A Note from the Rector – 01/24/2021

We are preparing to elect two new members to our vestry next Sunday at our annual parish meeting.  This slate of candidates includes:

Linda Day

Linda and her husband John have been members of CHA since 2016.  Linda is the Pre-K Assistant Teacher at Plymouth Meeting Friends School.  She has been an integral volunteer for so many things at CHA, from gardening projects to pancakes with Santa.  She also serves on the Altar Guild.  Linda is a member of the Daughters of the King and is interested, with several others, in starting a chapter of DOK here at CHA.  John and Linda live in Wynnewood. 

Jean Gentile

Jean and his wife, Katie, joined CHA in 2019 after moving back to the area from Florida.  Jean and Katie have deep roots in this community.  Since the pandemic prevented us from meeting normally, Jean has been instrumental in building and facilitating the technology we’ve needed in order to conduct our services virtually.  A talented musician, Jean has used his talents combined with his technical skill to help create our virtual choir offerings.  Jean works for Electronic Arts.  Jean and Katie live in Havertown. 

We will also vote on a motion to allow Suzanne Lees to continue serving on the vestry for two more years.  At last year’s annual meeting, Suzanne was elected to complete the last year of Kevin Cavanaugh’s vestry term.  Given the challenges we have faced together in 2020, Suzanne has graciously volunteered to stay on the vestry and complete a typical three-year term.  I hope very much that we will vote to keep Suzanne.  She is a gift to this parish, and I am grateful for her willingness to continue to serve.  Her continued vestry term will provide much needed stability and continuity as we face 2021 and, with God’s help, emerge on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Thank you to all three vestry candidates.  I hope that all members of the parish will be able to join us online next Sunday, January 31, for our annual parish meeting. 

A Note on Vestries

The vestry and rector serve as the leadership of this parish together.  The vestry system is unique to the American branch of the Anglican Communion (The Episcopal Church).  During our colonial period, the Church of England operated in the American colonies under the direct authority of the Bishop of London.  There were no bishops on American soil until after the American Revolution.  There were also no seminaries, and colonies eventually experienced a dire clergy shortage.  The vestry system developed out of this necessity.  In order for parishes to survive, they needed to have strong lay leadership.  Especially in colonies like Virginia where the Church of England was the Established Church, parishes were not just church communities they functioned as geographical entities (similar to the old system of counties and parishes in England).  The parish vestries that developed, then, did not just administer the temporal affairs of the parish church, but also, in many cases, served as civil administrators of the entire geographical parish.  From this history, our contemporary vestry system has developed.  Unique to Anglicanism, (and also to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and many “Mainline” denominations), a vestry in the Episcopal church is tasked with hiring a rector in consultation with the bishop. 

Vestries are a testament to a fact just as true today as it was in colonial America, and indeed everywhere at every time: the church’s backbone is strong lay leadership.  The New Testament puts this in theological terms.  All baptized Christians are called to be in the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:5).  We are all ministers of the Gospel, and essential parts of the Body of Christ, the Church.  Our role as priests, under Jesus the Great High Priest (Hebrews 7), is to pray for and bless this world, and by our lives, to bring this world closer to God’s Kingdom.  That’s the cosmic picture.  The local picture seems more mundane.  During the pandemic the vestry met monthly on Zoom and passed numerous emails back and forth, conducting the business of the church.   Don’t be fooled.  The work of the vestry is profound, essential, and beautiful.  It is nothing short of committed, loving members of this local congregation quietly doing God’s work day in and day out.  I am so grateful. 

A Note from the Rector – 01/17/2021

In my sermon last Sunday I said that partisan politics is not the business of the Church.  Instead, I posited, the Church is a politics all of its own.  I want to use a few of these Rector’s Notes to act as footnotes to back that statement up, and to elaborate on it especially from Scripture.  Mostly, I want to meditate on some passages of Scripture that are undeniably political and yet point to what I would call God’s politics, or, in the language of Scripture: the Kingdom of God. God’s reign is in direct contrast to many of the political machinations that we humans have come up with over the millennia.  In these explorations, I am taking the long view.  Yes, I think Scripture speaks to our pressing current situations, but it does so “sidelong.” It is with an understanding that God’s timing is not humanity’s and that political brokenness is not something that is new (even if it is urgent).  So, without naming names, or drawing conclusions that each of you can draw on your own, I want to begin in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1-12 relates the well-known, but not well understood, story of the Tower of Babel.  It’s worth reading again since it may have been awhile (the last time it came up in the Sunday lectionary was Pentecost, June 9, 2019). 

The story is set in the distant past when humans were first gathering together and building cities.  It relates how a group of humans migrated to the plains of Shinar (also known as Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq and Iran).  They developed the technology to make bricks by baking mud and adding bitumen, and they created mortar to hold them together.  This technology allowed them, apparently for the first time ever, to start building a city.  As the crowning achievement of this city, they began building a great tower.  They wanted to the tower to reach to the heavens, “in order to make a name for themselves.”    They all spoke the same language.  God sees what they are doing and says something fascinating.  We are meant to imagine God enthroned in God’s council, surrounded by the heavenly hosts.  That is why God is speaking as if to a group.  God says, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  That’s exactly what happens and, as a consequence, the overly ambitious building project is abandoned.  The people are scattered around the area, each one looking for the others who speak their language.  Each one is struggling to be understood and to be heard. 

The theological and ethical point of this story is that God judges the pride and hubris of humanity. One of the most remarkably consistent messages in Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation and almost every book in-between—is that prideful people will always come under God’s judgement in the end, but that God will always be merciful to those who have humility.  The tower of Babel story supports the notion that chaos and division are the consequences of pride as it is carried out in the public square.  From the perspective from which the story is told, God’s judgement means that God scrambled the languages.  From a human point of view, and from the perspective of history, it is easy to see that prideful leadership always results in division and chaos.  We recognize both God’s judgement and the natural consequences of pride are the same.  As St. Paul puts in Galatians, “you reap what you sow.”

Anthropologically and archeologically, the story of Babel is interesting because it seems to be set in a period of human history, around 12,000 to 20,000 years ago, when humans first began building cities and establishing civilizations on a large scale.  Two new human inventions supported the rise of the first cities in Mesopotamia, subsistence agriculture and slavery.  Archeology suggests that the first cities in Mesopotamia built around this time included large pyramid type buildings that towered over all the other buildings.  Scholars suspect that such a building is what the writer of Genesis had in mind in the story of the tower of Babel.  Called, ziggurats, these ancient buildings were temples for the worship of a several ancient deities.  In a fascinating concurrence, these structures from the Near East look and probably functioned remarkably similar to pyramids that were constructed in Central and South America by early Meso-American civilizations, though the latter were built thousands of years later. 

But, what does this story have to do with politics, particularly the politics of today’s Church?  A clue is found in the lectionary.  As I alluded to earlier, the story of the tower of Babel is read on the Feast of Pentecost in lectionary year C.  There is a reason for this.  The lectionary invites us intentionally to contrast Babel with the story of the Day of the Pentecost and the founding of the Church found in Acts 2.  You’ll remember that on that day, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples who had gathered in the upper room.  When the Holy Spirit arrived, they began speaking in other languages (among other things).  This is called glossolalia, and it was mentioned in last Sunday’s readings as well in relationship to Baptism (Acts 19:1-17).  On Pentecost day, the disciples spoke in other languages.  In Jerusalem for the Passover and its attendant festivals, there were members of the Jewish diaspora who were from many parts of the ancient world and spoke a variety of languages.  When these folks heard the disciples and understood what they were saying in a variety of different languages, they were amazed and many of them believed their message about Jesus. 

At Pentecost, God was constituting a new community—the Church—a new society, a new city even.  This new political body was a reversal of the chaos and discordance of Babel.   The Tower of Babel represents God’s judgement against human pride and hubris, but God’s judgement is never the final word.  God’s mercy always is. In contrast to a society that is founded on pride and human hubris, God founds a different kind of community, the Church.  The Church can only be founded on the self-giving love of Jesus, and on a new and mysterious kind of power: the power of the Holy Spirit.  This spiritual power does not coerce or use violence to achieve its ends.  Rather the power of the Holy Spirit is the power to meet others where they are, use the language they use, and invite them to experience Jesus’ love for themselves.  It is the power to constitute a society based on the principles of the Gospel.  When the Church relies on this power (even though this power seems like weakness to this world) the Church cannot fail.  When the Church, through pride or fear, resorts to other forms of power such as nationalism or violence, it stops being the Church that God intends.  Its witness to the saving grace of Jesus is strongly diminished and it needs to turn around. 

A Note from the Rector – 01/10/2021

I am not going to rush to capture all my thoughts regarding the attack on the Capitol building which happened on the Feast of the Epiphany.  I was horrified and outraged.  But by themselves, my emotions don’t mean much.  Horror and outrage will only go so far.  The real work lies on the other side.  But, I’m not going to rush past all that toward the construction of a grand analysis, solution, or even a cogent essay of any kind.  I have much to process as we all do.  For now, I am going to offer one thought and plead one cause. 

Holy Apostles is our local incarnation of Body of Christ.  St. Paul tells us that we are all members of one body (Romans 12).  A member of the body attacking another member of the body is analogous to one of the most dangerous aspects of the coronavirus for a lot people, especially those who are otherwise healthy.  The virus tricks the body’s immune system into attacking the body itself.  In the same way, the virus of hatred and division (a spiritual, cultural, and political malaise) is tricking the body of Christ into attacking itself.  This cannot be.  Now more than ever, we need to love each other and stick by each other.  We do not need to completely agree with each other, except in one case—that we are members of the Body of Christ.  Don’t believe our society that claims the only thing that matters is being right, that the “gotcha” moment is what counts.  The only thing that matters is the love of Jesus that transforms the world.  In the FINAL analysis, the moment that counts is when you were baptized into the Body of Christ, transformed and saved by the grace of God.  We need to be careful what we say to each other, especially on social media.  Social media gives us a false sense of removal from the real consequences of our words.  It tricks us into thinking we can say whatever we want; to be more forceful, mean, and cruel than we would ever dream of being in a face-to-face conversation.  I confess to you my siblings in Christ, I am guilty of this more times than I can count.  The love of Jesus is calling us to be different.  Grace and peace are not won by winning on the internet. 

This doesn’t mean we should not have real conversations about the issues which threaten to destroy the country in which we live.  Going forward, after the outrage and horror subsides, we’re going to have to figure out ways on the grassroots level to talk about this stuff in ways that honor God and honor our sacred obligation to love each other as Christ loves us.

A Note from the Rector – 01/03/2021

Several weeks ago I wrote about angels in this space and promised to write more.  I wanted to link some of the descriptions of angels that we can find in Scripture to our actual liturgy and practice as Christians.  I am trying to get at what angels actually have to do with you and me in our lived experience.  I want to start with an early Christian theologian and reader of Scripture who took all the various references to angelic beings in Scripture and in other sources, ancient Jewish literature for example, and systematized them into categories.  Now, boxing such things into categories is satisfying but dangerous.  Nevertheless, I think these categories of angelic beings are interesting and can, at least, give us a framework in which to think about them, as long as we aren’t too dogmatic about it. 

This framework is from a 5th century text called the On the Celestial Hierarchy, by a person who is now known as Pseudo-Dionysus (long story behind the name).  Here are the categories of the heavenly host according to this text, grouped in three groups of three: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, Powers; Principalities, Archangels, Angels.  

Immediately you’ll notice that angels and archangels are at the end of the list.  While we might colloquially refer to all these creatures as angels, the heavenly beings that function as messengers, (for that is what the word “angel” means) represent a small portion of the heavenly host.  The ordering begins with those beings closest to the eternal presence of God almighty and work “outward” to those whose function in God’s economy take them to various aspects of the material world and human interaction.  As messengers and defenders of humanity, archangels and angels appear closest to us in the heavenly ranks. 

I don’t have the space in this week’s “Note” to write about all 9 ranks of the heavenly host, but I will at least write a little about the first two and the last two, particularly with what they have to do with our worship here on earth.  Think of this as a commentary on our Sunday Eucharistic liturgy.  With the Christmas story fresh on our minds, we remember that the angel (messenger) of the Lord visited shepherds with Good News of great joy, and then was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host—perhaps not just angels, but others from the ranks of heaven—who sing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth…”.  This proclamation of the heavenly host forms the basis for the standard opening hymn of our Eucharistic liturgy, called the Gloria.  Since it is the proclamation of the angels and, traditionally, the archangels such as Gabriel, the Gloria makes perfect sense as the opening of what is called the Liturgy of the Word.  This is the first half of our service, in which we proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation week after week by reading Scripture, preaching the sermon, and reciting the Creed.  The Liturgy of the Word is the message of the angels over and over again, amplified by human voices.  The Liturgy of the Word is followed by the Liturgy of the Table (the altar), and that is where we next meet with heavenly beings. 

Here is a really important moment in our Eucharistic liturgy.  To set the scene: we’ve gathered together our gifts, including the elements of bread and wine and, in the offering, we’ve offered them to God “from whom all blessing flow.”  There is an opening dialogue (“The Lord be with you”) which establishes the fact that we are joining our prayers together and that, with the consent of those gathered, the priest is representing the prayers and thanksgivings of the entire assembly.  Then comes a paragraph called a “proper preface” which usually sets the scene, the liturgical season, etc. and answers the question, Why is it “a right and good thing always and everywhere to praise God”?  Then comes the moment I am thinking about.  The culmination of the proper preface is always the observation that we humans are joining our Eucharistic prayer with the ongoing praise and prayer of the “angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to the glory of Your [God’s] name: Holy, Holy, Holy…”. They’re joining us, or rather, we’re joining them and the liturgies of humans intersect with the liturgy of the angels. 

Along with the angels and archangels, whose message we joined during the liturgy of the Word, the company of heaven actually refers in particular to seraphim, cherubim, and thrones, the first three ranks in the list I shared above.  This becomes clear when we examine the biblical sources for this part of the Eucharistic prayer. 

As a note, “seraphim” is Hebrew and translates to English as “burning ones” (yes, it is plural).  There are many mentions of seraphim in Scripture but one in particular pertains to the liturgy of the Eucharist, Isaiah 6:1-5:

In the year that King Uzzi′ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Notice that seraphim stand above the throne of God and have six wings.  The seraphim’s role is to eternally stand vigil near God’s throne and to sing endless praise to the mighty One.  Similar are the cherubim.  Cherubim are described in the book of Ezekiel to creatures with four wings, and four heads: the heads of a lion, a human, an eagle, and ox (Ezekiel 1:5-11; compare this to the creatures who adorn our pulpit and who represent the four gospels).  These obviously do not look like cuddly babies with dainty wings that were popularized by renaissance painters.  Cherubim have a variety of roles ascribed to them in the Old Testament, but the most significant one seems to be the bearers of the throne of God.  In Ezekiel, God’s throne is depicted as a flaming chariot that is drawn by the cherubim.  In Exodus, God tells Moses to recreate a material copy of the throne room of God that Moses experiences atop Mt. Sinai.  Moses does this and builds the tabernacle, with the Ark of Covenant being God’s throne.  On top of the Ark of the Covenant are two golden cherubim upon which God’s glory resides. 

In Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, John the author receives a vision of the heavenly throne room that is similar to Isaiah’s vision. 

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.”

Revelation 4:6-8 NRSV

Here, John sees living creatures whose attributes combine Isaiah’s description of the seraphim, Ezekiel’s description of the cherubim, as well as Ezekiel’s description of another creature named, thrones, which are living wheels with eyes that form the chariot/throne of God.  These creatures not only worship God the Father, they worship the Lamb who was slain, who is at the right hand of God.  The Lamb is Christ who is the eternal sacrifice, once offered for the salvation of the whole world.  Christ is there on the heavenly altar (of which the ancient tabernacle is a copy), and Christ is made present in our midst in the Eucharist.  At that moment, earth and heaven are joined, righteousness and mercy kiss, and our voices truly are joined with the hosts of heaven in eternal praise.  

A Note from the Rector – 12/13/2020

Recently an article of mine called “The Spirit-Drenched World and the Renewal of the Episcopal Church” was published by the online publication, Earth & Altar Magazine.  It’s something of a provocation and a little bit provocative.  It’s not necessarily something that I would write for my weekly parish column.  The article is about how the wider church is in need of spiritual renewal.  This wider renewal will of course have ramifications on the parish level.  One implication, I wrote, is that in the parish “We need to teach and preach again about the existence of angels, demons, and miracles.”  I thought maybe I should practice what I preach.  As Christmas nears and we hear and recall stories of angels appearing to Mary and to shepherds and wise men, I thought I would spend some time sharing with you about angels. 

I am not a materialist.  That is, I don’t believe the material world which is experienced by our five senses and explored through the scientific method is all there is to reality.  I believe there is something more.  I would call this additional aspect of reality the spiritual world, or the spiritual dimension of our world, of our universe.  The existence of spirits—beings without physical bodies but with wills, minds, and agency—cannot be ruled out for those who believe in the existence of God.  If you believe in God then, from a logical standpoint, you must at least entertain the possible existence of spirits.  Scripture is full of stories and ideas about spirits.  Among them are angels.  Our word “angel” is taken directly from the Greek word for a divine messenger.  This is also the meaning of the word that gets translated as angel in the Hebrew Scripture, “malak.”  An angel is a messenger from God.  Angels, like everything else, spirited or bodied, is a creation of the one true God.  Angels were created separately from humans.  Humans do not become angels when they die (maybe I’ll write more about this, but one of the Scriptural references that points this out is Hebrews 1). 

Angels were created for specific purposes.  We glean these purposes from Scripture.  True to their etymology, many angels in the Bible are bearers of divine messages.  The archangel Gabriel seems particularly exemplary to this task.  He is the one mentioned in Luke who bears the greatest message ever messaged to a young woman in 1st Palestine named Mary: “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:26-31)  A host of angels appear to shepherds announcing the birth of the savior (Luke 2:8-14).  Before this, an angel appears to an aging priest, Zechariah, to announce that he will have (naturally conceived) a son (Luke 1:11-13), echoing the story of Abraham and Sarah, who also received mysterious messengers from God announcing that God would fulfill God’s promise and give them a son, Isaac (Genesis 18).  Some angelic messages take on the form of a warning.  An angel warns Joseph not to divorce Mary, (Matthew 1:18-21).  Again the angel warns Joseph, this time to flee with his young family from the psychotic and murderous King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).

Another function of angels in Scripture is protection.  Psalm 91, says “[God] shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  They shall bear you in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalms 91:11-12).  In the book of Revelation, Michael the archangel and a company of angels under his command, are tasked with protecting a woman who has just given birth.  The woman represents Mary and the church, and the Michael defends her against a great dragon (Revelation 12:1-8).  Angels are associated with a mysterious passage in 2 Kings, where the prophet of God, Elisha, is caught in a besieged city.  The armies of Aram have surrounded the city of Samaria and there is no escape.  Elisha is unperturbed. When his companions ask him why he’s so chipper, Elisha responds, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.”  He then prays that God gives those inside the city the spiritual sight to see what is going on.  Suddenly, those present see a vast army of horses and chariots of fire protecting the city.  When the attack of the Arameans finally comes, though, this mysterious army fights in a unexpected way.  God strikes the attackers with blindness.  Elisha comes out and, with kinds words, leads the sworn enemies of his people into the city.  When the king of city asks Elisha if he should kill them or not, Elisha responds, “No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.”  The Arameans never bother Israel again. 

There are other functions of angels in Scripture, some of them shrouded in mystery.  Angels guard, as in the angel who is placed at the gate to the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24).  Angels come to bring sustenance to Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13).  Jacob sees a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven, (Genesis 28:10-19) and Balaam’s donkey sees an angel with a flaming sword blocking the way when its human rider (and tormentor) did not (If you’ve never read this story you really should, it’s great.  You can find it in Numbers 22). 

Perhaps the most important function of angels, however, is the constant, perpetual praise and worship of God.  This function is mentioned every week in our liturgy when we say, “Joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to praise the glory of your Name: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…”.  In my next “Note” I will explore the biblical passages from which we derive this part of our liturgy, and this will lead us to explore some of the different types of angels/spirits, and the way they are described by those who had spiritual visions of them.  Spoiler alert: angels don’t look like chubby babies artfully draped with tiny wings holding them aloft. 

A Note from the Rector – 12/06/2020

The feast of Christmas is nearly here.  It is a wonderful time of year when we remember that God became a human being for the sake of love; that God loved us so much that Jesus came to us—not as one with great power, prestige, or wealth, but as a helpless child who was born of a young woman named Mary in a stable in Bethlehem. 
 
This year our celebration will be different.  We will not be able to gather in large numbers on Christmas Eve and most of our worship and celebration will be online.  However, we will still mark the great mystery and beauty of Christmas with our long time tradition of decking the church with Christmas poinsettias. 
 
Christmas is also time when we think about and deeply miss our loved ones who have died.  So, like other years we will have the opportunity to offer these Christmas flowers for the glory of God and in memory of those we love. This is our way of honoring them, praying for them, and bringing them with us into our time of worship and thanksgiving for the miracle of Christmas.
 
If you would like to participate in this custom, please provide us with the names of the deceased loved ones you would like to remember along with a donation.  The suggested donation is $8.00 per name, but please do give only as you are able and so moved.  You may email the names of your loved ones to us and use our online “give” button on website in order to donate.  On the online form you will find a memo line that you can utilize to designate the donation as “Christmas flowers.”  You may also mail the names and/or a check to the church office.  Please have your names to the church no later than Friday, December 19th.
 
Thank you, and may God richly bless you during this season of Advent preparation for Christmas. 

A Special Note from the Rector – 11/23/2020

A Note from the Rector – New Coronavirus Precautions

As recorded in our four Gospels, Jesus has some pretty great one-liners.  One of my favorites is when he tells his disciples they need to be “as shrewd as serpents, and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  I thought about that after our vestry meeting on Sunday, November 22, because in their deliberation I saw them enact this saying of Jesus with alacrity.  There were difficult decisions to be made.  The task was to be prudent, shrewd, and wise for the sake of love, for the sake of taking care of everyone in this parish, and for the sake of doing our part to reduce the spread of this deadly virus.  Another important part of their task was to make decisions that were not driven by fear or despair, or marred by vitriol and division.  We agreed on the principles, but we did not completely agree about the best course of action.  Nevertheless, the vestry came to a decision with Christian love, gentle kindness, and respect for difference.  It was inspiring.  Here is their decision:

Starting Sunday, December 6th, Holy Apostles will follow a modified version of the Phase 1 protocols that were prepared by the diocese.  For all intents and purposes our services, gatherings, and meetings will be offered online only.  On Sundays at 10AM we will offer a live stream of our service of Holy Eucharist with prayers for Spiritual Communion.  This service will be live streamed.  The total number of attendees of this service will be 10 people.  About half the people in attendance will be those who have a role in creating the live stream service.  These include camera and tech operators, cantors, and clergy/officiants.  For those who feel passionately that they absolutely must attend the service in person despite the very real risks involved, there will be several places available.  Those spots will need to be shared equitably between those who want to attend.  Attendees will need to sign up, wear a mask, and socially distance at all times.  These protocols must be understood and applied vigorously by all, as a matter of Christian love and discipline.  Anyone who is sick in any way, especially with any known symptoms of coronavirus (fever, coughing, loss of taste/smell, etc.), should not attend.  Anyone who has been knowingly exposed to the coronavirus within two weeks should stay at home.  If you feel strongly about attending in person, I encourage you to speak with me to determine a course of action. 

Please engage as much as possible in our worship from the safety of your home.  There are many ways to participate from home, including recording yourself reading the Scriptures, and participating in the virtual choir (anyone can participate!).  We will continue to live stream to our YouTube channel, and post occasional videos and other content on Facebook.  We will continue daily prayer at 7:30pm via Zoom, and will be sending out materials to help facilitate prayer and worship at home during the season of Advent.  If you have a significant technology barrier that makes participation difficult or impossible, or if know someone in the parish who does, please let me know.  The church would like to help overcome these barriers if possible. 

This plan will be reevaluated in several weeks.  In addition, our plan may need to change based on guidance or directives of the Bishop.  Unless the rates of transmission and illness in our community are significantly reduced in the next few weeks, we will have to continue implementing more stringent protocols through the Feast of Christmas.  I am deeply grieved by what this decision means for our worshipping life, especially for Christmas and all our beloved holiday traditions.  However, I am convinced these steps taken by the vestry are necessary at this time.  I am equally convinced that God has not abandoned us.  Advent is a time to remind ourselves of the depth of meaning in the name given to Christ by the angel Gabriel when the angel announced to Mary that she would have a child and his name would be called Emmanuel which means, “God with us.”  God is still with us, even now.  Even when we must worship at home, Emmanuel, God is with us.  Though we will likely have to forgo many of our beloved holiday traditions, Emmanuel, God is with us.  Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Emmanuel, God is with us. 

Blessing and peace,

James+

Advent & Christmas Worship Schedule (subject to change)

First Sunday of Advent – Sunday, November 29

8:30AM – Holy Eucharist in-person, 25 person limit, must sign up

10AM – Online service via Zoom with Holy Apostles and the Mediator

Second Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 6

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Third Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 13

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 20

10AM – Virtual Christmas Pageant!  Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed.  In person attendees limited to 10.

Christmas Eve – Thursday, December 24

4:30PM & 10PM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed. In person attendees limited to 10.

Christmas Day– Friday, December 25

10AM – Holy Eucharist with prayers of Spiritual Communion, live streamed. In person attendees limited to 10.

The First Sunday after Christmas – Sunday, December 27

10AM – Christmas Lessons and Carols, pre-recorded with special music.  No in person attendees.

A Note from the Rector – 11/22/2020

This is a short note to say that the vestry and I are in discussion about plans to deal with the surge of coronavirus cases in our area.  We will have our monthly Zoom vestry meeting on Sunday and make some decisions for how we will continue to follow Jesus and take care of each other in these difficult times.  We’ll use the latest guidance from our bishop to do so.  I will share those decisions in a separate email on Sunday or Monday.  In the meantime, please take this seriously, be careful, and stay healthy.  Hold fast to God’s promises.  God is faithful no matter what.  If you need anything or would like to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

A Note from the Rector – 11/15/2020

You might know the scene early in Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, when the protagonist, Jean Valjean, just released from 19 years in prison, and is turned away from everyone because of his status as a convict.  He is finally welcomed into the home of a local bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenu (which literally means welcome).  Rising early, Jean Valjean, steals the bishop’s silverware and slips away.  He is stopped on the road by gendarmes because he looked guilty.  He is searched, and ultimately brought back to the bishop’s house to face judgement for his crime.  When the bishop sees Jean Valjean returning in the custody of police, dejected and ashamed, he exclaims, “Here you are!  I gave you the candlesticks too, why didn’t you carry them away with your forks and spoons?”  Though Jean Valjean is obviously guilty, the bishop extends mercy to him, pretending as if he had given him the silver from the very beginning.  After Valjean is released the bishop insists he take the valuable silver candlesticks as well.  Here’s the end of the scene from the novel:

Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting.  The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:

“Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

The rest of Jean Valjean’s life, and indeed the rest of the novel, proceeds from this one foundational act of mercy that changes the course of a person’s life.  This work of fiction points us to a profound truth: when all is done and said and a final accounting is made for all the deeds that have ever been done, it will be seen that mercy, undeserved grace, and forgiveness have far more power over the destinies of humanity than the strongest weapon, and far more value than the most desired item or property. 

Our bishop reminded me of that story when I called him earlier this week distraught over something that happened at church.  Last Sunday, I was given 34 Giant gift cards which represented the generosity of many, many parishioners toward those in need who will be served by the Ardmore Food Pantry this Thanksgiving.  The cards were wrapped with a rubber band and slip of paper.  I put them in a filing cabinet in the church office, along with others that had been collected.  Four days later I returned for them to find that 20 out of the 34 were gone.  The remaining 14 were exactly where I put them, still wrapped with a rubber band and the slip of paper.  I looked frantically throughout the filing cabinet and the office, but they were gone.  Theft seems to be the only explanation.  I was upset at myself for not taking the time to lock them in the safe.  I was angry that someone would steal from the needy and the poor.  I thought about filing a police report.  I thought about casting accusations on possible suspects.  But then I called the bishop, instead.  He encouraged me to remember the story of Jean Valjean and to consider why anyone would steal gift cards from a church, or why they would only take some and not the others.  Most likely this person needed these gift cards for one reason or another.  As one member of the church reminded me, no property was damaged, no one was hurt.  The gift cards were destined to go to someone in need.

This doesn’t change the fact that stealing is morally wrong, not to mention illegal.  And yet, we serve a God whose property it is to always have mercy.  I am reminded that, just like Jean Valjean, we all need mercy.  We all need grace.  We all need a second or a third or a fourth chance. That is exactly the business that God is in, mercy for those who miss the mark.  Like a handful of dirt compared to the mighty sea, so is all of human sin compared to the ocean of God’s mercy. 

This tired, unforgiving world desperately needs reminders that mercy and grace are real, and available through faith, and are more powerful than revenge, or even than imperfect systems of human justice.  To be a bastion and beacon of mercy and love in a harsh world is the entire reason why this church exists.  So, I will not be filing a police report.  A couple of donors (including the bishop) will replace the stolen cards.  If the thief ever reads this, let them know they are forgiven and loved.  I’d love to talk to them, to offer them more financial support if they need it, to proclaim to them that they no longer belong to evil, but to good. 

None of this is meant to diminish or downplay the value or the effectiveness of your generosity to this or to other outreach initiatives.  To those who gave money for gift cards remember, your gift was in thanksgiving to God, first and foremost.  God knows your motivation and your heart, and God blesses those who are generous, even—especially—when generosity is shown to the seemingly undeserving.  For that is the form of generosity that most closely mirrors God’s own.

Nevertheless, I will ask the vestry to reevaluate our practices for handling and storing cash and gift cards, and in the future, I will be more careful with where I put things.  We are all stewards of the gifts that God has given us, after all.  In the final analysis, when the dust settles, love covers a multitude of sins.  God’s mercies are new every morning, and they are free and available to us all.  There is no better news than that.    

A Note from the Rector – 11/08/2020

In times of uncertainty, Scripture is our consolation as Christians.  In my stewardship message that went out with the November newsletter, I encouraged everyone in the parish to memorize one or of the following short verses:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful. 
Hebrews 10:23

Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.
Deuteronomy 31:6

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

I also promised memorization aids.  Here’s one.  If you’re like me, you are being tempted to grab your phone and check the news every 3 minutes or so.  My smart phone has a “lock screen” and I can change that image to whatever I want.  So, I thought, why not change it to one of these Scripture verses!  You can find lock screen images for all three verses at www.holyapostlespa.org/phone   You’ll have to navigate to this web page on your phone and then click on the image to download it.  If you don’t already know how, you can google “change lock screen image” along with the type of phone you have, and you will be able to find instructions on how to make your newly saved image into your lock screen image.  Then, all you’ve got to do is commit to reading the verse in its entirety before you unlock your phone, each and every time.  You’ll have the verse memorized in no time with minimal effort. 

Be strong.  Have courage. Hold fast.