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by The Rev. Barbara Mraz

How embarrassing to find things in your basement from decades ago, especially when those things are beyond stupid. “Who the heck gave me THIS?” you wonder. Was I ever so unsophisticated as to think this was funny?

Then there was the day I found Big Mouth Billy Bass. Here is what a recent Internet posting said about it:

First released in April 2000, Big Mouth Billy Bass wasn’t just a hit, he was a cultural sensation. The premise was simple: comprised of realistically fishy rubber and plastic mounted on a trophy plaque, the Big Mouth Billy Bass was typically hung over a mantle or fireplace. On first glance, the fish looked real — perhaps a taxidermy prize from a relative’s fishing expedition? Walk past him, however, and the head would abruptly swivel away from the wall to face the room. After a slight pause, he would sing.

Remember, this was back in 2000, a time when Tickle-Me-Elmo and Furby had ushered in a national obsession with cute, animated toys. Initially, Big Mouth Billy Bass was genuinely startling. “It was magic,” remembers Jason McCann, chief executive of Gemmy Industries. “People wanted to show their friends so they could watch their reactions.”
Tweets, Facebook posts, Vines and YouTube videos didn’t yet exist; Billy Bass went viral anyway. Restaurants lined their walls with the talking fish, DJs played the “fish song” (back then, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Take Me to the River”) in venues across the country, and Billy Bass appeared on talk shows. At first, stores sold out so fast that waitlists were implemented. “We sold millions and millions and millions,” says McCann.

Maybe I bought this thing for a Christmas present one year for my dad and then my brother must have stuck Billy into the pile of stuff I was bringing home when we cleaned out our parents’ house?

Ha ha.

Well, Billy has just crooned his last melody because he is in the pile of stuff in my car for the monthly trip to the Goodwill, along with boxes of books, bags of clothes, and container after container of “housewares.”

It seems that I am in a continual state of “decluttering,” simplifying, and downsizing to make my life saner and my surroundings less frantic. My kids gifted me with the best-selling Marie Kondo book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tiding Up” in which she says you shouldn’t keep anything that isn’t useful or doesn’t bring you “joy.”

What if we applied the same principles to religious faith: disregarding what is outdated, no longer works, or is down right embarrassing intellectually? What would make the cut? What would be left? Why does it matter?

Well, it matters a lot when people are leaving churches by the thousands (Star-Tribune, November 11 2018, “Fastest Growing Religion Is None”).

Asked another way, what is the irreducible minimum that is necessary for Christianity? It may not be what you think….

One of the things a faith must have for me is a sense of humor, even if it’s simply the difference in how we perceive things now from when the texts were written. One of my favorite lines in this respect is from Sunday’s first lesson, from I Samuel. Here Hannah is having trouble conceiving a child and is in utter despair over this fact. Her husband Elkannah (who already has another wife and kids) says to Hannah, “Babe, aren’t I more to you than ten sons?”

Okay, I added the “Babe,” but Elkannah must have been quite a guy based on that statement! I am guessing that Hannah wanted to answer no but….

See you in church, when we will downsize, and in the process, I hope, fall in love all over again with the beauty – and usefulness – of Christian faith.

Barbara

 

 

 

Yesterday St. John’s held our Chili Bowl Cook-off, an annual fundraiser for our Hearts to Homes ministry that helps families coming out of homelessness. If you weren’t able to give at the event, you can still donate online or by text (click this link for all details).

Congratulations to the winners!

 

Diane Wallace-Reid also shared some things to think about in the November-December 2018 Evangelist:

Home for me is a well-stocked kitchen, flowers on the table, family pictures on the wall, my grandmother’s quilt draped on the bed, a window to the garden.

When I see a guy with his home on his back, a person with a shopping cart filled with his worldly possessions, or a woman with bulging shopping bags and several layers of clothing slogging down the street, I wonder: “Where is home for them? Is it over a heat vent in an alley, a spot under a bridge, the tent city along Franklin Avenue or Hiawatha?”

The contrast is almost unbearable to think about. Homelessness gets to me.

What’s there to do? Wring our hands and hope someone else is taking care of things? Do we take Jesus literally that “the poor will always be with us” and look the other way? Do we hand them money or a water bottle and then drive on? Do we act on the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me?” Do other questions come to mind?

Knowing that Christ is as present in them as in me, I am moved to compassion and action. If you feel as I do, there are ways to respond. People are stepping up in our community and in our ministries at St. John’s.

Our Hearts to Homes ministry provides financial support and personal one-on-one mentoring for families coming out of homelessness. To learn more, contact Margaret Thor at margaretcthor@gmail.com.

Our Project Home ministry provides overnight housing at St. John’s for the month of February. To learn more, contact Holly and Don Weinkauf at betterwein@gmail.com.

In this season of abundance, as we ponder ways to share our time, talent and treasure, let’s give thought to the homeless among us.

 

Homelessness in Minnesota:

How many are there?  In 2013, the Wilder Foundation counted 9,312 people as homeless in Minnesota but estimated perhaps 15,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Minnesota, 12% of them children.

Why don’t they get a job? Many homeless people are working fulltime jobs at minimum wage.  A minimum wage of $9.25/hour equals $1,480 gross per month, too much money to qualify for food stamps, but not enough money to afford a one-bedroom apartment in St. Paul—the average cost of which is over $1,000/month and rising.

What got them to this place?  Lack of affordable housing. Lack of employment. Chronic health conditions.  Histories of abuse or violence. Discriminatory housing policies and other systemic inequities. And lots of other things embedded in their past. Each homeless person has a personal story as complex as our own.

 

By the Rev. Barbara Mraz

As her name was announced and she stepped up to receive her college diploma, the school choir burst forth with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, an enthusiastic acknowledgment of a remarkable accomplishment and a dream realized.

Her journey brought her from war-torn Liberia to Morris Brown University in Atlanta and in 2004 to the Twin Cities. Today she is a mother of two impressive young daughters, a mental health practitioner and also a member of St. John’s. Hers is a story of personal and family strength, steadfast commitment, and the saving power of community.

 

UNDER ONE ROOF

She grew up in Robertsport, a small city in Liberia that was densely populated by Muslims. It was a close community; everyone knew one another including the kids. Her father was a traveling judge, and eventually an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Liberia. An older brother became a professor at the University of Liberia.

Her father loved his church, St. John’s Irving Memorial Episcopal Church, founded by Baptist missionaries from the U.S. He held virtually every position in his parish including senior warden, and was also chair of the Diocesan Council and Chancellor of the Diocese. Her mother was a practicing Muslim. Wuyah explains, “My siblings and I knew what Ramadan was and not to interrupt my mother when she was praying, but she also woke us up in the morning to go to church. She was there for all of our activities and reminded us when it was time to go to choir practice.” (Wuyah sang in the church choir from age seven until she came to America). “My mother held me when I was baptized and was present later when I was confirmed at age 12. Christians and Muslims got along fine in my community so I was confused and then shocked when I came to the U.S, and saw so much discord, intolerance and prejudice.”

 

WAR

In the early Nineties when Wuyah was thirteen, civil war broke out in Liberia. The family was forced to leave their home and city and flee to the west coast near Sierra Leone. Three years later, they returned to find their city in ruins. The roof had been blown off the school (although they still resumed classes there, without the roof). Her farther had lost his law practice and the family‘s finances were decimated. Wuyah lost two brothers during the war and a host of friends and relatives. After her brother Matthew was shot by a Nigerian soldier at a check point, Wuyah rushed to the scene and witnessed his lifeless body dragged and thrown into the back of a truck. Instantly, her world changed: She would leave her country and somehow go to college in America.

Her father had earned a Master’s degree himself at the State University of Illinois and had taught her: “Education is the key that will unlock the doors.” She believed him.

 

“I THINK I CAN SING”

Immediately, Wuyah went to the American Embassy and applied for a visa. One requirement was to have a support system in America—relatives, friends, someone who could help provide financial support. She had none of these but told the interviewer ,”I can’t live in this country any more.” She related the murders of family members and the death of her brother. She was told to come back the next day.

When she did, the interviewer said, “I believe in you and God bless you.” She handed Wuyah her passport. Inside was her visa.

Immediately she began researching schools and sent out numerous applications. She had decided that that the first school to accept her would be where she would go. That school was Morris Brown College in Atlanta, an historically-black school originally affiliated with the African-American Episcopal Church.

She arrived at Morris Brown in 1997 and started attending classes, not knowing she was not officially registered. After a month she went to the registrar’s office and admitted she had no money, no scholarship, and no obvious means of support. When asked about her interests she said, “I think I can sing.”

She met with the head of the Music Department and formed a lasting friendship with the woman who would become her mentor. She cleaned houses, she slept on people’s couches, and along the way she received scholarships to help her. She graduated with a degree in Business Management and Accounting and a 3.8 grade average, Magna Cum Laude.

 

“THEY EMBRACED ME”

In Atlanta, Wuyah had two children, Geegbey and Hawah Sharon, “named for my African and American mothers.” (Hawah was her mother’s name; Sharon was the name of the music director at Morris Brown.)

With her daughters in tow, Wuyah came to Minnesota in 2004 because she found she had cousins here. “I didn’t realize it would be so cold,” she admits.

Wuyah remembers: “For a time I was really struggling; my girls were ages three and under one. I stayed with a cousin, I stayed with a friend, I had no job and no transportation. However, I befriended a woman in the Liberian community who then introduced me to some other women about my mother’s age. There were nine of them and they embraced me; they babysat for me every day so that I could find a job and go to work.”

 

TWO FULL-TIME JOBS

Wuyah got a job at Wells Fargo in the mortgage department and a second job at a human services agency, two full-time jobs. Her daily schedule would be to get up and be on her way by 5:00am and drop off the kids so as to be at work by 6:00. She finished her second job at 10:00pm, picked up the kids at 10:30 and then went home to make lunches and get ready for the next day. She slept four hours a night. She did this for five years.

She says she often wondered where she got the strength, why she didn’t break down. She says,” I believe in the concept of parental blessing. I believe my parents were praying for me. I believe you have to honor your parents and every word that comes out of their mouths. My father taught me that to whom much is given, much is required. He believed in high standards, in respect for elders.”

Wuyah’s culture require her to take care of her parents, siblings and other family members. She is the bread winner for her family. For the past twenty years, she has consistently shared her monthly earnings with siblings, parents, nieces, nephews and others. She has paid tuition for over fifty family members. She is responsible for medical bills and emergencies for her family, not only in Liberia but also in Ghana.

She had subsequent jobs working with the elderly and this led her to a Master’s degree in Health and Human Services at St. Mary’s University; she is about to receive a second Master’s there in Human Resources Management. She managed a Traumatic Brain Injury program and now is a social worker working in the field of mental health. (“There is not one mental health agency in Liberia,” she notes.) She and her daughters live in Maple Grove.

Wuyah looked at churches in the Twin Cities for a long time before coming to St John’s. It was the choir and the warmth of the welcome that convinced her to stay. Now she is a mentor for a Hearts to Homes family and notes, “It would cost people a lot of money to get these services and they are provided free. The fact that St. John’s does this is a very big deal.”

 

TRAGEDY RESURFACES

In 2014 she was struck by yet another tragedy. The Ebola outbreak in Liberia took the lives of her older sister and a niece; a total of 14 family members died in less than two weeks. Yet Wuyah says, “Despite experiences of 13 years of civil conflict, hardships and tragedies, I am not bitter but remain grateful because God has never failed me.”

 

Wuyah’s personal strength and steadfast belief continue to have positive effects, large and small, on those around her. One day her daughters rushed by another young girl in the apartment lobby. Wuyah insisted that they come back and introduce themselves to each other. Now they walk home from school together.

“Hallelujah” indeed.

 

Originally published in the January-February 2018 Evangelist.

By Bette Ashcroft

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”
-Dr. Parker J. Palmer

Who in the world are you?                          

What in heavens name are you doing? 

These are some serious spiritual questions. Have you ever experienced a yearning to discover the real purpose of your life? To learn how to recognize and respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the “ordinary”?

Life in 2018 is full of noise and distraction. So many tools that exist to make our lives simple and efficient have instead burdened us with ever more demands on our time and attention. Amid all these distractions, I invite you to pause: to take some time to consider what special and specific ministry God intends for you.

Every individual is blessed with gifts, interests, and experiences that allow us to participate in the ongoing renewal and reconciliation of God’s creation. Those of us who are not ordained priests and deacons (the “laity”) are meant “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” (BCP p. 855)

This means we can do more than simply “fill in” the gaps which exist in the life of our parish community. Finding the shape of our gifts goes beyond volunteering for any ministry that needs helpers. It means finding the true meaning and purpose that God has shaped us for. This is a process that requires, above all, prayerful attention.

Once we discover our true shape for ministry, our lives will be enriched rather than diminished, we’ll be energized rather than exhausted. We will see how we may fit into the bigger picture of God’s design. We may need to let go of some things in order to make space for others.

You may feel you have already tried, and perhaps failed, to discover your spiritual gifts. What should you do next? What will allow you to fully engage in the ministry we have been created to embody?

Here at St. John’s, we have two new resources to assist you in answering these questions.

On Saturday, November 10, a workshop called “Finding Your Fit: You are SHAPED for Ministry” will be held from 9am-1pm in the Fireside Room. First you will explore your own unique passion, gifts, personal style, and experience. This is followed by a one-hour meeting with a trained consultant who will focus on your personal profile and how it might fit with opportunities to serve at St. John’s or in the wider community. Finally, you will be encouraged to serve in the ministry you have identified. You will not be “drafted” into serving. The purpose of SHAPE is to assist, not push, you into ministry that is life giving rather than energy draining. There is no cost for the workshop, and lunch is served. RSVP to Lea Anne Schmidt at leaanne.schmidt@stjohnsstpaul.org.

We also recommend Dr. Parker J. Palmer’s short book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation as a wonderful way to prepare for this discernment. Dr. Palmer draws from the Quaker tradition of deep listening. Several volumes are available in the Library; please borrow a copy and return it when you have finished so that others may enjoy.

Together, let us pause to listen and discover who God has shaped us to be and to do.

 

 

Originally published in the November-December 2018 Evangelist.

by The Rev. Craig Lemming, Associate Rector

Sometimes, our minds wander during worship. Perhaps it’s because we are so familiar with the words that our minds switch to “auto-pilot” and we don’t really think about what we are saying when we recite the Creeds. At Evensong on Sunday, we chanted The Apostles’ Creed and we affirmed our belief in “the communion of saints.Thankfully, my mind was fully engaged, and our chanting of this phrase in the Apostles’ Creed reminded me of my favorite portion of our Catechism, found on page 862 in The Book of Common Prayer:

Q.

What is the communion of saints?

A.

The communion of saints is the whole family of God,
the living and the dead, those whom we love and those
whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament,
prayer, and praise.

 

 

Q.

What do we mean by everlasting life?

A.

By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we
are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully
knowing and loving God and each other.

 

 

Q.

What, then, is our assurance as Christians?

A.

Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even
death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


I am deeply comforted by these three responses which conclude our Catechism. As we approach the Feast of All Saints on November 1st and the Feast of All Souls on November 2nd, may we come to know this Truth again: that every person is indeed a member of “the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt,” and that all of our relationships – broken or whole; mended or un-mended – are indeed “bound together in Christ.”

On the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, when we pause to remember “those whom we love and those whom we hurt,” we oftentimes do not know where to bring our complex feelings of joy and celebration comingled with feelings of grief and loss. I would like to offer two rituals I participate in – one sacred and public, the other secular and private – which help me to embrace and bless these intense and intricate sentiments.

For the Feast of All Saints, in lieu of Sung Compline, we will celebrate Holy Eucharist at St. John’s on Thursday, November 1st at 7:00 p.m. We will be blessed to have the exquisite musicians of LUMINA women’s ensemble who will offer anthems and sing the Ordinary of the Mass by composers spanning the centuries from the Medieval and Renaissance eras to contemporary masters to celebrate this Holy Feast Day. In the “beauty of Holiness” I can bring the bitter-sweet emotions All Saints’ Day evokes in me, and together with members of my faith community, celebrate and partake in Holy Eucharist. I hope you will join us on the evening of All Saints’ Day to “be filled with God’s grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Christ, that God may dwell in us, and we in God.

The secular and private ritual I find deeply comforting, is to meditate with the German art song, Allerseelen or “All Souls’ Day” by Richard Strauss. I invite you to join me in this ritual on All Souls’ Day: make a list of all your loved ones who are now deceased; speak their names silently in your hearts or aloud on lips; cherish a fond memory of each of them; and then, listen to this exquisite performance of Richard Strauss’s Allerseelen linked below, following along with the English translation. As you do all of this, remember, “By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other,” and that “nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”

Poem by Hermann von Gilm

Stell auf den Tisch die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei,
Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.

Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke,
Und wenn man’s sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.

Es blüht und duftet heut auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm am mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.

All Souls’ Day
English Translation by Richard Stokes

Set on the table the fragrant mignonettes,
Bring in the last red asters,
And let us talk of love again
As once in May.

Give me your hand to press in secret,
And if people see, I do not care,
Give me but one of your sweet glances
As once in May.

Each grave today has flowers and is fragrant,
One day each year is devoted to the dead;
Come to my heart and so be mine again,
As once in May.

English Translation: Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

At first I thought I had won the October Lectionary Lottery.

Two weeks ago, the Gospel presented the topic of divorce. Last week Jesus said that to follow him you need to give away all that you have. This week I drew “humility.”

In comparison, how hard can that be?

Oh wait…..

Could there be a less relevant topic in our self-esteem-obsessed, arrogant culture? All you have to do is watch the wrenching political ads that play repeatedly and relentlessly on television and you know that humility isn’t much in our political or national vocabulary. The highest leaders in our land can’t seem to admit their mistakes and hurl insults at half the population on a regular basis.

It can be exhausting and depressing, more so if you are on social media where your friends post regularly about their justifiable anguish. It also just makes me sad, discouraged.

Maybe we have to look elsewhere for examples of humility, those who are secure in who they are and yet have no need to attack others in the process.

Like Big Bird, whose puppeteer Carrol Finney, retired this week at age 84.

‘On July 2, 1990, Big Bird appeared at Jim Henson’s memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, singing Kermit the Frog’s signature song, “Bein’ Green”. Performer Spinney nearly broke down several times during the deeply touching performance, which was later described by Life as “an epic and almost unbearably moving event.’” (Wikipedia)

See you in church, where Jesus calls us to service, and God gives a heart-stopping reprimand to Job and to all of us. In the meantime, take a break and watch an 8-foot tall yellow bird show you what humility look like.

Barbara

by the Rev. Julie Luna, Curate

I’ve been pondering our journey together this past year as I’ve served at St. John’s both as a Transitional Deacon and as Curate, and how so many of my experiences have been ones of building Beloved Community.

The Episcopal Church, with the guidance of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, uses the promises found in our Baptismal Covenant as a guide to building Beloved Community.

 

Baptismal Promise: We will persevere in resisting evil, and when we fall into sin, we will repent and return to the Lord.

 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43)

Each week I witnessed and participated in the St. John’s community coming together to proclaim our faith by listening to Scripture, confessing our sins, receiving forgiveness, and sharing a Holy Communion meal to remind us that we are part of the body of Christ.

Food is a really important part of my life and that of my family’s life.  I was pleased that St. John’s offered so many opportunities to eat together and to eat really good food together at the New Member lunch, the Chili Cook Off, the Christmas gathering, and the Sabbath dinner meals.  My favorite food gathering was the sabbatical ice cream social in the parking lot with the farmer’s market!  Gathering for a meal is an act of reconciliation as we leave our grudges at the door and enter into the sharing of food in Christ’s name.  It is a time to reconnect and re-learn why we love and our community and in that act we forgive one another and we again become the one body of Christ.  We practiced this each week as we shared the Holy Communion meal, and St. John’s shared with me the art of extending that Sunday meal to other times in the year when we could be a reconciling and loving community through sharing a good meal.

 

Baptismal Promise: We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.  (Matthew 26:12-13)

St. John’s is a living example of the good news, modeling by example the Good News of God in Christ.  Each Wednesday morning, I arrived at the church and headed to my office in the Gathering Space.  Twice a month, I was pleased to be welcomed by the prayer shawl knitting group.  One morning I had the honor of blessing a prayer shawl that our pastoral care team would take to a person in need of the prayers lovingly knitted into each stitch of the beautiful creation.  I liked to imagine that when a person draped themselves with the carefully crafted and blessed shawl they were experiencing the same feeling of love and compassion that Christ did when the woman anointed his head with oil.  That each shawl was like oil flowing with the love and prayers of our St. John’s community.

 

Baptismal Promise: We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

I arrived at church each Sunday about 7:00 am to set the altar for the 8:00 service, make sure the readings and prayers were in the binder, and check on last minute details.   Each week, I was not alone.  There were others there with me to serve Christ in all the people of our community, and to love them as Christ.  Two consistent souls came early to make coffee—a much-appreciated gift for clergy and lay leaders as they began their day.  The altar guild faithfully appeared to clean up the 8:00 service and set up for the 10:00 service.  Many of these important tasks may go unnoticed and yet they are acts of love and service to our neighbor.

 

Baptismal Promise: We will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

…learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

In the warmer months when I arrived at church Sunday mornings, the farmers were already setting up the Farmer’s Market.  I was excited when I saw them and couldn’t wait to see what seasonal fruits, vegetables, and flowers with which they would surprise me.  I often wandered out there between our Sunday services and bought fruits and vegetables for my weekly menu (the one I made up based on what I bought!).

I also had the opportunity to visit Hallie Q. Brown and learn about its programs.  My family and I spent an evening with several Project Home families.  My favorite memories are that of three little girls combing and styling my daughter’s long hair, and my son running and playing with other children while they played ball with our family dog.

St. John’s is filled with compassionate people supporting one another, and the broader with its many local and international ministries.  Each of these ministries helps build justice and peace and respect the dignity of all God’s people.

I am grateful for the love I have received from the St. John’s community and the ways in which we have engaged in and fostered Beloved Community.  And now, it is time for me to take what I have learned and spread my wings in a new faith community and learn to live into Beloved Community with new people and new challenges.  I take you with me and know that the love I’ve received from St. John’s will always reside in my heart and guide me in the ways of Beloved Community.  Peace and Love to All of You.