June 19, 2015
My Sisters and Brothers -
The shooting inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina appears to combine two of our country's ugliest realities: racism and gun violence. The intentional taking of another's life leaves behind it a residue of disturbed and violent energy at its site; beyond the shock of violence and death, the victims' families must deal with the inescapable and incomprehensible 'why' from within a void of absence, grief, and loss. That eight people were killed inside Emanuel AME Church during bible study and prayer speaks to the openness and vulnerability of 'the church' and violates our sense of sacredness and safety.
The murders of nine people involved with Emanuael AME Church were brought close to home when my friend and Storm's colleague, Matthew O'Rear, posted on facebook, asking for prayers for his classmate, Clem Pinkney, who had been killed in this shooting. Our response as individuals and church is to pray for those killed and for their families. And as hard as it may be, to pray for Dylann Roof and his family. But we cannot stop with prayer and consider our work done.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Our country, with regard to racism and gun violence, needs restructuring. The list of those killed by gun violence, from Columbine to Virginia Tech, to Aurora, Colorado, to Sandy Hook Elementary School, to Emanuel AME Church, is too long. I believe that we, as St. Peter's and as 'the church' have a responsibility to speak out and to take action that will help find a way to regulate guns and to live out the promise we made in our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Of your charity, please pray for those who were killed: the Rev'd Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev'd Daniel Simmons Sr, and the Rev'd DePayne Doctor. Please pray for their families, the clergy and congregation of Emanuel AME Church, Dylann Roof and his family, and that we, through our prayers, words, and deeds, may be a voice and a presence for good.
As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1956)*
June 12, 2015
My Sisters and Brothers -
This week was a bit of a whirlwind that started with the Vestry retreat last Saturday, included a day trip to Los Angeles on Monday to meet with a member of our Advisory Committee, meeting with members of our Advisory Committee on Tuesday and Thursday, and going over the contractors' initial bids to restore the roof with Bill Stivale and the contractors yesterday.
Throughout this week I have been thinking a great deal about purpose. Travelling to Los Angeles on Monday and briefly being in a different city gave me a wider perspective and helped me think about the purpose of my life and of our life together. My high school's founder, John Phillips, wrote that "goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind". He held that the most important thing that the faculty could do for their students was "to learn them the great end and real business of living."
I believe that everything we do at St. Peter's reflects our belief in a purpose greater than our selves. We come to church for connection, solace, and renewal, but also to be useful to humanity through our programs of service and through our lives: that the great end and real business of our living at St. Peter's is to care for others through our common life in Christ.
These thoughts started at last Saturday's Vestry retreat, where, after discussion of St. Peter's Mission, the Vestry approved the following Vision and Mission statements:
Our Vision for St. Peter’s is to be a place where anyone in Chelsea or beyond can come and feel welcome, whether for program, spiritual or religious connection, or simply to read in our garden.
Our Mission for the next five years is to position St. Peter’s as a neighborhood church in Chelsea with balance between religious services, a neighborhood center for ideas and programs, and living out our wider mission to the world through social action.
These statements are the result of the work that we did last Fall (see the summaries of our conversations on mission below), the state and scope of the restoration project, and our call to serve our community and neighborhood. The Vestry has decided to begin by putting our efforts into the following four programs. Please let me or a Vestry member know which program you would like to help with:
The Food Pantry: We pack and distribute 22,000-plus bags of food each year. We would like to look at what we’re doing and how we do it, as well as to develop additional funding for our program.
Fulton Houses: We would like to establish an appropriate presence in the Fulton Houses through a series of informational meetings, with the possibility of developing a weekly Eucharist there.
St. Peter’s Community Open House: We are planning to host a reception for all of the groups that use our space so that they can meet each other and the congregation. This open house is scheduled for September 15, 2015.
Events: We are planning a lecture and a music series for next Fall and Spring as a means of serving our neighborhood. We need help in planning events, including our Holiday Fair on December 5th, 2015.
With the adoption of the new Vision and Mission statements, I feel as though something has become unblocked and that we now have a renewed sense of purpose: to be a neighborhood church for our community. In this context, our purpose in restoring the church building and rectory are not simply to restore them, but to restore them so that we can serve our neighborhood by having services and programs in them.
Here are the summaries of our conversations on Mission:
Session #1 Summaries: Who are we in God and who is God in us?
We are seekers who are drawn by grace to a common source, a common well, and in this sense, we are on a pilgrimage, a journey. We are diverse in so many ways: history, culture, class, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation. Each of us brings to the well our particular talents, resources, and a network of relationships. We have a “golden rule” that we aspire to keep. We come to this common source as a community gathering at St. Peter’s in Chelsea, at this moment in time seeking healing, wholeness, connection, and to be renewed, refreshed, fed and nourished. We come to the well, but it is God who draws us there; it is God who calls us there; God who moves us; God, who is the source, the wellspring, and the water.
We are a community of healers and seekers on a pilgrimage to and with God, moved by God’s grace. We choose to live by the “Golden Rule”. We also value relationships and view them as a way to connect with God, help others connect with God, and cultivate a spirit of grace within our own community. There is also a deeply rooted pain and fear of vulnerability that blocks us from seeking who God is in us stemming from feelings of unworthiness and shame. Overall, we focused on the importance of grace and our journey to the well (source of God).
Session #2 Summary: What is Mission?
Mission is of God. It is a dynamic process that resides within the Trinity and gushes up and over into creation. It is not external to creation but always present, leading us to see goodness in the midst of chaos, to embrace and be open to diversity. Each person has a spirit, talents, and we come together to share them, to share each one’s particular resources with those of others. God’s long-term Mission goal for humanity and all creation is that same oneness in diversity that is the Trinity.
Session #3 Summary: Why Do We Do Mission?
We do mission to commune with God and the Trinity. Our mission with a little “m” connects us to each other and the source of living water in a circle of giving and receiving where grace and love flows through and out of all the members. We become like little wells of living water ourselves (God in us). It is simple, uncomplicated, and empowering. This translates into action through compassion, understanding, mindfulness, sharing and encouragement as we grow together and outward as God instructed us to do. Thus, we also become more human and who we are in God.
We do mission because it is the way we metamorphose into a community, toward the unity of God’s larger Mission.
Session #4 Summary: Who Are Our Neighbors?
The neighborhood defined by our parish boundaries is one in transition, in which a population that is diverse in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, age, and social status seeks to live together. There is some tension, division and even hidden communities. But while the general sense of “neighborhood” has diminished, small communities continue to congregate in public spaces throughout Chelsea in lively pools of life. Yet, these micro communities seem to have no connection or communication with one another. In the previous session, we talked about the “living water” that flows through an infinite circle of giving and receiving in relationship. So how do we extend that circle with our disparate neighbors in Chelsea? And how do we extend it with our neighbors beyond Chelsea as we seek to understand and act on our connections with them?
Session #5 Summary: What Are Our Gifts and Talents?
The plethora of skills we individually bring to the table can help us with a multitude of projects to serve our community. There is a willingness to serve that is simply seeking out leadership. Providing a space with opportunities for people to participate and share their skills should be a vital part of our mission, but also how we can help each other grow. We seek to do this in a way that is inclusive, hospitable, and thoughtful. As Canon Jeanne Person revealed during the service, our gifts and skills are God’s gift to us, but our use and cultivation of these gifts are how we serve Him. How can we foster a culture where people feel comfortable to identify, explore and employ their gifts and skills? What kinds of projects could use our skills?
Session #6 Summary: St. Peter’s Food Pantry
St. Peter’s has been operating a food pantry for food-insecure individuals and families for many years, seeking to imitate Christ by sharing what we have with those who have less. Lately, as need has increased, access to food has decreased. Some neighborhood food pantries have closed altogether, and our church’s financial resources for our food pantry are diminishing. The ministry has reached a turning point. Although no consensus emerged on a way forward, several ideas were raised: Limit the number of people we serve; commit as a parish to raise awareness and resources to meet the growing need; ally with other houses of worship in the area to work together to meet the needs.
June 5, 2015
My Sisters and Brothers -
One of the questions that I keep asking myself is 'where is the presence of the Divine in all that I am doing?' At times, the answer is hidden; at other times, the answer is that we are restoring our buildings and rebuilding our Church. With Bill Stivale and Marie Ennis (our Building Conservator and Structural Engineer)'s help, I am seeing the skill and craft of the original builders, who built a roof that has lasted 184 years. With the help of each of you, we are rebuilding our Parish and our Church for our time and the future. Together we are figuring out who we are, what our neighborhood needs, and how to be a contemporary Church that is connected and part of our neighborhood. Our restoration of the buildings and re-building the Parish are the same project, and I am glad that you are part of it.
We have some new web pages as we work to improve our website as well. These are intended to be real time posts and updates about what's going on in the construction, fundraising, and Mission areas. You can visit them at www.st-peters-blog.org - and photos of the work being done are also on our Facebook page, stpeterschelsea. Thank you Joe, Keith, and Jen for your help in making this happen!
As we go forward together, I am providing the links to two articles on Mission that I'd like everyone in the Parish to read and to be thinking about: http://www.religionnews.com/2015/06/02/farewell-column-plea-christian-congregations-look-outward-commentary/ and http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=5540. Note that the data that show that parishes with a clearly defined mission tend to grow and that multiple follow ups after an initial church visit are important.
The Vestry has received these articles and will be discussing them in the context of rebuilding the Parish at the Vestry retreat tomorrow at the Church of the Ascension.
The most recent edition of 'The Living Church' arrived earlier this week. I read Victoria Heard's article on '6 characteristics of growing churches' and want to share it with the parish and with you (http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=5540).
Her characteristics are mission, children participate in the liturgy, Sunday school, a culture of learning for adults, hospitality that counts, and adding a service with sound. The Vestry will be discussing all of these characteristics at the Vestry meeting this Saturday, and I encourage you to think about how we are/can improve these characteristics at St. Peter's and to share your thoughts with me and any member of the Vestry. (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
The Rev'd Stephen Harding
St.Peter's Church, Chelsea
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