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.


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.

Receiving the Journeyers

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.

Governance Matters

One of the curiosities about moving to Texas was to hear how folks talked about the State Legislature being in session.  People would roll their eyes and comment about how they hoped not much damage would be done while they were in session.  This was new to me.  Having lived in a state capital, Nashville, I was always caught up in the movements of issues and priorities.

Governance is about power—who has it; who sets priorities; whose values govern resource allocation.  When we neglect governance, we are leaving a good portion of our moral universe up for grabs.  Who serves in the Congress, the State Legislature, the City Council matters.  How they vote effects things and people we care about like the environment, the mentally ill, school children.

The same is true on the Church front.  Last Sunday we voted for our Vestry and Diocesan Council Representative.  These folks govern our congregation and our Diocese.  This Friday and Saturday our Diocesan Council will meet in Houston for our annual convention.  Millions of dollars will be allocated; mission priorities will be set forth; the tone of our ministry and our moral priorities will be articulated.  These things matter.

Pray that the Holy Spirit will empower those gathered in Council with wisdom and compassion.  Ask that those gathered will garner power not for ego, but for service.

Alcohol Free Zone Approved!

Yesterday I went to Houston City Council to testify about St. Stephen’s Episcopal School’s application for a 1000’ alcohol free zone.  The application process was grueling. The scrutiny which we have had to endure and the attitude of many officials has been daunting.  The support of our Councilmember Ellen Cohen has been exceptional.  She pushed back against a structure that is clearly dominated by commercial and development interest.  Today St. Stephen’s is one of only 7 private schools to have successfully received this designation in the past 11 years.

What strikes me as I reflect on the politics of this process is how the public good of our city seems to be limited to what is good for business and development.  The alcohol free zone only prohibits bars from coming within 1000’ of our school.  The notion of limiting development for the safety of children seemed foreign.

Montrose is changing mightily.  More money brings more interests.  More moneyed interests can make life especially difficult for the least among us—children, the handicapped, the poor, the old.  God may be inviting us into new avenues of witness.

Turn, Turn, Turn

“The personal is political.”  This saying was foundational in my adolescence as the Second Wave of feminism was roiling around me.  In the late seventies, when I was a teenager, I heard this phrase as speaking to reproductive rights, vegetarianism, and environmentalism.  Personal choices had collective consequences.  They still do.

I think about this now in the context of my life as a rector at St. Stephen’s.  Personal choices and events have implications which impact not only me, but also my community.  A priest is a public person–my actions can affect the whole.

This spring and summer have been filled with momentous events in my personal life.  My mother almost died; my colleague was critically and is now chronically ill, my youngest child has graduated from high school, and I now inhabit an empty nest with my husband.  My heart is sad, grieving, and tired.

From this personal space, I have had to make decisions so that our common life in ministry thrives.  There are many unknowns coloring these decisions:  St. Stephen’s School is seeking a permanent Head of School, short term disability payments are not paid to the parish immediately, evaluating the most pressing community needs takes time.

I have set as priorities the calling of two people to assist us in our ministry this fall.  One is a chaplain to assist us with the ministry of our school; a part time position which is paid for by both School in community service, and our Church in community outreach in concert with our School.  I have called Ryan Beaty to fill this position because I believe in spiritual diversity, innovation, and relationships with children and youth and I believe he is highly qualified to embody each.   The other position is that of supply priest.  This position is a one day a week commitment centered on Christian formation of youth and adults, with some liturgical responsibilities.  Given the uncertain timeline of Bob Flick’s recovery and our financial constraints, I feel that it is most prudent at this time to focus our clergy requirements to these areas.  I have invited the Reverend Andrea Polvino to assume these duties.

I recognize that both of these are risky calls.  They may not be right.  I may not have interpreted our options and our constraints accurately.  I also know that these choices are for now. My expectation is that St. Stephen’s will great the New Year with two full time priests on staff for the Church and a quarter time chaplain for our school.

I hope you will welcome Ryan and Andrea into our community and receive the gifts they have to offer us.

Making Community

As we are kicking into the academic New Year around St. Stephen’s, I am struck by how much of our mission involves us in the fostering of human beings.  We will begin our Christian Education offerings for children and youth on August 26, our offerings in mission and study will be showcased in the Outreach Festival on the 26th after church, our day school students will enter freshly painted halls on August 27, and our afterschool program which will welcome middle school students on August 27 as well.  Our Christian ministry is predicated on the care and love we find in Christ.  In turn we offer it for the life of the world.

You cannot buy community, you make it.

There is much talk now on the eve of the party conventions of the role of government and its size.  Many of us disagree about this.  One thing is sure to me, the size and role of government or markets is not synonymous with the vision and requirements of Christian faith and practice.  As Christian citizens of the United States, my primary loyalty and values are shaped by the Scripture, Christian tradition and reason.  The bottom line for me is not profit, but human dignity.  At the end of the day what is important for me is not change that I can believe in, but whether the poor are truly cared for and that I don’t kill God’s children.

I am reading Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets.  He argues that economics is an insufficient lens through which to make decisions on many moral issues.  He is not an anti-capitalist; rather he suggests that while markets are good for many things, alone they fail us in determining the good.

We are entering a new season.  May we engage in learning, in creating, and in questioning.