Archive for the ‘The Stories of St. John’s’ Category

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.


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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.



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. 

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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:


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. 

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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.


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