A Note from the Rector – 02/28/2021

The vestry met last Sunday and the property committee had a meeting Wednesday. A number of property related concerns were discussed, from the fact that all this snow is going to mean a big bill from the from company that plows our parking lot to a number of repair and maintenance projects at the church and at the rectory. Of course, I am never content NOT to turn everything into a theological reflection, so this got me thinking about our parish property in relationship to the themes of Lent and especially in relationship to the theme of monastic wisdom for non-monastic people like you and me. The first thing to say is that we can be grateful for our beautiful 70 year old church building. It is a gift from God and, like all such gifts, it requires good stewardship on our part. We have to care for it, or it will fall apart. 

One of the marks of Christian monasticism is that monastics take several vows. These vows differ slightly depending on which Order or “flavor” of monasticism is being considered. The Most common in the Western Church is a monastery that follows the Rule of St. Benedict. This flavor of monasticism calls for three vows: fidelity to the monastic way of life, obedience to the rule and to one’s abbot/abbess (the head of the monastery), and stability. It is this last vow that comes to mind in relationship to the maintenance of our property and to our parish in general. Simply put, the vow of stability means that someone promises to stay put. Benedictine monks or nuns do not move around much. Most commit to staying in the same monastery for their entire life as a monastic. This is because they recognize that there is spiritual value in staying in one place. It is good for one’s soul to be content with the circumstances at hand, and to commit to cultivating a place for the long haul. There is a certain humility involved. Also, it gives one the opportunity to really pay attention to your surroundings, to your soul, and finally to God. This is counter-cultural in a society, like ours, that is extremely mobile. I mean, here I am writing 1500 miles away from the place where I was born! But, the whole notion of a parish is founded on the principle of stability—on a commitment to a singular place, a singular, bounded area, a neighborhood. 

I love the way that Eugene Peterson paraphrased the beginning of the Gospel of John in The Message: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Jesus became human and lived in a specific, bounded place and time; he moved into the neighborhood! We too find ourselves in a particular context, and our call is to be disciples of Jesus where we are at. We are called to move into the neighborhood and incarnate the Body of Christ right there in the place we find ourselves. We are called to cultivate our place to make it a place to belong. Our parish is a particular outpost of God’s kingdom that is located here, in Penn Wynne, straddling two counties and two townships, situated near a park, with a small wood behind it. A stream flows under our parking lot and right across the front of our church building (buried underground). Our buildings matter in the grand scheme of things because of the incarnation. Our buildings represent the (literal) concrete embodiment of God’s grace. They are a vow of stability that our church has made to the neighborhood. They say, “we are here for you, and we’re sticking around.” As the context for countless church services and life events, our building has a special place in our hearts and imaginations. This is good.

The pandemic has, of course, forced us to see our church building much less. I spend less time there than I did before the pandemic, and I know there are some of you haven’t set foot inside the building in almost a year. With travel restrictions and increased danger, most of us have not move around as much as we are accustomed to. Even so, our call is the same—to be disciples of Jesus where we are at. To cultivate our limited circumstances as an outpost of the Kingdom of God. Right now we have the opportunity to be more attentive. To humbly accept our circumstances and limitations and to really pay attention to where we find ourselves physically and spiritually. 

We take awe-filled and wonder-full things for granted all around us every day. The monastic wisdom of stability—of staying put, invites us to be present in a grace-filled, incarnational way to the place where we are at; to see how God’s kingdom is moving into the neighborhood, our backyard, our living room. Let it also inspire us to make our neighborhoods and homes better. Let it inspire us to pray—“In Penn Wynne or Havertown as it is heaven.”

So, here’s a strange sounding, but truly profound spiritual practice for you: Have you ever stopped and paid absolute, total attention to just 1 square foot of your backyard? Try it! Find a patch of grass and spend a very intentional 30 minutes, focusing all your senses on nothing else. Listen to the sounds of your backyard. Look at the muddy, messy, wonder that is all around you. Leave your phone inside. You are guaranteed to be astonished at the near infinite amount of fascinating, incredible, mind-blowing details packed into such a small, ordinary place. You will come away more grateful to your Creator and more at peace with yourself. 

A Note from the Rector – 02/14/2021

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday this week (see the Ash Wednesday plan here).  I’ve chosen to center our Lenten offerings this year around a theme: “Monastic Wisdom for Non-Monastics in an Anxious World.”  Ok, it’s a long-winded theme, but stick with me. 

I am aware that our perceptions and notions of monks and nuns are going to vary widely.  Some of us were educated in Roman Catholic schools where you had monastics teachers.  I know that some of you had excellent experiences, and some not so much.  Others of you will know that there is a long tradition of monasticism in Anglicanism, and might be curious about that or other traditions.  Others may not have any reference point or knowledge of monasticism outside of bits and pieces picked up at church or from popular culture.  Monasticism is a pretty wild idea, actually.  The idea that there are people who feel called to make some kind of commitment to live a different kind of life, “in the world, but not of the world,” together in a community (or as a hermit), following a rule of life that includes enormous amounts of prayer and study, holding personal possessions in common, and agreeing to be celibate—all of this is very counter-cultural.  Monasticism may seem like a rarified pursuit, far removed from the experiences and concerns of us, and our parish.  In reality, I believe the opposite is true.  There is much profound wisdom in the Christian monastic tradition that has a great deal to do with us in our current situation.  This can offer us a lot of wisdom, solace, and strength during this extended period of pandemic related crisis.  So, I am not asking anyone to become a monk or nun for Lent.  Instead, I am inviting us all to explore how monastic wisdom can enrich our own lives as we live them in our present circumstances. 

The core commitment and center piece of monasticism is also the inspiration and centerpiece of the Book of Common Prayer: daily prayer.  The Book of Common Prayer was designed to take the monastic cycle of daily prayer and put it within the reach of non-monastic Christians like you and me.  This cycle of prayer is called the Daily Office. During the pandemic, many of us have rediscovered the power and joy of one of these monastic prayer offices called Compline.  During Lent, I am inviting everyone to explore the Daily Office as it is given to us in the Book of Common Prayer.  This Office includes Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer (said around dusk), and Compline (said at bedtime or roundabouts).  For some, this daily prayer practice will be new.  I would suggest trying out each of these services in turn.  The easiest way to start might be joining us for nightly Compline.  There are also many apps, websites, podcasts, and books that can help you understand how to use the Book of Common Prayer on your own, and I will be posting links to these resources here: www.holyapostlespa.org/lent.  Some might want to try to pray more than one Office every day during Lent.  Some might want to try praying them all, at least once in a while.  To facilitate this, I will be leading the entire Daily Office on Tuesdays during Lent starting February 23rd.  Morning and Evening Prayer will be livestreamed to our YouTube channel.  Noonday Prayer and Compline (both quite short) will be prayed on Zoom using the same link that we use for Compline now.  The schedule can be found below.  There are also many other online opportunities to join other communities in daily prayer, including Holy Apostles and the Mediator, the Diocesan staff, and many parishes in this diocese, and indeed, around the world.  As we go along, I will be finding and sharing some of these opportunities (feel free to send me ones that you have found).  I encourage you to pray these services with me, and/or explore the riches of this essentially monastic tradition on your own. 

We are also reading a book together this Lent.  The book is called Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther DeWaal.  This book, which is written for non-monastics and for non-specialists, will help us explore one of the many monastic traditions and bodies of wisdom, Benedictine Monasticism, from the perspective of what it has to say to us in our context.  There will be two opportunities to discuss this book together via Zoom on Sunday March 7th and Sunday March 21st, after the morning service. 

One piece of Benedictine monastic wisdom is that spirituality must be balanced.  It must fit holistically and realistically into one’s life.  This year, with online school and childcare shaping and limiting my schedule, leading a weeknight class during Lent isn’t going to work for me and my family.  My dance card is full, as my grandmother used to say.  But, I hope that reading this short, insightful book will be a rewarding experience instead of our normal “Soup Group” class and discussion. 

I will use my weekly Notes from the Rector to highlight some other aspects of the broader monastic tradition and look for other resources to share with you.  For instance, there are a number of fascinating documentaries and fictional movies about monasticism that you might find interesting.  I’ll share some of them with you as we go along. 

God willing, during Holy Week (schedule below) we will be able to continue to have limited in-person gatherings.  The exact details of our services will need to be flexible and take into account what is happening in our world and community.  One way or the other, we will hold our Holy Week services as well as other Lenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary (perhaps), and the all-night prayer vigil starting on the night of Maundy Thursday. 

I look forward to this journey of preparation for Easter with all of you.  Lent is a time of introspection and self-reflection.  It is a time of study and fasting.  It is a time of taking up things that are valuable and real, and letting go of illusions and other things that hinder us on our journey toward God.  I am always available to listen to your spiritual concerns, hear your confession, and offer God’s absolution.  I can also easily arrange for another priest to hear confession if that is preferable.  Lent is a particularly good time for this sort of internal spiritual work.  I’m here if you need me.   

The BCP Daily Office
Tuesdays in Lent

8:30AM – Morning Prayer – YouTube
12PM – Noonday Prayer – Zoom
5:30PM – Evening Prayer – YouTube
7:30PM – Compline – Zoom

Holy Week & Easter Schedule

Palm Sunday – March 28
Holy Eucharist with Blessing of the Palms, Procession, and Passion Reading – 10AM

Tuesday –  March 30
Stations of the Cross – TBD
Chrism Mass (Philadelphia Cathedral, virtual) – TBD

Wednesday – March 31
Stations of the Cross – TBD
Tenebrae – 6:30PM

Maundy Thursday – April 1
Stations of the Cross – TBD
Agape Meal, Holy Eucharist & the Stripping of the Altar – 6:30PM
The Altar of Repose & All Night Vigil (virtual and in-person)

Good Friday – April 2
Stations of the Cross – TBD
Service of Readings and Meditations – 12PM
Good Friday Liturgy with Music and Veneration of the Cross – 6:30PM

Holy Saturday – April 3
Holy Saturday Liturgy – 9:15AM
Easter Vigil – 8PM

Easter Morning – April 4
Festival Eucharist  – 10AM

A Note from the Rector – 3/17/19

Welcome to the Second Sunday in Lent, which also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day.  Except for major feasts of Our Lord, whenever a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday, it is transferred to the next day.  So, in the church’s mind, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated tomorrow (in case you want to wear your “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirt tomorrow also).  This is because Sunday is always a major feast of the Resurrection.  Every Sunday is Easter Sunday, in other words.  As awesome as St. Pat is, he doesn’t hold a candle to the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  It also means that while it is a Sunday IN Lent, it is not really a Sunday OF Lent, because Sunday is always Easter.  In fact, the 6 Sundays that occur during the season of Lent are not counted in the 40 days of Lent.  Do with that information what you will.

After today’s 10AM service we are holding an Anglican Prayer Bead workshop in the Memorial Room.  Let me tell you about prayer beads.  First, it is interesting to note that the English word “bead” descends from the medieval Old English word “bede,” which means “prayer.” This testifies to how important prayer beads have been to the spiritual lives of many.

They are an aid to help us focus in prayer.  Being human means that we are spiritual and physical beings.  Many of us find it helpful, then, to have physical components to our spiritual prayer.  Prayer beads give our hands something to do, which somehow frees up some mental and emotional space and helps to focus and concentrate our prayer.  Body, mind, and spirit are connected in mysterious ways.

This embodied, contemplative practice of using objects to count prayers is very old—probably first developed in the Hindu religion over 5,000 years ago.  Many major world religions have their own version of prayer beads.  In the earliest days of Eastern Christian monasticism, monks used pebbles to count their prayers.  This practiced developed over time (4thand 5thcenturies) into beaded or knotted ropes that monks would hold and use to count their prayers. Made out of wool, and tied with a special (and very complicated) knot, prayer ropes (commonly called after their Russian name “chotkis) are still very much in use in the Eastern Christian world.  The prayer used most often with these prayer ropes is called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This prayer is based on several passages form the Gospels, mainly from Luke 18:38 when a blind man outside Jericho cries out to Jesus as he passes by: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

In the West, this practice showed up first in Ireland, in the 9thcentury monastic communities of St. Columba.  It spread throughout Europe and developed in the later middle ages into the Rosary—the “rose garden”, that is still in common use by Roman Catholics, as well as Anglicans and even a Lutheran or two.  The traditional use of the Rosary calls for three main prayers: the “Hail Mary” (derived mostly from several passage of the Gospel of Luke chapter 1), the Lord’s Prayer, and the “Glory Be” (Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…).

Sometime in the 1980s an Episcopal priest along with the contemplative prayer group at her parish, developed a simplified version of the Rosary.  They called it the Anglican Rosary.  It uses 33 beads to signify the 33 years of Jesus’ life.  Diverse prayers have been used with the Anglican Rosary, but they have always been closely derived or inspired by Scripture (as, indeed, all the prayers mentioned so far have been).  Our workshop is going to be fun for all ages.  This is a great way to teach children about prayer.  See you there!