Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A People of Purpose

That phrase has become the way in which you will find all intentional characterizations of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta expressed.  It is a natural growth from learning -- like we have just learned -- that they are engaged in an enterprise much larger than the one someone would first assume based on their physical plant. 

As we said goodbye to our friend and brother, Deacon Charles we were lifted with him to a higher seat of honor and sharing.  Honored to host as much of Madison as we could host and with our friends from beyond our membership to share our grief as it turned into alleluias. 

We had a very focused purpose and it carried us through on one of the hardest days many of us have known.  So when Good Shepherd says they are a “people of purpose,” I have to wonder how hard that is sometimes for them.  They, like us have a beautiful, compact physical plant, one that is often stretched to accommodate larger gatherings. 

Part of how I see that phrase borne out in their lives is in how some people come and go.  Seems like there’s always someone new on staff.  Whether fresh from seminary as I was in 1993 or raised-up through some parish discernment process.  New people caught up in a grand and holy purpose. 

We have not adopted that phrase but it is still true about us as well.  The pieces change as vestry rotate on and off, as new members join us in worship and activities, as outreach ministries grow from birth to autonomy like Matthew 25 and Joseph’s Coat.  

The people come and live and grow.  Sometimes we get to share a final salutation, other times we must rely on a liturgies and benedictions to say our goodbyes. 

The purposes are more constant than the people, and in reality more constant than the property, too.  The Prayer Book says it this way,
“Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen. BCP, p. 838

And so we give thanks that we are sustained by a purpose given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, to reconcile, to praise, to bless, to preach, to love, to gather, and to serve. 

This “purpose stuff” matters for us in a special way because we are still a small church.  Our average worship attendance is increasing these days to more than 80 per Sunday and you can tell when just a handful are missing.  Sure summer will see its relaxation and rest have some effect but our purpose remains.  (There’s that Sunday/Sabbath thing again!)

Even on those Sundays when I’ll be out of town we are still being sustained in love and service.  Those are things we do on purpose.  Please continue as I will be absent on Sunday May 17 while I visit Indianapolis to help a dear friend get married.  Don’t just continue, bring your friends to hear and worship with Martha Sterne, celebrated author and preacher. 

Martha is new to retirement and excited to be visiting Advent.  She comes to us after having a significant tenure as Associate Rector at Holy Innocents’ which followed her time as Rector of St. Andrew’s, Maryville, Tenn. She also served as Assistant Rector at All Saints’ in Atlanta. 

She has written three books the latest of which is a collection of her sermons while serving Holy Innocents’, Tell Me a Story.  You can also hear her several sermons as the preacher for Day 1.  Just link to http://day1.org/246-the_rev_martha_sterne

Martha’s visit is a gift to us and will allow us to move and grow into even more of that purpose that makes us a “community of love, gathered together by their prayers and labor.” Thank you, Martha. And Thanks be to God we too are “a people of purpose.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


            First things first:  Thanks to every member of the Church of the Advent and many of our neighbors and friends.  The way in which we were able to honor the passing of our friend and brother Deacon Charles Baldwin is a testament to the truth that we don’t just go to church we are the church. 

            Saturday was one of the hardest days of my 20+ years of priesting and it was by sunset one of the most gratifying.   I was pleased to share our wonderful properties with Madison as we hosted the whole town’s gathering.  I was made keenly aware of how much effort it takes not only to bring together 400 or so given the limited capacity of our worship space and parish hall but also to see so many coming together to meet the needs of Sue and the Baldwin family and guests these past few days. 

            Thank you, thank you, thank you!

            Secondly, the truth that we are church we don’t just go there is a recently reinforced reminder that I need to keep learning over and over.  We have the nearly unique charge to care for our historic properties so that all of Madison and Morgan County can count on us.  But our life together as church needs also to be understood as so much more than a prudent and generous use of facilities. 

            Maybe some of my Sunday v. Sabbath musings have been getting at this same understanding.  I guess there will always be a tension between doing and being, between resting and rejoicing, or between going to a church and being a church.  All are healthy tensions but ones that shouldn’t let us satisfy our selves with seeing worship attendance as the best measure of our well-being. 

            Becoming that church starts with a calling.  From the Greek,  ekklesia the New Testament term is the one that gets translated most often as church.  Its built on the root word kaleo - to call.  The church is that assembly that is “called out.”  Distinguished from within the world to become something that the world simply cannot become on its own. 

            When Genia and Ray Bennett drive to Amelia Island; Brian Lehman delivers a casserole cooked by Patsy Aldridge; Bob and Mary McCauley make signs to designate parking for the handicapped; Susan Kurtz calls the caterer; Allison Waldrip, Bill Abbott and Anna Marett fold bulletins Friday at 6PM; Ginger Kroeber lends me her iPad on a moment’s notice; or Alex, Kate and the Branches squeeze into the balcony we are answering  God’s call.  Doing that is a greater testament to who we are than any gorgeous historic structure well inhabited could be.

            Saturday’s events and gatherings were answers to a call.  In response to the loss of our friend and brother Charles we were asked, invited, challenged, encouraged, in a few cases required and in all cases called out to be the church.  It is a high calling and one that should have us not only thanking each other but thanking God even more. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Make Room

            When I came to serve Advent those first Sundays five years ago I was told just a little about what necessitated Bishop Alexander’s call.  The story of the Rev. Reed’s departure was sketchy and disjointed yet full of urgency and resolve.  Minds were made up and hearts were broken and soon up walked a gentleman who had not been introduced to me during my first visits.  It was Deacon Charles. 

            Looking back I’m pretty sure he introduced himself to me because he saw how much help I needed.  He didn’t say that but instead talked about how he’d stepped away from serving and had even written a letter of resignation to Bishop Alexander.  A letter that to this day is unacknowledged.  What I experienced in that conversation was Charles’ gentle and humble hope for another turn at serving.

            I thought I was being generous by saying “bring it!”  I didn’t know the whole story but I believed in the deaconate – I still do -- and I believed in that order being well represented in the life of our congregation. 

            The next Sunday or two Charles was there asking me questions about what I wanted and how things ought to be done.  It didn’t take long for my intuition to pick up on a subtext in his questions.  He knew what to do but was making sure not to hurt my feelings while he guided us Sunday after Sunday.

            It ended up that we had the same understanding of his role both ceremonial and actual.  When I learned of his deep involvement with the community I celebrated that Advent had real deacon. 

            Over the years Charles and I grew into a pretty good liturgical team.  One that only suffered in his absence when he and Sue were gone to Amelia Island or spectating soccer games and tennis matches.  Wait . . . that’s not true.  Our team suffered when I didn’t check with Charles first.  That’s the truth. 

            It is so true and I had it confirmed this passed Sunday, when the acolytes assembled and looked at me for direction with a clear message in their eyes, “You’re not Deacon Charles! Boy are we in trouble!”  But we instinctively made room for each other and muddled through thanks to what they remembered from Charles’ instruction and constant care. 

            Charles and I were a good team because in humility and grace he made room for the crazy Prayer Book lover that I am.  He came back and humbly made room for me to stay in service to this parish that misses him now more than ever.  Like the deacon should do as a “holy housekeeper,” he made room for me.  Sunday in and Sunday out he made room for every new acolyte and every acolyte who aged out of service.

            And that might be the best lesson for us to learn as we grieve and proceed so carefully and without great confidence: how we make room. 

            How do we make room for each other in our different temperaments of grief and sadness, for the memories he gave us and lessons he taught us, for those strangers as they meet us in our feeling a little lost and hurt, for those who will come to serve this community in leading so many benevolent efforts and rise to leadership in service like Charles, for the next person that God calls to serve as deacon to this parish?

            Let’s make room for each other and honor Deacon Charles in the making.  Let’s make room for each other as we build the occasion of our honoring and remembering him.  Let’s make room for celebrating as well as the sadness.  Let’s make room for this community to join us in our grieving AND celebrating.  

            Jesus said “in my Father’s house are many dwelling places. I’m going to make room for you”  Let’s give thanks that we saw how God can use his servant to make room, sing Alleluia and take our turn to make room.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Passing the Test

We chose as our theme for the 40 days before Easter, "Lent is for Learning."  What we had in mind was to frame our combination of fund raising for ERD (Episcopal Relief and Development) and of joining in Lent Madness - voting our favorite saints through a tournament bracket.

The shortest read on this effort is simply SUCCESS!  We raised well beyond our goal of $750.00 and saw Francis of Assisi through to the championship vs. Brigid.  It was fun, instructive and added to our energy and interest throughout the season.  But the question remains: "what did we learn?"

For sure we know more about the basics of ERD; that as the outreach wing of the Presiding Bishop's Office they see to ministry and mission around the world and pass along dollar for dollar all the money we and every parish donate for that work.

We learned about some obscure and some less than obscure witnesses from Christian history.  More than one or two among us actually voted for Hadewijch. Many of us voted for Francis.  And in between those saints was an array of witnesses to which we have now joined our lives.

For sure we learned something from the way we altered our worship for Lent.  Every Sunday entering in penitence with litanies, suffrages, decalogues and confessions then exiting from under the Solemn Prayer over the People insured a proper seasonality and sobriety to our Sunday celebrations. Removing the "alleluias" and "glories" helped create a little hunger in each of us for the lifting that is their use now that we have joined the rejoicing that Jesus is raised from the dead.

We learned to value the cross as a sign and our lives as the next best places for sacrificing after the example of Jesus' "obedience unto death."  First we heard those stories from Mark and John and then we met those who witnessed through the sacrifice of martyrdom.

We learned how to visit our quaint and holy space more regularly, with prayers on Tuesday, Friday and throughout Holy Week.  Our walking the Stations of the Cross was its own learning more and more about the depth of our Lord's efforts on our behalf.

So . . . we learned a bunch and Lent brought us to the good end of a glorious celebration with a church full of families, friends and all the faithful.  Yes, we counted the 120 of you who worshipped with us at 10:30, along with the dozen from earlier that morning, and the 25 who sang the first of our Easter alleluias and like us all renewed our baptismal vows.

You can say that we passed the test because each of us reclaimed our belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and promised to demonstrate that faithfulness with God's help given to us through Jesus Christ.

We can recall this success each Sunday in the 50 days of Easter.  First by our standing together in all our prayers as we act like believers whose salvation is assured and then by beginning and ending all our celebrations with the familiar  "Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!"