“Wow, that’s messed up!”

stole_scout_cropThis past Sunday was a momentous one for us at St. Stephen’s.  We heard of the courageous Council speech by our bishop as he begins the work of including openly GLBT partnered clergy into the life of the Diocese of Texas.  For the first time in decades we celebrated Scouting Sunday.  And we displayed a selection from the Shower of Stoles.

“The Shower of Stoles is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith. Each stole contains the story of a GLBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way: minister, elder, deacon, teacher, missionary, musician, administrator, or active layperson

“The Shower of Stoles celebrates the gifts of GLBT persons who serve God in countless ways, while also lifting up those who have been excluded from service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The collection bears witness to the huge loss of leadership that the church has brought upon itself because of its own unjust policies.” welcoming resources.org

Integrity/Houston, an advocacy organization of GLBT Episcopalians and their friends, brought the Shower of Stoles display to exhibit at the Diocesan Council.  Integrity/Houston shared the exhibit with St. Stephen’s in the Gathering Area during hospitality.

Standing in front of the display of stoles, Paul Courry, a communicant of St. Stephen’s and an Integrity Board Member, was explaining to two young boy scouts what the display was about.

One of the young scouts said, “You mean that all of these people lost their jobs because of who they loved?”

“That’s right,” responded Paul.

“Wow, that’s messed up,” exclaimed the scout.

Christian witness and formation takes myriad forms.  That day both laid claim to the power of love to change hearts and minds.

Vestry Prepares for Planning Retreat: March 1

On January 19 the parish held its Annual Meeting.  The Vestry reported on mission priorities discerned through their work and members of the congregation gave feedback to the Vestry about what was missing, and also shared their vision and ranked priorities for the parish.   The results have now been collated.

The congregation ranked the priorities in the following order:

  1. Development of ways to deepen spirituality outside of Sunday morning worship;
  2. Execute the Capital Campaign;
  3. Develop lay leadership;
  4. Engage in effective advertising and marketing efforts to enhance evangelism;
  5. Deepen our capacity for mission partnership with other organizations, beginning with our School.

This contrasted with the Vestry’s rankings:

  1. Advertising and marketing;
  2. Spirituality outside of Sunday;
  3. Lay leadership development;
  4. Capital Campaign;
  5. Partnership.

The congregation identified an explicit commitment to outreach as missing from the Vestry report.

The vestry is taking the feedback to heart as it creates the strategic plan for the congregation through 2020 at its retreat on March 1.  Keep our leaders in your prayers that they might have courage and discerning ears.

Definition of Sabbath

1a: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians

b : Sunday observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship

2: a time of rest

One of the things that distinguishes those who practice religion from those who see themselves as primarily spiritual is that those of us in the Abrahamic traditions observe Sabbath. One day a week we take a break from work, technology, routine obligations to rest.  We rest so that we can focus on our relationship with God and each other.  Sabbath is a taste of heaven, in Jewish tradition.  For Christians, it is the eighth day, a weekly observance of new creation.

Among academics and within the Church it is also recognized that in order for leaders to be creative and fresh, they need time away from their regular duties so that they can rest, reflect and think, apart from the daily rhythm of their work.  This time away is called a sabbatical.  Webster defines it this way:

1: of or relating to a sabbatical year

2: of or relating to the sabbath.

Typically, faculty get time away every seven years to study, to write, to reflect, to experience their disciplines in new ways.  They come back to their teaching refreshed, with new ideas and insights.

In the Episcopal Church, it is best practice for vestries to make provisions for their rectors to take a similar break every seven years.  These sabbaticals are budgeted for by the parish and the rector receives full pay while away.  Vestries include the terms of the sabbatical in the covenant they make with their rector in the work agreement.  The Diocese of Texas believes so strongly in this practice that they make $7000 available to each parish to support them in offering this benefit to their clergy.

This is my seventh year as rector of St. Stephen’s.  I have been granted a sabbatical by the Vestry which will last for three months.  Beginning in September and continuing through November, I will be away from St. Stephen’s for a time of Sabbath refreshment and reflection.  I do not have a specific project I will be working on during this time.  The Vestry has invited me to respond to our good Lord’s leading during this time and not to expect a “deliverable” of myself.  I think they are wise…and know me well!

I recognize what an utter privilege it is to have this kind of time away.  Many of us have no job, let alone one which will allow paid leave for education and reflection.  I deeply appreciate this opportunity and will cherish the time as your investment in me and our shared ministry.

I will be sharing more along the way.

Full Court Christians

What a significant week this has been in the life of our country!  From the extradition efforts on Edward Snowden to the repeal of protections of the Voting Rights Act, to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the upholding of Proposition 8 in California.  On the State front there is still inadequate funding for our schools, major attacks on women’s health, and the immediate movement to obstruct full participation of people of color in our democracy.

As Christians, our baptismal covenant requires of us to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every person.  Our worlds coalesce today as our politicians and jurists put before us stark and nuanced choices about the worth of persons.  How we treat and think about those who differ from us is a sign of God’s presence or absence in the world.

We may not all agree on every policy that comes down the line as Christians.  As followers of Jesus though, we have to insist on respecting every human person and to do the work of our Lord.  Healing, embracing those at the margins, proclaiming freedom, working for wholeness, caring for the widows and orphans and the demon possessed is our ministry.

Today a major step has been taken in our country by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.  Full justice has not been achieved.  May we continue as the Church to model dignity and work for it.

In the End, We Are All Americans

From the Rector:

In preparation for the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, we are reposting the Rev. Hunt’s blog from May 9, 2012.

Originally posted on From the Rector:

We are living at a crossroads moment in history.  As a church and a country we are facing a fundamental choice about how we will be with each other.  Will we be fundamentalist in our interpretation of our foundational texts, be they the Bible or the Constitution?  Or can we risk interpreting our sacred documents in light of current experience and unfolding truth?  What about the human costs of our interpretations?

Today was a whipsaw kind of day, where I stood at the center of the cross.  I listened to the Diane Rhem Show on the radio as she and her guests discussed the results of the North Carolina vote to change their state constitution to define marriage and prohibit civil unions.  The guests who were for the change in the constitution were more articulate and fervent in my view.  The speakers advocating for civil unions and marriage equality spoke…

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“I Want Daddy!”

It’s Father’s Day.  I can tell by the plaintive cries as the wee ones walk in line, holding their rope so they don’t get separated from one another in their sorrow. Daddy has come to be honored and now has left the house.  What can one do, but cry?

My office sits right outside the classroom of our toddler class. One of the things I get to observe from this place of privilege is the formation of fathers. It is the annual observance of Father’s Day in our Orientation class.  For many men, this is their first rodeo of parenting.  Others are now old hands. They come to school to be present with their toddler, entering their child’s daily turf and filling it with wonder.

Fathers are made in the practice of everyday.  The quotidian rhythms of remembering the lunch box and holding hands mold fathers.  By their daily engagement fathers punctuate the lives of their children with novelty.

Such practice leads to children who are capable of walking on their own, even as they cope with their feelings of sadness and separation–trusting that joy comes in the morning or after a walk to the fish pond. Fathers invite play and responsibility for yourself.

This week St. Stephen’s begins the process of expanding our ministry to the youngest of our children and by extension to their parents.  We are renovating our nursery to accommodate more children on Sunday mornings and an additional class of ten 15 months to 3 year olds during the week.  The materials in the room will be in keeping with the Montessori pedagogy we practice to empower children to discover their strength and capacities, even as infants.

The room will be doubled, as a wall comes down and one space flows into the next.  Workers will renovate on one half of the room at a time, installing new toilets, kitchen areas, play space and storage.  Our Sunday nursery will be moved next week to the back half of the room temporarily.  Check it out as our community empowers the nurture of children and their parents.

Men don’t just fall into fatherhood.  While it is easy enough to sow seed, any real gardener knows that cultivation is a daily affair.  I give thanks for the men in our community who practice this daily art of parenting, whether of their own children or our villages.

Episcopal Identity: The Final Frontier

Last week a leader from a start up congregation dropped into St. Stephen’s to check out our space and to explore the possibility of their congregation worshiping in our facilities.  He called me later to schedule a visit with their preaching pastor.  The congregation is called Sojourner Church and they are currently worshiping in the Heights; they are part of the Acts 29 network.

The conversation with the worship leader was fascinating—he had visited our website and thought our congregations would be compatible.  Quoting Augustine he stressed unity in essentials, tolerance in diversity, and love in everything.  What was not to be open to here?

I told him that I would welcome an opportunity to meet him, but that he and his leader would need to know that St. Stephen’s did not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, fully included women in all areas of ministry, and embraced the ministry of LGBT folks.  We scheduled the meeting.

And then they didn’t show…

This has led me to contemplate a new our identity as an Episcopal congregation.  Denominational ties are loosening across age groups in the U.S.  What does being “Episcopal” mean to us in mission now at St. Stephen’s Church?  What about to our School?

These questions will be explored by the Vestry of St. Stephen’s and the Board of Trustees of St. Stephen’s School next weekend.  As we prepare for common mission, this question of shared identity and core values is critical.  Our convictions shape who we are and what we do.  They inform our curriculum and our discipline.

We will welcome Dan Heischman, the Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, to lead us in prayerful reflection.  I invite your prayers for this pivotal work.