A Note from the Rector – 1/26/2020

A Note from the Rector – 26 January 2020

Can you believe how good the floors look?  We can be grateful to NBC Environmental who removed the old tile, and to Smith Flooring Incorporated for installing the new tile.  They did a great job with a very tight schedule and they even finished with hours to spare. They are finishing up the project this weekend in the front area of the Parish Hall and the hallway outside the bathrooms and Memorial Room.  If all goes according to plan, we will have access to the bathrooms and Memorial Room for our Sunday morning services. The vestry with the help of the property committee and the finance committee have done a lot of work to make this project happen, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has contributed.  A special mention needs to go to JT Wertz and John Day for leading the planning and logistics. One or both of them were here the entire time that the contractors were working. Thank you very much for your dedication! Thanks also, to the huge crew of people who moved all furniture out of the Godly play room and back.   

This morning we will bless the new set of green paraments and vestments that were commissioned in loving memory of Jane Sibley, and use them for the first time.  Paraments refer to decorative cloths that hangs on the front of the altar (called a frontal), the pulpit, and the lectern. Made to match these is a veil, the cloth that covers the chalice and communion paten before they are used; and the burse, which is a little envelope that holds extra linen cloths.  Those are the paraments. The new vestments that were created for us are a chasuble, two stoles, and a maniple. All of these were beautifully designed and executed by a liturgical artist named Davis d’Ambly. Davis lives in the Philadelphia area and is a parishioner of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Center City.  Without exaggeration, he is one of the most well-known and sought-after designer of liturgical appointments in the United States. He is frequently commissioned by Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches around the country and beyond for major projects including large-scale paintings, carvings, and liturgical furniture, in addition to sets of vestments.  I was overjoyed that he agreed to create this special set of vestments and paraments for us in honor of Jane. They were created prayerfully, and with the highest quality materials and craftsmanship, and are, I hope, a fitting tribute to Jane’s many years of service to the worship of God in this place.  

You may remember that last April and May I wrote a series of articles on the meaning and symbolism of vestments.  Those articles can be found on our website here, here, here, here, here, and here.  To end this week’s note in celebration of our new paraments and vestments, I will provide an excerpt of something I originally wrote about vestments for Sunday, April 28, 2019:

“Christians are set apart; made holy by virtue of our baptism into the life and body of Christ.  Scripture puts it this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  All Christians are priests. Vocational priests and other ministers are called and ordained (set apart) merely as symbols and tokens of that fact.  

Priests, deacons, and bishops wear vestments in that capacity, as symbols and signs of the priesthood of all Christians.  Vestments are not about setting the minister apart from the congregation in some qualitative sense. They’re not just meant to be fancy clothes in order to make me feel fancy.  Rather, vestments are symbolic of the fact that liturgy itself is a time, place, and activity which is set apart, demarcated from other time and other activities. Liturgy, the worship of the church, is special.  It is holy. The priest is a symbol for the whole people of God, and vestments are symbols of the set apart-ness of the activity in which we come together to participate on Sunday mornings (and other times!).”

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 1/19/2019

Thanks to all who are travelling this morning to Holy Apostles and the Mediator either by bus or by car, and to all who participate in the service.  

Just picking up and moving our entire service is a really nerve-wracking thing for me.  Such an important part of our identity and ministry involves staying put: being present in the middle of the place in which God has put us, and providing a constant, dependable spiritual presence in a particular location i.e. this neighborhood.  That’s what being a parish church is all about. A parish is defined as a geographical area of spiritual responsibility.  

At the same time, God is always calling us out of our comfort zones.  God’s Spirit is always on the move, inside and outside the Church, crossing borders, and calling us to follow Jesus wherever that might lead.  This tension—between the principle of stability and the movement of God’s Spirit—creates a kind of dynamism and hopefully fills us with energy for ministry and mission and outreach, both in our backyards and beyond.

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 1/12/2020

It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do.  For many months, various members of the property committee have been carefully planning several interrelated projects to freshen up parts of our building.  I want to thank everyone who has generously given of their time to make this happen. Phase I of these projects took place this past week. Two old heater vents that were not connected to our current heating system were taken out of the hallway by the offices, and then plastered over.  New trac lighting was installed along with a picture hanging system, and some wiring for our alarm system was moved out of the way, and then the whole hallway got some fresh paint. The new plaster will be getting some more paint soon.    

Next weekend, the carpet in the hallway will be replaced with vinyl tile and new baseboards will be installed.  The old tile in the parish hall is also being replaced next weekend, which is a huge and much needed project. This involves removing tile from the 1950s (which is underneath the current tile), and that tile has some asbestos in it.  To do it right, we’ve hired a professional asbestos remediation company who will seal everything off, remove the tile, and dispose of it properly. An industrial safety technician will come and test the air when they’re done to make sure there is no asbestos floating around, and then the flooring installation team will come and install new tile.  It is quite a job! As fascinating as their work process no doubt is, none of us want to be around for it.    

So, next Sunday, we’re going to worship with Holy Apostles and the Mediator.  As most of you know, Holy Apostles and the Mediator (affectionately abbreviated as HAM) is the historic parish that founded our Holy Apostles as an extension of their parish in 1950.  For 18 years, HAM sustained CHA financially and spiritually before we became an independent parish in 1968. With the proceeds of the sale of their original building, HAM built our current building, and filled it with treasures from the old church: altar, font, and pulpit.  For many years after we became a parish, the two parishes did not have much contact, but recently we have begun to develop a new relationship of mutual affection with HAM.    

HAM is in the process of calling a new priest.  The church is led by some extraordinary and inspiring lay leaders.  Those of you who were at CHA in October when HAM visited us will have met some of the warm, generous folks of HAM.  For the service on the 19th, they have invited our choir to join theirs for some special music.  They would also like a reader and an acolyte from CHA to help make this service a true collaborative work of praise and thanksgiving to God.  I will be preaching and celebrating the Eucharist.  

I know this sort of thing removes us from our comfort zone a little bit, and I know that it might be tempting to stay home rather than have our routine upset in this way.   But I want to encourage and implore everyone who is able to make this trip next Sunday. This is a very special and worthwhile opportunity. This is what the Gospel, what the Kingdom of God is all about.  On one level a joint service with HAM is pretty simple. But, think about it for a minute. There is a lot of division and disunity in our world, our country, and our community. We see it in the news every day.  It is all totally overwhelming and hard to know what any of us can do about it. Next Sunday is an extraordinary opportunity to do something about it. This simple church service is actual pretty radical. It is not very often that any two congregations can agree to come together and have a joint service, much less a suburban parish and a city parish, a parish that is predominantly white and a parish that is predominantly African-American.  In our fractured society, there are not many opportunities at all when people can meet each other across difference and recognize each other as fellow beloved children of God. This service is unique, and it is exactly the sort of thing that God tends to bless in a special way. Jesus said, “The world will know you are my disciples by your love for each other.” This is it. This is one of our golden opportunities to show the world who we are, and Whose we are.  Don’t miss it!

We are planning to leave the church at 9:15AM on January 19. Parking is difficult near HAM, so we are renting a “mini” charter bus.  HAM is also working on getting a nearby parking lot open for our use. I will be sending a special email next week with an update on our travel plans.

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 1/5/2019

Merry 12th day of Christmas and Happy New Year!  Today is the last day of Christmas, which means tomorrow is the feast of Epiphany.  At Epiphany, we celebrate the “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” The Gentiles in question are the wise men who came from the East being led by a star to Bethlehem.  Epiphanytide, the season surrounding this celebration, is all about the light of Christ manifesting itself in various ways in our lives and in the world around us. 

In the life of this parish church, Epiphanytide is when we prepare to hold our annual business meeting.  At this meeting, the entire congregation will ratify the church’s operating budget, and will elect three new members of the vestry.  Because of inhibitions caused by the reflooring project, our annual meeting has been pushed back to February 2, 2020, which is also the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and marks the end of Epiphanytide.  Fun fact: some hardcore liturgy nerds keep their Christmas decorations up until the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas.  

In preparation for our annual meeting, I want to briefly write about what a vestry is and what a vestry does.  The vestry system is fairly unique to American Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church). In Colonial America, there was an enormous clergy shortage in our churches because the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to send a Church of England bishop to the 13 Colonies.  This meant that any clergy persons would either have to come from England or make the arduous journey to England and back in order to be ordained. This created a situation in which lay leaders had to take a bigger part in the administration of the church than was common in that day.  As a result, our system of church governance is a hybrid between the congregational model (think Baptists, UCC, Quakers) in which individual local churches have complete authority over their affairs, and the hierarchical model (think the Roman Catholic Church) where bishops or other authorities have complete control over the affairs of each parish.  The Episcopal Church incorporates both models. Individual congregations have some power to determine their affairs, but they are by no means autonomous from the bishop and the wider church structures. When it works, it’s a great compromise which avoids the problems and extremes of both models. Churches that are too autonomous have no support and no accountability.  Absolute hierarchies run the risk of being disconnected from what is actually happening at the local level of a parish church, and of disenfranchising the laity who need to take an active role in the affairs of their church. The vestry system is meant to strike a balance between the two.

Parish churches in the Episcopal Church, through their vestries, have the responsibility to call their own priest instead of having one appointed to them.  Vestries are also charged with the responsibility to manage the temporal affairs of the church—the finances and the buildings. By local custom, our vestry organizes and oversees much of the other ministry that happens in the church such as outreach, fellowship and Sunday School.  

The vestry of Holy Apostles is comprised of nine lay members, all of whom are to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church.  The vestry meets once a month. The Rector usually sets the agenda and presides over the meeting, but does not have a vote. All spending over $500 has to be approved by a motion of the vestry.  There are several committees which are made of both vestry and non-vestry members who make recommendations to the vestry, especially on matters of finance and property. While the vestry often takes up important practical matters, it is actually a spiritual calling.  With the Rector’s guidance, the vestry helps to shape the vision and future plans of our parish, and this important work needs to be done in the context of prayer and reading Scripture. It’s a big job but it is also rewarding and empowering.  

This is your church, and God is calling each of you to take part in it.  St. Paul reminds us of this when he writes that the Church is the body of Christ, made up of many members.  Each member has their own job to do and unique gifts and talents to bring to the task. If you are interested or if you feel God is calling you to offer your unique gifts to the task of being a vestry member, please let me know!

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 12/29/2019

I wish you all a merry 4th day of Christmas!  As I write this I am sitting on a runway at the Albuquerque International Sunport (airport) waiting to get off a plane.  We are visiting my parents and siblings, and Deb’s sister and grandmother.  We will return home on December 31.  I am grateful for Jeremiah Mustered, our officiant for today’s special service of Lessons and Carols.  I am going to miss the peacefulness and simple joy of singing some of my favorite songs with you.  

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were joy-filled and holy celebrations at Holy Apostles.  The liturgy was hope inspiring, and the music was beautiful.  I loved having our guest harpist, Carol Melaragni, with us.  And it was wonderful to see so many guests, visiting family, and friends.  The combined attendance of all three services was approximately 240.  Thanks to all who made it a special Christmas celebration.  

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 12/22/2019

Advent is drawing to a close.  Slowly, as the days got shorter, the number of our candles grew.  Now we have only a few short days to wait, and then the light and glory of Christ’s Nativity is here.  

I want to thank Dan McKeon, our Parish Communications Coordinator for all the extra work this time of year brings, with many extra service leaflets to print.  

I would also like to thank Paul Emmons, our organist and choir director, for the extra music that we receive as a gift this year.  

Finally, I want to thank Suzanne & David Lees for hosting our Christmas Caroling Party, Deb Stambaugh and Arreon Harley-Emerson for coordinating the caroling and making us sound so good, and to all who came out on a chilly Friday evening to sing and spread good cheer in our neighborhood.

Thank you! 

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 12/15/2019

Today is pageant day!  A big thanks to all our children, parents, Sunday School teachers, and helpers for putting on this wonderful Holy Apostles tradition.

With today’s pageant and last Sunday’s guest preacher, I’ve been on a little preaching hiatus.  I’ve tried to use the time wisely, as St. Paul writes, “redeeming the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).  So, I’ve been working on my sermons for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Casting about for inspiration, I landed on For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio by the Episcopal poet, W.H. Auden.  Of course, this long complex poem begins, not with Christmas, but with Advent.  

Darkness and snow descend

The clock on the mantlepiece

Has nothing to recommend,

Nor does the face in the glass

Appear nobler than our own

As darkness and snow descend

On all personality…

Everyone will be relieved to know that this hardly uplifting bit of poetry will NOT make it into my Christmas Eve sermon.  But, the Advent section of Auden’s long poem does capture the mood of mid-December pretty well. Darkness and snow. Both sound so dreary in Auden, but remember that both darkness and snow figure mightily into the magical formula of those treasured, glowing coals of Christmas nostalgia.  Who doesn’t dream of a White Christmas, covered in snow? And all those Christmas lights don’t look very interesting or impressive unless its dark. Snow and darkness are sort of essential elements, at least in the imagination of cultural Christmas.  

The Church insists that you can’t have real Christmas without Advent. That a season of waiting and expectation is essential. Advent tells us that part of preparing for Christmas might mean facing the realities under which we live; facing the darkness.  This is what Fleming Rutledge, perhaps the best Episcopal preacher now living, has to say about Advent: “Advent begins in the dark… [It] teaches us to delay Christmas in order to experience it fully when it finally comes.  Advent is designed to show that the meaning of Christmas is diminished to the vanishing point if we are not willing to take a fearless inventory of the darkness…The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight at it.  The true and victorious Christmas spirit does not look away from death, but directly at it. Otherwise, the message is cheap and false.” (from a sermon given on the first Sunday of Advent, 1996, printed in Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, page 251).

Of course, we are all in different places in our lives, and we have a variety of experiences during this time of year.  If this is a time of unremitting happiness for you, then you should go with that. I pray with one of the Prayer Book’s best prayers, that God would “shield the joyous” so that they may continue in their joy under God’s protection. But, if you experience some of the darkness of loss, loneliness, or sadness this time of year, do not let yourself despair. You are not alone. In Advent, we are reminded the whole world is waiting in darkness for the dawning of the light.  And I pray that you, that all of us, that the whole world, will ultimately find the Light of Christ’s coming. I pray that God will transform us, including our suffering, and give us healing and health and peace that only the Light of God’s love can bring.  Oops. I guess I can’t help but preach, even when I’m not supposed to be preaching.

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 12/8/2019

There is a depth to the season of Advent that makes it my favorite season of the church year besides Easter (what can top a 50 day party?).  Themes are layered within this season like a rich and surprising dessert. There’s hope, preparation, expectation, longing; there’s the movement into the darkest part of the year while defying that darkness with light.  Advent is also a season to reflect on Last Things. As I preached about last week, “Advent…is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus—preparation for the celebration of his first coming, as a child in a manger in Bethlehem, and preparation for the day when he comes again in great power and glory to judge the world and rule over the nations.”  This dual focus means that Advent has been the traditional time the church reflects on four interrelated themes: Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven. Doesn’t that just give you the warm and fuzzies? Nothing makes me want to cozy up near the stocking lined hearth, to watch snowflakes fall, and drink hot cocoa with the vocal stylings of Bing Crosby gently playing in the background like a good discussion about the end of all things.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I don’t think these themes are out of place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, especially because the holidays can be a difficult time. For many of us ,they are a time when we poignantly remember those we love who have died. The holidays can be a time when feelings of loneliness and loss can creep up on us very easily and unexpectedly.  

So, there is some wisdom and, yes, even healing to found in taking a little bit of time to acknowledge the facts of life in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Death is real and happens to us all, but Christian reflection never ends there. As surely as death is inevitable, God’s love for us is invincible. God and God’s love are not defeated by death.  

God’s judgement is also real.  Scripture is full of reminders that we must give an account of this life to God.  We affirm every Sunday that Christ will return to judge both the living and the dead, and that’s no joke.  Perhaps the only things clearer in Scripture than God’s righteousness and justice, however, is God’s indestructible mercy.  Our patience and ability to forgive is so disproportionately small compared to God’s capacity for patience and forgiveness, they counted on different orders of magnitude.  All the sins, all the evil, of all the world in all times is like a handful of sand compared to ocean of God’s mercy. The Advent themes of judgement and hope, then, are completely compatible when we are talking about our God.  Scripture puts it this way: Nothing we do and nothing that is done to us can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39). God will never abandon the living, and neither will God abandon the dead.      

Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell: what all this will actually be like, I cannot say. What I can say is that the same love that reaches down to us at Christmas, the love that caused God to come down to earth as a human, is the love that is going to sort out all things at the end of our days, and at the End of Days.  And that is good news of glad tidings, indeed.

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector 12/1/19

Happy New Year!  The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new year of the Church Calendar.  The Church marks time differently than the rest of society, and in fact, the Church experiences time differently than the rest of society.  That’s what the Church calendar with all its strange nooks and crannies teaches us.  On the table in the office hallway is a stack of Church calendars, each household is welcome to take one.  It can be a tool to help  you experience time differently.  Which brings us to one of the many purposes and themes of Advent: preparation.  Advent is the season right before Christmas (it is not part of the Christmas season), and it is meant to be a time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, when we celebrate Jesus’ first coming (advent is Latin for coming), as well as a season to remember and prepare for Jesus’ second advent, the future event when Christ will come in glory to judge the living and the dead, and establish a kingdom of perfect peace and justice forever more.  Advent is about watching and waiting.  It is about preparing our minds and hearts to receive Jesus. 

Advent calendars are a great way to help prepare us, and my wife, Deb has handmade Advent calendars for every family in our parish church.  The calendar consists of an envelope to open for every day of Advent.  The enclosed Scriptures and prayers will be a great tool to help us prepare for Christ’s arrival.  If you haven’t picked yours up, it is on the office hallway table. 

As the beginning of a new Church calendar year, Advent marks the reset of our cycle of Scripture readings called the lectionary.  Our Sunday Eucharist lectionary is a three year cycle: A, B, and C.  Today marks the beginning of Year A.  You’ll notice throughout the year that Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew. 

Advent is a special time.  I encourage you to shun the almost overwhelming temptation to being crazy busy during this season.  Shun the temptation to skip straight to Christmas without spending time to prepare your heart for it.  Take time to pay attention, to watch, and to wait.  Paradoxically, it is easy to miss Jesus at Christmas time if we aren’t careful to keep our minds and hearts on him, and focus on what is truly important.  Advent gives us space to find this focus.  May God richly bless you this Advent!   

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 11/24/2019

A few weeks ago, I sent an appeal letter to every member of our parish.  I wrote about the theme of our stewardship season, “Wonder, love and praise,” which comes from Charles Wesley’s immortal hymn.  And I wrote of our calling as a parish church: We are called to foster wonder, to learn to love our neighbors, and to praise God.  This is one calling, and not three separate callings, because each of those items is really an aspect of the same thing. Wonder is about an encounter with the living God.  We believe that God is present to us in real ways in our real lives. A concentrated moment of God’s presence is our weekly gathering of Eucharist when we encounter Jesus in the bread and the wine.  Our first response to the encounter with the living God is gratitude. This is why we call it Eucharist, Greek for Thanksgiving, in the first place. Along with gratitude comes praise, which is simply the expression of gratitude.  We praise God through things like music. But, praising God is also a mindset that can and should inform the everyday actions of our lives. That is where learning to love our neighbors comes in. Scripture is clear: our love for God is expressed in our love for our neighbor.  1 John tells us that if we don’t love other people, we don’t actually love God, which inspired Dorothy Day to write these words: “I love God only as much as the person I love the least.”  

Cultivating wonder and gratitude, extending real care to our neighbors, and learning to praise God in every detail of our lives—this is the hard work of being a Christian and a member of Holy Apostles.  Charles Wesley’s song predicts that on the last day, along with all the saints, we will cast our golden crowns before the Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that we will be lost in wonder, love, and praise.  In the eternal moment of heaven, everything else will cease to matter, and we’ll be lost: gratitude and worship will come naturally, it will be the only thing we can possibly do.  But in this world, oftentimes it is the opposite. We are lost in our daily preoccupations, our jobs and families, the cares, and trials of this life. That’s why EVERY Sunday is so great.  Our weekly Sunday Eucharist is an opportunity to experience the splendor of heaven. For a few minutes at least, (and sometimes this takes practice) we can be lost in wonder, love and praise.  In Sunday worship, praising and God and loving our neighbors should come easily to us. We should rush to honor each other and exchange the sign of God’s peace with each other. We should revel in our time of fellowship afterward and revel—just as much—In our time of prayer.  

All of this is amplified this Sunday because it is the Sunday that we gather together our pledges of financial support for the parish.  We have had several weeks of discernment and prayer. We have been asked to consider with gratitude the various gifts God has given us. And now we are provided with the opportunity to express our gratitude to God and express our mutual responsibility and care for each other and for this place of worship, prayer, and peace.  After service we will revel together in the possibilities for mutual flourishing that our financial support can bring us. It’s all pretty exciting, and I am truly grateful to each of you for making this church community a place of wonder, love, praise; for making this church community a place to belong.  

In Christ,

James+