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This is Pride Week in the Twin Cities, when we have a particular chance to honor our GLBTQ+ family, friends, and parishioners, and to celebrate God’s ever-expanding love for all that God has created. Members of St. John’s will be marching in the Pride Parade with other Episcopal congregations (click here for details). The cathedral is also hosting several Pride events this weekend.

Another way we honor the diversity of all people at Saint John the Evangelist — all year long — is by being a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) people.

A welcoming space is a wonderful and hospitable thing! We welcome visitors and long time parishioners alike each time we gather. Being a safe space goes a few steps beyond being a welcoming space.

As a safe space, we strive to create a faith community where everyone’s story is respected as their own, held in confidence, and not shared without their permission. We speak from our own experience, and ask others what they need in order to feel comfortable in our faith community. We listen. At the same time, we recognize that everyone is human, and may make judgmental or prejudiced statements. We do not shame or shun one another; rather we seek inclusive conversation. Consider the ways you tell your story, and the ways you encourage others to share their own stories. Our attitude towards one another makes us a safe space.

Saint John’s embracing of safe space is not new. In 2012, we had many conversations as a parish about the impact changing our marriage policy to include homosexual and other non-gender conforming couples would have on us as a parish. Along with taking a position opposing the marriage amendment to the state constitution, making our marriage policy inclusive was a public sign of our becoming a safe space for GLBTQ people.

Jesus taught love of God and love of neighbor as the most important commandments. When we create a safe environment for everyone, we honor his teaching.

 

Originally published on the St. John’s website.

 

 

The deepest crisis of any society are moments of change when the stories we live by today become inadequate for the present situation.”

Thomas Berry
American monk, historian

Stories have been a major theme at St. John’s for some time, especially the stories about ourselves that we tell each other and the stories of Scripture that we hear each Sunday.

The thing is, the “truthiness” of stories changes (thank you for the term, Stephen Colbert). I know that some of the stories that I used to tell about myself aren’t as true as they once were because I have finally learned some new ways to understand my life. Old stories such as: Me as the kid whose parents never told her they loved her; Me as the kid in high school who never fit in; Me as the sad but valiant survivor of divorce.

My stories now are more like this: Me not fitting in during high school but who wanted to be with those people anyway; Me modeling resilience for my daughters; Me as “successful” by the standards I now value; Me, grateful for the changes that almost destroyed me.

And now you don’t even have to eat with me!

Some of the stories in Scripture are not as pristine as we may have thought once. Next Sunday’s lesson from Samuel is an example. The story is about the selection of David as the new king of Israel and it begins with a lie.

Saul was losing it as a king and God sent Samuel out to find the new king – with a cow. He did this so when the nervous elders asked him what he was doing in Bethlehem he would say, “Oh nothing, just going to church to make a sacrifice — see the cow?”

No report on what happened to the cow, but Samuel found David, the greatest of Israel’s kings.

Each Sunday the preacher of the day has a mighty challenge because of what people want at church. Some want comfort, peace and direction –they are unhappy if the stories are interpreted too much in light of present events, especially political ones. Others are unhappy if the stories are NOT interpreted in light of the present day because the outrage and despair they feel about the state of the country and sometimes their own lives cannot be instantly forgotten as they walk through the red doors. They want immediate relevance.

Jesus didn’t have much time for the separation of church and state. In fact, he was forever reinterpreting the stories of his Jewish tradition. He enlarged the meaning, he changed it; sometimes he even said it was just wrong. He roared against the injustice and selfish arrogance of the Roman oppressors.

Stories are living, breathing entities that change as we learn more about ourselves and about God.

Mine sure did.

See you in church.

There will be stories.

Barbara

By the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson

All things come of thee

Every Sunday at the 8 o’clock Eucharist, we conclude the offertory, the moment we collect and receive the gifts and oblations of our life and labor, by saying the words adapted from 1 Chronicles “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” These words perfectly summarize the Jewish and Christian belief that God is the source of all that is. There is nothing in existence that came to be without the creating and sustaining power of God. That includes the things we claim as personal belongings and acquired wealth. These things come from God. So, in humility, we offer back to God what was rightfully God’s all along. This giving back is an act of gratitude and a way to train our hearts and minds to acknowledge our place in the cosmos as finite, mortal, and interdependent.

Healing the world

More than this, our giving back is an act of healing the world. Our gifts, faithfully given, are used to further the work of restoration and reconciliation that we, as the body of Christ, are called to be about. We feed hungry mouths and souls, house the homeless, equip others for the work of pastoral care, steward the implements of liturgy and sacred space so that we can worship God in the beauty of holiness, nurture children and adults in the knowledge and love of God, bring healthcare to other lands, and practice the most radical thing we can do in this age of division – share hospitality and stories and relationship with people who may not all be exactly like us. This is where our gifts given in and through the church go to furthering the work of healing the world.

Our gifts are most often and appropriately given in the context of the Eucharist – the liturgy wherein we give thanks and praise to God. But, our gifts require planning and preparation – just as God planned for creation and all that is in it, so our giving back requires great intention and foresight. Each year we plan for the work of the church in our annual Pledge Campaign. We ask each member to consider his or her own gift and how it can help us accomplish the work we’ve been given to do. Another lesser known way that we invite our members to intentionally give a gift is through what is traditionally called “Planned Giving”.

Planting gardens and trees

Theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes that “It is quite true what philosophy says: life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards.” Planned giving takes seriously the reality of death and invites us to faithfully prepare for our end and live towards it by making plans to provide for God’s mission in the world even after we’re gone. If annual giving represents planting a garden to feed the community, planned giving represents planting trees that will shade and protect that garden and community for many many years. Our prayerbook invites this approach of beginning with the end in mind at the conclusion of the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, saying “The Minister of the Congregation is directed to instruct the people …to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.”

An Invitation

St. John’s practices planned giving by willingly accepting planned gifts in a number of different formats including (but not limited to) Life Estates, Charitable Annuities, Remainder Trusts, Retirement Plans, Life Insurance, and much more. Last month, we sent out information about St. John’s planned giving program. (Click here to see the full brochure.) We invite you to take this opportunity to consider faithfully how God is using St. John’s to further the work of God’s reconciling mission in the world, and how you can be a part of that work long after you are gone. Any member of our stewardship committee would welcome speaking with you about your planned gift, and how to ensure it goes to the work we share through this faith community.

 

Originally published in the May-June 2018 Evangelist.

This summer, guest preachers from St. John’s and the wider community will be preaching on “Stories of Renewal.” We’ve also invited them to share their reflections on our blog in advance of their sermons. This post is by the Rev. Neil Elliott, who will be preaching this Sunday, June 10.

Parishioners, be aware, you’re likely to hear a lot about ISAIAH over the summer. Susan Moss, Craig Lemming, and I have been attending the ISAIAH clergy caucus; Jay Johnson has gathered a committee exploring ways we can get involved as a parish, especially around defending the rights of immigrants; and two of our preachers this summer are organizers with ISAIAH.

What, you ask, is ISAIAH? It is a faith-based coalition committed to local change. For almost twenty-five years, congregations around Minnesota—churches, synagogues, and as of today, more than forty mosques—have worked together to take public action in the cause of justice for our neighbors. You can learn more about ISAIAH at their website: isaiahmn.org .

I first got involved when I was a chaplain at the University Episcopal Center fifteen years ago. I drove a group of students to a “Faith in Democracy” event where several thousand people of faith from around Minnesota showed up to ask legislators to embrace specific policies to defend hungry children and women threatened by domestic violence. Legislators of one political party responded, “All this is already in our agenda; but thank you for the opportunity to connect our work as legislators with the faith that motivates many of us.” We were scolded by members of the opposite party, however, for inappropriately mixing religion and politics. (The admonition seemed hypocritical to me, since the legislator scolding us had spent the previous Sunday campaigning from the pulpit of a local church.)

In a recent ISAIAH clergy meeting, we heard that people of faith are shy about the language of “taking power” in the public square. That didn’t sound quite right to me. For some churches, taking public action is a matter of survival.

If that’s not our story, perhaps we already enjoy enough privilege that we don’t need to take public action. But privilege is another kind of power. The question isn’t whether we have power: It’s whether we use our power to maintain our own comfort, or to stand in solidarity with those in need around us.

By Eric Odney

In June of 2015 Pope Francis issued his encyclical (letter) titled Laudato Si. The encyclical dealt with many issues but chief among them was a concern for the environment and a “…care for our common home…”.

In 1991 the Episcopal Church General Convention called on “all citizens of the world, and Episcopalians in particular, to live their lives as good stewards with the responsible concern… for the environment” and urged all Episcopalians “to reflect on their personal and corporate habits in the use of God’s creation.”

In a very small and fundamental way, we here at St. John’s can participate in this effort by renewing our commitment to recycling. We applied for and received a grant from BizRecycling (a program of the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board) for new recycling bins and signage. With this grant, we hope to improve and expand our recycling efforts, and to send less trash to the landfill.

(This also benefits the stewardship of our financial resources, along with our environmental ones. Ramsey County charges a 53% on garbage collection for non-residential customers — but recycling is not taxed!)

We offer our thanks to you for participating, and a prayer that we may be good stewards of God’s creation and our common home!

Originally published in the May-June 2018 Evangelist. 

By the Rev. Barbara Mraz

I’ve always had a garden. It’s in my blood. My grandfather grew exquisite roses behind his St. Paul home and my dad’s garden featured a little bridge spanning a tuberous begonia patch and also an arbor with pink, white and purple Sweet Peas (my favorite flower) and climbing beans. I favor the old-time blooms: lilacs, peonies, hollyhocks, daisies and, of course, roses.

Whether a garden spans acres or a couple of pots on a balcony, the impulse is the same: to grow things in the soil of the earth, things to eat, things to heal, and things to admire.  To participate in a miracle.

Gardening imagery appears frequently in Scripture. We are told that human life begins in a garden, called “Eden,” and while Noah was rounding up pairs of animals for the Ark, I like to think that Mrs. Noah was gathering seeds.

Jesus compared the Kingdom to a mustard seed and spoke a lot about vineyards. He also used flowers to teach important truths: “Consider the lilies; they spin not and neither do they reap, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his death. The women at the tomb confuse Jesus with the gardener.

Many flowers are immigrants to this country.  For example, early Czech settlers brought lilac bushes with them, and planted them outside their homes; many lilac hedges we see today are older than we are.  Daylilies and daises came from China. The salt spray rose (Rose rugosa) came from a Japanese ship which broke up in a storm off the Massachusetts coast. The rosebushes washed ashore, rooted, and grew.

Gardening can be a consolation in times of peril.  The acclaimed English gardener and writer Vita Sackville-West wrote:

Small pleasures must correct great tragedies.
Therefore of gardens in the midst of war
I boldly tell.

Perhaps she is speaking about the “victory gardens” which sprang up in backyards throughout  England during World War II, feeding civilians so that more food from large farms could be sent to the troops.

Gardens teach us about mortality.  “To every thing there is a season,” Ecclesiastes tells us, “a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted.” Each plant has its life cycle, although sometimes we can “force” blooms early, like the Forsythia branch I have blooming on my windowsill. But none of us can rush spring!

Gardening reflects the seasons of our lives: from youth to old age.  Sometimes we are the bloom, other times the root, as in this poem by the Native Cherokee poet Marilu Awiakta:

MOTHEROOT

Creation often
needs two hearts
one to root
and one to flower
One to sustain
In times of drouth
And hold fast
Against winds of pain
The fragile bloom
That in the glory
Of its hour
Affirms a heart
Unsung, unseen

The Church is a microcosm of this duality. We are rooted in the traditions, stories, and gifts to us of those who have come before us.  At our best, we show forth this heritage with glorious blooms of love and service that are our lives now, at this time, in this place.

 

Originally published in the May-June 2018 Evangelist. 

A True Sabbath

Originally published in the May/June 2018 Evangelist.

Dear Friends in Christ,

It is something of an inside joke in our home that Erin can remember where we were for every birthday and anniversary, and I can remember what we ate. There isn’t a morsel of food, a meal or snack, that I cannot, given some time and a few clues, remember and recount. For me, food, like smells or sounds or music for others, connects me to memory. There was the restaurant on the shores of Phuket, in Thailand that only served “the catch of the day”, fried or grilled whole, and paired with either red, green, or massaman curry. We ate there every night during our stay and I can remember each fish, each curry, and each preparation. There was the breakfast of fresh venison steak and instant oatmeal and wild blueberries served by my father and cooked over a small fire of juniper branches, when we were stranded on a mountaintop after a particularly bountiful deer hunt. The discovery of a new restaurant or the introduction of a new food to one of my boys – seeing their delight and pleasure in something I have known and loved – I can remember each of these as clear as day.

For some, food is merely sustenance. For me, it is almost always an experience and an event. So it was that when I had the chance to prepare an application for a grant to go on sabbatical, I knew that food would be at the center. So it is that I also wanted food to be at the center of the sabbatical experience for our whole faith community. As the sabbatical team wrote in that application, we are a busy people, intent on doing, working, fixing, and shaping the world in which we live… we “crave time, but often don’t take it, to sit across the table from one another to break bread and share our stories, discovering the tapestries of people’s lives and faith. Consequently we struggle to identify and articulate how our story fits into the narrative of God’s hospitality and the wider story of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”

The Spring-Summer mailer, arriving in June, will contain opportunities to sign up for dinner parties being hosted over the summer, books to read that tie into the themes of the sabbatical, and I hope you will participate. More than this, I hope you will consider ways that you can break bread spontaneously outside the events and opportunities created for you. Introduce yourself to someone new over cookies at coffee hour. Invite a new member to lunch. Arrange a coffee or beer with someone you’ve been wanting to get to know better. Ask questions that move you past the superficial:

What keeps you coming to church when so many people don’t go?
What keeps you up at night?
What are you hungry for in your life?
What breaks your heart?
What gives you hope?

The theme of the sabbatical is “Companions in Transformation: Meals, Stories, and Our Future” and invites both you and me into our own process of considering our stories and doing so in the context of shared hospitality. As the word “companion” implies, we believe transformation happens when we break bread (pan) with (com) one another. Parker Palmer notes in his class on healing political divides, we cannot solve problems by talking about others who are not in the room. We can only change the global by being transformed on a very local level, on a personal level. And personal transformation happens in relationship, over stories and meals.

Priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon describes this reality in his book The Supper of the Lamb: A culinary reflection, using humor and anecdote to describe the recipes and necessary accoutrement for an ideal dinner party. Capon describes such a meal of lavish hospitality, formality and informality, attire and menu items as echoing the great apocalyptic “supper of the lamb” – a meal set at the end of all things when God has gathered all to his banquet table. Capon describes the incarnation of Christ as having assumed all things human – meaning that God now loves like we do, enjoys the fleshly realities of food and feast and storytelling as we do. So it is at the last, when all things are reconciled, God in Jesus will lift us too in our fleshly realities, to be like Him. All that is created and incarnate will not be lost or dissolute. Capon writes:

We can, you see, take it with us. It will be precisely because we love Jerusalem enough to bear it in our bones that its textures will ascend when we rise; it will be because our eyes have relished the earth that the color of its countries will compel our hearts forever. The bread and the pastry, the cheeses, the wine, and the songs go into the Supper of the Lamb because we do: it is our love that brings the City home.

There is nothing lost in this great feast. It is a feast that echoes the Eucharist, a place where we find our earthly loves lifted up and all our selves reconciled and united in Christ. So, companion with others here at St. John’s. Break bread together. Share stories of loss and love. Find your life united with his. Be transformed.

I’ll see you in worship, for a little longer. I am praying that you and I will have a true sabbath – a time of rest, restoration, renewal, and that when we come together again, we will have such stories to tell one another, that we will see where God is calling us together next, in mission and in ministry.

Faithfully,
Jered+