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By the Rev. Margaret Thor

“Junk, Joy, Jesus.” These three words were the threads that tied us together and grounded us in our pilgrimage. John, our host and guide, introduced these words to us as a means to share our faith with each other. At the close of the day, we reflected on the individual “junk” we felt, the “joy” we experienced, and how we saw Jesus.

If you have been with teenagers for any length of time, you can imagine some of the “junk” voiced during the trip. Words such as “long” and “tired” were prevalent during the first couple of days. After a while, the comments became humorous. Following one hike, a pilgrim confessed that she was the one who stepped in the cow patty – yuck! However, as time went on, the phrase “no junk today” won out followed with excited descriptions of “joy.”

And there was a lot of “joy” to be shared. A long hike in mountain capped by a trip up to a waterfall. Clearly the pilgrims were awed by the power of the waterfall and the beauty of the countryside in Ireland. The hike along the rocky edge of the water by the lighthouse was another highlight. We stopped and built a “cairn”, a pile of rocks, with each rock representing something we wanted to give up that was bothering us. We then gathered around the “cairn” and offered our prayers to God. There was “joy” in exploring a ruin of an abbey that was accessed through the window – none of the adults could climb up to or fit through the window which made it that much more exciting.  We took a fishing boat out to the Saltee Island and visited a bird sanctuary. Although almost all of the pilgrims were hesitant about this particular experience, I think it may have been viewed as one of the highlights of the trips. At one point we all sat on the rocks overlooking the sea observing a large flock of gannets. These large birds were noisy but peaceful (if you can imagine that) as they lived their lives playing with each other, flying in and out, and caring for their young. (And did I mention puffins? Seeing the puffins in the wild was one of my joys.)

Reflecting on the Jesus moments started out hard for some yet as our time together progressed, it became easier to express. Many of the Jesus moments tied directly to the “joys” and other times to what was observed. Watching a youth help a hiker, a stranger to us, navigate through the slippery rocks on the island was one example. Seeing the pilgrims assist each other down a difficult set of rocks; reaching up and grabbing a foot to place it on the next rock down. My Jesus moment? It was simply being with the pilgrims as they became a “squad” of friends tied together with this experience of the pilgrimage. We proclaim that Jesus is love and that is what I experienced on our pilgrimage.

 

Originally published in the September-October 2018 Evangelist.

As our program year begins, here are some thoughts on invitation and evangelism from Lea Anne Schmidt, Coordinator of Growth and Member Integration. 

My best friend, Amy, once invited me to go on a blind date, and that (much later) turned into an invitation to marriage from my husband, Patrick. My oldest child graduated from high school this year, so I invited over a hundred people to my house. We are all invited in many different ways: to meals, to mingle, or to mourn. Invitation makes us into who we are.

In an age of email and Facebook, inviting someone to an event can seem easier than ever. Why, then, do we seem to hesitate so much more before inviting folks to church? Why don’t we share a great church experience on Facebook like we may share a great dinner, concert, or party?

When we recite our Baptismal Covenant, we are asked, “Will you proclaim the good news of God in Christ in word and deed?” and we answer, “I will with God’s help.” In the Gospel of John, Chapter 1, John and two of his disciples see Jesus walking along the road and ask him, “where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come and see.” Jesus offers an invitation.

This week I have been asking myself: Where is Jesus inviting me to “Come and see?” And who does He want me to invite to come along with me? When and how do we do the work of Jesus by offering invitations to others? When and how do we evangelize on His behalf, the Episcopal way?

The Episcopal Church guides us through its recently published Charter on Evangelism.  It states, in part, that “Through the spiritual practice of evangelism, we seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people—then invite everyone to MORE.”  The Charter describes three components of evangelism: of the church, by the church, and for the church.

Evangelism of the church points to us. Before we can share Jesus’s love with others, we need to dwell in it through reading scripture, worship and prayer, both privately and corporately. We need to tend to our spirit and allow ourselves to be loved by God.

Evangelism by the church is what we do to share Jesus’ love with others. In our service for others and in our moments of need, we want to be open to naming what it is that sustains us. By talking openly about our faith, we become disciples of Jesus.

The third part is Evangelism for the church.  New members are crucial for the vitality of a congregation. Their questions, energy, curiosity, and love for the church keep us attuned to our community and our mission.  The more diverse we are, in a myriad of ways, the more closely we reflect the Body of Christ.

Do you need to invite people to Sunday services? No, but that is an important part of who we are as a church, and is a gift we are called to share—however much it is a step out of our comfort zone.

During these last weeks of our church sabbatical, I invite you to engage in some private and public evangelism.  First make space for God and take time to pray, study scripture, and attend worship. Then ask the question, when or how did your faith carry you through difficult times? How has St. John’s helped you to answer Jesus’s invitation to “Come and see”? And after feeding your own spirit and acknowledging your blessings, ask yourself who you know that needs an invitation to “come and see” and invite them to church.

 

Originally published in the September-October 2018 Evangelist.

By Director Kathy Hopkins

This summer marked the completion of our fifth year at St. John’s. We continue to marvel at our luck on finding such a welcoming community. We often hear how wonderful it is to walk into the building and hear lively and happy children’s voices.

It was a busy year. We regularly had visits from storytellers, science presentations, Minnesota Valley Nature Center trunks, and Como Zoo. We toured the Minneapolis Art Institute and Dodge Apple Orchard, and attended Minnesota Orchestra Kinder Konzert and theater productions at the Children’s Theater and Imagination Theater.

The highlight of the year was our Art Show. We transformed the gym into a gallery that showcased the children’s work, and more than 300 family members and friends attended. It was a great way to celebrate the children and their accomplishments.

Crocus Hill continues to maintain our excellent ratings. We have a 4 Star Rating (the highest) from the State of Minnesota and we are nationally accredited from NaEYC, the preschool professional organization. We work hard to maintain our high standards. One of the main reasons we are such an effective preschool is because of our teachers. They sincerely enjoy their work with children and the atmosphere here.

We’re recharging our batteries this summer and will soon come back ready to welcome a new group of shining faces at St. John’s. Thank you for your continued support.

 

Originally published in the July-August 2018 Evangelist.

 

On New Member Sunday, St. John’s welcomed 10 new families into our faith community. Read on to get to know some of them a little better and say hello next time you see them!


Denis and Lynette O’Pray

Lyn and Denis are “coming home,” as they began attending St. John’s about 53 years ago, and their three sons were baptized here.

Denis started his life as a professor of American Studies. While worshiping and teaching at St. John’s (Lyn was Treasurer) he got the bug to become ordained in the Episcopal Church. Since then, they have lived in the Twin Cities, then in California for 27 years, then back to Minnesota ten years ago to lead the Church of the Nativity in Burnsville. They now have a “family compound” in Minneapolis where they and two of their sons have homes within the same block.

Denis and Lyn are active participants in the arts including the SPCO, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Guthrie.  Lyn also does glass work, reads a lot, and loves her kids and grandkids. Denis has a shop where he is building Shaker furniture that he hopes to enter in the State Fair.


John and Melissa Mulloy 

John and Melissa found the Episcopal church a bit later in life, after being brought up in Lutheran and Catholic traditions.  They first came at the invitation of Elaine and Tom Eyre and were drawn to the beauty of the church, the “formal” liturgy, and the music.

John works for Thrivent and Melissa is a business litigator at Larson King LLP, in downtown St. Paul. When they are not working, they enjoy football, running, kayaking and cooking. They have season tickets for Minnesota Gopher football, and are also enthusiastic Packer backers. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.


 

Edwin Schenk and Jennie Walker

Edwin and Jennie joined St. John’s after seeking out a faith community near their home. They wanted a congregation that could speak to their evangelical background, with Jesus-centered worship, but also with a sense of broad horizons.

Jennie is a librarian at the Debra S. Fish Early Childhood Resource Library in Little Canada, and Edwin owns Abstract Pigeon, a web development company.

They have been together for three years, and are raising two daughters. They enjoy cooking together, hosting friends, reading, going on walks, traveling, and working together on a blog. This summer they’re looking forward to keeping up the blogging, while fishing, getting out into the cities, finding the best restaurant patios, and doing some home remodeling.


Lesley Pandian

Lesley comes to St. John’s most recently from Dallas. He has a worldly perspective; his parents are from India and he was raised in Moscow.

He is a programmer at Thomson Reuters in their financial risk sector. He loves his work. Growing up, Lesley enjoyed playing video games, but while playing would imagine how he could make it better. He ended up getting his masters, where his work was to create virtual reality for people to train in “real world” environments.

Lesley is also an accomplished tennis player and thrives on the hard work and challenge that the game offers.


Amanda Gould, Joseph OBrien, and Olivia O’Brien

Amanda and Joseph are new parents who were blessed to welcome Olivia Rose into the world last fall. Amanda’s background in real estate keeps her plenty busy, as does Joseph’s background in structural engineering. They enjoy nature walks, volunteering, and writing children’s books.

They were initially drawn to St. John’s as a place of worship close to home. They’ve enjoyed meeting the church’s friendly members. during subsequent visits, and are excited for Olivia’s baptism.


Jeff, Sherryse, and Eleanor Corrow

While living in Canada, Jeff and Sherryse found an Anglican church, which they loved. When they moved back to Minnesota they began looking to find a church home here that would continue along the same path. A colleague of Sherryse’s recommended they try St. John’s. Jeff was happily surprised to see Richard Brynteson, a former professor of Jeff’s, attends here as well.

Jeff is an Operations and IT Manager for a non-profit and Sherryse is a professor of Child Psychology and Neuroscience at Bethel University. Five-year-old Eleanor enjoys sword fighting, riding her bike, and walking her new puppy named Jefferson.

Sherryse and Jeff are eager to get to know others at St. John’s.


Patty Voje

About a year ago, Patty moved to a brownstone across the street from the church. She spent last summer listening to the church bells at St. John’s, and finally made her first visit on Christmas Eve.

The mother of two 20-something daughters, Patty was raised as a Catholic but left the church after a divorce.  For many years she didn’t attend any church. She missed being part of a religious community but didn’t think that there was a place for her in organized religion. She appreciates many things about St. John’s; the warm welcome she’s received, our programs, and our music.  She feels that she has found a church home again.

Patty is the president of Spot Communications. She is also an accomplished oil painter who exhibits locally and nationally.


Richard and Paula Day

Richard and Paula have been attending St John’s since November of 2017.  They picked St John’s after checking out other churches.  They are here because of the music, liturgy, and outreach.

They are relative newlyweds, having been married for just about a year and a half now.  Richard was living in Madison and Paula in Eden Prairie when they met via the internet.  They clicked and picked a middle-ground location in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul to settle together in.

Richard is a widower and has a married daughter with two teenage children.  Paula has two sons from her previous marriage. Richard is retired from medicine, an internist; Paula still works as a media buyer and planner.

Richard knows several languages and Paula several more. Richard plays the organ (they have one in their house!) and enjoys musical performances, while Paula enjoys reading, music, politics, and travel (and her work).


Megan August-Hau and Andrew Kampa

Megan & Andrew are planning to marry in February, 2019. After graduating from Cretin DH, Andrew went to UW-Stout, but decided to move back to St. Paul and found his calling attending Dunwoody College for HVACR Systems Servicing. He is now an HVACR Service Technician.

Megan grew up in St. Paul and spent her early years at St. John’s, leaving to continue her education at U of MN – Morris. She then returned to St. Paul, completing her degree in Social Science at Metro State University. Megan is now a Logistics Program Manager.

Megan and Andrew enjoy spending time outdoors, camping, and relaxing at the lake . When asked if they have a “favorite” part of the liturgy, Andrew mentioned the Homily; Megan enjoys the passing of the Peace.

 


Mike, Jamie, Louie, and Charlie Bents

Mike and Jamie Bents have a very busy household.  Besides two energetic boys— six-year-old Louie and two-year-old Charlie, they both have careers and lots of hobbies.

Mike is a software engineer with Target, having received his MS from St. Thomas. Jamie is a transportation planner, working in Environmental Studies out of Chicago, and is able to work from home.

When not working or tending their boys, you will find Jamie in her potter’s studio or with her plants and gardens.  She is also very involved in social action campaigns. Mike likes hockey (playing and watching) and is interested in baseball stats.

Their quest for finding a mutual church home has been an interesting one, as their backgrounds are very different.  Jamie comes from a Reformed Jewish background in Iowa, while Mike was raised as a WELS Lutheran.  While living in Chicago, they gravitated to the Methodist Church, but began looking at the Episcopal Church.  After moving to this part of St. Paul, they found St. John’s and feel as though they have found a real fit.

 

 

Originally published in the May-June and July-August 2018 Evangelists.

 

By the Rev. Julie Luna

Sabbatical time is a chance for activities that we don’t normally make time for—such as meeting new people, sharing a meal, or gathering to talk about a current issue or concern.

The small groups that are formed through St. John’s are a great way to embrace this summer’s theme of “Companions in Transformation.” Each small group is different, but they commit to meeting regularly for fellowship, getting to know one another, and practicing our Christian faith through hospitality.

In our New Testament stories, we learn that Christ is present when two or three break bread, share stories, and gather in Christ’s name. The early church gathered in small groups in people’s homes to worship together. This is radical hospitality at its best: when we pull others into our journey and are transformed along the way.

In May, ten energetic young adults met at Sweeney’s for food and drink and to talk about forming a small group. They quickly jumped in with ideas for bowling, ice skating, movie nights, dinners out, and book discussions.  The enthusiasm was palpable and I witnessed it beyond that evening, when I saw young adults after the next Sunday service pulling in others to tell them about the upcoming gatherings.  The young adult group is planting the seeds of sabbatical rest that will bear the fruit of new friendships, and companionship with others along our journeys with Christ.

Small groups at St. John’s are a fabulous way to engage in sabbatical time all year long; to step out of our lives briefly to share hospitality with others. In addition to the new young adult group, there are plans underway for a young families group, a women’s group, and an LGBTQ group. The Young Families Small Group will have their first meeting after 10am worship on Sunday, August 19; all parents with small children (birth-elementary age) are welcome.

If you are interested or have any questions about small groups, please contact me at julie.luna@stjohnsstpaul.org.

Originally published in the July-August 2018 Evangelist.

 

The Sailor

By the Rev. Barbara Mraz

Fort Snelling National Cemetery is beautiful and haunting, as is the story I am about to tell you. It is a story about a sailor and his St. John’s family who endured more pain than most of us can imagine. It is also about the angel that whispered in my ear at his funeral.

 

Ceremony

A sunny Friday in late May and all is lush and green at Fort Snelling. The white canopy for the brief service is in place when we arrive. Everything here is on a tight schedule since there are an average of 23 funerals a day.

The visual landscape is relentless and sobering: row after row of white markers, each one with its own story of loss. We are here to add another.

Today Christopher Plummer will be formally laid to rest, a beloved son, brother, husband and father, a child of this parish who had spent the last 30 years of his life in a wheeled bed in the sunroom of his parents’ home a block from the church, completely disabled from what happened to him in the US. Navy aboard the USS St. Louis in 1988. The Navy denied what happened for years.

There is white everywhere today, a marked contrast to the dark questions that hang in the air, questions about the reality of God’s love and the randomness of suffering. The box holding the cremains sits between two bouquets of summer flowers: white lilies and snapdragons. Christopher’s sister Elizabeth, herself in a wheelchair, holds a bouquet of white hydrangeas. Standing in place are a Navy Ensign and a Petty Officer, their uniforms sparkling. They wear white gloves and hats and are resplendent figures as they assist with the burial of a fallen brother.

It begins as a soldier plays “Taps” and I wonder how many thousands of times have these notes echoed across this hallowed landscape? How many silent tears have been discreetly wiped away, like my own that day?

The beautiful burial service is read out of the Prayer Book. It doesn’t disappoint today, with words poetic and hopeful.

The two Navy men salute and then painstakingly unfold a flag, snap it in place, and hold it for an instant unfurled in front of the cremains, then fold it again. It takes a long time and is almost painful in its well-rehearsed perfection. They present the tri-folded flag to Chris’s widow Mitsuko “on behalf of a grateful country.” She is standing next to their tall, handsome sons, George and Robert, both in medical school on their way to becoming doctors.

And then it is over. People from St. John’s mix with Plummer cousins and other relatives. As for me, I haven’t stopped crying since I drove into this place and continue as I drive away and think again of the Plummers and their endurance, and of the miles and miles of white markers—225,000 of them in this place where there are over five thousand funerals every year.

Christopher Plummer (left) and Bill Plummer.

The USS St. Louis

We can learn part of Christopher’s story from the history of St John’s entitled For All the Saints, written by James Frazier:

Christopher Plummer was injured in the run-up to the first Persian Gulf War. He was serving on the USS St. Louis in 1988 when it was caught in the flight path of Iraqi planes attacking Iranian targets. Exactly what happened to the crewmen on deck remained for some years a matter of contentious debate. The CIA knew the identities of those on the deck but long refused to acknowledge that their injuries were indeed the result of the Iraqi attacks. Chris himself was never sure what caused his injury but all signs now point to the likelihood that the men were sprayed with sarin gas, a chemical of mass destruction that causes permanent and rehabilitating neurological damage. The Veterans Administrations required evidence that Chris’s injuries were caused in the Persian Gulf in 1988 but eventually acknowledged the serious of his deteriorating condition awarding him back pay and financial support for his family.”

The account continues: “As if Christopher‘s tragedy was not enough for the Plummers, in 1994 – six years later – his only sibling, Elizabeth Plummer, suffered traumatic head injuries in a car accident on Summit Avenue and required a great deal of physical and occupational therapy.” She was hit by a car while she was attempting to cross the street.

Elizabeth, previously a biologist, subsequently became an amateur photographer and had her work displayed outside the Fireside Room at St. John’s. She continues to struggle with the results of her injuries and now resides at Serenity Homes in White Bear Lake. She is the only one of the family still living. Her mother Sona died in 2014 after a long illness, and her father Bill died suddenly in 2017. The large family home across Portland Avenue from St. John’s, at the end of the block, has recently been rehabbed and is up for sale.

 

And so….

Once I asked Bill Plummer, the father of Christopher and Elizabeth, how he kept going, fighting the government year after hear to get recompense for his son, and then helping to care for Elizabeth and Christopher and also his wife Sona who had a long illness before she died. He told me that getting the V.A. to finally provide financial support for Chris and his family was immensely satisfying.

He also told me this: “I only live in the past.” I was never quite sure what he meant by that but I know that he received comfort from his house full of collections and antiques, from memories of his children in their prime, and in helping them every way that he could. Sona was the same, fiercely committed to her children. She always carried a picture of Christopher in his Navy uniform and was proud to show it to people.

The church was important to Bill and Sona. Then-rector Dick Lampert was with the family after the tragedies occurred; they called him “a godsend.” While Bill and Sona came to church regularly, the Armenian church was also important to Sona. An Armenian priest preached at her funeral.

Then there are the cousins! An extended family has surrounded the Plummers and continues to care for Elizabeth. Members of St John’s also call on her. Occasionally she makes it to church, with help.

I miss Bill Plummer, his steadiness, his intelligence and wit, his amazing knowledge of history from the Greeks to the city of St. Paul. For me, this story is heartbreaking, but also reassuring, that in the worse of times and also in the best, endurance is real, persistence can be rewarded, and caring and faithful people are what make the love of God tangible.

 

“Be confident in your goodness”

Sometimes we lack the confidence to act, the self-assurance that we have what it takes to make a difference. So I was taken by the words I heard at the funeral service: “Be confident in your goodness.” The phrase struck me because I think it is often lack of confidence that holds us back from acts of compassion and even words of kindness. It does me.

When I called the Rev. Susan Moss, who presided at the funeral, and told her I couldn’t find those words in the Burial Liturgy (although I had written them down in my notebook), she said, “That’s because they’re not there, and I know I didn’t say them either. An angel must have whispered them in your ear.”

“Be confident in your goodness.” That confidence can change a lot.

Reference: For All the Saints by James E Frazier, Afton Press, 2014, p. 231.

 

Originally published in the July-August 2018 Evangelist. 

Summer Rhythms

It feels like summer is flying by, but if you’re still searching for balance, there is plenty of time left to pause and find it. This article originally published in the July-August 2018 Evangelist offers some ways to help. 

By Jean Hansen

Striking a balance between being super busy and doing nothing over the summer can be very difficult for families. When summer hits, we often struggle with finding a rhythm. I wish to find that sweet spot of doing some fun things and having time to do nothing. By the end of the school year, my kids and I are completely exhausted!

Below are some suggestions for finding a rhythm: I will be trying some of these too:

 

Create “Blank Space”

As you look at your summer calendar, make sure there are days on the calendar where there is nothing planned. There should be “blank space” on those days. In our busy world, it’s important to have days where kids and parents don’t have something to do.  These days allow us to be spontaneous and creative.

 

Searching for Sabbath

Are there ways that we can intentionally choose to pause, to savor beauty, appreciate goodness, and celebrate and enjoy what God has created?

Pastor Ken Shigemastu writes in God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God, “The golden rule for the Sabbath is cease from what is necessary to embrace what gives life.” This summer, I will try to capture minutes and occasionally hours to embrace what brings my family life. Will you join me?

“Then God surveyed everything He had made, savoring its beauty and appreciating its goodness. Evening gave way to morning. …God blessed day seven and made it special—an open time for pause and restoration, a sacred zone of Sabbath-keeping, because God rested from all the work He had done in creation that day.” -Genesis 1:31-2:3, The Voice

 

Observe a Sabbath

Whether the day falls on Sunday or another day of the week, we need to have one day when nothing gets accomplished. Sabbath reminds us that our relationship with God is not about what we can do for God, but that we are God’s children and can rest in our relationship with him.

If you do something on your Sabbath, stick to activities that are life-giving and that remind or point you towards your relationship with God. I like how Eugene Peterson talks about the Sabbath pattern he and his wife created for most of their life in pastoral ministry. Every Monday they would take off and hike for most of the entire morning in silence, then gather to eat lunch together and reflect upon what they had seen. Your family can create your own Sabbath rituals—including time to play and time to pray.

Getting Started

To get your family started with a rhythm for sabbath, here are some guidelines:

  • Don’t stress out.
  • There is no rule about how often to practice Sabbath. Do it when you can. No beating yourself up about not doing it more often!
  • Everyone in the household should find a way to participate if possible.
  • Sabbath practices really do work best when all devices are turned off (adults too.)
  • Begin by asking each other, “what brings you life and joy?”
  • No murmurings of discontent.
  • End your Sabbath practice with a prayer of thanksgiving.