A Note from the Rector – 2/16/2020

Next Sunday, the 23rd of February, is the last Sunday before Lent begins. Can you believe it? I love Lent! I am always excited about the prospect of preparing for Easter, of taking on a spiritual project in order to get ready to receive the greatest and most profound truth there is, the truth that has reordered the universe and which makes all the difference, the truth that gives us hope in death and peace during this life—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If preparing for THAT doesn’t make you excited, I don’t know what will. 

Now is the time to begin thinking about what is called a Lenten Rule of Life. A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual practices that help shape and form you in a more Godward direction. It is not meant to be a spiritual straight-jacket or an extra to-do list that ends up just making you feel bad about yourself. Rather, a Rule should be a living and life-giving set of practices, ideals, intentions, and hopes. Making a Lenten Rule is about being intentional in your spiritual preparation for Easter. I am rather haphazard sometimes, so the act of being intentional is really helpful for me.  

A Lenten Rule can be as simple as “I am going to give X for Lent.” However, to get the most out of Lent I would encourage you to take a more holistic approach. God wants to be part of every aspect of our lives. It is not really possible to partition off your spiritual life from other aspects of your life and it is really unhealthy to try. So, in your Lenten Rule you might try to engage several aspects of your life in a holistic way. Think about a way to engage different aspects of who you are in Lenten preparation: mental, physical, emotional, etc. You might think about engaging your mind spiritually through taking up a Bible study, by reading a devotional book (I’ll have a bunch of suggestions next week, or you can find your own), and/or by engaging in our Soup Group discussions (Wednesdays during Lent at 6:30PM). 

Fasting is about engaging your physical body, its hungers and desires, in the process of forming yourself to be more like Jesus. Fasting is a very individual thing and should take into consideration your overall health. For instance, folks who have trouble regulating their blood sugar have no business whatsoever in fasting from food in any significant way, but they might consider fasting from other things they enjoy. There are other ways of fasting that have more to do with making mental and emotional space for spiritual growth, such as a fast from social media, or by limiting the amount of screen time we engage in.  

Every Lenten Rule should include prayer. Prayer is the essential tool for spiritual development and is our lifeline to God. As Christians, we should not be able to (or want to) imagine living a day without prayer, however simple our prayers may be.  Even wanting to pray is a prayer in and of itself. Prayer is what integrates us, body, mind, and spirit, and helps to make us whole.  There are many ways to pray. Do some exploring this Lent. Try out a new way to pray.  

Next Sunday, our annual Lenten Offerings booklet will be available (let me know if you’d like me to mail you one!). This booklet will detail the resources that will be available through Holy Apostles for your spiritual growth this Lent, but don’t let that be end of your exploring. Do your own research. And of course, I *love* to talk about this stuff. If you want to discuss spiritual disciplines, prayer, fasting, or Lent in general let me know!

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 2/9/2020

Next Sunday evening, February 16, we are very blessed to host the Choir School of Delaware for a special service of Evensong!  It will also be a gentle first performance for our own Holy Apostles Choir School who will join their Delaware counterparts for several pieces.  You are not going to want to miss this.  

The Choir School of Delaware, located in Wilmington, began as the Cathedral Choir School of Delaware in 1883.  It is one of the oldest continually operating children’s music programs in the country. When the Episcopal Cathedral closed in Wilmington, the Choir School continued independently. Today it is a thriving program which serves the children and youth of inner-city Wilmington, offering under-served families world-class music instruction, mentoring, homework help, college preparation, and more. The Choir School has performed in concert halls and churches all over the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, including singing Evensong at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City.  Just wait until you hear these kids. You are going to be blown away.  

The Director of Music and Operations for the Choir School of Delaware is none other than Arreon Harley-Emerson, who also directs our Choir School and frequently sings in our choir. Arreon is a gifted educator and a world-class professional musician. He oozes a contagious excitement for music and joy for living. He holds advanced music degrees from the University of Delaware and has conducted choirs in such venues as St. Peter’s in Vatican City, the Kimmel Center for the Arts in Philadelphia, and the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.  Have I mentioned that you are not going to want to miss Evensong on the 16th?

Evensong, or Sung Evening Prayer, is moving and beautiful service; one of the glories of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition.  Though it follows the familiar pattern of Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer—psalms, readings from Scripture, and prayers—almost the entire service is sung by the choir and the officiant (although there will be several congregational hymns on the 16th).   Not only will the music be beautiful, but since most the responsibility for audible prayer is delegated to the choir, the congregation has the opportunity for silent prayer and meditation, letting the prayerful music roll over them.  It promises to be a peaceful and stress-relieving experience, and a perfect way to start a new week. Seriously, come to this service and invite all your friends and neighbors. It will not disappoint.

In Christ,

James+

A Note from the Rector – 2/2/2020

It’s a busy and exciting Sunday.  We will have our annual parish meeting and luncheon immediately following the 10AM service of Holy Eucharist.  Apparently, there is also some sort of sporting event going on later in the afternoon, but our business will be finished long before then.  Liturgically, there is a lot going on today as well. Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. It’s part of the Church’s fixed Calendar as it always falls exactly 40 days after Christmas.  In some Christian traditions, you wouldn’t even think of touching your Christmas decorations to put them away until after this feast.  

I’ll talk more about the Biblical origins of the feast and its connections to the themes of Epiphany in my Sunday sermon.  However, there is another layer of liturgical interest about this feast. The Presentation of Our Lord is also called Candlemas.  This name comes from a late medieval custom of blessing candles on this day for parishioners to use throughout the year. These “holy” candles (holy, just means set apart, remember) were often reserved for use in times of fear or distress.  For example, in times of extreme weather, people would bring out the candles blessed at Candlemas and light them as a prayer of safety and for a return of seasonable weather. In Roman Catholic Poland, candles blessed at Candlemas are called “Thunder Candles” for this reason.  Modern meteorology may have taught us a lot about the origins and workings of weather, but I will admit to finding some comfort in lighting a candle during a storm, a reminder that Christ is present throughout the storms of life.  

So, today’s feast of Candlemas is associated with praying for seasonable weather and looking forward to warmer weather, even as the beginning of February around here usually means a long slog between now and Spring.  Mix this with the fact that February 2 is also a “quarter day” which falls, more or less, between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox, a day which is the traditional beginning of a farmer’s yearly work, and you have the formula for the growth of a number of fascinating folk traditions in many cultures around the word that associate Candlemas and the prediction of weather.  In England and Scotland, there is a traditional saying: “If Candlemas is fair and clear / There’ll be twa winters in the year.” Of course, the most famous of these folk traditions—at least around here—is Groundhog’s Day, which has its origins in German folk traditions that mix Candlemas with badgers and their kin.  

You’ll be relieved to know that we will not be mixing badgers with our liturgical celebrations today (or groundhogs for that matter).  We will bless candles, however. Due to our annual meeting, the need for healing prayer, and other pressures on our time at the 10AM Eucharist, the Blessing of the Candles will take place immediately following Morning Prayer which begins at 8:30AM.  Everyone is invited to come and participate in this fun, faith-building tradition provided that you stay (or come back) for the annual meeting! If you have to choose to come only to the 10AM service, don’t worry. The pre-blessed candles will be available for everyone at the 10AM service as a reminder that Christ who is the Light of the Word is present with us always. 

In Christ,

James+

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+