Security is a loaded topic these days (pun intended). Not only have we reordered our priorities since 9/11, we are collectively trying to get our minds around it in new ways since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut when our children were killed.
As citizens of the United we struggle with balancing security and freedom. As Christians, we look to God for our ultimate peace and security, but we also know the power of sin, evil, and guns in the wrong hands. How do we trust the presence of the Spirit in every human being and respect their dignity and at the same time take precautions so that we are not stupid in the face of real threats.
This is the dance that we have been engaging in this spring at St. Stephen’s as we create a new safety plan at the school and church. St. Stephen’s School has engaged a State Department Security professional to consult on the development of a comprehensive plan. While it is still in formation, one of the steps we at the church have taken is to institute a sign in procedure for visitors to our church on weekdays. Ours is a very open school campus. We collectively need to know who is on our site. You will be asked to sign in and out when you come into the church during weekdays. This is not to intimidate you or to be inhospitable. Instead, we want to know who is on our campus so we and you can be safe. Similarly, we will be examining the role of our ushers on Sunday in light of what we learn.
Maintaining a welcoming environment that is governed by love and not by fear is driving value. We cannot exercise our educational mission, if our students are not safe. What we do in our church communities sends a message and a tone to our broader context. May we risk trust for the sake of relationships, but let’s also be smart about it.
The call came out of the blue; they often do. “Pastor, would you be willing to help Christians living in the Holy Land?” The man on the other end of the phone was not a native English speaker, but he knew Bishop Doyle and so I engaged him in conversation.
“Do you know of our plight?” Well, sort of…I knew that Christians in Egypt and in Palestine are experiencing economic and social pressures and that there is a mass exodus. “Do you mean those who live in the Occupied Territories?”
He was delighted to be able to talk about his reality. “I don’t approach with political language. Most Americans I talk to don’t know about the Occupation.”
We talked about the impact of the wall the Israeli’s have built and the difficulty of finding work in the West Bank. He talked of the sorrow of leaving his family to come to the United States so his children could have a better life.
I agreed to allow him and his companions to come to St. Stephen’s in July to share their stories and their wares. They will be here July 12.
Throughout the Easter season we have been reading the Acts of the Apostles. The missionary journeys of Peter and Paul were not unique to their time, I am finding. Christians are still on the move to bear witness; churches are still here to receive journeyers for the faith and to support them. May we be as open as Ananias and Lydia to receive the Word of God from afar.
One of the concessions I made to my husband, Bruce, a couple of years ago was that he could have cats. I hate cats. I am allergic to them. I think they are sneaky and obnoxious. They lay claim to spaces in my house which were formerly mine, places like chairs and sofas. But here’s the deal, they bring Bruce utter joy. He is a happy man with cats; they are ecstatic cats (as much as they care to be) with man.
I observe similar dynamics at work in our parish regarding space and new friends. From where I sit and stand on Sunday mornings I notice that those of us who have been around the parish for awhile have marked our territories. Some seats are ours and we will not be moved. The new friends come in, hoping for a seat, and we expect them to ask us to move to make room for them. Unlike my cats, they will not just leap in our laps and assert themselves, disabusing us of our claim to space. They will simply go away and not return.
Now, I know that St. Stephen’s seeks to be a welcoming place to all cats. As a congregation, we want to make room for new friends who have taken the risk to visit us. So here’s my proposal, keep the place you like in the room, but move to the center of the pew. This way we will be signally to the new cats that there is a welcome here. We’ve left space for them.
This week we focus on seats, next week…..parking!
“Alleluia. The Lord is risen.”
“The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
These words are code. The early church used them to signal to one another shared identity. In the days when the Romans could arrest you and throw you to the lions for lunch for being a Christian, it was important for Followers of Jesus to know each other without tipping their hands in public.
Knowing how to talk with each other about faith is still a challenge. While the empire we live under does not throw us to wild beasts, the climate for faith talk is scary and can be hostile. That’s why during this Easter season St. Stephen’s is offering Animate, a creative way to share our thoughts with each other about God, the Bible, Jesus, the Cross, and the life of faith. Beginning Sunday, April 7, at 9:30 a.m. in the Chatham Room and continuing for 6 weeks, this course will get us talking in real terms.
Important voices in contemporary, progressive Christianity will share their thoughts on these critical topics to our pilgrimage of faith. As Brian McLaren, one of the speakers says,”When it comes to Christianity too many people have their intelligence on ice and their ignorance on fire.” The course will invite us to set all kinds of intelligence of fire, by engaging both sides of our brains. Laura Thewalt is excited to be leading this effort.
You can learn more by watching a video describing the conversations here. I hope you will join us this Sunday for this fun Easter adventure.
Death and resurrection are the two poles around which the Christian life rotates. This elemental rhythm of the life of Jesus is the one his friends dance to as well. We see this transformation happening all around us because we are looking for it.
Last Sunday as we celebrated the witnessing and blessing of Gary Patterson and Jeff Meadow’s lifelong covenant. The sense of resurrection joy was palpable. The love in the room genuinely lifted the rafters. The music soared. The smiles were contagious.
Our sense of resurrection sprang from our previous experiences of death, which, of course, take many forms as well. Some of us are carrying the cross of weariness. Others of us have suffered estrangement from our families. Others of us bear the stripes of the culture wars. Death bears down on us and yet is not the final word in God’s vocabulary.
Transformation happens! What was dead becomes reborn. Hopelessness succumbs to possibility. As we begin our walk into Holy Week this Sunday, let us become mindful of God’s beat in the world around us and within us. Let’s use this time to reclaim the dance of our faith.
One of the ways we observe resurrection is to offer thanks for special people and to remember those who have died by offering flowers at Easter. If you’d like to order lilies, and see our Easter Sunday activity schedule, please click here.
There is a difference between generations. This has been brought home to me this week as St. Stephen’s prepares for our first blessing service for a same sex couple.
Those in our community who were young people when Stonewall happened are pinching themselves at the reality that an Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Texas is actually going to bless a gay couple in a Sunday morning service. Underneath the awareness is a fear that crazy folks will show up with guns and wreck the day. Texas Christians can be a mean bunch, in their personal experience.
Others of us who came of age during the heyday of Will and Grace, assume that LGBT folks are a given in our lives. Of course, our best friend is a gay lawyer. Yes, my sister and her partner are coming for Thanksgiving together. It is a great thing to be able to have the Church come along and do the right thing by blessing our friends.
For those of us who are younger still, the designations of sexual orientation are seen, not as novel, but as an enhancement of identity, a rich opportunity to expand our common humanity. Why would the church need to have a new rite when we are all equal before the Lord? These folks assume it is a matter of days or months before the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and other such silliness. Marriage is marriage.
There is a world of difference between Stonewall and the striking down of Proposition 8. As a community of faith, we incorporate folks who embody these experiences and then some. A common value is that we will trust God and not be afraid. No change can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Practically all of the feedback we have received has been positive, affirming our ministry of reconciliation and love. May we take heart and bear witness with boldness and generosity of spirit to the power of God’s love among us.
Part of our history as a parish has been to be on the cutting edge of social change—whether it was racial integration, the role of women in Church leadership, or the full inclusion of all people in the Church, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. On March 17 our parish will take another step in that tradition. While not every congregation may be called to offer this expression of God’s inclusive love, this is our vocation at this time.
If God calls the People of God to bear witness in a given time, God provides the voice, the leaders, and the strength. St. Stephen’s, the Diocese of Texas and the Episcopal Church have nothing to fear from those who disagree with our ministry. We have everything to lose if we fail to exercise our call because of fear. We are ready to take this step—even if people picket or disrupt the proceedings. I really doubt that this will happen, but we have trained leaders who are prepared to address these issues if they arise.
Now, some in our body may be nervous that this momentous event is happening during Lent. While it is not the custom of our parish to offer marriage during this season, it is always our habit to offer the sacrament of new life on Sundays! Sundays are always observances of resurrected life and on the 17th we will certainly be honoring God’s action in Jesus of bringing life out of death.
The celebration of Gary and Jeff’s commitment is certainly a momentous event in their lives. But it is no less in ours. One of the blessings of this new rite is its insistence that human love is nourished and sustained by and in community. We are for one another, just as in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. We witness to that power, love, and vocation.
For the full Press Release, click here.