A Note from the Rector – 5/24/20

We have all felt this long and terrible absence from our normal experience of Church.  As great as it is to be able to use technology to stay connected, it isn’t the same as meeting face to face.  We have missed receiving the Eucharist, singing together, and simply being with each other in the sacred space that we have all come to love—the building of Holy Apostles.  This past week, the bishop released a detailed, comprehensive plan that we will need to follow in order to re-open our building and begin worshipping together again.  This process is going to be challenging, and it is going to require creativity, patience, determination, and a firm trust in God.  We are going to have to be committed to finding a way forward together in uncharted waters over the course of the next 18 months or so.  The most important thing is that we are committed to caring for each other and journeying together with each and with Christ.  It is also important to remember that measures outlined by the bishop are temporary.  We will get through this together.  Here are some highlights of the plan for re-entering our building, along with my commentary that situates the plan for us.

+ When the Governor deems that Delaware County is in the “yellow” phase, and when CHA has met all of the protocols required by the diocese, we can begin having in-person worship together again with restrictions (see below).  The criteria for entering the yellow phase is that there are less than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents per day averaged over 14 days in the county, along with adequate PPE for health workers, and adequate testing available.  We are right on the county line, but we have to follow Delaware county because the majority of the land upon which the church is situated in located in there.  

+ In the yellow phase, we cannot have any worship gatherings of over 25 people.  Our average Sunday attendance in 2019 was 56, although it is less in the summer months.  Allowance also needs to be made for guests and visitors. Believe it or not, we often have more visitors in the summer (especially late summer) than normal, even as regular attendance is down. So, we will need to determine how many extra services we will need in order to comfortably accommodate everyone who wants to attend and make sure that everyone’s spiritual needs are met.  We will also need to create a system for coordinating who comes to which service in order to avoid overcrowding.  

+ Thorough disinfecting will need to take place in-between services.  Having one or more services outside when possible might help to alleviate some of the strain and cost of disinfecting.  

+ Masks will need to be worn by everyone except when receiving Communion.  I will be allowed to take off my mask while preaching and while praying the Eucharistic prayer, but I will wear a mask while distributing Communion.

+ Thankfully, we can celebrate the Eucharist together.  Bread and wine will be consecrated, but Communion will be received in one kind only—the bread.  

+ Strict social distancing will be observed.  We will have to sit and stand at least 6 feet away from each other (except those who live with each other), and we can’t shake hands or hug during the peace.  We will have to change the way we receive the offering. We will also have to change our habits for entering and exiting the building.

+ Congregational singing cannot happen for awhile.  This is because evidence suggests that singing can spread the virus farther than normal speech, up to 27 feet.  We can have a lead singer along with instrumentalists, as long as the singer is 30 feet away from everyone else (a potential challenge in our building, but we will be creative).  We can also creatively use our virtual choir recordings.  

+ Live-streaming the services and other on-line worship opportunities will continue.  Some of us may not be comfortable to come back right away and we will need to continue to offer other ways to connect.  One of the blessings of this time has been that we have been forced very quickly to adapt, and I hope we will continue to utilize some online services even after all restrictions have been lifted.  

Phew!  It is a lot to take in (the 26 page document is even more detailed!), but with God’s help we will continue our worshiping life together while doing everything we can to keep each other safe. There may be some of us who do not feel comfortable returning right away and that is ok.  There are tough decisions we all need to make.  Please know that however you decide to be involved with your church right now, you will be always be loved and supported.  No matter what!  As you read this note or read the bishop’s protocols, you might have questions or concerns.  Please reach out to me, or to John Day our Senior Warden.  I am more than willing to speak with you about any of this.  Like I said, this is going to require some patience and I want to make sure that we are all on the same page as much as possible.

As the vestry and I make plans for re-opening the building, it is important that we have more information to make the best decisions.  We have created a survey to help us in this task.  Please complete this short survey at your earliest convenience.  There is a convenient online survey, and I am also sending print surveys to those who I am aware do not have internet access.  If you would prefer a print survey, let me know.  I cannot stress enough how important this information will be for us.  There are no wrong answers.  Don’t be discouraged, trust in God, and remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/17/20

Today we observe Rogation Sunday, which is always the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension (Ascension is this Thursday, May 21st).  Rogation comes from Rogare which is the Latin verb “to ask.”  Rogation is a time to ask for God’s blessing on agriculture and the resources of creation.  It recognizes these resources as gifts from God upon which all humans rely for life.  This aspect of Rogation days has often been marked, especially in Anglicanism, by a special form of procession called “beating the bounds of the parish” in which the parish congregation led by the priest would encircle the boundaries of the parish (usually a defined neighborhood or village), stopping at points to read Scripture and pray.  Especially In rural areas, an important part of these processions was to visit and bless farmlands and agricultural operations.  

This forms a Spring bookend to traditions of Autumn harvest blessings and of offering a portion of the fruits of our labor to God in thanksgiving for God’s blessings.  The Rogation Day trip around the parish is probably the origin of the Easter home blessing tradition.  For the last several years, our version of the Rogation Day celebration has included a procession to Wynnewood Valley Park next door, where we’ve read Scripture and offered prayers and blessings over God’s good creation that is represented there. 

Rogation-tide has also been a time to ask God for protection from calamities, including the ending of plagues and protection from natural disasters.  Here, it is important to remember that the Church has weathered many a pandemic in its 2,000 years history, and much more besides.  A special form of prayer arose in response to these calamities called the Litany.  The Litany as we know it originated probably in the 5th century.  Some scholars trace both the Great Litany and the first Rogation procession to a bishop named Mamerte who lived in 5th century France and held a Rogation Day procession with a call and response type prayer to ask God’s protection during a looming disaster.  The exact nature of the disaster, interestingly, is contested.  Some contemporary sources say it was a volcano threatening to erupt, others that it was a series of calamitous earthquakes.  One source claims it was an on-going attack on the city of Vienne by a demonic pack of wolves.  Whatever the case, the Rogation procession around the town and the tradition of praying the Litany as a petition for God’s protection has long been a tool in the Church’s toolbox of prayer.  It’s sort of like that giant monkey wrench you pull out when your home plumbing project takes a serious turn and you don’t have time to mess around anymore–that’s the Great Litany.  Rogation processions and litanies were common in Europe during medieval and early modern outbreaks of the Black plague.  In 1544, the Great Litany was the first part of the Latin Liturgy to be translated (and heavily edited) into vernacular English by Thomas Cranmer.  Cranmer was in a hurry to bring his version of the ancient prayer to the public as a response to England’s devastating wars with Spain and France.  Five years later Cranmer finished the first Book of Common Prayer, which stands at the fountainhead of our own style of worship.  

All that to say, it seems especially appropriate to keep the tradition of Rogation Day this year during this pandemic.  As part of our 10AM service this Sunday, we will have a small Rogation procession led by me and my quarantine-mates (my children).  I’ll pray the Great Litany–you’ll be able to follow along at home–while the kids march along with a processional cross and Deb records the whole thing on a camcorder.  It could be a solemn moment, a bizarre spectacle, or a complete disaster.  Probably it will be a little bit of all three.  However, pleading for the renewal of all creation and asking God for protection against grave dangers and an end to our affliction–all this is not a joke, and our intentions will be in the right place.  

There is another way you can participate in the celebration of the Rogation Sunday from your own home. Below is a short Scripture reading and prayer that you can pray alone or with your quarantine-mates in your own garden.   

Rogation Sunday Garden Devotions

Leader                          Blessed be the God of all Creation

Others (if present)       The Lord, our God, makes all things new

A reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 8:19-23)

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray

Gracious God, along with all your creation we wait with eager longing.  Help us to be revealed as your children. Let us fulfill our small part in the great work of reconciling all things to you.  Let this garden be a sign of that day when creation is freed from its bondage to decay.  Bring order, growth, and tranquility to this place.  Send your blessing on this garden, on all the plants in my [our] care, and in all the creatures who visit and whose lives are sustained here as I am [we are] sustained here.  This we pray in the name of the Resurrected Lord, whom Mary Magdalene recognized as a gardener on Easter morning, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

A Note from the Rector – 3/29/20

12 days.  As of the day I am writing, that’s how many days since I last received the life-giving food of Christ’s body and blood.  It’s been a decade since I’ve gone that long without receiving the Eucharist.  I’ve seen and heard many people talk about how this is a time to realize what we have taken for granted in our lives.   For me, the Eucharist is on the top of the list.  I am sure I am not alone.  The Eucharist has come up a lot, as I’ve spoken to people from our parish in the past two of weeks.  More than one person has wondered if we could do a digital Eucharist, where each person gathers their own elements of bread and wine and I bless them remotely over the internet live-stream.  I have been moved by these conversations and the desire to participate in the great Sacrament of the Church that they express.  I love and admire you all for the strength of your faith and your hunger for the healing food of the Eucharist.  

The thing about the Eucharist is that it is inescapably physical.  The Eucharist embodies the incarnate, the en-fleshed, body of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is made present in the elements of wine and bread for the physically gathered community of the body of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Church…otherwise known as you.  This is a material, personal, face-to-face act of thanksgiving and sacrifice.  While the internet can do many things for us, especially in this time of crisis, it cannot simulate the immediacy and intimacy of the Eucharist.  The essential physical nature of the Eucharist is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer in the only instruction during the Eucharistic prayer for what the Celebrant (the priest) must do with their hands.  When saying the Words of Institution–“This is my body…” and “This is the blood…” the priest must touch the bread and touch the chalice.   It’s not that I have magic hands or that there’s anything special about me personally.  It is that the priest (who is standing in for the bishop, actually) represents the entire gathered assembly, offering up everything we have as a sacrifice of praise to God and receiving everything back, blessed, broken open, and dripping with God’s grace.  Good WiFi is no substitute for the real thing.  

As a priest I could celebrate the Eucharist with only another member of my family present.  But to do this for my consolation only, would be (to my conscience) a selfish act.  The intention of the heart is key here.  I do not question the motivation of priests who are celebrating the Eucharist in the absence of a congregation.  I am personally grateful that many of my colleagues have continued to pray the best prayer of the Church (the Eucharist) and to offer up the body and blood of Christ for the healing of our lost and broken world.  But for us, the vestry and I decided that we would livestream Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist as our main service for the time being.

So, we’re in a pickle.  In direct consultation with the Commonwealth’s health department, the bishop has suspended in-person worship services through the first Sunday of May.  I cannot even express how sad I am about the implications.   We cannot gather in person for Palm Sunday, or any of the services of Holy Week, or on the most important and glorious and meaningful day of the entire year—Easter Day.  Nevertheless, the bishop’s decision is the right one.  We need to stay home to save lives and to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system.  This is what loving our neighbor requires of us, and to violate that love—even for the sake of something so intrinsically good as gathering together to worship—is wrong.  

As unprecedented as all this sounds, we are not alone in this.  Our ancestors in faith dealt with similar and even more difficult circumstances.  As the fly said when he fell into the preserves…I’ve been in much worse jams than this.  The Church has lived and faithfully thrived through much worse jams than this.  It is also helpful to remember that not too long ago the norm in the Episcopal church was Morning Prayer three Sundays a month and Eucharist one Sunday a month.  In the Middle Ages, despite daily Eucharists celebrated in most churches, the average faithful Christian would only receive the Eucharist once or twice a year—perhaps only on Easter and Christmas.

The Book of Common Prayer also offers a way forward for us who so desperately want and need the Eucharist:

“If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.”

BCP, page 457

This concept is known as Spiritual Communion.  Even though we cannot receive with our mouths, God’s grace is imparted and made present to us through the holy desire and intentions of our hearts.   We are embodied people and Spiritual Communion is no permanent substitute for the material Eucharist, but in this time, it will carry us through.  So going forward into Holy Week we will create opportunities to make Spiritual Communion and to sharpen the desires and intentions of our hearts toward union with God and each other.  And when this thing is over, and we can gather again, we are going to have one heck of a party and one heavenly Eucharistic feast together.  

Right now, do not doubt that God’s loving presence is everywhere.  God is with you right now.  God hears our cries and sees our desperate moments.  Lord, hear our prayer and let our cry come to you.  Lord make speed to save us.  God make haste to help us.  Amen.   

A Note from the Rector – 3/8/2020

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).  I am using this week’s Note to address our parish’s response to COVID-19.  As followers of Jesus, we are called away from fear and toward trusting in the healing mercy of Jesus Christ and the invincible power of God’s love.  God promises not to abandon us in suffering, illness, or even death (Romans 8:38-39). In this season of Lent, we are preparing our hearts and minds to encounter the mystery of the Empty Tomb and to experience the Resurrected Christ in our own lives. As a people who serve the one who has conquered death, hell, and the grave, we reject the kind of fear that seeks to control our lives.  Instead, we continue always, no matter what, to celebrate the life God has given us and the promises we have received through Jesus. As an expression of our faith in the faithfulness of God, the Church continues to gather and worship the One from Whom we came and to Whom we shall return. 

The faith we have in the power and love of God, however, does not conflict with prudence and common sense, what Timothy might have called a sound mind.  In light of that our bishop, Daniel Gutierrez, has provided some guidelines and suggestions for some common sense moves we can make as a parish to protect each other from communicable diseases including COVID-19.  I do not want us to institute these measures out of fear, but I do think they are reasonable steps to take out of genuine love and care for each other, and especially those who are vulnerable to illness in our parish and community.

Door Handles

Efforts will be made to wipe down all door handles before and after church with disinfectant.  

The Peace

I am asking that we do not hug or kiss each other on the cheek during the peace.  You may consider an alternative form of passing the peace apart from hand-shaking as well, such as elbow tapping.  Some may prefer to not come into contact with another at all, and instead give the “peace” sign with their fingers.  Let’s respect each other’s comfort levels.

Handwashing

Immediately after the peace and announcements you will see me head to the sacristy where I will wash my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (while saying the Lord’s Prayer, which takes roughly 20 seconds to say, hint, hint) in order to make sure my hands are clean to handle the elements of Communion.  I am asking that our chalice bearers please follow me in this practice.

Offering

At the bishop’s suggestion, I am asking greeters not pass the offering plates from hand to hand, but attempt to collect the offering while holding the plates themselves.  We’ll play this by ear and see if we can come up with a system that works.  

Common Cup

The bishop has asked for a temporary end of the practice of intinction—that is, taking the bread in your fingers and dipping it in the cup.  The reason for this is that a person’s fingers or knuckles often come into contact with the cup or the wine during intinction (I can certainly attest the accuracy of that observation).

We believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine, and Christ is sufficiently present each.  Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to receive in only one kind—the bread—if you would rather not drink from the common cup.  You won’t be getting less Jesus. Jesus is present through and through. Our Prayer Book, however, mandates that both bread and wine must be consecrated and made available to any baptized Christian who wishes to receive them.  So, we will continue to offer both bread and wine. At the bishop’s behest, I strongly discourage you from intincting, and please don’t drink from the common cup if you are uncomfortable doing so.

Coffee Hour

Let’s please use additional caution in food handling during coffee hour.  

God is with us during this time.  Let us come together without fear, with love and care for each other.  Let us recommit ourselves to earnest prayer for those who are ill and those who are afraid and lonely.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

In Christ,

+ James

A Note from the Rector – 2/23/2020

This week, I would like to share three brief notes:

Update on Jeremiah Mustered

The first is a note of thanksgiving.  Jeremiah Mustered, who most of you know, discerned a call in this parish to ordained ministry back in 2018.  This means that he met with a group of folks from Holy Apostles who helped him listen to what God might be calling him to do.  They ultimately felt that Jeremiah was called to be an ordained priest. The vestry and I agreed, and Jeremiah entered the diocesan ordination process.  It is a long road. He met several times with the diocesan Commission on Ministry, took psychological exams, background checks, filled out reams of paperwork and various other such things, and for the last year has been a ministry intern at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Ardmore under the direction of their Rector, the Rev. Dr. Joel Daniels.  Jeremiah even took an intensive theology class with Fr. Joel (who taught at General Seminary before coming St. George’s). Recently, Jeremiah has been made a Candidate for Holy Orders which is almost the last step before ordination, and in January, he took the General Ordination Exams. This is a test that everyone who is to be ordained a priest must take.  It’s something of a rite of passage. It covers 6 areas: Scripture, Liturgy, Church History, Practical Ministry, Christian Ethics, and General Theology. Each area takes several hours to complete and the entire test is administered over the course of 3 days. When the results are scored, there are only two grades: Proficient or Not Proficient. Jeremiah just received his results: he scored Proficient on all 6!  Congratulations, Jeremiah! Jeremiah will have two more interviews ahead of him, but, God willing and the people of our diocese consenting, Jeremiah will be ordained to the transitional diaconate this coming June!       

Lent

On Sunday morning, you can pick up a booklet with all the information about this year’s Lenten offerings and information about all special services during Lent and Holy Week (see last week’s Rector’s Note).  The booklet will also be available on online soon. There is one practice that I really want to lift up and encourage every member of the congregation (and all ages) to commit to for the 40 days of Lent. I would like everyone to pray the parish intercessions.  This is made up of the parish prayer list, our ministry partners, institutions in our community (including schools), and all the streets around the church and that we all live on.  All of this is divided into 7 short sections, one for each day. It will take you less than a minute each day to pray through this list. This is a practical, doable Lenten practice—even for those of us who are very busy—and I am positively sure that if we do this together it is going to have a positive impact on this parish and on each of us.  You’ll find the February Parish Intercessions attached to the weekly Acts of the Apostles email, or in booklet form in the hallway. The March edition will be available next Sunday, March 1st. 

Apostles Gallery

If you were at the Annual Meeting, you heard me say that part of loving our neighbors and our neighborhood is caring for our culture.  Our recent renovation of the parish hall and hallway gave us a great opportunity to do some of that. For a few weeks now, you’ve seen some lovely artwork hung in the office hallway and a sign which says “Apostles Gallery.”  This “gallery space” will continue to be used to showcase art. Apostles Gallery exists to foster conversations, make connections, and help nurture the cultural and spiritual vitality of our community. Toward that end, in March we will be showcasing artwork that meditates on Jerusalem as the Holy City.  The primary artist is Margaret Adams Parker, who is an established printmaker and sculptor with dozens of gallery shows, as well as museum exhibits and commissions by major institutions. We will celebrate our gallery exhibit with a wine and cheese reception on Saturday, March 7th at 6:30.  This is a perfect event to invite your friends and neighbors to!   For more information about our art exhibit and the gallery in general visit: holyapostlespa.org/gallery


In Christ,

+ James

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+