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

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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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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As we enter Holy Week and approach the Triduum, we wanted to share these reflections from the Mar-Apr Evangelist.


Gwen Odney attended a beautiful Catholic church in North Dakota for 25 years. Holy Week was special there, and it was meaningful for her to attend the services with the rest of the congregation, marking Jesus’ death and his resurrection. “We all went through it together,” she said. When the church was eventually closed, it was “heartbreaking.” There was a period of real grief and mourning that followed the closure.

Gwen and her husband Eric moved to the Como Park area 20 years ago. She continued to be a churchgoer, and attended Holy Week services. However, she says, “I kind of avoided Good Friday for years because I’m not very penitential.” She also pointed out that her work as an elementary school teacher did not usually give her the day off for Good Friday.

Gwen and Eric joined St. John’s last spring. After Holy Week and Easter here, I sat down with her to talk about her experiences attending our services. She spoke warmly and enthusiastically about the church: the intimacy, the community, the feeling of connectedness and support, and the sense that “we’re all here because we want to be.”

That especially came through during the services of the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.  By tradition, these three days are celebrated as one continuous service. There is one bulletin that covers all three days. At the end of worship, there is no dismissal; rather, the priest says, “We will continue our service tomorrow.” Gwen found this aspect “really powerful” because it told her, “We need to be there!”

She attended worship on Thursday evening (the foot-washing was “wonderful”) and the Stations of the Cross at noon on Good Friday.

The next day, she said, “it felt like we were going to miss something if we didn’t go to the vigil. We’re all going to Jerusalem together. We know how it’s going to turn out, but we want to experience the journey together.”

She and Eric attended Easter morning worship at 10am with her son, daughter, and grandchildren. It was a “brand new day” with blossoms on the trees outside, and with Jered, Kate, and Margaret welcoming everyone.

At the service, three people made a point to say hello to her son Peter. She pointed out afterwards, “Now you know three people.”

“Actually, it’s better than that,” he replied. “Now I know three people who want to know me.”

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Please note that the March 22 meeting originally mentioned in this post has been cancelled.


by Diane Wallace-Reid, originally published in the Mar-Apr 2018 Evangelist


In February our participation in Project Home and our bitter Minnesota temperatures focused us on the homeless in our community. One evening spent at Project Home playing with the children and listening to each family’s story reveals the day-to- day fragility of their lives and the strength and energy they need to survive.

Soon two members of our St. John’s community will begin a one year journey “walking with” two families who have just emerged from homelessness and are beginning their journey towards a hopefully more secure future.

For the families mentored by Hearts to Homes, homelessness is a recent memory, Some have been weeks in a shelter, or lived in their car, or “camped out” with relatives and friends.

The members of Hearts to Homes have been discussing ways in which we can better understand and serve the families we mentor by being more sensitive to the circumstances and needs of the homeless in our community.  Whether it be by assembling packets of useful items to give to those in need we meet on the street, by better understanding the extent of homelessness in our community, by becoming more aware of resources and organizations that serve the homeless, or by working to help eradicate homelessness, we invite you to share in this ministry with your presence, prayers and insights. Contact Margaret Thor at margaretcthor@gmail.com if you wish to learn more or be connected to a member of this ministry who would be glad to share more Hearts to Homes stories.


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Originally published in the Mar-Apr 2018 Evangelist.


Saint John the Evangelist was one of 146 congregations across the country and only six in Minnesota, to receive the prestigious Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal grants in 2017.

Last summer, over a period of four months, Jered, along with six parishioners representing a diverse cross-section of Saint John’s (Joan Potter, Judy Stack, Terry Dinovo, Linda Lindeke, Elaine James, and the Rev. Ernie Ashcroft), collaborated to send in one of hundreds of applications.

According to Lilly, the grants are to enable congregations to “honor their pastors” with an extended period of leave and rest. As such, the application team created both a program of renewal for Jered as our rector and for the whole congregation. The Lilly Endowment says that “renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.”

But, perhaps this brings up more questions than it answers. Don’t worry, we’ve got some answers below!


So, what is a sabbatical?

It is based on the idea of sabbath (shabbat) a day set apart —  a day made holy by God for rest, worship, and renewal. In one of the Creation accounts in Genesis, God works for six days, and, we are told, on the seventh day God rested.

In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes how humanity uses both time and space for constant acquisitiveness, always searching for more. Setting apart time, not for doing, but for being, is an act of sanctifying time and making it sacred.

For Episcopalians and for many Christian denominations, it is becoming common in the letter of agreement between clergy and congregation, to recommend that after the sixth year of ministry together provision be made for a period of three to four months of renewal leave. This is considered a “sabbatical.”


I’ve heard of colleges and universities offering sabbatical leave so professors can study or write. Why do churches offer sabbaticals?

The Lilly Foundation explains: “Pastors serve a variety of roles in their privileged position at the center of congregational life: preacher, teacher, spiritual guide, pastoral visitor…The responsibilities are continual, and the pace and demands of parish life can be relentless, often leaving even the most dedicated pastors recognizing the need to replenish their own spiritual reservoirs to regain energy and strength for their ministry.”

Moreover, by emphasizing the need and importance of sabbatical with their clergy, congregations hope to encourage parishioners to practice sabbath in their own lives.

It is important that pastors find rest and renewal, and it is important that congregations lift up the centrality of sabbath keeping as a key spiritual practice for all God’s people.


What exactly is “a renewal program” for both Jered and us?

The renewal program is four months (June 1, 2018 – October 1, 2018).  It was designed specifically to prepare St. John’s and Jered for our next season of engaged ministry together. Continuing this year’s theme of “Eat Together, Share Stories, Listen Deeply, Change the world,” our hope for this time is that we will continue to share meals and listen to one another’s stories to discern God’s call for our next steps in ministry.

The program will provide these things to Jered:

  • The opportunity for him to break bread with friends and family and reconnect with his own story by traveling to his childhood home in Alaska and also visiting his mother’s birthplace in India.
  • Time to discern how best to enter into the next chapter of his ministry with us.
  • Specific times of rest and prayer, reflecting on the first six years of our ministry together.

The program will provide these things to St. John’s:

  • Gatherings of small groups of parishioners around meals and stories.
  • Ample opportunity to continue to deepen the work of shared ministry.
  • A homecoming party or meal and other opportunities to share with Jered what we learned about shared ministry and about our shared stories.
  • A chance to hear from Jered what his time of discernment and renewal taught him about how to engage in ministry with us as we move forward.


How will Jered’s absence impact the everyday functioning of our faith community? Who will be covering his duties and responsibilities while he is away?

While clergy play a central role in the life of a faith community, the work of the church, especially in a large and growing place such as our own, is shared by many people. St. John’s is blessed to have an incredibly robust and highly competent staff. We also have a very strong representation of lay (and ordained) volunteer leaders. Staff and volunteer leaders will continue to support and sustain our ministry as they always do: in the building and in their offices, on Sunday mornings and during the week, shouldering many responsibilities and keeping everything running smoothly.

Jered, the parish staff, vestry, and key leaders are dividing duties and responsibilities and planning ahead for things that do need Jered’s input or decisions. Due to St. John’s budget capacity and the renewal grant, we will be able to pay for some supply clergy to cover sacramental and preaching duties in Jered’s absence.

The associate rector search is ongoing, and should be filled by the time of Jered’s departure. That person, along with the Reverend Susan Moss, will cover many of the requisite duties that Jered attends to as rector.

St. John’s is already building a shared ministry approach that will enable us to continue to grow. As you heard in the Annual Meeting, we have several new lay pastoral care providers through our Community of Hope International team. These leaders are carrying an ever greater load of pastoral visiting and Eucharistic ministry for the homebound, those in the hospital, and those recovering from illness. This sabbatical provides us a very unique opportunity to live into this vision of shared ministry.


Would anything bring Jered back from his sabbatical leave prematurely?

Barring a major disaster, crisis, or emergency in the life of St. John’s, Jered will be away for four months. All sacramental duties, including summer baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other services will be covered by the Reverend Susan Moss, our new Associate Rector, and visiting clergy.


I have heard that clergy often leave their congregations soon after a sabbatical. Should we be worried that Jered is leaving us?

One of the stipulations of the Lilly Renewal Grants is that both clergy and congregation commit to staying in pastoral relationship for a minimum of one year after the sabbatical ends. This is to ensure that the focus of the sabbatical is not for the clergy to begin searching for new calls, but instead how to use that time for renewal so as to return and serve their current congregation. Jered affirmed to the vestry and his sabbatical application team, that he envisions this to be a time of true renewal, to reconnect with his faith story, with family and friends and more deeply with God and God’s call on his life, and a time of gathering up energy and inspiration for the next big project or phase of ministry at St. John’s.

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