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The following is a guest post by member Lea Anne Schmidt about the nature of Eucharist, and some of her own learnings and wonderings coming out of our three part Advent author series Yearning and Eucharist. Thank you, Lea Anne, for your words prayerfully offered, and for engaging so deeply with the idea of the Eucharistic life and how we can be living it even now as we are absent from regularly receiving the sacrament in person.

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by Lea Anne Schmidt

Raise your hand if you like Zoom. Anyone? If there’s any one demographic who might have their hand up, it could be the working moms. As a mother of four who works outside the home, I don’t have spare hours in my week. While I, too, tire of our Zoom existence, I do harbor appreciation for the convenience and time saved, and the opportunity to hear some new voices and perspectives from folks outside of St. Johns. 

I felt fortunate in early Advent to be able to join, along with Lydia, the Wednesday afternoon reading of “We Gather at This Table” by the Rev. Anna Ostenso Moore. Likewise, I was able to join the recent presentations by the Rev. Dr. James Farwell and the Rev. Emily Scott–while simultaneously making dinner for my family. While I probably couldn’t have dragged them to an in-person series, watching from the kitchen allowed my older kids to catch little bits of the discussion as they passed through the house. “A little” is better than “none”! 

The kitchen has at times seemed the most appropriate place to be for church. We’ve gotten so much more technologically savvy, bringing more and more of the church experience into our homes. While I miss the physical space and the live music, what I wonder most about these days is the Eucharist. The table is where I want to be.

Yet throughout my life, but especially in 2020, the kitchen was often the most tedious, frustrating place to be. I believe in trying to create sacred spaces in our homes, and modelling the values our faith calls us to act on, but incorporating a Eucharistic experience at the family table has been a challenge to me. Everytime I turn around my children are hungry, looking for food and wanting it to taste good. Some weeks, cooking has been an exhausting, even resentment-filled experience, not a sacramental moment. 

So, when I learned that our Advent read and formation series was focused on the Eucharist, I was intrigued. I ordered the books and jumped in. Even after the series finished, I have continued to pray about the Eucharist these last few weeks. Three themes remain with me in particular: community, practice, and opportunity. As the Rev. Anna Ostenso Moore signals with her book’s title, we gather at this table–wherever or whatever that table looks like. Whether it is a holiday meal over zoom, s’mores over a backyard bonfire with “our pod”, dinner in the dining room of our care facility, or the never-ending task of feeding hungry children, we can celebrate and give thanks to God. The burden of providing three meals a day–or four, when you have teenagers–is also an opportunity to practice praise and thanksgiving to God. 

While St. John’s has not offered drive-by or pickup of “communion-to-go bags” as some churches have, the writings and presentations of the guest speakers helped put this decision in perspective. Lacking the ability to gather around the table safely, to be in physical proximity with one another, their works reminded me that the Eucharist in some form, can be found in our homes and our communities with some creativity, effort, and humility.

That returns me to how difficult it can be to create a holy experience at the dinner table. In his introduction to his book, “The Liturgy Explained”, the Rev. Dr. Farwell offers the following thought:

“Rituals are not simply utilitarian; they don’t simply get something accomplished but situate the practitioners within a higher value or set of values that give life meaning. Ritualizing is centered on beliefs or values that a particular person, group, or culture, considers in some way central to their identity and flourishing. It is centered on them in the mode of practice, not simply by way of ideas.” 

For someone who wants her family table to reflect a Eucharistic experience, even just occasionally, but doesn’t love to cook or consider it one of my greatest strengths, I welcomed his emphasis on “practice”. A practice emphasizes repetition and allows–even accepts–errors. The value, as he notes, is not in the utilitarian, whether that’s the nutritional content or the wondrous mix of flavors. Rather, it is the repetition, and if there’s something lacking in the meal one night, you will have many more chances to redeem it. And along the way, the practice of the meal ritual is how we become who we are. A practice offers grace. Sometimes I feel pressure to “keep up” with folks whose food posts seem magazine worthy. I bring that perceived inadequacy along with past hurts to the kitchen in the disguise of impatience and resentment, or even worse, allow it to spill over onto my family. 

With the Eucharistic table, God provides daily forgiveness and ample opportunity to try again. There is room to put my ego aside, give thanks that I have food to cook, and try to incorporate little changes that model the values we want to enact. I have only begun exploring what that might look like. Perhaps my husband, Patrick, and I can mix up our daily dinner prayer routine. Perhaps I become more intentional around including my children in the family meal prep. Maybe we begin to share our highs and lows of the day during dinner, providing more space for thanksgiving and forgiveness. Maybe we simply share a corny joke at each meal, to offer some humor or a bit of joy during this crazy period of isolation. Whatever the changes, I am hopeful that each experiment will create more space for us, the “we” at the table, to feel the love God extends to all of us.

And then there is, even more, the reminder that we have the opportunity to extend the Eucharist to others beyond the table in the sanctuary. This became even more powerful to me this year when remembering how many would struggle to put food on the table while I was focused on planning our traditional feasts and festive treats. Quoting liturgical scholar, Robert Taft, the Rev. Dr. Farwell observes that “the purpose of Eucharist is not to change bread and wine, but to change you and me: through baptism and eucharist it is we who are to become Christ for one another and a sign to the world that is yet to hear his name.” How can I decide what to buy, what to cook, and join with a healthy family, without recognizing that these are gifts? We can also gather at a different table, seeing the work of sharing food with the hungry or the food insecure as the act of creating altars in the world. 

A while back I read a Facebook announcement from Roseville Area Schools offering free family meals. It read, “Stretch your budget. Save time. Reduce the stigma. Employ your community. Support local farmers. Family Table meals are for everyone.” I abstained from taking part, not needing to take a meal from those who needed it more. A week before Christmas I was nudged by a girlfriend to try it out, with some justification about how this would help the organization sustain their funding and “employ community workers”. So off I went, in order to “reduce the stigma.” It was dark as I pulled up beside the school. Just a few lights highlighted a white folding table and some shiny aluminum pans. In an instant, I rolled down my window and a gentleman leaned over to my car to ask how many people I was trying to feed that night. Blood rushed to my face with a mixture of emotions. There was embarrassment: Yikes! Does he think I need food to feed my family? I am here to “break the stigma”! There was bewilderment: How did I get drawn into this? And then there was gratitude: I am thankful there are nutritious meals available to everyone. What a gift! 

I have been on the flip side of donation lines and delivering meals, and have seen how their responses matched my own. I recognized these as parts of the Eucharistic experience, be it at the altar of St. John’s; a meal from the hands of my husband or a friend; or at a community altar in front of a school. Is this gift for me? Am I worthy? But, thank you

Advent is a season of longing, and even after it is over, I am still longing for the Eucharist as we knew it before 2020. But through St. John’s Advent formation, I have learned that in our long wait to return to our physical church, the more I am able to see the Eucharist unfolding in my home, our community, and throughout the world. 

I am especially grateful to our Associate Rector the Rev. Craig Lemming and our Rector the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson for dreaming up this series on the Eucharist and above all else to Ellie Watkins, our Media Specialist and Sarah Dull, Executive Administrator, for their outstanding work coordinating and communicating this series. Thank you.

If you too would like to learn more about the Episcopal churches rich Liturgy and especially the Eucharist, I encourage you to read the three books selected by our clergy. Jered’s reflection provides a wonderful introduction to each of them.

We Gather at This Table, by the Reverend Anna Ostenso-Moore (a read aloud by Anna)

For All Who Hunger, by the Reverend Emily M.D. Scott

The Liturgy Explained, by the Reverend Dr. James Farwell

I invited longtime parishioner and Godly Play Storyteller, Jay Clark, to share his wonderings about money and Christianity. I hope his thoughtful reflections inspire you to consider the role of finances in your faith journey.

Christianity offers us much hope of love and peace, but at the same time challenges us to work for these signs of the new kingdom. I often wonder if I am up to this challenge. Am I handling the things that have made up and make up 20th and 21st century life in a Christian way? How do I take the guidance and wisdom of 1,900+ year old texts and apply them to the way our society is structured and works – not least of these being the accumulation, spending, and management of money?

For me, learning how to deal responsibly with money while being true to the Christian way has much to teach about being Christian in general. It brings up so many of those things that make us human and that we must deal with – how we read the Bible, deal with power, avoid idolatry and the tendency to never be satisfied with what we have.

I often wonder whether it is possible to be both financially stable/secure and follow the ways of the New Testament. In the extreme, must we be members of an itinerant preaching community, with only one set of robes and little in our duffle, depending on the hospitality of strangers for meals, and focusing on the imminent end of this world? In modern society, would this be irresponsible, placing a burden on others and failing to care for our family members?

I find approaching the Bible literally often provides little insight – looking into the transcendent message is necessary. In other words, does one focus on the statement or the meaning? Historical context is important, but we must also relate to our current context. If we follow only the words instead of the message, we will probably run into trouble.  [As an aside, read the book “The Year of Living Biblically – One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” by A.J. Jacobs for a take on this.]  While I find the historical perspective fascinating – showing us the timelessness of the human condition, we do not live in this type of world in which the overt prescriptions may not even be relevant.

The impact of money in our society and time cannot be understated and is driven home, for me, by those who experienced the Great Depression. I sense, the lack of money created lasting impact – for my father, I think the conditions of this period influenced every decision/choice he made. 

In last fall’s finance formation series, we read about the metaphor of our economic system as a behemoth which has swallowed us – we are surrounded by it. I found this a very useful construct in helping to understand our relationship with the financial system – even if we do not agree with it, we are part of it and must deal with it – we must acknowledge it and figure out how we will navigate it. 

Two points must be made here – first, I am not condemning our system outright, I am acknowledging it is not perfect or fair. I have personally done well financially in this system, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think critically about it. Second, I think this construct is a good starting point, but we need to go beyond the model. Most of us are not completely helpless in this system. We do have some control here – we can make decisions about how we will function within this system.

For me, religion’s heart is about control of the ego and renouncing idolatry. Today, we must be actively engaged with money management, but we cannot let it become our obsession. We must trust, at some point, we are doing enough. We must trust that we have enough and not get caught up in the game of having the most “toys” or sacrificing the goodwill of others for accumulation. Money is not the end.

Along with this, we also need to understand that, in our current societal setup, money is power; therefore, we can use our money dealings to distribute power ethically. The Bible, both Jewish scripture and the New Testament, teach us about the trappings of power and how it can be misused – with David, the Herods, and Pilate as examples of how power can consume. Power is not, in and of itself, always negative and the Bible also shows us just exercise of power – the tolerance of Cyrus the Persian and the judgement of King Solomon. We must choose how we will exercise this power. We must respect that this condition exists even if we don’t agree with it. Work to change what we can, to mitigate the unfairness and negatives.

That’s a lot of heavy stuff and warnings. I must state that money can do good – it enables opportunities for us and others. Money, used well, can also enable joy. This is an area I have thought much about recently considering ours and the broader communities’ discussion of the impact of systemic racism.

In the end, I look to a contemporary of the Bible for direction. I think that Aristotle’s Golden Mean applies here – everything in moderation. Savings, consumption, charity all need to be in the mix – when one component gets too much attention then it must be confronted. This requires us to be engaged, to be thinking about our decisions. The key is to actively engage and make decisions as a Christian.

So, can the financially well-off be Christian – yes, I hope so, but it takes reflection and work. We must manage these resources responsibly and use them as a tool to achieve the kingdom (we are in this for the long term!)  In the end, money and power are not the way, they are there, but the way is love and peace. We cannot let other pursuits lessen or distract from this.

Thank you, Jay, sharing your insightful contemplations is a gift for us all!

Understanding and navigating our society’s financial systems as followers of Christ can be challenging. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.

A Cosmic Gospel

                                

by the Rev. Barbara Mraz

“’Christ,’” says theologian Richard Rohr, “is not the last name of Jesus!”

We know that, yet it’s easy to forget. If only the little word “the” hadn’t dropped away. Jesus “the” Christ.

But that statement is hardly the most troubling of those I found researching for the sermon tomorrow. Read on.

Already the First Sunday after Christmas arrives tomorrow, Dec. 27 along with what is one of my favorite readings: John 1:1-18.

John basically writes a new creation story – “In the beginning,” he says. It’s a cosmic story that says nothing about the little town of Bethlehem. But it has a lot more to say!

So that troubling thing? I looked up the word: “Christ” in the dictionary. The first definition was as expected: “Messiah, anointed one, etc.”

But the second definition was this (the second!) “Christ: an oath used to express irritation, dismay, or surprise. ‘Oh Christ,’ he moaned under his breath.’”

I think we used to call that “taking the name of God in vain” but now it’s almost business as usual in prime time…. And it’s an easy pattern to slip into ourselves. That, and “Jee-zus!”

There is a lot to consider tomorrow as we look at the beginning of “The Fourth Gospel.” It’s still Christmas and yes there will be church. And with John’s help, we will blast off into the heavens.

You will see us there– in church.

Barbara

Longtime parishioner, Judy Southwick, has faced a difficult few years with her characteristic grace and humor. I invited Judy to share her journey and her money narrative with us, that we may be as courageous and vulnerable.

That day, a group of fellow parishioners gathered on Zoom to discuss the book Integrating Money and Meaning by Maggie Kulyk. The discussion leader asked everyone to think back to their earliest remembrance of their family’s conversation around money. In the small group session, it didn’t take long for me to say out loud, “There was never enough!”

Immediately I felt shame and resentment. It hurt to acknowledge in front of others that I’d grown up poor. Old memories immediately came to mind.  Wearing my older cousin’s hand-me-downs. Asking to go to day camp and hearing my mom respond, “We don’t have any money for that.” Getting a used bike for my birthday; the paint was chipped, and it didn’t even come with handlebar streamers! 

My small group listened very respectfully. That day, I felt comfortable sharing out loud a family truth. But for most of my life, money has meant anxiety to me. My earliest reality of not having enough money in the family has followed me right up to the present time.  

Both my parents stressed that whenever we received any money, we needed to save it. I was 15 when I got my first job and worked steadily until I was 70. Not having enough money to retire was always in the back of my mind. Being divorced and alone for several years also guided my thoughts. I had to care for myself and not depend on a partner to impact my income. After so many years of worrying, it was actually a surprise to find that careful savings, Social Security, and retirement income have allowed a comfortable life without a job. When I retired, I had enough.

I had a traumatic fall a year ago and broke my hip. My health insurance covered my injuries, but there was much more to deal with. I spent almost two months learning to walk again. I suffered fear and anxiety. But I wasn’t alone. St John’s reached out to me for assistance. Members showed up on Sundays at the hospital to bring me communion and pray for me. I was assigned my own care committee that came to my home to visit once I healed; they listened and offered suggestions for going forward. After my fall, I kept reliving my accident. In addition to the church care team I sought professional counseling. The counselor diagnosed anxiety. She listened to my fears and guided me through several exercises, and I was finally able to get past the trauma. When I needed support, I had enough.

In May of this year, my high-rise apartment complex had a fire on the 11th floor (my apartment is on the 7th floor). Returning after the fire to check out any damage, I noticed my carpet was damp but didn’t discern any other damage at the time. I filed a claim with my insurance to replace my carpet and I felt confident I would have enough money to cover whatever the insurance wouldn’t.

It turned out that water had rolled through the ceiling and traveled behind the walls into my cupboards and damaged the whole kitchen. My carpet had to be replaced—and so did almost everything else in the apartment. I knew this would be a huge financial stress. It left me in fear of my future. Who would take care of me? The uncertainty of my existence was overwhelming.

Integrating Money and Meaning suggests our goal should be to have our money align with our spiritual lives and our heart center. We need to discern what truly matters to us and create a “courageous vision”. We can start out small. To deepen my path I have tried to answer: “What makes me happy?”

Happiness comes from the online Zoom classes St John’s offers during the pandemic and their discussions that open my eyes. The church’s book group is another activity that deepens my path. When I thank God for all my blessings, I have enough.

Managing my money in these uncertain times has made me a little proud of myself. I think the feeling of “not having enough” will always be a part of my existence and who I am.  But not having enough as a child has guided me to be a better saver and careful money manager. I did find an excellent financial planner to work with me as well.

My sister and I often talk about how our childhood experience of not having enough created insecurity and a sense of inferiority measured against others, but it also taught us to not spend what we don’t have. We learned to save for what we needed. 

As an adult I saved for one purchase I had to have. I bought a brand-new Schwinn bicycle with handlebar streamers, a horn, and all.  When I was riding my bike, I had the biggest smile on my face. I knew I had enough!

Thank you Judy, sharing your story is truly a gift to us all!

Discussing the truth about the meaning of money in our lives can be difficult but, as we learnt in the book discussions, telling your story is essential in order to witness it objectively and consciously. And to do it not with judgement and fear, but with clear eyed honesty. Maybe this is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith. And, so, we invite you to share your financial stories and resources. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull.

THE BRIDGE

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bridge, a walkway, a shortcut to that time in 2021 when there is a Covid vaccine, things open back up, and we all feel safe again? 

I love Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, a widely-known writer, preacher and teacher. It’s kind of a little joke how often I cite her work in sermons. Here she discusses the complicated issue or religious faith or belief. She says:

 “Belief is not a well-fluffed nest, or a well-defended castle high on a hill. It is more like a rope bridge over a scenic gorge, sturdy but swinging back and forth, with plenty of light and plenty of air but precious little to hang onto except the stories you have heard; that is the best and only way across….”

Faith is a bridge from here to there and what we hang on to when crossing the bridge are the stories. Those we have heard from others that inspire us and the stories of the Scripture we hear read at every single church service, virtual or otherwise. Taylor goes on: 

All you have to do is believe in the bridge more than you believe in the gorge bur fortunately you do not have to believe in it all by yourself. There are others to believe it with you and even seek to believe it for you when your own belief wears thin.”

That’s one reason we have church. 

Here the stories again on Sunday — on New Year’s Eve! It’s the last Sunday of the “old” church year before Advent follows. Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew is a doozy: sheep, goats, heaven and hell. Taylor says that “Matthew gives me a pain” but she doesn’t really mean it. Well, not completely. 

See you Sunday.

Barbara

Here she is:


by Jered Weber-Johnson

During the season of Advent, Saint John’s will shift our liturgical life on Sundays from the Spiritual Communion, which we’ve used since the beginning of the pandemic, to that mainstay of Anglican liturgical and spiritual life, the Daily Office. For the four Sundays in Advent, we will celebrate Morning Prayer with slight modification for use on the Lord’s Day.

Morning Prayer holds a special place in the liturgical life at Saint John’s. Up until this past decade, Morning Prayer was still a regular Sunday morning offering at our principal worship services, and presently it is still offered six days a week at 8am via our Facebook page.

Especially in this long pandemic and subsequent absence from the central sacrament of Eucharist, I wanted us to pause even the offering of “Spiritual Communion” during the four Sundays of Advent, thus creating a full and complete break from the idea of communion in our Liturgies. Obviously this will heighten and deepen our sense of longing for Eucharist. This, coupled with our Formation in Advent focusing on Eucharist, might give us real insight into this important and central part of our faith life. As one of our featured Advent/Eucharist speakers, the Reverend Dr. James Farwell, reminded the church at the beginning of this pandemic, 

I take the Christian assembly to be a constitutive element of the sacramentality of Eucharist. Receiving it in body as one of, and alongside of, an assembly of bodies gathered at one shared altar as an (eschatological) new community that felicitously undermines our social adhesion with biological family and affinity groups is central to its meaning, not peripheral. Our gathering is not an addition to sacramental presence in bread and wine, nor the circumstantial occasion at which it is permissible for a priest to confect some presence with magic hands and magic words.

Which is to say, since we cannot gather, we cannot truly offer Eucharist. So, in the end, even if Spiritual Communion is a real possibility, we are actually left with the sustenance of the liturgy of the word and the daily office. It must suffice spiritually to be nourished by prayer, meditation, preaching, confession, and contemplating the story of God and God’s people in scripture.

So we turn now to Morning Prayer as a source of nourishment on Sundays. Let this long absence from the Eucharist increase in us a yearning for the presence of the Sacrament, for the ability to receive the Body of Christ physically, and to rub shoulders with the Body of Christ gathered. Jesus is still known to us in the ministry of word. We long for him to be revealed yet again in the flesh.

by the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson

I love the Reverend Emily Scott’s new book, For All Who Hunger. It challenges me. It is a memoir of ministry and vocation, but it is also a deeply personal account of Eucharistic theology, wrestling with what it means to be and to receive the Body of Christ. Before her ideas hit the page, Scott places two quotes – simple, potent, and direct – that clue us in to the story she will tell. The first, just before the Author’s Note is from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ instructions to the disciples preceding his feeding of the thousands “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” And then, at the beginning of the Prologue, this juxtaposing quote from the inimitable Flannery O’Connor “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” The Eucharist is more, she seems to hint, than spiritual practice or a symbolic meal. It is that central act of the Church, which, at base, is a community of people. Scott is both a Lutheran pastor and a church planter whose work has always driven her to bring the church to those on the margins. She writes “Church is not about transcending human things like warm food and chortling laughter. It is – or should be — about pointing to them as sacred. Our most human parts are also the most holy.” It stands to reason, at least in her estimation, that the practices of the church would be embodied, human, and relatable.

When Saint John’s begins our Advent series this year, we will undertake three separate but deeply important looks at the practice of Holy Eucharist through the lens of three separate books by three different authors, Scott’s being the second in that series. They represent much of the diversity of the church, different ages, genders, sexual orientations, experiences, educations, races, and theological perspectives. And orbiting around the outside of this diverse conversation will be the Advent theme of longing and expectation. For well over 6 months now we have not gathered for the central and defining act of Christians across time and place, the Lord’s Supper. And, we are hungry. But, it is also true that for many of us, we are not entirely sure we know why we hunger, what connections draw us to Holy Communion. What do we mean individually and what does the church mean collectively when we say “Eucharist”? 

The three books, like the authors who wrote them, approach this question in entirely different ways. First in the series, We Gather At This Table, by the Reverend Anna Ostenso Moore, priest in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota serving at Saint Mark’s Cathedral, uses pictures and wondering to draw children and readers of all ages into the mystery of Eucharistic life. She writes, 

“For thousands of years, followers of the way of Jesus have gathered and shared bread and wine. Like us, in ritual they sought to be near God and join in the Sacred Story of God Incarnate…Although we approach the altar for a variety of reasons, we enter with our whole selves into this great mystery.”

And finally, we will spend time with a popular catechetical text in Episcopal circles, by the Reverend Dr. James Farwell, The Liturgy Explained. In his book Farwell orients the reader first to the concept of ritual and rite, how communities interact with ritual over time, as they both evolve and change. Ultimately, it is a meditation on the transformative power of the central act of Christian worship, the Eucharist. Perhaps the most beautiful and poignant part of Farwell’s work is his reflection on the theology of “Real Presence”. He says,

“Christians believe…the Eucharist makes God present through Christ…because Jesus told his disciples, at the last meal eaten with them before his death, to eat bread and wine in this way in memory of him. The Jewish form of memory from which Jesus worked is one in which the past is not simply recalled but made present…Eucharist, then, is a sacramental ritual in which something — God’s presence…is not simply recalled as past, or pointed to as important, but enacted, made real in the community.”

We can’t be present right now with one another, at least not in the flesh, and so we cannot fulfill that which makes Eucharist what it is, or mean how we believe it means. But, we can gather in longing, perhaps satisfy some of our hunger, as we meditate together in Advent on the meaning of this meal and what it means for us to be and belong to the Body of Christ.

Originally published in the November-December 2020 Evangelist.

HE Persisted

Rep. Jim Ramstad, pictured here in 2014

by the Rev. Barbara Mraz

Full disclosure: I am a good friend of Sheryl Ramstad, sister of Jim Ramstad, and had the privilege of writing about her own amazing personal story in a recent Evangelist, click here to read it. Also the author of the article in the Strib is a former student of mine at The Blake School.  He knows how proud I am of him, never more than now. 

Congressman Jim Ramstad died last week at age 72, a giant of a man with a distinguished political record and an even more-impressive personal one. Read about him by clicking here, this man who personified Love-in-Action and who saved countless lives, and notice the power of reaching out to someone in trouble, the impact of listening to another’s story, and the persistence of sticking with someone no matter what choices they make.

Following Tuesday’s contentious election and the long season leading up to it and then Saturday’s decision, our bishop, The Right Reverend Craig Loya had this to say to the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. This was the the message we heard in place of a sermon on Sunday, November 8. A video of this can be found on this link or at the bottom of this post. The text is below and a link to the original post from the ECMN webpage can be found here:

From the Right Reverend Craig W. Loya
X Bishop, The Episcopal Church in Minnesota
November 6, 2020
To All God’s Beloved in Minnesota,

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

On this Lord’s Day, we gather in the wake of one of the most bitterly divisive presidential elections in our nation’s history. We have known for some time that either outcome would be a painful disappointment for about half of our population, including many, many Minnesotans.

The narrative in popular media would have us believe that there are two Americas: red and blue. The real story, however, is not that simple. The electoral map is not the only fracture in the fabric of our national life. The challenges of 2020 have exposed a labyrinthine network of chasms that cut across social, economic, and racial lines, to name just a few. After the votes are counted, we remain a deeply divided nation.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus repairs the breech between us and God, and as baptized disciples, the Spirit sends us to be repairers of the breech with God. One of the marks of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world is when dividing lines of every kind are crossed, and exclusion is turned to embrace. Our mission is to join the Spirit in that work.

But make no mistake: the reconciliation that we are called to work for is not a mere compromise. It is not settling for an easy peace with the forces of evil that are real in our world. It is not simply agreeing to disagree, pretending that we have not inflicted wounds on one another, or that Christians should check the public square at the church door. The reconciliation we are called to is about inviting one another to embrace the politics of Jesus. The politics of Jesus are neither red nor blue. The politics of Jesus are about embracing the poor, loving our enemies, feeding the hungry, lifting up the oppressed, reforming the unjust structures in society, seeking good for the other instead of insisting on our own way, disregarding the boundaries of social exclusion, calling out our own self-interested hypocrisy and that of our religious and civic leaders, making room at the center for those who have been pushed to the margins. Those are the things that Jesus actually did. These are the marks of what it means to be his followers in the world.

The kind of reconciliation Paul knew, and exhorts us to, is what happens when we allow our selfish desires, our insistence on our own way, our idolatrous commitments to national identity or political party, to be crucified with Jesus, so that we are raised to new life in the ecstatic embrace of God’s love. I can tell you from my own hard-won experience that such a death and resurrection is the only way we can truly be free.

Our world is crying out in every corner to know and feel that liberating, life-giving love.

As 2020 draws to a close, many of us are anxious about the future of our beloved old Episcopal Church. While we can be sure that God will always have the church God needs, the future of our branch will depend largely on whether we are willing to commit ourselves to Jesus’ way of love with a fierce and singular passion. That love, and that love alone, has the power to mend the fractured fabric of our common life. The message of Jesus will always be compelling to the world, but only when its followers live the politics of love with radical integrity and authenticity.

That, beloved, is the work that lies before us. As we gather on this and every day, are we willing to allow our own preferences, our own desires, our allegiance to anything that is not of God, to be crucified with Jesus? Are we willing to love our enemies, seek good for each other, embrace the millions on every side of the election who are poor and oppressed, repent of the ways our institutions, including our own church, collude in the lie that some lives are worth more than others? Are we willing to give away our own comfortable pew in order for someone else to have a seat at God’s table?

The coming months and years will continue to be full of division and challenge. From where I stand, there is nothing more important any of us can give our one life to than joining the Spirit’s project of healing our hurting and divided world with love. Giving ourselves up, and giving ourselves over to that love is the way to true, abundant, and everlasting life. Thanks be to God we have been invited into that work. Thanks be to God we have been given the gift of one another as Minnesota Episcopalians. Thanks be to God for each of you, who are precious, cherished, and loved so much more deeply than you can imagine.

Yours in the Way of Love, 

The Right Reverend Craig W. Loya
X Bishop
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota

The following is adapted from the Rector’s Letter in the November/December Evangelist which came out today, November 2nd, 2020.

By The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson

A few weeks ago, helping my mom with her move, I found myself elbow deep in a box of memorabilia, when out slipped the prayer card from my grandfather’s funeral. Printed near the top, right next to a picture of his smiling face, was his date of death – October 6, 2018 – exactly two years ago to the day that I stood holding that card. A rush of memories, both happy and sad, welled up in me. Some will say there is no such thing as a coincidence, and I decided to accept the card as a holy reminder to remember Grandpa J.

As is often the case, grief connects to more grief, and memories lead to more memories. I found myself, the rest of that day, pulled deep into a long stream of story and memory, not just of him, but of others I had loved and lost, my maternal grandfather, a beloved uncle, my own father, of good times and bad. As you might imagine, it was overwhelming, and good, and rich, and challenging, and at the end I was exhausted.

Exhaustion seems to be a theme lately. Experts have been telling us for most of the pandemic that exhaustion was coming, particularly around the 6 month mark, that grief would become part of our regular lived experience, that we might be overwhelmed and unable to deploy our usual coping strategies – as those are meant for shorter durations of hardship. This pandemic is a prolonged season of loss, and we are tired. It would be bad enough to have to suffer ambiguous losses like the change in school as we know it, the loss of physical contact with so many loved ones, friends, church family and more, the loss of ordinary things like restaurants and movie theaters, and so much else that has had to go away since March.

Ambiguous though these losses are, they were necessary sacrifices for the greater good. But, not all loss has been ambiguous or necessary. I speak of the loss of trust in our elected leaders, of the loss of hope that civility and honesty and reasoned judgement might shape the decisions and actions of those who hold the highest office in our land. The loss of now over 231,000 lives – mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, co-workers, fellow citizens – cuts me to the core. 

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Again, there may be no such thing as coincidence. Election Day falls directly after the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, the days when we celebrate and honor the saints of the church AND all those faithful departed, who from their journeys rest. At Saint John’s we will mark All Souls with a short liturgy streamed from the church (check our eNews for details). We will offer prayers for all those who have died or are remembered from Saint John’s in the past year, and we will toll the bells of the church 220 times, once for each thousand people whose lives were taken this year by Covid-19. We will mark these losses and we will remember. But, we will also let their memory galvanize us to action. One of the reasons we celebrate both All Saints and All Souls is to remember to emulate the lives of the saints and to set as examples those faithful individuals who though not canonized, nevertheless lived faithfully, following the way of Jesus, and making his love known. We remember the dead and their lives and stories propel us into action. 

One way we can take action, bringing the love of Jesus into the world, is to vote our values on Election Day. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry reminded us a few weeks back in a sermon to the House of Bishops, using the words of the late Representative John Lewis “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent that you have in a democratic society”.

Curry continues,

“Partisan neutrality is not the same as moral neutrality. It was not in the first century and it is not today. The royal law of love is the fulfillment of the law and the will of God. It is the ultimate standard, norm and guide for following the way of Jesus in any society, in any time. With grace to aid and conscience to guide, each of us must discern and decide what love of neighbor looks like in our lives, in our actions, in our personal relationships and in our social and public witness. What did Jesus do?”

Of course, voting is not the only action we can take. One of my wise mentors, the former bishop of Georgia, the Right Reverend Scott Benhase wrote recently that for him, voting is “damage control”. He asks,

“Which candidate will do less harm to poor and marginalized people? I call that the “Matthew 25 lens.” Which candidate will lessen the burden on the “least of these” to which Jesus refers? I’ve never found a candidate for any office that completely fulfills that call (thus my vote is constantly in damage control mode), so I’m always hoping whoever I vote for will hurt poor people less than the other candidate. At least in this upcoming presidential election, I don’t even need to hesitate in choosing.” 

We vote with the lives of those 231,000 in our hearts. We vote for the 545 children who have been separated and not reunited with their families at our border. We vote with love for our gay and straight neighbor, with love for our black, brown, and white neighbor, our indigenous neighbor, our immigrant neighbor. 

And what do we do if our candidates lose – the ones that Bishop Benhase, or you, or I believe do the least damage to the cause of Jesus’ way of love? The life of faith, following the examples of the faithful departed and shaped by the witness of the saints, requires a love that exceeds the polling booth. The way of love is an everyday undertaking that never pauses or rests. We will continue to follow the way, standing with the hurting, placing our bodies between the vulnerable and harm, and raising our words to speak up for those whose voices are erased and drowned out by callous indifference and the politics of greed. At the end of the day we know that voting alone cannot heal all that is broken, cannot fix all that needs mending – white supremacy, toxic masculinity, environmental destruction, greed, indifference, – these will require what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, the deep and long work of people of all faiths, and no faith at all. And, for those of us who follow Jesus, it will require a radical commitment to his way of love. As Curry says,

“I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, because I believe he has shown us that better way. I believe that the way of unselfish sacrificial love can show us the way of repentance, the way to repair the breach. The way of reconciliation that ultimately can lead us to the beloved community, but it’s not easy. And this is long distance work. There are no quick fixes because the wounds are so deep, but we need not feel enslaved by fate. We are not people of fate. We are people of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Nothing can defeat God or stop God’s cause of love. The way will not be easy, but we can do this.”

To this I can only say, Amen and Amen!

I’ll see you at the polls and in worship.