The Right Here Right Now Church

We were milling about in the sacristy, gathering up what would be needed for the first communion service in the community of people who are homeless at the ECC…on a Wednesday night, 530PM, shortly before the Wednesday night supper that usually draws about 100 folks in for dinner at 6PM.

The three of us had a small hum of excitement, anticipation and caution-don’t get-your hopes-up going on inside of us…we walked out into the courtyard…the decision had been made to have the service in the outdoors– in the courtyard-(after months of  having a service inside the chapel- we didn’t bring any one to the table from this community)…We set up the table, and began inviting people who had wandered in early for the dinner, and invited them to join us while waiting for dinner to be ready.
God was smiling on us this evening…we had 17 folks who joined us for this service!

When it came time to read the Gospel, I unfolded the printout I’d brought with me and read the Gospel, and planned to give the Homily I’d written… It should be noted that over the previous two weeks, I’d been given advice about doing a homily in this situation- “keep it short!”, “5 minutes tops! ” I was warned, “You know, their attention span is not long…addictions, sickness, mental illness…not to mention the aroma of a home cooked meal coming up shortly that they won’t want to miss”…I admit, I began to wonder if whatever I preached would matter…

As unfolded my short 4 minute homily, I looked at the faces of the people gathered around our little altar- and yes, some were unfocused, in their own thoughts and worlds and conversations with the voices in their heads;  but there were a few who were serious about this. They were looking straight at me- I’m not sure what I saw in their eyes…was it hope? was it suspicion? Was it yearning for a life-line? Was it sorrow? Was it pain?

I don’t know.

But at that moment, I gave that short homily all I had– because I believe the Holy Spirit gave me those words to say for a reason- and those words will matter to those who matter to God. Which is everyone, no matter where no matter when, right here, right now.

 

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Kingdom-Home for the Homeless

When the meetings had concluded, planning and  writing had been done, permissions granted, dates and times set, supplies bought and delivered…I realized that this ministry of “street church” , a weekly communion service for people who are homeless,  was about to begin. Wow! It’s about to be a reality…

That’s when it hit me. Reality, that is. Especially when the Rector said, “As the Deacon, you will be the one constant in the service each week; so it would be great if you will do the Homily.”

At first I was elated to be able to preach…but as a few days passed, after I pulled up the Lectionary and pondered the readings…I realized that this would not be the kind of sermon I studied  about in my preaching classes.  When I preach to a congregation about the love, mercy and grace of God, (the Good News) as it relates to their lives, it (hopefully) is a message that is met with open hearts and minds…but I slowly began to feel like a deer in the headlights about preaching to folks who were probably living in the deepest, darkest margins of their lives…a place where the main goal for each day is just to survive until the next one.  A place where the light and love of Christ is looked upon with a great degree of skepticism. A place of broken hearts and broken spirits. A place where hope  long ago left, looking for a warmer, sunnier spot to hang out.

But,then I remember what I believe in my bones;  that Jesus and the Kingdom-Home he offers us all is the true reality…I just have to figure out a way to help those I pray for and speak to next week to open the door of their hearts and step over the threshold into their warm, safe, love-filled Kingdom Home.

 

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What’s Love Got to do With It?

Ah, February, the month of “LOVE”!

…or at least Madison Avenue would like us to think a lot about love, and with those thoughts of love, think about buying gifts, jewelry, cards, sweets, dinner out, etc. (I even think I saw an ad for a Valentine’s Day gift of pajamas)….to show our love for that “someone special”, on St. Valentine’s Day.

This year, February 10th also marks the beginning of Lent… and we, as Episcopalians, observe Holy Lent by committing ourselves to 40 days of preparation as we look toward Easter…these are typically spiritual disciplines that help us grow closer to God.[1]

Lent…Love…Valentine’s Day??  In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?”

Personally, I happen to think Lent is ALL about Love.

( ‘Not so sure about Valentine’s Day, as my oldest says, ” It’s just another Hallmark Holiday dreamed up a to sell more cards and gifts!”)

A few months ago, I noticed a co-worker of mine at the shop had started to behave differently at work than he had for the last year.  He seemed to be calmer, happier, (not so angry or argumentative), he was (on his own initiative) helping others, and didn’t seem to have a complaint about anything…totally the opposite of what I’d observed over the last year.  Curious at this change in his demeanor, I asked him one day, what had happened in his life that would bring about this radical change in his outlook each day.  (Not that I was complaining!)

He replied, “I’m in love, and she’s in love with me too…and her love makes me want to be the best person I can be, every day.”

In Lent, we are preparing our hearts for the greatest gift of love from God:  Jesus Christ…we are clearing out any obstacles that might stand in the way of the mutual  relationship of love between us and God- anything that might stop that love from flourishing within us- and shining out through us to others. Somewhat like my co-worker, we “…want to be the best person we can be, every day.”

When we love someone, we want to be as close as we can be to that person…we want to know everything about them, we want to please them…So, in Holy Lent-during the 40 days of preparation – we prepare our hearts to receive the unfathomable love of the Risen Christ-and we practice the spiritual disciplines that help us to be the best we can be for the One who loved us first…

And, THAT’S what LOVE has to do with it, Tina!

Fr. Pedro Arrupe says it so beautifully in his poem:

Fall in Love
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

[1] from 1.31.16 All Souls’ Announcements  regarding Lent

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Discovering God’s breaking heart

Recently, my rector asked me to conduct a 10-week Bible study at our parish. I’d never done anything like this before; in fact, I’d only attended one, actual Bible study– years ago in my former parish in Florida. So, this was both intriguing and daunting for me. I started thinking about how to structure it…the only “study” I’d done on the Bible (other than the one in Florida) was in seminary. This idea of structure was quickly dissolved when my rector then said, “You are not going to teach it; you are to facilitate their and your journey through the study.”

In the true, traditional, mentor-style, he then told me to pick what book(s) to study, set up a schedule, and let him know so he could get it in the bulletin. When I asked if he wanted to see an outline of each week, topics covered, etc. he shook his head and said, “No, I’m sure you will do a good job.”

A few days later, I decided on a study of 4 minor prophets.  I think I was drawn to them because of the class I took at SFM on the prophets a few semesters ago.  It was in that class when I was immersed in the study of those Scriptures,the major and minor prophets (those quirky, crazy, on-fire- for- God- guys) that I discovered God’s breaking heart. These same weird, unconventional, thorn-in-the-side-to-all-in-authority people (Hosea, Amos, Jonah and Zephaniah) were charged with communicating some very hard truths to those in Israel and Judah. (We all think of God’s harsh, violent words when we think of prophets… “Repent, the end is near! Change your ways, I am a jealous God, I will destroy you and your people…!”) However, as the Lectionary goes, out of 21 Prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, other than Isaiah and Jeremiah, we don’t hear very often over the course of 3 years from the prophets.

Most of us, if the truth be told, haven’t really looked into what those guys were up to (or why). I also think this is why a lot of people get their impression of God as a judgmental, punishing, violent, distant, tyrant and can’t understand how Christians today could possibly follow or believe in anything like that.  Hosea mentioned something about that, when he wrote that God said, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (4:6) He didn’t mean factual knowledge, he meant relational knowledge.  Above all, in the Bible, as in life, it’s about relationship.  What it boils down to in all the prophets, what they are ranting and raving about, is- we have forgotten who we are in relationship to God; (and with each other) we have forgotten who God is– and how much God loves us-every last one of us, no matter what.

So, now, in the time of the prophets, God is sending word through them to bring their memories back, their promises back, their hearts back into relationship with God. Over and over and over again.  21 prophets, over hundreds of years, actually. So, in the words of my professor, “God then tells the prophets (yes all of them) to warn the people, that God is preparing to open a gigantic can of whoop-ass upon them.”

Unfortunately, we all focus on the can God is preparing to open, not the calls to return to God, not the grace, compassion, love, abundance and healing offered or provided. Not the open arms of the father welcoming the Prodigal Son home…not the 1 lost sheep found and protected around the shoulders of the loving God…we seem to forget that part.

Maybe this Bible-study-thing will be a way to help us remember…

 

 

 

 

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Postulant’s Evaluation of a Theological Field Ed. Experience

As I proof-read my “Postulant’s Evaluation of a Theological Field Education Experience” form, prior to emailing it to the Director of Theological Field Education, I look at the form  first as “goals accomplished”:  (1) Improve pastoral care skills, (2)Gain knowledge of chaplaincy as a model of ministry (3) Experience non-denominational ministry and worship”…I scan down the sheet where all of our various tasks and ministries were duly logged and explained, to reinforce the idea of “goals achieved”, etc. Next follows the ranking of the assignments, supervision, resources, etc.  ranking 1-5, (5 being strongly agree).  Check and check.

All nice and neat, and functional.

But, then, I read what I’ve written to answer the first of four observation questions:  “In regards to your Ordination process, what for you was the most helpful learning experience?”  My response:

I think all of the contact and participation we had with the residents at St. Paul’s Senior Homes was a huge pastoral care formation opportunity for us.  Learning more about dementia and hospice care; finding the residents so open and loving, and happy to have someone who spends a little time with them, finding joy in providing them with an activity that brought them happiness, and, just “being” with people who are facing some sort of struggle, whether it be  health-wise, mentally,  spiritually, or in relationships- and seeing how bringing Christ’s love to them is so healing. For me, this was humbling, and a rich spirit-filled experience.

Having just come from an afternoon meeting of planning  my ordination ceremony with the Canon to the Ordinary and my rector; I read my answer written a few days ago, and look at it with new eyes.  “…being with people who are facing some sort of struggle, whether it be health-wise, mentally, spiritually or in relationships... and seeing how bringing Christ’s love to them is so healing.”

From BCP, the Ordination of a Deacon: // // // <![CDATA[
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“As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship”.WOW.

On November 7th, the Bishop will ask me:

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“My sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a deacon?”

Now I can truly, with conviction answer, I believe I am so called”.

 

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It’s finished.

It’s over.  The summer field placement at St. Paul’s.  Richard and I finished up the last of what we needed to do; now it’s just the assessments that need to be done. My blog’s subtitle, “Encountering and Sharing Christ at St. Paul’s Senior Homes” will be retired with this 10th and last blog.  Or will it?

During our time here, we had other things going on out in the world aside from St. Paul’s… one of those events was the General Convention.  I listened to our Presiding Bishop-elect’s sermon at the General Convention, and was captured with the title of his sermon “Go!” and also a quote (I am paraphrasing here) “God loves you just the way you are; but he doesn’t intend for you to stay that way!”

When I was assigned the  Spring Theological Field Study (2) then Summer Field Placement, I considered them  tasks to be completed  from the School for Ministry; graduation/ordination requirements to be met.    I came to see that these studies/experiences were much more than tasks to be completed they were formation and I will take that a step further and say for me, they were transformative. “God loves you just the way you are; but he doesn’t intend for you to stay that way”, indeed.

The title of the Presiding Bishop-elect’s sermon was “Go!”- the first word in the Great Commission…and I think back now on these studies(both Spring and Summer), and SFM was saying just that – “GO!” Go to the Showers of Blessings…go to St. Paul’s Senior Homes and learn how to tell the Good News”.   At the same time, I believe Jesus was saying, “Come.  Come here. Come here and see.”

Who knew by showing up early at the Manor to join the Tuesday night Bingo session (as requested) would bring Christ into the lobby , telling me to “Come in.  Sit down and wait.  I have something to show you”.  And that night, the forming of the Grief Group began.

Showing up a little early at the MHC to wait for the interfaith service to begin (as assigned),  walking into the dining room filled with people asleep in their wheel chairs, some with IV’s, positioned around tables, and clustered in front of a blaring TV that no one was watching. Thinking to myself, how much good could I do here with everyone asleep, or seemingly unaware of what was going on around them.  Sitting down next to a woman who seemed awake, at a table, with no one to talk to and not interested in TV, we managed a little conversation.  Then I noticed a bookshelf filled with books and children’s jig saw puzzles.  We spent the better part of an hour putting together a 24 pc. puzzle.  It was painstakingly slow, and I was reminded of helping my 3-year-old daughter with puzzles; I would hand her the piece, help guide her hand very close to the “fit” of the piece, and let her feel the triumph of completion as she locked it in. Looking back on that now, I think Jesus sat with us for that hour.

Being present at the Sunday morning service (non-denominational) at the Villa with assisted living and Memory Care residents…sitting next to MC resident in a wheel chair, holding her hand because she had a bad morning coming down in the elevator, and was shook up…as the service progressed, she held my hand so tightly that the circulation was cut off…she noticed it before I did…apologized and gently rubbed my hand as she continued to hold on. When the service was over and she was wheeled out of the chapel, she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, and said “I love you.”

One evening we wandered up to the dining room for Memory Care, and one of the residents, an energetic, direct woman was playing the piano- taking requests from a list of tunes someone had printed up that was at least 4 pages long.  She played by ear, and told me her story of how she played piano for a church starting when she was 9 years old. This story, I suspect is the one left she still remembers about her life, and the songs she will never forget.  The joy of telling that story and playing so beautifully for all to hear was so apparent in her eyes…Then Fred, another resident at Memory Care, stands up and asks Judy to dance.  They are both delighted with each other.  This is the same Fred who has difficulty playing Bingo and finding B-11 on his card… but now, Fred is transformed in his mind back to a time when he was on a dance floor in a night club, with a full orchestra playing his favorites, he straightens up a little, now he’s in his best suit, his feet glide around the dining room floor, he twirls Judy and brings her back to perfect dance position, his left hand-held high, his right hand at the top of Judy’s waist. Joy in both their eyes. Somehow I feel Jesus is smiling too.

Jesus was with us surely, the last time we entered the room of a 101 yr. old hospice patient; we’d visited her many times…today she looked very alert and interested in some pictures her daughter had left her with…we talked about them…discovered she was IN those pictures herself, something she didn’t realize until then…we held hands and prayed, told her we loved her…and she called to us on the way out, “Thank you.” …Richard and I looked at each other and we both knew she may not be with us the next time we stop by. But she knew she was loved … that seemed good enough for today.

Being present with those who mourn…having one of those mourners we are journeying with stand up at the last day  of the Grief Group- hug me and say, ” You are in a little piece of my heart.” Jesus was there.

There are so many more stories…but now it’s finished, this Summer Field Placement.  Now I see that it was much more than a requirement for ordination.  I realize regardless of requirements, I would have no business wearing a collar without these experiences; without learning to see with Christ’s eyes…without encountering and sharing Christ.

Even the blogging assignment: “10 blogs”- Something to be completed?  Yes. But more than that.  For me, the experiences and “blogging” about them are transformative …they are seeing with Christ’s eyes – encountering him in each phrase…each recalling of a moment when we both showed up to see what would happen.

So, thank you Jesus.  Thank you for tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Come and see.” I will continue to “GO!” to where you are telling me to “come and see”.

I plan on continuing this practice of offering my love of Christ up for transformation through a blog.  I’m changing the subtitle to ” Encountering and Sharing Christ”.

 

 

 

 

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“Lift us to where we are still and know that thou art God”

Fridays at 2:30 Richard and I meet with residents in the Manor Chapel at St. Paul’s Senior Homes for Grief Group. One Friday, we met and Richard was out of town, so I was the single facilitator.  As usual, I prepared the opening prayer and closing prayer,  and introduced check in of the folks who attended, and offered up a topic for discussion about where they find themselves this week in their journey of walking together through grief and mourning into the new reality of their lives.  We are chiefly relying on some wonderful books by Dr. Alan Wolfelt that I’ve mentioned before all about companioning (walking with) those whom we meet with in their journey towards their new normal; life without their loved one.

This week’s topic is about respecting disorder and confusion. “True companioning means: respecting disorder and confusion- staying present with each other in the disorientation that is a natural part of mourning, not trying to figure it out; not trying to understand, or trying to make it better.  Recognizing it is a natural unfolding process that will eventually result in re-orientation.” There are 4-5 “regulars” who attend…one man and 3-4 women.

We’ve been talking a lot over these last few weeks about how everyone in the group are in different places in dealing with and accepting their loss in life. Two of the women lost their loved one after they had entered the Memory Care unit at St. Paul’s and suffered an injury that eventually led to their death.  So they were dealing with the guilt they felt over not being able to take care of their loved ones at home AND the grief they had in losing them forever .

One woman, “Mrs. P”, was dealing with the tragic death of her 40 year old daughter; she most often sat in the group meetings and said very little..when asked if she’d care to share any thing with the group,she’d say, “I’m not ready yet”.  And Mr. D was dealing with the death of his younger brother who resided with him at the Manor for a number of years; they were inseparable. He rarely shared his feelings or memories about his brother, he mainly offered words of comfort and faith to the others, with very little concern for himself.

This particular Friday,   Mr. D joined in the discussion with, ” I don’t understand why God didn’t take me first instead of my younger brother.  I am the oldest in my family. Everyone else is gone.   I’ve had a good long life. It should’ve been me! What need does God have for me here? I should’ve died – not him!”

It wasn’t long until Mrs. P spoke up and said, ” My daughter had children and a husband and her whole life ahead of her.  It’s not natural for your children to die before you do! I am so numb, life holds no joy for me.”

Sitting in that circle, I was filled with compassion and love for these  people.  It hurt me to see them struggle with this pain.I knew it took a lot of courage to say how they were really feeling- in a culture that wants us to “get past this and move on”…

Then, I remembered why I was there, and how I am walking with them through this to the different reality that was waiting for them on the other side of this grief and sorrow they were suffering, that they can’t avoid, can’t get past … they must go through it in order to find peace and healing.  I remembered that Jesus sent us out “two by two” to be his voice and presence in the world.

And then, I realize that at this moment, at this meeting, I am witnessing and joining them in their walk through this ugly, painful sorrowful time- through this- to their own new reality, and I feel as pleased as a new mother would at seeing their children take their first step, then another, then another.  What courage for that little one- to attempt to do something they’d never done before.  What courage for those in the group- to attempt to walk through the very thing that frightens them the most.  And then I recall our opening prayer…

“O God of peace, You taught us that in returning to you and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: please be with us now as we journey together towards healing and grace.

By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God;” . Amen. – adapted from BCP. (pg. 832)

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