Sunday, January 29, 2017

Annual Parish Meeting: Rector's Address

O God, make the door of this parish wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter's power. God, make the door of this parish the gateway to your eternal kingdom. Amen. (adapted from a prayer by Thomas Ken, 1637 – 1711)

If you come this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or any season,
It would always be the same…
You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

These poetic words from TS Eliot (Little Gidding) remind me that this is holy place, a place of prayerful gathering for over 2 centuries. A house of prayer where generations have come to kneel, to offer prayer for family, friends, a neighbor down the street, a co-worker, a refugee or a stranger half way around the world. More than words, it is what we do. I think of the baptisms here, and the congregation upholding in prayer a child of God and those who have gone through confirmation and the laying on of hands by a bishop when they visit us.

I also think of our gatherings when we have said goodbye to members of this parish family. To those who have moved away from here, and to those who no longer sit with us in the pew, but who watch over us in the communion of saints. It is through prayer we said goodbye and celebrated life. I think of the couples brought together in holy matrimony who have been blessed in this space.

And each and every week we gather to hear scripture (in church & study), to pray for ourselves & others and to partake in communion, in bread and wine, in the body and blood of Christ, bread often made by a member of this parish. That is our corporate prayer and is part of what we do.

We have also incarnated our prayers; I think of the ladies of Knit one, Pray too, and all those prayer shawls. The pastoral visits we make to those who are ill among us and who cannot make it here. The love and prayer you share with others from your own faith journey. Prayer has also lead us to our mission projects with Mozambique and Chapel on the Green.

Think of the words from Micah today: “"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings?... He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It’s not sacrifice that God wants, but God wants us to have “hands ready for acts of justice, hearts overflowing with tender compassion, and heads bowed in humble acknowledgment of who we are before God.” (Penelope Mark-Stuart) That’s a good definition of prayer and a good definition of our lives as Christians. But St. Peter’s isn’t just a house of prayer. Its also a house of hospitality.

Our doors are open for those who come to support one another through AA. The Tuesday night group has been meeting here since 1963. There is Little Ivy Nursery School. They have been a wonderful addition to our space since 2009. Sandy & Donna run a great school and it is wonderful to hear the kids in the hallways and undercroft.

Such hospitality is part of who we are. As the words of St. Paul remind us, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And the message of the cross, helps us offer hospitality to all who enter our doors.

And that can only happen when we keep our doors wide open. It is a lofty goal and a challenge for us, especially during this time when many peddle fears of the other. I think of the prayer I opened with: “make the door of this parish wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship... God, make the door of this parish the gateway to your eternal kingdom.”

This a place of prayer, of hospitality, a place where anyone on their journey of faith can walk in and join us. But we also have extended our open doors by helping fund an apartment for victims of domestic violence; by giving money to support IRIS - Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services of New Haven, as it has helped settle refugees and immigrants here in Connecticut.

Fellowship is an important part of our life as a community and we do it well. It is more than just fellowship, if we remember the ministry of Jesus, he was enjoying meals with friends, breaking down barriers by eating with the sick or “sinners,” he performed many miracles at meals.

In a world that seems so busy, so hectic, so full of worry, where the best we often can do is write a quick note on Facebook, or send off a quick email, those drinks we share, the meals we enjoy together, go against the prevailing rush and anxiety of our lives. We can slow down and enjoy the great creation that God has given to us, in food and drink and in one another’s company. To rest in hope, for that is what Jesus did and so should we.

But this just can’t stay here among us. All of that must go out with us, to our homes, our places of work, our places of study, of play. Wherever we find ourselves, that Spirit of God that so infuses all that we do here, must be born in our lives outside these walls.

So that others can feel it too. I think of a comment made a couple of years back at our Apple Festival. An Episcopalian from another church in CT was impressed by what we did on the Green. “We couldn’t pull this off as you all did.” He said. “You have such a wonderful community and spirit, everyone can feel it.” Yes indeed!

I hope others feel that spirit that we feel, and in their wonder where it’s from and look to be a part of something like that. St. Peter’s can be that place of prayer, of hospitality and nurture that as we get fired up through what we do hear that same fire is also burning in our lives.

Of course, we have our challenges as a small parish. We have inherited a wonderful property that needs constant maintenance (organ & church painting). We are a small parish so every dollar counts from every parishioner, and as of late, a smaller # of parishioners carry a larger load in funding our ministry & property. So too as volunteers, we need everyone to participate so that a few don’t get burnt out doing all the work. It is challenging and hard work.

And yet, parishioners step up and do what needs to be done. They stand for election to the vestry. They volunteer to run our church school and minister to all looking for human love & fellowship. They plan and run our fundraisers. They host coffee hour. They donate supplies. They participate in worship and outreach. They enjoy the people & this space. They give generously to this parish and beyond.

And as we have done for many years we will continue to nurture our relationships with neighboring congregations, our Lenten Study with the Lutherans, our Maundy Thursday service with my wife’s church, Christ Church in Easton. We will continue to have 2 joint summer services with Monroe Congregational Church. Who else might we connect with in Monroe?

And we do all of this in the Spirit of blessedness that Jesus invites us to consider in his Sermon on the Mount. It is his inaugural address to everyone and he calls us to be living Beatitudes.

“To be a people of the Beatitudes is to embrace the spirit of humility that begins with valuing life as a gift from God…” and to live that blessing. In eight Beatitudes we find aspects of being in communion with God, and each of which we need to think about again and again as we make progress in our lifelong discipleship with Jesus. (Jim Forrest)

This week, if you do something for someone else for no other reason than to bring joy to their lives, blessed are you. If you find yourself feeling the loss of a friend or loved one and, in missing them, you realize that you experienced the love of God in their love for you, blessed are you.

This week, if you put yourself second for the needs of another, blessed are you. If you do the "right" thing when the conventional wisdom is to do the "smart" thing, blessed are you.

This week, if you forgive someone or if someone forgives you, blessed are you. Sometime in the next few days, if you stop, unplug and spend even just a moment thinking about all the good in your life and find yourself embraced by a sense of gratitude, blessed are you.

This week, if you can diffuse someone's anger, if you can bridge the chasm between you and another, if you bring a positive perspective to an otherwise negative situation, blessed are you.

If you risk being laughed at or misunderstood or if you endure a "funny look" from someone because you took a stand based on what was morally and ethically right, blessed are you.

You have reason to be glad. In the blessings you give, you have been blessed.

(You can find these words on that orange card at your table along with the Sermon on the Mount)
I am excited for St. Peter’s Church. We have done so much in these past years and there is so much ahead of us. Yes, there are great challenges ahead of us, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit that is part of this holy place & the Spirit that is you, I have no doubt, we will overcome whatever we face. In the poem of ee comings:

i am a little church (no great cathedral) – i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)
children whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:

i am a little church (far from the frantic world with its rapture and anguish)
at peace with nature – i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever…
Miracles, blessings and gratefulness, birth & resurrection abound in this place of prayer, hospitality and nurture, as we journey together with our Lord in our 215th year. Amen.

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