This particular land, the birthplace of three world religions, is so very special. It is hard to watch it become, once again, the site of violence and war.
Since the conflict began a couple of weeks ago and the lines between Hamas and the Israeli military have been drawn, I have also noticed lines of conflict being drawn between many groups of people, in both conversation and on social media. It seems that many of us here, in the USA, also feel the need to pick a side, often in ways that attack or dehumanize those who disagree. All of this has me thinking about how difficult it seems to be for us to hold on to complexity. Our culture is one that constantly pushes us into binary thinking – that people are good or bad, right or wrong, friend or enemy. And yet, the reality of human life on earth is so much more complicated than that, is it not?
It is possible for both sides of a conflict to have legitimate grievances and commit moral and ethical harm. It is possible for people to be neither good or bad, but something in between. We know this because every single human who takes breath on this earth is both made in the image of God and destined to make choices that are not faithful to that image. Every one of us is vastly more than a binary. No person, and no conflict between persons, is ever that clean or easy.
I’m thinking about this because as we work through the important decisions, discussions, and issues that face St. John’s during this transition time, we will not be immune from this impulse toward binary thinking. There will be times when we want to categorize other people in the community or who used to be in the community as “good” or “bad.” We will want to find and make the “right” choices instead of the “wrong” ones. But friends, there are more than just two possible roads ahead of St. John’s. And remember, we worship a God who refused to be in a binary relationship with us. Our God chose to be both God and human, inviting us into relationships, choices, and possibilities that are so much bigger and so much more complicated than the duality offered to us by false binaries.
It is my hope that we can work together to build the skills we need as a community to hold complexity. I think it can begin by noticing when we are tempted to categorize ourselves or other people in simple this-or-that terms. Our world is full of complexity. Our God made it that way and called all of it good. Let’s work to reserve judgement and activate our curiosity instead, about what options we have for loving, living, and following Jesus when the binaries are collapsed.
I can’t wait to see you Sunday.
With care and gratitude,
Friday, October 13 2023
Dear Ones of St. John’s,
As the mother of teen and tween age children, I have been learning a lot about emotional regulation. More specifically, as I walk beside my daughters (ages 12 and 14) through a big time of social and emotional growth, I’ve been learning with them how human bodies respond to stress and specific skills and strategies to help myself and others when moments of dysregulation occur. I have learned that one of the best ways I can help myself, my kids, or anyone else in moments of panic or distress is simply to stop and take one deep breath. I like to count to five or six while I breathe in, then hold the air in my lungs for a similar amount of time, and then breathe out completely. It is so simple, and it works. A couple of these deep breaths can return me to myself. My kids tell me it works for them, too. We’ve even been able to use this breathing skill in the midst of conflict with each other, to help all parties return to our bodies and remember ourselves.
I am so pleased to be with you for the months ahead. Transition of any kind can produce anxiety, and sudden or unexpected change is an emotional trigger for many people as individuals. It is certainly rough on communities of people. I hope you can experience our time together as a deep breath, a chance to breath in and out slowly and regularly as we navigate what’s next for St. John’s together. In the coming weeks we will establish patterns of worship and explore how to return St. John’s to the staffing and Sunday morning programming that a church of your size needs. I will be working from St. John’s most Tuesdays, so if you’d like a moment with me or to grab a cup of coffee on a Tuesday in the coming weeks please let me know. I remain an employee of the Bishop’s Office, on assignment to be your priest and cheerleader as we work out what the future looks like. You can reach me via email at email@example.com.
Here are a couple other tidbits about me, for the curious. I’ve been married to my spouse, Andrew, for over 18 years. We have two daughters, Jubilee and Salome. The four of us attend an evening church service in Seattle most Sunday nights. I am a big animal lover, and you may have a chance to meet our dog, Wanda, on one of my Tuesdays in the office. She may be coming in with me from time to time. In addition to Wanda, we have five hens who we adore for their sparkling personalities and delicious eggs. I live in Des Moines, which is 45-50 min drive north of Olympia.
And – I can’t wait to see you this coming Sunday.
With care and gratitude,