Archive for March, 2020

by The Rev. Craig Lemming

“…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand…” – Isaiah 41:10


The video below captures the moment world-famous pianist Maria João Pires, in front of her audience, orchestra, and conductor, realizes that she has prepared the wrong piano concerto! We witness her terror and her prayerful courage in the midst of her crisis as she decides to proceed with the performance; relying entirely on her hard-won artistic genius and memory. It’s breathtaking to watch.

In this COVID-19 crisis, we too find ourselves surrendering to realities beyond our control and improvising. Making decisions that change everything we had been so well-prepared for yesterday. To borrow from Maya Angelou’s wisdom, we’re doing the best we can with what we know in this moment; and when we know better, we do better.

Another example of spontaneous creativity is Billy Porter’s phenomenal, spur-of-the-moment performance that resulted in a standing ovation at a commercial break during the Tony Awards. I watch this video a lot, especially on days I feel particularly uninspired. Maybe it will inspire you today?

Speaking of Billy Porter, if you’re looking for a television series to watch, I recommend POSE. Not only does POSE honor the LGBTQ+ communities of color memorialized in the classic documentary ‘Paris is Burning,’ POSE, for me, also reflects the ways first-century Christians survived persecution as a minority community on the margins of dominant culture. They gather religiously for a meal once a week, share their joys and sufferings with one another, and creatively respond to life-threatening systems of oppression. At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis this community gathers for weekly “balls” which I choose to see as lavishly beautiful “liturgies of resistance.” Check out this trailer and see what you think:

I close with lyrics from Madonna’s smash hit ‘Vogue’ — words I’ve never paid much attention to before which take on profound new meaning in this COVID-19 crisis:

“Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know
When all else fails and you long to be
Something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away…

All you need is your own imagination
So use it, that’s what it’s for
Go inside, for your finest inspiration
Your dreams will open the door
It makes no difference if you’re black or white
If you’re a boy or a girl
If the music’s pumping it will give you new life
You’re a superstar, yes, that’s what you are, you know it.”

Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ goes out to every “superstar” out there who is creating, improvising, and making-it-work, every day. With so much at stake, like our Christian forebears, we continue to love God in whose creative image we are all made (Genesis 1:26). We remember Christ, the Great Improviser, who came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). And we trust in the Holy Spirit who is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

“God is felt as being with, in, and among the struggling elements of my experience. Then, out of the midst of these, God’s Presence emerges and becomes One who stands by my side. It is then that I am lifted up and strengthened.”
Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

May the blessings of God Almighty be yours today and always,

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By the Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson


“I believe that the community – in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures – is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.”

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”

1 Corinthians 12:20-21


The body is resilient. But, the body is not well.

There will come a day in the not too distant future — weeks we hope, but likely months — when we will be able to say that this pandemic is over. The full toll this virus will take is still unclear. But, it has already illuminated much about the well-being of our individual communities, and about the health of our body as a nation. 

In some respects, the current Coronavirus outbreak shows us just how abundant, compassionate, and empathetic we can be as a people. The lengths that individuals, institutions, and business have gone to create a web of support around the most vulnerable in our midst, is laudable. The generosity and the resilience of so many, is truly amazing. We have adapted and sacrificed so much as a people in just days and weeks, all so that we could beat this pandemic.

The body is resilient.

Yet this present crisis also throws into stark relief the chronic unhealth that has long plagued our body. Social-distancing works for those of us privileged enough to have jobs and networks of support. For the poor, the unemployed, and many who live alone, this pandemic illuminates just how thin the margins are for survival. With school closures we have come to a full realization of just how dependent we are on teachers and educators for a whole host of social services. As volunteers dry up and the economy wobbles toward recession, nonprofits, food shelves, and homeless shelters are rightly concerned about their long term ability to serve the poor.

The body is not well.

Some of our leaders encourage a blatant disregard for the best wisdom and guidance from medical professionals, further jeopardizing the most vulnerable in our midst – the immunocompromised, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions. Perhaps the most craven of all are those who would suggest that some lives are expendable for the sake of the economy — that corporations and profits matter more than the lives that will be lost if this pandemic is not checked. In this time when we are sheltering in place, we hear the language of “non-essential” businesses and workers, and it would appear that for some of our leaders there are essential and non-essential people. 

The body is resilient. But, the body is not well.

Scripture tells us that within the Body of Christ, there is no such thing as a “non-essential” member. Jesus teaches that we are all beloved of God, all regarded as of infinite worth to our Creator. And, the story of our faith is that Jesus died and rose to free us from sin and death, to make us well. 

When this pandemic has passed we who have celebrated Jesus’ victory over death and who have experienced his healing in our bodies through the love of this community and the sacraments, will fight like mad to heal the wider community of which we are a part. We will fight for an economy that values people over profits, a better safety net for our neighbors, and for a politics that reflects the best of what we’ve seen in these past weeks. 

For the first time in a long long time, the church will not gather together in a building to celebrate Holy Week and Easter. We will, like the first Christians, gather in our homes, with our nearest and dearest, or simply alone, and we will mark the days of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal, trial, and execution. And, in the dark of night, we will light candles, raise our full-throated alleluias, and observe with Christians scattered around the world, the Resurrection of our Lord. We will do these things apart from one another, not out of fear of a virus, but because we have been recipients of a love that knows no fear, that compels us to sacrifice, even distance ourselves from the community and sacraments we so cherish, as an act of love and care for others. 

Let us pray that we who celebrate and experience being buried with Christ in his death and raised to new life with him in his resurrection, might extend and share his healing love to the world. May we be hands that heal, lips that speak peace, legs that stand for justice, and arms that protect the vulnerable. 


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I am a girly-girl. I like hair products. I like dipping manicures. I like shopping. I like dressing up.

There is none of this now, and I can’t believe how little I miss this stuff, especially since no one comes near me now!

Instead, I miss seeing my kids and their families. I miss church. I miss my friends. I miss problems that have a definite end-point. I miss petting dogs that cross my path. All right, I don’t miss hugs that much. I’m Norwegian. So shoot me. Social distancing: I can live with that. Business as usual for Vikings.

I’m afraid, too. I’m afraid to look at my ravaged retirement accounts. I’m afraid of leaders who are proud of their ignorance and ignore science. I’m afraid of getting sick. I fear for those I love.

Love dooms us to vulnerability. Love dooms us to a degree of caring that is almost painful. Love is also the basis of Christian faith, which tells us that love wins. Maybe not in the short term, but it will win. As Holy Week and Easter draw near, it will have a new urgency and put its message right in our face. There could be no other liturgical season so well paired with these times.

I have found some new “loves:’” Governor Andrew Cuomo, Governor Walz, reading without as many time constraints, hearing  Jayan read the Daily Office, baking cookies, making meals out of what I have without running to the store for this or that, sewing pillows for my new apartment. I love the early spring although I’ve lived here long enough to know it could be an imposter. I love the nurses and doctors, the service workers who clean up, the janitors and garbage collectors, all tireless and courageous, the heroes of our time. I love the historical references to victory gardens, wartime factories working overtime, courage culled from the example of those who preceded us.

I also love Thomas Merton, the cloistered monk who wrote so beautifully. Recently reimbursing myself in his work, I found these words that seem so appropriate now:

“I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. The sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, but now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this but it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

But they are, and we are, too.

See you in (virtual) church.


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“Together in the Presence of Almighty God”

Why do you go to church?

Not in a grand, theological sense. No, I mean: when the alarm goes off on Sunday morning, what makes you get out of bed and head to St. John’s? 

I’m sure the answer varies, not just from person to person but from day to day. I know for me, some days I show up out of genuine eagerness and other days mostly because I’m signed up to serve in the liturgy. Maybe for you the reason is the beautiful music made by Richard and our choir, or maybe it’s because you heard there would be a particularly tasty snack at coffee hour. We show up for a whole host of reasons.

But there is always a reason. In a society that no longer treats church attendance as a given, showing up to church is a choice. Even for those of us who have a well-ingrained habit of churchgoing, there are myriad other activities vying for our attention on Sunday mornings: family outings, sporting events, brunches with friends, leisurely mornings at home. And yet we choose to walk through the doors of 60 Kent Street to worship together.

What about when those doors are closed, though? This pandemic is not only forcing us to examine and adapt the way we worship. The stripping away of physical community invites us to pause and reflect on the essentials, to examine our habits and motivations, and to perhaps emerge with a new appreciation of what this whole church thing is all about.

So I’d invite you, as we hold community through livestreams and Zoom calls, to pause and think about what drives your participation in the life of the church. Ask yourself—without judgment—“what do I miss most about St. John’s?” 

The answers don’t need to be “right” or “wrong.” Yes, the Church gathers primarily to praise God, to ask his healing, and to be nourished Word and Sacraments. But this Divine Service isn’t (and I think shouldn’t be) the only reason we gather. Let this time apart be an opportunity to notice—notice what makes you long to gather back within the walls of St. John’s, what part of our regular parish life you’re most excited to return to. Is it the social community? Is it the Sacraments? Is the it the challenge to serve God in the world?

The Church is called to grow, as we invite the world into the healing God provides through the Body of Christ. But in order to invite others into the wholeness we find in the Church, we’re first challenged to understand why we keep going back ourselves. An invitation is much more meaningful when you know why you’re inviting the person.

So over the next weeks and months, I’d invite you to ponder this. Why do we “come together in the presence of Almighty God” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 79)? Why do you come? And why would you invite others to come?

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Thinking about masks, ventilators, nurses and the unbelievable degree of change in two weeks. I saw this on the internet and forgot to copy the source. I am indebted to the Rev. Devon Anderson for her summary:

“The anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

Instead, Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink, or hunt for food. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. ‘A broken femur that has healed,” she said, ‘is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the person who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty where civilization starts.’”

“Taking time to stay with the person who fell” is something we don’t have to do in person. In fact, most of us can’t right now. Yet there are other ways of to be there: a phone call, a card, a message on social media. Also look for the leaders that understand civility and civilization. Listen to them.

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I love Russian Religious Philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev (b. March 18, 1874 – d. March 24, 1948) – a fellow Pisces, whose birthday I celebrated with Penelope the boxer dog on social media last week and whose death-day I’m honoring this morning by re-reading my favorite passages in some of his books. Nerds unite!

Berdyaev Books Boxer

In his masterpiece, The Destiny of Man, Nikolai Berdyeav writes:

“The greatest mystery of life is that satisfaction is felt not by those who take and make demands but by those who give and make sacrifices. In them alone the energy of life does not fail, and this is precisely what is meant by creativeness. Therefore the positive mystery of life is to be found in love, in sacrificial, giving, creative love.”

Many of us, our families, friends, and loved ones, and indeed countless medical workers, caregivers, and researchers are enacting this sacrificial, giving, creative love every day as we respond to the COVID-19 health crisis.

In our shared life of faith at St. John’s we must continue to be “those who give and make sacrifices” in new and creative ways so that God’s presence is made known through the daily practice of love: love of God, love of self, and love of neighbor as our self. In the four ministry areas I care for as Associate Rector, St. John’s has adapted creatively to our new mode of being spiritually connected while remaining physically separate.

Faith Formation
In our Baptismal liturgy, we ask God to give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works (BCP, p. 308). We honor these sacred words when we practice being transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern the will of God (Romans 12:2).

Renew your mind by attending Sunday Faith Forums on St. John’s YouTube Channel. Every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. the Faith Forum video presentation will be posted on St. John’s Facebook Page and each presenter will be available to answer questions posed in the comments of the Facebook post in real time.

Copies of our Lenten Read, John O’Donohue’s Beauty – The Invisible Embrace: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope are now available in the Little Free Library located outside St. John’s 60 Kent Street entrance. Hello, Katie!

Beauty Books with Katie

Pick up a copy, remit the suggested $10 donation online or by check, and read this beautiful book! Maybe you’d like to create a Facebook Group to convene online conversations about our Lenten Read? Let me know! Remember to listen to Krista Tippet’s superb OnBeing interview with the late John O’Donohue here.

Families with children, don’t miss Katie Madsen’s awesome online programming here.

As Episcopalians, our faith identity continues to be grounded in Common Prayer. Join us on Facebook for Daily Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m., Compline on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Sunday Worship at 10:00 a.m., and Godly Play on Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Pick up copies of The Book of Common Prayer which are also available in the Little Free Library pictured above!

Spiritual Life
Ecce quam bonum! Book Group, Faithful Families, House Groups, LGBTQ+ Group, Men’s Breakfast, Men’s Group, OWLs, Prayer Shawl Knitters, Women’s Group, and Young Adults, this COVID-19 health crisis is an invitation and opportunity to continue connecting remotely via Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, to pick up the phone and call each other, send group text messages, emails, or write postcards to each other. Be creative!

Pastoral Care
St. John’s is a faith community oriented to caring pastorally for one another. Go to My St. John’s and find the phone number, email or mailing address of someone you’ve been thinking about, and let them know they’re not alone. St. John’s Circle of Care and Clergy are standing by to offer pastoral care and spiritual support over the phone, video conference, or via email, so please reach out to us as needed. I will be available on Zoom this evening, Tuesday, March 24 from 5:00-6:00 p.m. for anyone who would like to join a group conversation about our joys, struggles, and gratitudes.

In closing, pray this prayer with me for spiritual nourishment on the journey.

Oh! And watch this outrageously creative video that gifted me with fits of laughter:

You are made in the Image of The Creator. Be who you are. Be creative.


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In these days

Image may contain: textThe other day in a conversation with a friend in a video chat (as are all conversations these days it seems), both of us were wrestling with the incomprehensible reality of a world mostly shut down and paused, discussing how this moment illumines the lie that most of us lived each and every day prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, that we were in any way in control of our lives or the world around us. As the pandemic has brought our institutions and governments and economies grinding to a halt, each of us is facing the same truth that anyone facing a chronic illness, a layoff, an addiction, or a sudden death of a loved one has already had to accept – we are not in control. And, like anyone who has faced the immovable and immutable rock of reality, the obstacle blocking the path to self-actualization and all the plans we’ve made, there is a process of reconciling what is with what we wanted. What are we to do in moments like this, when life takes an unexpected and unwanted detour, when our plans have to be shelved, when the world seems a bit more fearsome, and the future a little murkier? Annie Dillard seems to be able more than most authors to capture the simplest and most obvious truths in ways that are simultaneously poetic and poignant. As I reflected on my conversation with my friend and all of these truths, I found resonances with something she wrote in her profound book, For the Time Being (1999). In it she says,


“You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for the dead tyrants’ murders and you alone cannot stop living tyrants. As Martin Buber saw it, the world of ordinary days ‘affords’ us that precise association with god that redeems both us and our speck of world. God entrusts and allots to everyone an area to redeem: this creased and feeble life, ‘the world in which you live, just as it is, and not otherwise.’” 


As Bishop Mariann Budde preached yesterday in her wonderful homily from the National Cathedral, we were created “for the living of these days”. There is a sense in which, welcome or not, we have been given care and trust of “our speck of world”. As I write this, I am hunkered in my wife’s home office, far up in the eaves of our home, away from the classroom/diningroom and the homey chaos of four other humans (and one dog) bumping up against one another and living shoulder to shoulder in our small corner of the world. This pandemic has shrunk the world for many of us. And it has shown us, living in these days, what is truly within our grasp. It has also opened our eyes to what is true and urgent and most important. It has opened my eyes, at least, to what part I can play in redeeming “this creased and feeble life”. 


Something the youth of the Diocese of North Carolina created and which I shared last week on our Facebook Page speaks to the question of how we can be and what we can do in the living of these days. I commend these questions to each of you:


Daily Quarantine Questions

  1. What am I GRATEFUL for today?
  3. What expectations of “normal” am I LETTING GO OF today?
  4. How am I GETTING OUTSIDE today?
  5. How am I MOVING MY BODY today?
  6. What BEAUTY am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?


I think these are wonderful questions to deepen the larger question of what can I do in my corner of the world for the living of these days. How can I invite God’s presence, guidance, and strength to be who God created me to be?


Know that your faith community at Saint John’s is with you in this time of isolation and physical distancing. We are praying with you. We love you. Please let us know how we can be supporting you.


I’ll see you online and in worship!




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For 2000 years, Christians have gathered to worship God. they have met
in private homes, in cemeteries, in structures of all types, in prisons, in schools, on the battlefield, in war and peace, adapting to persecution, national or international events, or simply the style of the times.

Tomorrow morning, we continue that tradition as we gather in a yet another way: in front of screens.

Even if you do not have a Facebook account, here is what you do at 9:55:

1. Go on to the St. John the Evangelist St. Paul “page.”
2. You will see a little “f” for Facebook. Push that tab.
3. You will be directed to the service which begins at ten.

Jered, Margaret, Craig and I will be reading the service of Morning Prayer. I will preach on the Gospel story of the Woman at the Well, a remarkable account of the Samaritan woman’s conversation with Jesus. It is the longest conversation he has with anyone in Scripture. At fearful times, it is especially poignant; for women, there are some stunning associations.

I will continue the (accidental) Lenten series on using musical references to enliven sermons. Since the rector stole the Purple One from me in a blatant and shocking fashion, I will be raising the stakes, so to speak.

You will see us in virtual church.


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For 2000 years, Christians have gathered to worship God. they have met in private homes, in cemeteries, in structures of all types, in prisons, in schools, on the battlefield, in war and peace, adapting to persecution, national or international events, or simply the style of the times.

Tomorrow morning, we continue that tradition as we gather in a yet another way: in front of screens.

Even if you do not have a Facebook account, here is what you do at 9:55:

1. Go on to the St. John the Evangelist St. Paul “page.”
2. You will see a little “f” for Facebook. Push that tab.
3. You will be directed to the service which begins at ten.

Jered, Margaret, Craig and I will be reading the service of Morning Prayer. I will preach on the Gospel story of the Woman at the Well, a remarkable account of the Samaritan woman’s conversation with Jesus. It is the longest conversation he has with anyone in Scripture. At fearful times, it is especially poignant; for women, there are some stunning associations.

I will continue the (accidental) Lenten series on using musical references to enliven sermons. Since the rector stole the Purple One from me in a blatant and shocking fashion, I will be raising the stakes, so to speak.

You will see us in virtual church.


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Dear Friends in Christ,

In the strange but beautiful production Hadestown, audiences are plunged into something of a New Orleans prohibition era gin joint that is simultaneously the proscenium of Greek antiquity, retelling the two tragic myths of Hades and Persephone as well as the lesser known story of Eurydice and Orpheus. As I watched the play on a recent trip to New York, I was heartened and disturbed at turns as the story explored the tension between themes like beauty and brutality, love and regret, and, especially, madness and hope. As we stand here on the precipice of late winter peering ahead into spring, it is easy to enjoy the story particularly of Persephone who each year returns from the Underworld, from her annual visit with her lover Hades, and in so doing, bringing hope and rebirth, releasing the world from its wintry death, inaugurating spring and new life. For the ancient Greeks the seasons could be traced by Persephone’s departing and returning. So it is that when the Christian calendar maps loosely onto this larger drama of the change of seasons, it is easy to view the Christian narrative like the pagans, as a natural and always recurring cycle. There is life and death and the story repeats. The story is, as Hermes reminds his audience, an “Old story…a tragic story.” But we sing it again. There’s a stirring note in this assertion, that the story is worth hearing anew, hoping that something can change, if not for the tragic characters in it, then for us. But, such an expectation lingers on the knife’s edge of hope and madness. Is it not madness to repeat the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome?

But, the Christian story is not just about a recurring cycle of death and rebirth – of love and loss and love again. The Christian story, while following a pattern of recurring cycles is a story with a definitive beginning and a definite end. Our story starts with the clear words “In the beginning…” and unfolds a passionate yet nuanced and complicated story of a God who yearns for relationship with God’s creation, who enters into it, who seeks out people to accomplish God’s purposes, who is always calling God’s people to transformation and growth. The story ends with all things finding their homing and bliss in the presence and unity of God’s self. And, this story is told fully in the one life and one body of Jesus of Nazareth, who, as our own John the Evangelist proclaims, “was in the beginning with God,” and whose death upon the cross marked the end of all things, inaugurating a new possibility of life with God forever, here, now, and in the life to come.

We encounter death and resurrection each year in the recurring cycle, but the One we encounter is inviting us into a way of life that means we and the world will never be the same, will never be as we left it. The story changes because we are brought into it. It is not a tragic tale. It is a tale of power and new life, if we were only to claim it. As former Archbishop of Canterbury once told an audience, “If the world as it now is, after the Resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t look like the Kingdom, it’s because we have decided not to live as if the Kingdom were real.” 

The only tragedy in the Christian story is the way in which the baptized often despair of the world as it is, believing that it is always thus, that we have no agency to participate in the Resurrection of Jesus. For, nothing is further from the truth. Christ is raised, and we with Him. And in Jesus’ Resurrection we have seen a new way of being with one another and with the world God made. Throughout our church communications, I hope you hear some of the ways that you are being invited to transformation, and ways you are being beckoned into the kingdom inaugurated by the Resurrection of Jesus. Now that is a story I would happily sing again!

I will see you in worship!

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