Archive for April, 2018

In March of last year, the Rev. Sam Wells visited St. John’s and spoke about social engagement and the ministry of Jesus. He drew on his relationship with Marcia Owens, a gun violence prevention advocate. Her experiences, and Sam Wells’s model, are relevant once again, as some members of St. John’s and the Episcopal Church in Minnesota currently are supporting and engaging in activism to end gun violence in our communities.


We had the pleasure to welcome the Reverend Doctor Samuel Wells, vicar of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and one of the world’s leading theological minds for a weekend of reflection, learning, and worship. The weekend began with an all day Saturday seminar on the subject of “Living Without Enemies” (also the title of our Lenten read, cowritten by Sam Wells and Marcia Owens.) It continued with Sam preaching at our Sunday morning Eucharists and offering a forum in between. Finally, it concluded Sunday night with a service of music featuring the St. Martin’s Voices and a series of reflections by Sam Wells on the history of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Throughout all of it, the resounding message was of the need for the church to reclaim the primary ministry of Jesus—the ministry of “being with.” Wells spent a great deal of time Saturday illuminating what he believes are the four models of social engagement: Working For, Working With, Being For, and Being With. Walking us through these, he arrives at the conclusion that while all four have stumbling blocks and advantages, the main thrust of Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of “being with.”

He then encouraged us to take this as a model for our own social engagement—to focus the majority of our ministry on relationship, presence, and interdependence.

Sam offered us this thought: “’Being with’ begins by largely rejecting the problem-solution axis that dominates both the previous models…It sees the vast majority of life, and certainly the most significant moments of life, in these terms: love can’t be achieved; death can’t be fixed; pregnancy and birth aren’t a problem needing a solution.”

Christians, says Sam, need to worry less about solving problems—to stop seeing the world in terms of its problems, and people in terms of their deficits—and remember the end to which we are all called is relationship with God and relationship with each other. Our job, he said, is to “enjoy people for their own sake.”

Of course this doesn’t mean the church or Christians shouldn’t be concerned about pain and suffering, or that we shouldn’t try to alleviate it. But it does mean we may take a different approach than the rest of the world.

Using the model of gun violence prevention, Sam described in his Sunday forum the story of his relationship with Marcia Owens and her story of transformation. What started as a passion of hers to end gun violence in Durham, NC through legislative solutions became a ministry of presence and solidarity. Marcia’s life changed slowly as she spent time in the neighborhood where the shootings were most prevalent. She began to see her work not as addressing the problem of violence, but of getting to know the community most affected by the violence. As her focus shifted from “working for” to “being with” the community, she stopped dividing people into separate categories of victims and offenders, and experienced personal transformation as she discovered the beauty of simply being present.

I was deeply edified and inspired by The Reverend Doctor Wells, his wisdom and presence. Our time with him has given me new energy to look again at the ministries of Saint John’s, how I work as a leader in our community, and even to how I live my life as a neighbor and citizen.

The story of Easter which we are now celebrating is the story of God’s commitment to be with us. This one brief moment where God seems to be working and being for us is buttressed and supported on either side with a vast story of God’s willingness and desire to be with us. There in the garden, after conquering death and sin, Jesus shows up again, to be with us.


By the Rev. Jered Weber-Johnson, originally published in the May-June 2017 Evangelist.

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Michael Corleone’s words in “The Godfather” (Part 3) not only live on in film history but possibly in our own experience. Just when Corleone thought he was making a life outside of the Mob, he can’t completely get out. And just when we thought we were out – of a relationship, a commitment, an illness, or a pattern of behavior, these things “pull us back in” in ways we may not completely understand.

I think they also apply to church, at least for me. Many times I have been SO done with it all: unimaginative liturgy, exclusionary language, irrelevant preaching, people staring at their phones.

But then there is a Sunday where everything lifts me up: exquisite music, inspired preaching, a sense of community and energy and shared meaning. It “pulls me back in.”

The blog “Journey with Jesus” puts it this way: “We may embrace the consumer mindset, trusting that we are free to join up, and free to quit as personal preference dictates.” Free to miss summer church, free to attend if nothing better comes up, free to let others set the table, do the dishes and plan the programs. All true. Yet we’re also there to worship God, to hear the Scriptures, to praise. It’s not all about what we get in the short term.

The lessons for this coming Sunday challenge a “Lone Ranger” mentality. “Abide in me,” Jesus says. (Note he doesn’t way “believe” in me.) Stick around; get to know us; dig into the Big Questions. Sing. Pray. You are always welcome and we will always support you if you let us know what you need. Abide.

I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse!
See you in church.


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Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

This Sunday, April 29 is Service Sunday.  This is a special day during which we will take time to thank all of our generous volunteers at St. John’s — from those who help out with all our various Faith in Action programs, to those who participate in Godly Play and Rite 13 and Youth classes and activities, to those who volunteer on committees, or are in service groups that greet, usher, read, assume charge of altar guild duties, to those who perform myriad other important services. During and following the 10am service, we celebrate all that they do and bless their work for the year to come.

We are grateful for our volunteers’ countless hours, acts of kindness, and service. With them, it becomes possible to more effectively minister to one another and make a difference in the world. They are giving back to God from the spiritual gifts that God gives to each of us.

By the grace of God, we are all gifted people, Christians called to use the skills God has given us for the strengthening of our communities and the healing of the world. Discovering how best to use our gifts in the world can be the tricky part; we might feel overwhelmed, underprepared, or doubtful of what we can accomplish.

One way to help ourselves best use our gifts is through discernment—reflecting and praying, individually or in community, about what we are called to do and who we are called to be—of our vocation. Our bishop, Brian Prior, says the big question is “What does God want to do with me?”

He offers four approaches to help us answer that big question:

  • What are you really passionate about? What do you love to do and never tire doing?
  • What are you really good at doing? What feels effortless to you?
  • What do you find yourself always doing? What do others always ask you to do?
  • What do you believe in your heart of hearts? What do you truly value in yourself or others?

As Frederick Buechner says: Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. The intersection of your joy and that need is the place where the Spirit is asking you to go. You can explore that intersection in the exercise below, which uses Bishop Prior’s questions to prompt discernment.


Adapted from the November-December 2017 Evangelist.

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By the Rev. Barbara Mraz, originally published in the Mar-Apr 2018 Evangelist


She sees the possibilities.

Whether it is in the potential of a piece of furniture that needs some loving care, or in an overgrown plant that might be clipped off to root new shoots, or in the connections between people that could produce a new congregation, Susan sees the possibilities and then helps bring them to fruition.

This is part of the reason that at the ECMN Convention in 2016 Bishop Prior gave her the highest honor that can be bestowed on a Minnesota Episcopalian, the Whipple Cross.  Awarded only fourteen times in the history of the Diocese, this is a replica of the cross worn by Minnesota’s first bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple throughout his ministry.  Susan was cited for her work with a number of Twin Cities parishes, notably Santo Niño Jesus, her commitment to immigrant groups in numerous contexts and The ECMN Cuba Commission.  She also served for seven years as the Metro Area Canon missioner on Bishop Jelinek’s staff.

Susan learned Spanish as an adult and makes regular trips to Latin America to experience the culture and also to work in a structured way on her language skills. She and her husband Tom (a consultant for non-profits) are committed travelers with recent trips to Cuba, the Holy Land, Greece, and Turkey.

For four years she served as the vicar of Santo Niño Jesús, even learning to preach in Spanish!  Santo Niño is a Spanish-speaking congregation that began in 1993 when a group of immigrants needed a place to have a funeral for a child. The Rev. Vincent Schwan and The Rev. Bill Teska welcomed them to St Paul’s-on-the Hill and Santo Niño was born. Some  time later Bishop Jelinek placed Susan there with the goal of helping the congregation eventually find a Spanish-speaking priest.  This goal was accomplished in 2010 when Padre Neptali Rodriguez was called as vicar. Santo Niño now happily shares space with First Lutheran Church in St. Paul.

In 2005 a large group of Hmong immigrants were preparing to leave the Roman Catholic Church and were searching for a new church home. Susan learned of this from Sy Vang a friend whose Hmong handicraft shop she frequented. At the next Diocesan convention Susan introduced Sy, a veteran convention exhibitor, to The Rev. Bill Bulson. Bill, a skilled linguist, was then the Vicar of Holy Apostles in East St Paul. Together wilth Bishop Jelinek, these Hmong families were welcomed and another congregation was reborn

A mother of three grown children and a grandmother of three, Susan served at St John’s six years ago after The Rev. Keely Morgan answered the call to be Episcopal Home’s Director of Spiritual Life.  Now Susan will be tending the parish during Jered’s sabbatical, together with the new associate rector when that person is hired.  She expects to be with us through October when Jered returns.

Presently Susan works with pastoral care, liturgy and preaching, and facilitates a new small group that meets Thursday mornings at St John’s (everyone welcome). They are reading and discussing The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.

Susan says, “I am really happy to be in a place that is not only growing, but where there are so many seekers.  I am inspired by the depth of spiritual life and the curiosity of so many who want to grow in their Christian faith .”

We are fortunate indeed to have this gifted priest with us once again, who describes learning and growing as the main thing she wants her life to be about.

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By the Rev. Barbara Mraz, originally published in the Mar-Apr Evangelist

Julie is the Transitional Deacon interning with us at St. John’s. She’s been serving and learning in a variety of contexts, including coordinating the Liturgy Committee, and facilitating a “Superheroes and Saints” movie series in Lent. She has this to say about her work and her experience at St. John’s:

In the Episcopal Church, we are fond of saying, “Praying Shapes Believing.”  One of the important ways we pray is through the liturgy that we enact through our worship each Sunday.  It is my privilege to serve as the Liturgy Team Coordinator and Facilitator while doing my internship as a transitional deacon.  I work with a talented group, including vergers, readers, clergy, music ministry, and lay leaders to make our worship happen when we gather every Sunday.

The community at St. John’s is dynamic, engaged, smart, welcoming, and faith-filled. I’ve enjoyed getting caught up in the positive and energizing spirit.

I’m a foodie so have been pleasantly surprised and ecstatically happy that St. John’s has so many events with fabulous food.  I’m a firm believer in the spirituality of food and the community-building that good food creates—the St. John’s community has mastered these concepts wholeheartedly!

I’ve also learned an incredible deal from my clergy colleagues. They have shown me, through example, how to be gracious and recognize when someone is in need of pastoral care; how to engage with others in a learning environment so that all feel included and feel safe asking questions; and how to invite others into a ministry.

I will carry this passionate community in my heart, drawing on your energy and spirit always. Thank you for this time together.

Julie’s last day with us will be May 13. The following week, she will graduate from Luther Seminary with an M.Div. degree. Then she plans to take a few weeks off and travel with her husband Ernesto and their two children before delving into a job search. She will be ordained a priest on June 26 at St. Mark’s Cathedral.





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Easter fell on April Fools Day this year, and one of my musical colleagues handed out bulletins to the choir that had Christmas carols listed for the hymns. I’m guessing that chaos and consternation ensued! There were surely plenty of unfortunate jokes told as part of sermons all over the world as well, and so it doesn’t feel quite as unseemly as it might to suggest that we were celebrating Jesus thumbing his nose at death on Easter.

Thumbing his nose? Where on earth did that kooky expression originate? […]

from Sonya Sutton’s blog Notes for a New Day  Click to read the full post.

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by Barbara Mraz

Sonya Sutton is a pianist, organist and choral conductor who likes to make connections between things that don’t always seem to belong together. She and her husband live in Washington, D.C. and have four adult children. While not exactly out of Ozzie and Harriet, their family is pretty darn swell.”

This is from Sonya’s blog Notes for a New Day, which I cannot recommend to you highly enough. She explores such topics as joy, enthusiasm, punctuation, and the connections between the arts and spirituality. The blog is only one aspect of this complex and fascinating woman.

Educated at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Sonya earned Bachelor and Master Degrees in Piano Performance, and a second Masters in Arts Administration.

She has worked at a variety of churches, including being the musical director at St. Alban’s in Washington, D.C. for twenty years.  During this time, she led choir pilgrimages to sing in Italy (2008), Austria and Czech Republic (2010), England (2012) and France (2015). She led professional and volunteer musicians in five ensembles, wrote a weekly blog on music and faith, and founded a performing arts series. St. Alban’s sponsored an album of Sonya’s playing that can still be downloaded called “Spiritual Corners of the Piano.”

Sonya is married to the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, the 14th bishop of the diocese of Maryland.  They have been married for nineteen years and have a blended family of four children. She says that as a bishop’s wife, she has the best seat in the house for many events, including being introduced to Queen Elizabeth by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Suttons live in Washington D.C.

Sonya’s daughter Sophia Subbayya Vastek is a classical pianist performing various venues around the country (including concerts of two-piano repertoire with her mother!) and has an album recently released called “Histories”.

Sonya says that early in her career she learned that “the mantra of all church musicians who take their job seriously is that “a church musician is a pastor, a teacher, and a musician. In that order …”

When asked about her reactions to St. John’s, Sonya cited the warm welcome she has been given and the healthy atmosphere, without some of the infighting that can scar a parish.

Since leaving St. Alban’s in 2016, she has served 5 parishes as Interim Music Director, and enjoys the challenges of jumping in feet first to new music programs, new opportunities for growth, and new friendships.

Sonya’s tenure at St Alban’s includes the time when our rector Jered was there as a young curate (“We knew even then he had potential”). It is their connection that brought Sonya to St. John’s where she will be with us until mid-April, and we are grateful indeed.


Originally published in the Mar-Apr 2018 Evangelist.

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