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.    

2020 Connect-by-Night Needs

UPDATE: November 24th
Thank you to all who have contributed to our Connect By Night gift bags so far! We are grateful to you for your generosity to those in need. We currently have all the canvas totes and ponchos needed. Personal care items, hand towels and wash cloths are still needed, as well as books, puzzles and gym equipment. __________________________________________________________________________________________________

In this year where so much has been affected and changed by COVID-19, we will be adapting our Connect by Night experience as well. While we cannot lodge guests in the church building this year, we will still be providing some meals at the facility in Upper Darby where they will be sheltering . In addition, we will be providing supplies in the form of gift bags for 25 individuals The deadline for collection is Tuesday, December 15, so that there is time to assemble the bags and fill in gaps where needed.

Items Needed – 25 of each:

  • Canvas tote – the sturdy kind, preferably from area college, university or medical facility, making them long-lasting, easily identified by the recipient as their own, and a fitting replacement for plastic bag luggage.
  • Poncho – here is a link to kind of item needed. You can purchase from here or anywhere you like.
  • Socks
  • Disposable Razors
  • Hand Towel
  • Wash Cloth
  • Gloves
  • Small hand cream
  • Chapstick
  • Tissues (box or wrapped personal size)
  • Candy
  • Cards from Children
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash (non-alcoholic only)
  • Books
  • Puzzles

You may elect to provide all 25 of any item, or any combination of the above.

Additional items going in bags (already donated):

  • Seasonal ornament
  • Face masks
  • Scarves/hats

The following is a list of equipment Director Timmi Kilgore has requested for a gym area that is being set up at the facility. These items can be new or gently used:

  • Treadmill
  • Yoga mats  no more of this item needed
  • Yoga video
  • Hula hoops
  • Ankle/wrist weights (no free weights)
  • Stretching bands
  • Jump ropes

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The Meaning of the Red Doors

Facing Remington Road, our church building has three sets of doors that are painted red.  Recently, they all received a new coat of red paint:  A huge THANK YOU to our senior warden and his wife, John and Linda Day, for taking on the project of sanding, filling in the cracks, and painting.  

Red doors on churches is a centuries old tradition.  It is believed to have begun in medieval England, when churches were deemed outside of secular law, and were therefore places where anyone could seek refuge and sanctuary from pursuit or violence.  No one, not even the Sherriff of Nottingham would dare pursue a criminal or violate the holiness of a church with violence of any kind.  The person being pursued could enter a church, plead their case to the priest, and ask for sanctuary.  Red doors came to signify this special sanctuary.  In a related way, red doors are also symbolic of the blood of Christ.  There is a connection here to the story of the Passover in Exodus chapter 12 when the blood of a sacrificial lamb was spread upon lintels and doorposts of the dwellings of the people of Israel to protect them from the last and most horrible plague that God sent upon the Egyptians because of their oppression of God’s people.  When the angel of death saw the red blood on the door posts it passed by that house.  In the Eucharistic prayer we say, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us.  Therefore, let us keep the feast.”  Our liturgy references this story and the notion that in the same way that the blood of the Passover lamb represented safety and salvation for the people of Israel who were bound in slavery in Egypt until God set them free, so too the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross becomes the sign of our salvation, sanctuary, and freedom.  The red door symbolically says, “Here is a place to find spiritual sanctuary and peace that is a result of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.”  The red door is a sign to all who are weary, tired, our pursued by trouble, that within they might find the peace of Christ.  But not just within the doors or walls themselves.  The peace of Christ is found within the community of Christ, within our proclamation of the word and within our sacraments.  Indeed, it is no coincidence that the door is the same color as the wine found in the chalice of Eucharist.  

Seeing the beautiful new coat of red paint on our doors is all the more poignant for me coming back to the building after a time away on vacation.  I cannot help but think how it is impossible right now–and frankly unsafe–for all of us to pass through these red doors together at the same time and receive the safety and sanctuary and sustenance of Christ’s Body and Blood as one church body gathered in our beloved church space.  This remains an excruciatingly difficult time.  But the doors and the building itself are reminders and symbols—important, but not the most important.  The peace and love of Christ is within us as a community that strives to stay connected in many ways despite the dangers and strictures of this time.   As a sign and a real bond of that love, if you cannot make it to one of our small Eucharistic gatherings in person, please do watch online, and join us for nightly Compline.  If you are comfortable with it, I am more than willing to bring Communion to you at your home (or front porch or lawn) as a tangible connection to the gathered Body of Christ, the Church.  We can do this carefully, and in ways that minimize risk.  There is, of course, always risk, and we each need to weigh very carefully what is the right engagement with Holy Apostles for us and our families at this time.  Whatever is right for you and your situation, whether it is staying home and attending online, coming to an outdoor service, or attending our small 10AM Eucharist, please know that Jesus offers you sanctuary, solidarity, and peace, and that nothing can separate you from God’s love.  

A Note from the (Former) Rector: History of Connect-by-Night at Holy Apostles

by the Rev. Steve Snider (Rector 1991-2006)

We began sheltering circa 1994, I think it was, with a group of interdenominational parishes coordinated by an organization called Shepherd’s Place. Sally Griffith, now a parishioner of Holy Trinity Rittenhouse Square, alerted us to the organization and affected the marriage between CHA and Shepherd’s Place. We signed on and a core group of parish volunteers quickly expanded to the numbers you have today. I advocated and Sally was our first coordinator by default! She did a great job. Looking through the 2006 directory, the year I retired from CHA, I count 40+ families or individuals who stepped up to host and prepare bag lunches, drinks, sanitize, etc. Many of them are still helping today. I also remember our earliest volunteers now departed: Win Becker, Sr., Peter Cadwallader, Bonnie Davis, Ray Dyer, Bob & Carole Moore, Vince Raimondo, Harry Sibley, Sandy Smith, Gene Stivers, and I hope for forgiveness for missing anyone else.

Prior to our first year of hosting, we sent flyers around the neighborhood and the result was predictable. Some neighbors called to complain; some anonymously called the township resulting in a surprise inspection, albeit with an apology from the inspector; some called and offered to help. Ultimately, we had many more neighborhood helpers than complainers. After the first couple of years the nay-sayers stopped saying, well, ‘nay’.

When we first began, we were assigned winter months, and thus helped to save many from freezing on the streets. We needed to put a hold on our involvement in 1999 when the parish hall underwent re-construction. When we re-joined the rota for the month of July, which worked well since we had just installed air-conditioning in the parish hall.  We have been helping people avoid heat related catastrophes ever since.

At some point in the mid-90’s, Shepherd’s Place ceased to exist and the sheltering operation came under the auspices of Connect-By-Night social services in Upper Darby. Largely, CHA and other parishes hosted the overflow from the permanent shelter located at 63rd & Market in Upper Darby. That shelter was overwhelmed by the first year of its opening. At first our guests – numbering from 25 to 60 people each night – included children, most often with their mothers and sometimes with both parents/partners. In time, the children began to disappear for an assortment of reasons, some of them good.

I am so pleased and give thanks to God that CHA continues in this life-saving outreach. By my count 2018 marks the 24rd year in this sacred endeavor…anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Steve+