A Note from the Rector – 11/3/2019

              Happy All Saints Sunday!  The prayer book provides for celebrating All Saints (November 1) on the Sunday after to ensure that all of us have ample opportunity to celebrate this important feast and to think about our own connection to the Communion of Saints.  The Communion of Saints is a natural extension of the most important Christian doctrine there is: that Jesus Christ rose from the grave on Easter morning. If the Resurrection of Jesus is true—if Jesus really has destroyed death (and I’m staking my life on the belief that he has)—then what he promises is true, and we will be participants in that resurrection.  The logical entailment of this most glorious and central tenant of Christianity is that the fellowship of believers known as the Church does not end with the death of individual believers. Those who have died in faith are not gone for eternity but live together with Christ. While we cannot understand what that life after death looks like, we can join with the Church through the ages in affirming that there are those whose sanctity of life on this earth, or whose sanctity of death as martyrs for the faith, places them in a position to intercede for us to God.  This is why we say things like “joining our prayers with the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Apostles, St. Faith and all the saints…”. It is not a matter of worshipping the dead, because God alone is to be worshipped. Rather, it is a matter of accepting that our ancestors in faith are still with us in the Christian journey, and just like we can call upon our living friends for prayer and support in that journey, we can call upon the saints.  

  So today is a reminder that our fellowship, unity, and communion with each other transcends space, time, and even death.  For that reason it’s a great day to begin our annual stewardship season. Stewardship season is a time to prayerfully reflect on how God might be calling us to recognize our interconnection with each other and with the ministry and worship of Holy Apostles, which is a small but integral part of the ministry and worship of God’s whole Church throughout the world.  This is a time to pray about what kind of support God is calling us to offer for the work of God in this parish family. Our theme this year is Wonder, Love, and Praise, which is a phrase from the hymn, “Love divine, all love excelling,” written by my one of my favorite hymn writing saints, Charles Wesley.  If you are a member of Holy Apostles, you will be receiving a letter in the mail this coming week introducing this theme. The letter will also include a pledge card.  These are tools to help you to think about the gifts that God has given you and how you might use those gifts to glorify God, to help others, and to keep this place as a place where we can all belong, a place that connects us to those ancestors of faith who have gone before us.  We will continue in this season of prayer and discernment until Sunday, November 24th.  On that Sunday, we will gather all our pledges of stewardship and generosity and offer them to God for God’s Church.  After that special service, we always celebrate with an all-parish luncheon. It’s going to be a lovely time.  

From beginning to end and at every point in between, it is my honor and duty to thank you for your past and continued support of Holy Apostles.  Thank you for your faithfulness in getting on board with what God is doing in us and through us as a community. This truly is a place to belong, and through your support, it will remain that way for future generations.  Thank you!

In Christ,


A Note from the Rector – 10/20/2019

A big thank you to Jeremiah Mustered, our own postulant for Holy Orders, for preaching this morning.  We have missed Jeremiah lately. This is because, as a part of his process toward ordination, Jeremiah has been serving as a ministry intern at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Ardmore.  He is also taking a class on Modern Anglican Theology with the rector of St. George’s, The Rev. Dr. Joel Daniels. You should ask him about the differing eschatological visions of William Temple and Rowan Williams some time and see his eyes light up!  God willing and the people consenting, Jeremiah will take the General Ordination Exams this coming January and will be ordained a transitional deacon next June. This is truly an exciting time. As his sponsoring parish, it is our responsibility to hold Jeremiah and his family in prayer during this time.  When the time comes, it will also be our solemn and joyous duty to celebrate what God is doing with and in him and his family. Please take this opportunity to catch up with Jeremiah and encourage him on his journey.

You will notice that the “Acts of the Apostles” looks a bit different this week.  In an effort to more clearly communicate about the various important roles, activities, and events that make our parish a wonderful place to belong, we will publish the schedule of readers, intercessors, acolytes, chalice bearers, and coffee hour hosts four weeks in advance.  This information will also be published in the weekly email (if you don’t receive our email and would like to, let me know!)

This also gives us the opportunity to expand the Intercessions section and make it more useful for your daily prayer and devotion.  I have been talking about our formation as disciples using the image of a tapestry. Different threads weave together to make us who we are in Christ.  One of those threads is personal devotion, time set aside in our daily life outside of church to connect with God. One way to cultivate personal devotion is to set aside time every day to pray for ourselves and others.  So, in addition to the intercessions presented how they normally look, we will be experimenting with ways of breaking up the intercessions into daily chunks, so that it will be easier to have a consistent prayer practice day by day, lifting up to God the needs of this parish.  I trust that this will improve my own prayer life, and the corporate offering of Morning Prayer (Tuesday to Friday at 9:15AM). It may take a few weeks before we settle on a consistent pattern for this, so bear with us. Christian formation and discipleship (must like ordination to the priesthood) is a journey.   We are always on the way toward becoming who God wants us to be. Our parish communications systems are part of that journey of discipleship, and they too are always in the process of becoming better and more effective.

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 10/13/19

This is a special Sunday.  I know I’ve written that before, but really: this is a special Sunday.  Today we are honored to welcome our Mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator for a special shared Eucharist AND we are honored to welcome Madeleine Diana Fleckser into Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church through the Sacrament of baptism.  Each of these two events are exciting and wonderful in their own right, but they are also integrally connected.  Our history reveals part of this connection.

In 1868, the vestry and rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square decided to establish a mission church to serve the growing post-Civil War population of southwest Philadelphia.  They partnered with Church of the Mediator in Philadelphia. The church that grew from that partnership was Church of the Holy Apostles, first located on 21st & Christian streets.  By the early 20th century, Church of the Holy Apostles became the largest parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.  In the early years of the 1900s there were 5,000 children enrolled in the weekly Sunday School. Around this time, Church of the Mediator and Holy Apostles decided to partner, and a new building, Chapel of the Mediator, was built on 51st and Spruce streets in West Philadelphia in 1919.  The establishment of this chapel reflected the congregation’s movement from south to west Philadelphia.  As this migration increased after the First World War, the Chapel of the Mediator flourished, while the congregation which met at the original Holy Apostles diminished. 

In 1944, the original Holy Apostles building was sold and the parish was consolidated in West Philadelphia.  The church was renamed Holy Apostles and the Mediator. In 1950, Holy Apostles and Mediator established the Chapel of the Holy Apostles in Penn Wynne.  This reflects the fact that many members of the congregation were moving farther and farther west into the suburbs, a movement that has been dubbed “white flight.” 

The funds from the sale of the original building on 21st and Christian streets were used to buy this property and build the parish hall.  Throughout the 50s, Holy Apostles and the Mediator raised money to build our church building, while financially sustaining this new congregation and ensuring that its first priests, Robert Bauer and John Kolb were paid.  When the church was built in 1959, the furniture from the original Holy Apostles in South Philadelphia was installed here: the altar and reredos (the wood panel behind the altar), the pulpit, the lectern, and the baptismal font.  Thus, Holy Apostles and the Mediator is responsible for the holy physical objects that shape our worship of God here in Penn Wynne every week.  

The font that baby Maddie will be baptized in this morning was originally given to the church in 1896 by George C. Thomas, who was, along with his wife, the primary benefactor to Holy Apostles in all of its incarnations.  Over more than a century, hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been baptized in this very font. That means something. Baptism is a spiritual and mystical tie which binds every Christian in every time and every place to each other and to Christ.  This baptismal font is a tangible, physical link between what has ultimately become Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne and Holy Apostles and the Mediator. It is a physical reminder that our histories and destinies in Christ are bound up with each other.  We are because they are, and this font reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe our Mother congregation, whose generosity benefits us every Sunday and especially on Sundays like this.  Hopefully this baptismal font will serve today as a symbol of our friendship, our mutual love for each other, and the joy we share in worshipping our God together as sisters and brothers.

In Christ,

A Note from the Rector – 10/6/2019

Today, October 6, is the Commemoration of St. Faith.  Sometimes known as St. Foy, she was a young girl who lived in the Aquitaine region of France and was martyred for her faith in Jesus at the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century (approx. AD 297-304).  She was probably one of thousands of Christians martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  According to St. Jerome, she was martyred by being made to lie down on a red hot brazier (notice the brazier depicted on the St. Faith’s Banner).  St. Faith is, of course, the namesake of St. Faith Episcopal Church, Havertown. This past July, many of us were present for the emotional service of de-consecration at the building which once held that congregation.  Without denying how difficult the closing of that parish was and is, we have also worked to honor the legacy of St. Faith here at Holy Apostles. That is why we have adopted St. Faith as one of our patron saints, and why we are celebrating her feast day this morning.  

It is also why we have created the St. Faith Preachers Series.  For over a year, the vestry and I have worked on creating this unique and dynamic program.  The idea is two-fold. First, we want to honor St. Faith in an enduring way. Second, aware that I am a solo, male priest and preacher here at Holy Apostles, we want to find a way to bring diversity to our pulpit, and to honor and raise up women leaders in our parish and the Church at large.  It is vitally important that our daughters and granddaughters see women in the pulpit and at the altar of this, their church. The St. Faith Preachers Series will accomplish those twin goals by inviting excellent, strong, and established women preachers to preach for us once or twice a year. We will also invite one promising, woman seminarian a year to preach for us.  Bringing guest preachers here takes money, so last December the vestry devoted $500 of this year’s budget toward this project. In the meantime, we asked Virginia Theological Seminary, an Episcopal seminary in the Washington, D.C. metro area (and my alma mater), if they would be willing to partner with us in this program. The seminary responded generously by giving Holy Apostles $3,000 for the continuation of the St. Faith Preachers Series.  I will be working with the Seminary to identify and invite a seminarian to preach for us in the Spring. But, this Sunday we are also very honored and blessed to inaugurate the St. Faith Preachers Series with one of Virginia Theological Seminary’s most accomplished and revered professors, The Rev. Dr. Kathy Grieb.

Dr. Grieb is the Meade Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Professor of New Testament at the seminary where she has taught since 1994.  She was ordained to the priesthood in 1983 in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and serves on the clergy team of St. Stephen’s and the Incarnation church in Washington DC.  Dr. Grieb earned a law degree from Catholic University, an M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Yale. A noted theologian, Dr. Grieb serves on the House of Bishops Theology Committee.  She represented the Episcopal church at the World Council of Churches Plenary Session in 2009, and is a member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity and Faith. She is a long-time instructor for the Canterbury Scholars program at Canterbury Cathedral in England.  

Dr. Grieb has written numerous articles and written and edited several important books.  My favorite is The Story of Romans (Westminster Press, 2002), which is an accessible and profound guide to reading St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Dr. Grieb, was my New Testament professor when I attended Virginia Theological Seminary from 2014-2017. I learned a lot from her about Scripture, theology, and about living the in the way of Jesus.  I am very grateful to her for that, and for being with us this morning. I know the Holy Apostles family will warmly welcome our first St. Faith Preacher.

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/29/2019

This Fall, I am using the metaphor of a tapestry to talk about Christian formation and discipleship at Holy Apostles.  Like a tapestry that is made up of many intertwined threads, our formation as Christians needs to be multi-threaded. Our life with and in Christ affects every aspect of who we are, so growing in our faith and becoming better disciples of Jesus has to include all aspects of life as well. The metaphor beyond the individual level.  Our communal life, too, is like a tapestry, as individuals are woven together by our involvement in the sacramental life of the church into something bigger than the sum of our parts. We are all threads in God’s great-big sacramental tapestry, which extends beyond just our parish and neighborhood, and finally covers the entire earth: “Praise be God’s glorious Name for ever, and may all the earth be filled with his glory” (Psalm 72:19).  

On the parish level, we are weaving our life of faith using five “threads”: learning, personal devotion, fellowship, worship, and service.  I am going to talk about all these threads in due time, starting with learning.

Learning is what we have commonly called Christian education.  It is just one piece of our overall, holistic formation as disciples.  As Jesus commands in Matthew 22:37, we are to love the God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.  Learning, in the context of the Christian life, is the act loving God with our minds.  

We have many opportunities to do this at Holy Apostles.  I want to make you aware of two new ways to learn and love God that are starting in October.  

As many of you know, we have a weekly Bible Study that meets in the Memorial Room on Thursdays from 11am-12pm.  Starting this week, we are adding an online Bible Study called FacePsalm. FacePsalm is a Facebook group that will be devoted the Psalms. Each week on Monday or Tuesday, we will post the Psalm for the following Sunday on our Facebook group.  Throughout the week we will discuss the psalm, think about it, and meditate on it. You’ll have opportunities to post your thoughts and to read each others ideas and comments. This is a way to be very intentional in preparing for the act of singing and praying the Psalm during the Sunday Eucharist service.  By the time we get to Sunday morning, those of you in the FacePsalm group will have read and mediated on the Psalm beforehand, which I think will change the way the Psalm affects in worship, and the way that we pray and sing it. There is something special about the Psalms. If given half a chance, they settle into your bones and have a way of bubbling up within us when we need them most. Any extra time you spend reading and meditating on the Psalms will be repaid to you in times of trouble and difficulty. These days, Facebook is not known for its ability to provide any of us with peace of mind. The hope is that the FacePsalm group can add little drops of peace, serenity and joy to your newsfeed throughout the week. So, if you have a Facebook account, join FacePsalm!

The other new opportunity for learning this Fall is a series of “Basics” classes.  This series comprises of four classes, offered on the third Sundays of the month at 9am.  The classes will repeat throughout the year so that I will teach each class three times a year. So, if you’re in choir for part of the year, or you can’t make it to a class on a given Sunday, there will always be another opportunity!  The classes are on four foundational topics: Bible, Church, Sacraments, and Liturgy. These classes are meant for anyone who is curious. They will be especially helpful to those who may be newer to Holy Apostles or to the Christian faith.  They will provide an excellent opportunity to invite someone along who you know might have questions about faith, or who are seeking. The first class will be October 20th and will be “Sacraments: what they are and what they do.”   I hope to see you there!

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/22/2019

The Darby Mission meal this past Tuesday was a huge success.  110 people came together to enjoy a meal that we were honored to host. Many hotdogs and hamburgers were made and enjoyed along with all the fixings, including a batch of coleslaw that garnered high praise, and homemade cheesecake that was gone in a nanosecond. A big thank you to everyone who prepared or donated food, and who helped serve and clean up.  And a huge thank you to Joe Zorc for organizing the meal and taking the lead on the grill.

The Darby Mission is an extraordinary ministry.  As the name implies, it is rooted in a particular place: the Borough of Darby in Delaware County.  The Mission part has to do with the fact that the ministry of the Rev. Doris Rajagopal is funded through the diocese, and that it is fundamentally about MISSION.  It is about recognizing what God is up to in Darby and jumping on board.

Doris and her ministry partner, Jessica, are a dynamic force for good in that neighborhood.  Those of you who have known Doris and been part of this work longer than I have can easily attest to that.  In addition to the twice monthly meals, which are sponsored and hosted by various Episcopal congregations in the diocese, Doris and Jessica run an afterschool program that serves 115 students.  They also run various innovative programs for youth, including a really great cooking class, and together with students from the Darby middle school and a local graffiti artist they have created two public murals. And they are always scheming, cooking up ideas that spread God’s love and peace in that neighborhood.  

But, the Darby Mission is more than just programs: it is about a deep, abiding presence in a particular place.  This presence through time imparts the love of Jesus and the grace and mercy of God through hundreds of tiny actions and conversations.  All this, over the long haul, has a transformative effects on people’s lives that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. That is how the Holy Spirit operates: taking our small gifts and making them into something bigger and better than anything we could imagine.  

That is why, even though we only have the privilege of hosting a meal every three to six months, Holy Apostles is committed to the Darby Mission for the long haul.  We are one thread in a vast tapestry, an interconnected network of relationships that make the Darby Mission possible. For one thing, several folks from Holy Apostles—honoring the legacy of St. Faith—have been involved at the Darby Mission from the beginning and are involved not on a quarterly basis, but a weekly basis.  And our involvement is morphing and evolving organically over time as we build relationships and come to better understand the needs and assets of the community. Here are two examples of this. We are beginning to help build a website for the Darby Mission, using the skills and talents we have combined with the amazing content they produce.  Also, for awhile now, in addition to food, folks from Holy Apostles have been offering books to both children and adults who attend the community meal. This has been an enormous hit. It was great to see kids running around last night with new books tucked under their elbows.  

I am still learning about the systemic challenges—as well as the beautiful resilience—of the many underserved neighborhoods that surround us in the Philadelphia metro area, but my hunch is that simple acts like ours which facilitate access to good books and bolster literacy are important.  

Without any real coordination between us, other churches in our area such as St. Mary’s in Ardmore and St. Asaph’s in Bala Cynwyd have also begun to help gather and distribute books to folks who want and need them, in their case, into several Philadelphia schools.  So, we’re just following where the Holy Spirit leads. As God reveals the ways God is moving, whether through food, or books, or conversation, God’s people are simply trying to follow God’s lead. Because whether it’s Penn Wynne or the borough of Darby; whether it’s your workplace, or home, or grocery store, or school, God is already there.  God is already moving.  God is already changing lives.  That’s good news.  

For more on the books, talk to Cassie Woestman or myself.

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/15/2019

Last Sunday was a great kick off to the program year.  There were lots of happy kids. The choir sounded great and the ice cream was plentiful. Most importantly, the Penn Wynne branch of the Body of Christ gathered, we were renewed through Scripture and Eucharist, and God was worshipped.   Let’s do all that again this Sunday (except without the ice cream)!  

This Sunday morning we have a special event: Choir School Rally Day!  Arreon Harley-Emerson, the director of our Choir School is going to lead us all in a little choir education exercise during Sunday morning announcements.  I think you’ll be amazed at how fun and engaging his teaching style is. This is to give everyone a taste of what our Choir School program is doing. We started this past week.  We’ve got plenty of space left, if you know anyone who might be interested. Also, now that we’ve started and worked out more logistics, we realize there is a way to open up the program to more families in our parish.  During the first half of the program (from 3:30-4:50p) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’re doing afterschool stuff. Our music lesson and rehearsal takes place 5:00-5:50p. Parents pick up children between 5:50 and 6. This means that if your student can’t participate in the afterschool portion, they may still be able to participate in the music rehearsal portion.  Let us know, we would love to be able to offer excellent musical education to every child, grades 2-5, in our parish. Also, we can use several more adult volunteers. Besides gaining the joy and fulfillment of using your time to enrich the lives of children, and all the temporal and spiritual rewards of serving God in God’s Church, if you volunteer on a regular basis, YOU will become a better singer and learn a lot about music yourself.  There aren’t many volunteer opportunities much better than this.    

Read more about the Director here.

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/8/2019

Phew!  A new school year, and a new season of adult choir and Sunday School has begun!  I am really pumped up. Thanks to Paul Emmons, the choir, and to all of our Sunday School teachers who have been preparing for today, and thanks to the Fellowship Committee for the ice cream.

Tonight’s family service, re-christened Light & Peace, is an interactive worship service that will follow a liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer that is hardly ever used. It’s called an Order for Worship in the Evening, but the first words of the service are: “Light and Peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.” which I think offers a much catchier moniker.  The service will include simple, but immersive music, lots of candles, and a number of interactive ways for children, youth and adults to pray and connect with God. You’ll just have to come back tonight to find out what it’s all about. Don’t be timid. You are allowed to come to church more than once in a day!

Holy Apostles Choir School is launching this Tuesday (September 10)!  This Fall and Winter are going to be really exciting. As people younger than me say, it is going to be “off the hook.” I might have to go lay down.  Next Sunday, you will have the opportunity to experience a glimpse of the fun and magic of our new children’s choir program, as Arreon Harley-Emerson, our director, is going to lead us all in a sample lesson.  It’s going to be awesome. Then at coffee hour, I am going to speak for about 10 minutes on some of the Christian Education, Formation, and Discipleship opportunities that are upcoming this Fall and Winter. Below is a calendar of all the events & special services we have planned for the rest of 2019. Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything. Mark your calendars accordingly and then strap on your seat belts, it’s going to be wild…and filled with grace and life courtesy of the Holy Spirit.  

Fall-Winter Calendar 2019 (Draft) Calendar

September 8 – Sundae Sunday Adult Choir and Sunday Begin

                    – Youth Group followed by Light & Peace

September 15 – Choir School Rally Day

                      – Presentation on Christian Formation (coffee hour)

September 17 – Darby Mission Meal

September 29 – Youth Sunday 

October 6 – Saint Faith Day: Inauguration of the St. Faith Preachers Series

                             (The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb, guest preacher)

                 – Blessing of the Beasts – St. Francis Evening Prayer/Evensong

October 13 – Youth Group followed by Light & Peace

October 23 – Soup Group 1

October 30 – Soup Group 2

November 1 – All Saints Day Noon Eucharist

November 1-2 – Diocesan Convention 

November 2 – All Souls Day Holy Eucharist for the Departed (evening)

November 3 – Stewardship Sunday 1

November 6 – Soup Group 3

November 10 – Stewardship Sunday 2

            – Youth Group followed by Light & Peace

November 13 – Soup Group 4

November 17 – Stewardship Sunday 3

November 20 – Soup Group 5

November 24 – Christ the King Sunday/ Stewardship Celebration

December 1-31 – Connect-by-Night Month

December 1 – First Sunday of Advent

December 7 – Pancakes with Santa

December 8 – Second Sunday of Advent/St. Nicholas Visit

                    -Youth Group followed by Light & Peace

December 9 – East Parkside Meal

December 15 – Third Sunday of Advent/Pageant

December 20 – Christmas Caroling and Party

December 22 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 24 – Christmas Eve

December 25 – Christmas Day (morning service)

December 29 – Lessons and Carols (Youth Sunday)

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 9/1/2019

The Church has its own weird language.  On the whole, I think that this is a good thing.  Strange and particular words for things—pacina, sacristy, chasuble, sanctification, supralapsarian, theophany—serve a variety of purposes.  One purpose is aesthetic. Words are cool, language is something to take delight in, and Church words ought to be beautiful and mysterious because Church itself ought to be beautiful and mysterious. 

That being said, total bewilderment is not the goal.  As we look forward to next Sunday and the start of what we often call “the program year” with the return of the adult choir and a new year of Sunday School, I want to crystalize the meaning of a few related words and phrases that I toss around a lot: Christian education, formation, and discipleship.   

Everyone knows what education is, but a Christian vision of education is a bit different from what we normally think of as education.  While facts and the rote acquisition of knowledge play a role, Christian education is more concerned with wisdom and the transformation of humans on every level—body, mind, and soul.  Christian education requires not just learning, but experience. Here’s an example. In seminary, I learned a lot of facts about the geography of the Holy Land as it pertains to Biblical study.  I read books, I passed tests, but I didn’t really know the geography of the Holy Land until I experienced it, until I stood in the places Jesus stood, until I broke bread where he broke bread, and kissed the ground where he died.  Knowing something in a deep, experiential, and multifaceted way is transformational. We were created as human beings to know God in just such a way. Books and facts and tests about God are fine, but we are meant to experience God in a way that changes everything.  That experiential knowledge is the vision of Christian education, that’s the purpose for it. That’s the ultimate measure of the success of our programing at Holy Apostles. And to be clear, you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to experience God; that can and does happen right here.

Related to this is the notion of Christian formation.  This refers to the process and activity of being formed into a Christian.  Here, we are talking about being formed on the heart level: our desires, our wills, our thoughts all being shaped in a Godward direction.  This is both an active and passive process. There are particular practices that we participate in that actively form us in particular ways.  At the same time, the activity of forming Christians is primarily something that the Holy Spirit does in us if we are open to being changed. Whether we realize it or not, everything we do and experience is part of our formation.  Not all of our formation is in a Godward direction. We are actively being formed as members of this society—our desires shaped in particular ways toward ends that are not ultimately worthy of our destiny and calling as God’s children.  So we have to be intentional about our formation as Christians and as people who know that they are beloved by God and act accordingly.

Finally, discipleship refers to the lifelong project of learning to be a disciple of Jesus.  A disciple is a follower, one who emulates. Discipleship entails discipline. Just as it takes discipline to follow an exercise routine, so it takes discipline to learn to follow Jesus.  It takes commitment. You can see how the formation of our desires and wills is an important part of discipline. It also takes the formation of a sacramental imagination for us to understand the purposes and goals of following Jesus are so much deeper than the simple work-to-receive-the-benefit calculus that so often motivates us.  “Progress” in following Jesus is not as straightforward as watching the calories burn at the gym. What is at stake in following Jesus is of eternal worth and eternal beauty—communion with God. We can of course read about this, but to really know it, you’ve got to experience it.    

Experience of the divine, formation of hearts and minds, and the discipline of following Jesus are not things that happen overnight, or through one program or activity.  The purpose of our Christian education programs requires a multifaceted approach to education on a variety of levels—learning, fellowship, personal devotion, worship, and service.  It is lifelong work, but it is the work that Jesus calls us to do (Matthew 28:19). Lest we lose heart or think it is all about humans striving, we need to remember again and again that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit doing the work of transformation in us and through us as we open ourselves to the unfathomable grace of God.  In a world of ruthless advancement, meritocracy, and soul-eating disappointment, that’s some pretty astonishing news.

In Christ,

James +

A Note from the Rector – 8/25/2019

The 28th of August is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 358-430).  This North African saint is one of the most important theologians of Western Christianity.  Augustine was a brilliant orator and rhetorician who received one of the finest educations possible in his time.  By his own admission, he lived a wild and disordered life, first not caring for any belief in God and then getting tangled up in a cult.  Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and prayed for him every day. In his late 20s, Augustine moved from Northern Africa to Milan, Italy.  At age 31, he became a Christian when, inspired by the music and preaching of the Church in Milan, he encountered a Bible and heard a quiet voice saying, “Take, Read.”  He opened the Bible randomly to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and through reading became convinced of the truth of Christianity. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose who was the bishop of Milan at the time.  In 391, he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Hippo in what is now Algeria. Later, he became Bishop of Hippo and remained in that position until his death. Augustine was an incredibly prolific and popular writer and preacher.  We have nearly 350 of his sermons, and dozens of treatises and theological essays. His most influential works include his Confessions, the City of God, and De Trinitatae, his treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity.  However, Augustine was first and foremost a preacher and teacher, speaking during the liturgy to a congregation of regular folks.  Below is an excerpt of one of Augustine’s sermons on 1 John 4:4-12.  

“All who do not love God are strangers and antichrists. They might come to the churches, but they cannot be numbered among the children of God. That fountain of life does not belong to them. A bad person can have baptism and prophecy. King Saul had prophecy: even while he persecuted the holy David, he was filled with the Spirit of Prophecy, and began to prophesy. [1 Sam. 19] A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself…

“Could we love [God], unless he first loved us? Though we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return…This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear good without proceeding from the root of love…

“Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.”

Happy Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo this week!  However you celebrate, celebrate in love.  

In Christ,

James +