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The Episcopal Church has a long and complicated history of wrestling with and discerning the full inclusion of out gay and lesbian persons fully into our life and ministry. We have come, haltingly over time, to be a church that understands same-gender attraction as one of the diverse manifestations of God’s creation, and that people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are just as God intended them to be and that God loves them and each of us as we are and for who we are.

As our understanding has grown, many have come to believe that people exist on a spectrum of sexuality and gender, as well as married, single, partnered, and celibate. Moreover, this spectrum manifests a great diversity of gender expressions. We know there are some who identify as transgender: those whose experience of their gender assigned at birth does not match their understanding of their own gender. The Episcopal Church has begun to evolve our polity and teaching to be inclusive of transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, and genderfluid persons at all levels of ministry and life.

My colleague, the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, himself a trans man and Episcopal priest writes,

We can view human beings as both a ‘bond’ of a wonderfully variegated creation and an agent, or workshop, of creation’s transformation into the heart of God. Humans were created last, reasoned the patristic theologians, and we were given the gift of gathering the whole together and lifting it up so that all creation might be transfigured by the Creator….When we stumbled in our feeble attempts to fulfill that vocation, Christ came into our midst and became the ‘fresh institution’ of creation, transfigured us in his image, and bound creation to himself—even the parts of creation that we do not always understand and that sometimes make us uneasy. It is through this transforming power of Christ that I, and many transgender people like me, find our true identity as children of God.

This spring, the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music made available, through our Book of Occasional Services, a liturgy that acknowledges and blesses as holy the process of name change.

As the introduction to that rite reads, “When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following may be used to mark this transition in the parish community…This new beginning is distinct from the new life begun in Holy Baptism, which conveys regeneration and the responsibilities of Christian discipleship.” We recognize that there are many reasons a person might need to change their name. And, in the case of transgender persons, the process of transitioning from one gender expression to another very likely includes the process of changing one’s name. I am grateful then for this liturgy making possible for ours and other faith communities, to come around a person in transition, to bless and give thanks for the renewing and reclaiming of their truest God-given identities.

At St. John’s we have come to know trans and gender-nonconforming individuals as integral members in our life as a faith community. On June 30, I am delighted we will be able to use this service for one such member, Jennifer, as she makes the courageous step of changing her name and affirming her identity as a woman before God and us her faith community.  I hope you will experience the same gratitude and wonder I felt at Jennifer’s vulnerability and authenticity in sharing this part of herself with us, as together we honor what God is up to in her life.

Again, as my colleague, the Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge writes, such a moment “can be a part of our rebirth and new life that accompanies our membership in Christ’s body…I have many times encountered transgender people who tell their own lives as stories of salvation history. Many, including myself, are people for whom the mystery of faith finally helped us claim our selves, our souls and bodies, as vessels of reconciliation.”

—Jered Weber-Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful day; the sun shining, the garden greening, no bugs yet. But somehow I just couldn’t get a break. The handyman wouldn’t return my calls and I needed STUFF
FIXED NOW, the car was making a funny sound, I received a surprise medical bill, everyone seemed to be disappointing me one way or the other. I must have said “Are you bloody kidding me??!” dozens of times.

And then then the wind shifted, a friend called, the car kept quiet, and I felt that things would work out. I breathed again.

Some people call that the Holy Spirit.

The disciples were having a series of bad days and a cold fear was in the air. Persecution was intensifying; Jesus was leaving (again) and the usual arguments were taking place. But then Jesus promises to send a “spirit” to help.

The apostles were celebrating a Jewish harvest festival when it happened: The wind shifted and everything changed. The disciples stopped arguing and started doing good things. Peter preached up a storm and converted thousands on one day.

Sunday is Pentecost – a confusing celebration if there ever was one! It’s about tongues of fire and people speaking in different languages and still understanding each other and is called “The Birthday of the Church”. The color of the day is red (for the tongues of fire).

But mainly it’s about “spirit” and what that means for us now. When this Spirit touches us through words, music, the Bleeding Heart in the garden, or a feeling that won’t quite go away, we might call it coincidence, wishful thinking, or our imagination. We can dismiss it and reason it away.

Or we can listen, and pay attention, and see what God has to say to us. It can be pretty interesting and sometimes even save the day. Or our life.

And I’m not just being dramatic here. There will be plenty of drama on Sunday! But there will also be more……

See you in church.

Barbara

By Kevin Seitz-Paquette

Our culture would have us believe that there is some inherent tension in being both Christian and a member of the LGBT community. In my own past, I’ve heard things like “being gay isn’t sinful, but being in a homosexual relationship is,” or, from LGBT friends, “why should you be a part of a movement that hates us?” The latter cut particularly deep—homophobia is not exclusively a Christian problem, and all of Christianity is not a homophobic movement. The view of incompatibility between the Christian and LGBT communities persists, however, and I had fallen victim to it by the time I graduated college.

When I was a teenager, and I was first starting to grapple with one of life’s most troublesome questions—whether some people are evil by nature—my father answered that “God’s law is written on the heart of all men and women.” Even as I wandered outside the Church, the law written on my heart told me that LGBT individuals were not actually unwelcome. To the contrary, I felt pulled towards finding a faith community that would celebrate LGBT individuals and welcome them as children of God.

To be LGBT and Christian is to recognize that God created us—all of us—in his image, and that we are called to honor that image by living authentically. We know that the Church is a place that looks in awe at all that God has created and welcomes it. By our own experience, especially at St. John’s, we have felt the Christian community telling us that our relationships are just one more manifestation of God’s love for us.

God transcends the lines that humans use to create division, like race, gender, and sexual orientation. The Christian community reflects that transcendence in its diversity, and LGBT Christians play an important part in the completing the big quilt that is the Church.

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.

By Ellie Watkins

Jim Johnson is a longtime fixture at St. John’s—a friendly face greeting people on Sundays and an experienced voice contributing to committee decisions. He’s a cradle Episcopalian with a longtime interest in evangelism; he joined St. John’s in 1975 and was elected to the Vestry four years later.

His first assignment was co-chair of Fellowship with Lola Ferguson. “We were a really good team,” he remembers. They served during the St. John’s Centennial, an entire year’s worth of celebrations, culminating in a banquet with the parish and all its former rectors. “It was the most people I’ve ever seen in our gymnasium.”

After that, he was asked to chair the stewardship committee. It was a time of high inflation in America, and St. John’s was facing a potential financial crisis. Jim helped change the previous model and got people talking about pledging and giving. The congregation responded, and they ended their campaign with an impressive surplus of $71,000. “I’m really proud of that,” Jim notes.

After that, he became Senior Warden. “The day Grayson Clary told me he was resigning was not a great day for me, because I knew it would be a big responsibility to find a replacement for him!” The church wanted to make their associate rector, Tom Harries, their interim rector, but the diocese’s policy was to bring in someone new. A deadlock ensued. It ended when Jim, attending an unrelated Christmas party at the Minneapolis Club, saw Bishop Robert Anderson at a different party next door. Jim ran after him and caught up with him on the stairway landing. They agreed on a compromise: Harries could become the interim rector if St. John’s stopped using the 1928 prayer book at the 8am service! Jim attended 8am services to personally explain the transition to the new prayer book, and it went smoothly.

Jim also served as greeter at the door for 13 years. Assisted by Eleanor Hartman, he kept copious notes on visitors. “I really like meeting new people,” he says, adding that hospitality is so important. “Greeting people at the door is one of the keys. If you’re new in any setting, you don’t know what to do” and you appreciate someone who can guide you right away. “A little gesture” like inviting someone to coffee hour during the Peace or delivering a loaf of bread to a visitor “makes all the difference.”

He hosted a lot of brunches for new members at his house—indeed, many current members joined after attending one of Jim’s brunches! It’s one of his most powerful contributions to St. John’s.

And there are many other contributions in Jim’s history of servant leadership here. He served as treasurer from 2000-2013. He helped organize the Cornerstone Trust, the church’s endowment fund, and continues to serve as a trustee. He organized the Men’s Breakfast, “a wonderful group” for a long time with Don Husband. He’s been chairman of the building committee since 1996. The committee handles capital projects, aesthetics, gift acceptance, and memorials. “It all ties in with outreach and evangelism.” They’ve overseen everything from railings and ramps to renovating the undercroft. It “looked just like a 1902 basement in someone’s house!” Now this clean, updated space is a key part of our programming.

But if it starts to seem like Jim does it all, he’ll set you straight. “I would be lousy at lots of things it takes to run a church!” he laughs. He’s quick to compliment the work of many others around the church and what a great job they’re doing. “You have to match people with their talents. That’s what teamwork is all about. That’s how you have progress and move ahead. A church is like a village. It takes a village to make things work.”

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the National Study of Youth and Religion was released as one of the most significant pieces of sociological research on faith in this country. The longitudinal study is an invaluable resource in the ongoing work of faith development and formation in children, youth, and family ministry.

One key discovery was the strong correlation between “sticky faith” in children (faith that lasts into adulthood) and their relationships with adults who can communicate authentically and articulately about faith in ordinary life. These trusted adults are one of the most significant factors in sticky faith for the children in our care and keeping.

In the past decade and a half, we have come to know Jean Hansen as one of those adults: a key figure in helping faith “stick” with and continue to positively influence our children through adolescence and into adulthood. As you read, she has worked hard to create a network of adults around each of our children, adults who can speak honestly and authentically about what God is up to in their lives. It is her work, and theirs, that have kept our ministry with our youngest members alive and moving forward.

Now, that work transitions to a new staff leader and into a new season at St. John’s. The terrain ahead is not without significant challenges. As Jerome Berryman, creator of the renowned Godly

Play curriculum, noted in a recent article in the Christian Century: “If learning to be a Christian is like learning a language, then teaching children to speak Christian is more complicated than it used to be. Families don’t go to church as much as they once did, and the culture does not naturally support Christian speech or Christian ways of thinking about the world.”

If children are to have faith that sticks with them into adulthood, they need sustained contact with folks who can speak the language. That exposure requires an ecosystem that nurtures both adults and children. It will require a recommitment of effort, energy, and resources equal in the church to that which we give to our programs, liturgies, and formation for adults.

This season of transition is the perfect time for our faith community to take stock and to assess with honesty and care, whether we need new resources or a better redistribution of resources to tackle the challenges of faith formation for children and youth at St. John’s.

During May and June we will host three listening sessions, one for parents of young children, one for youth, and one for all members. A search team is being convened and a job description posted.

In addition, there will be a survey for all members asking for good feedback about our hopes and aspirations for ministry with our youngest

members and their families. Do you think St. John’s has a place for people of all ages to use their God-given gifts? Are children and youth as welcome and fully included in our faith community? In worship? In faith in action? In formation? In music? What do you most appreciate about our current ministry with children, youth, and families? What do you hope to see next? We want to hear from you at these listening sessions and in the anonymous responses we gather with this survey.

In June, we will begin interviewing candidates with the hope to call a new staff leader for Children, Youth, and Family ministry to partner with us in shaping our programs, building use, worship, and formation, to better connect with families and our youngest members, helping transmit the faith, and celebrate the faith and gifts in each generation.

As Berryman concludes, “just as the commitment to creating meaningful worship reaps its own rewards, so too teaching our children [and youth] the language of faith has deeper benefit than we can imagine. Jesus said that if we would welcome his kingdom, we must do so like a little child. In teaching children [and youth] the language of faith, we enter into the mystery anew.”

—Jered Weber-Johnson

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.

By Ellie Watkins

Jean Hansen has always felt called to work with young people. “I remember how hard it was to be a teenager,” she says, “and how I wanted a youth community outside of my friends from school.”

She started working at St. John’s in 2005 as the coordinator of the Youth Ministry. At the time, they used a variety of curricula and did a lot of fundraisers. When Jered Weber-Johnson came to St. John’s, he brought the Journey to Adulthood (J2A) curriculum with him, and Jean adopted that for youth ministry in 2012. The next year, she took over as coordinator of children’s ministry (which had previously just been Godly Play) and expanded it to include family ministry and intergenerational programming, such as the annual  Advent Wreath Event and the Lent TV series.

But now after 14 years, Jean is moving on to new endeavors “and a leap of faith.” She is leaving to pursue a Master’s degree in Special Education at the University of St. Thomas. “I still feel called to work with and advocate for young people, but in a new way. I truly love St. John’s, and I am so thankful for the things we’ve shared together.”

Her experiences here haven’t been without their troubles. She broke her foot during a lock-in and had to stay off it for three months. She was in a car accident during a mission trip. On another mission trip, they arrived at the airport to find the wrong flight had been booked for them. “All I wanted to do was lay down in the middle of the airport and have a big temper tantrum,” she confesses. (But instead, with her usual quiet optimism, she shepherded the group home, and they returned the

next day to begin their newly rescheduled trip.)

Jean notes a lot of positive changes in Children, Youth, and Family (CYF) ministry during her time here. “There’s more volunteer buy-in,” she notes. Parents volunteering with Godly Play get to know other kids in the church sooner. In J2A and the confirmation mentors program, youth get to develop relationships with more adults in the church, and have more adults they know care for them. Overall, the CYF program has become more intergenerational, with more people wanting to be a part of it. The “ministry of being with” has taken root in CYF under Jean’s care.

CYF is also supported by the dedicated team that Jean has built—a team that, she says, has really stepped up. “When you ask them to do something, they get it done!”

Another positive was the change from youth mission trips to pilgrimages. Although the pilgrimages often include a service project, they have a broader overall goal: to acknowledge that a young person has a faith life, and to honor that. She’s seen the pilgrimages have a profound effect on those who participate. “They can’t articulate it right away, but they can articulate it years later as

young adults.”

Jean credits her work here with helping her develop skills to advocate for young people. “St. John’s has formed me not just as a leader but a morally responsible leader.”

“Having children made me realize it’s really important for kids to feel safe in their environments. If I can be a safe person for them, it can lead to learning and growth.”

“It’s a life-affirming sort of job,” she says, where you know “there’s a greater point to what you’re doing.” More than managing the program, her

role is knowing and taking an interest in the kids.

And it wasn’t just the kids. “It has been amazing getting to know people here.” Her interactions with adults, and the friendships and support that have continued long after parents’ kids have aged out of the youth programs, have filled her soul. “Having the opportunity to known and be known by these families … you’re part of their larger family. They want you to walk with them. It’s profound to share in their struggles and suffering.“

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.

By The Rev. Barbara Mraz

Mary Johnson and Dr. Lynn Hartmann each spent over thirty years working at the world-renowned medical facility in Rochester. Lynn was an oncologist and Mary was a chaplain. They’ve been together for 24 years and married for five. They recently moved to St. Paul, started attending St. John’s last year, and can usually be seen at the 8am service.

At the upcoming OWLs luncheon on May 14, they will speak about their experiences and the insights they have gained during this time. Following are two brief bios:

Mary Johnson:

I was born and raised on the banks of the Missouri River in a small, college town in South Dakota. I became a Minnesotan when I moved to Rochester to complete my chaplaincy training in the late 1970s after finishing my theological education in Seattle.

Hospital chaplaincy at The Mayo Clinic was a wonderful privilege. Over the course of 30+ years at the bedside, I had the opportunity to work with individuals and families from all over the world whose lives were in transition because of life-limiting or life-threatening illness. They were my greatest teachers.

At this point in my life, my spiritual journey brings me to the Episcopal Church where I find warmth, hospitality, intelligent theological reflection, and meaningful spiritual practice.

Dr. Lynn Hartmann:

I was born and raised in the Chicago area but migrated to Minnesota in 1986 to start an Oncology fellowship at Mayo, after medical school (Northwestern) and Internal Medicine training (University of Iowa). While I have come to love Minnesota deeply, during my first years here I was still a Cubs fan and thus missed rooting for the 1987 and 1991 Champion MN Twins!

Some highlights of my years at Mayo: Meeting my life partner Mary Johnson; being the first woman to join the Oncology staff in 1988 and helping to mentor and recruit numerous trainees and young staff—women now make up 30% of the Oncology staff!

My areas of focus in Oncology were breast and gynecologic cancers, especially improving options for prediction of risk of developing these conditions, and options for risk reduction. I started the Women’s Cancer Program at Mayo, which today is the largest program in the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

What I enjoyed most about my career at Mayo was the team spirit among the staff and sharing in the lives of so many remarkable patients.

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.