The Love of the Father

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 17, 2018

By: Owen Conway

Father’s Day was a day to be thankful—to express love and gratitude for Dad, a man who knew all and gave all. Our Father’s Days, as young children, were filled with hugs, kisses, and small, yet significant handmade gifts for the greatest man in our world. We never gave ties, books, or nice dinners out, because our father suddenly and tragically died when we were very young. Growing up, I often talked to my father through prayer. As a young adult, I was still praying to my dad in heaven to watch over me; to help my heart be filled with love, to treat others kindly, to make good decisions.

When I married my husband, he thoughtfully made me a painted wooden plaque citing a poem–“My father is not my father. I came through him but not from him . . .” Initially I thought, “What? My father is not my father? How can this be?” I felt farther away from my Daddy, still identifying with the relationship I’d had with him as a young girl. I went through a transformation. I grew. I met with John Miller to discuss this, and I started identifying my dad as a man and God as my father. I now know that even the best dads on earth are only glimpses of the care, love, and provision of our Heavenly Father. I believe that we all belong as children to our Heavenly Father—we can always come home, we will always be his, and he will always be ours.

My brothers and I are grown now with our own children. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful step-father, loving uncles, and friends of our dad who have been father figures to us. I am blessed to have had such an amazing dad, even for only a short period of time here on Earth. I still feel my dad’s presence with me in all that I do, but I am not just a girl who lost her father; I have so much to be thankful for on Father’s Day and every day. I find peace in praying to God, and am comforted in knowing that no matter who, or where, our earthly dads are, we are unconditionally loved children of God, our Father, who will never leave us or forsake us.

1 John 3:1 “How Great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Now, that is something to celebrate!

Witnessing and Experiencing

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 10, 2018

By: Elizabeth Baker

When I was 14 years old, I went on my first “real” mission trip. My youth group visited Gloucester, VA several months after a hurricane struck, and helped rebuild a family’s house that had been destroyed in the storm. I remember that trip so vividly—from the painting and construction, to the tree frogs we caught near the water in our spare time. A year later, my youth group came to Richmond in the middle of winter, and we grilled hot dogs for and handed out coats and gloves to the homeless living in Monroe Park. I was so moved that day that I took off my own gloves and gave them to a woman who had shared with me her story. It was then that I realized how privileged I was to be able to go home and choose another pair of gloves.

When I was 16, I went on my first international mission trip, assisting a medical team in the mountains of Honduras. I spent a week handing out anti-parasite pills to people who couldn’t afford shoes or clean water. It was the first time I had experienced an entire community living in poverty, and it made a huge impact. I returned three more times over the next five years, and during those visits, saw so much growth in those communities that I was able to see firsthand just how much mission work can make an difference. The last time I went, everyone had shoes, they had electricity, and most had water filters. At 21, I spent two weeks teaching summer school at a Child Rescue Center in Sierra Leone, and I still believe that it was the most influential two weeks of my life. I spent all my time with children who had been trafficked—sold away from their families or orphanages and forced to work breaking rocks in mines or selling goods on the streets. These kids were grateful for snacks, for a toothbrush, for owning more than one pair of pants. It was this trip that made me realize that I wanted service work to be a much bigger part of my life.

I am thrilled to be heading to California later this month with Matt and eight of our awesome youth. I’m excited not only to have an opportunity to serve those in need in California, but also to see the impact it has on our high schoolers. Mission trips can change our whole perspective on the world; they open our eyes to situations that we read about but never fully understand until we’re there; they change our priorities and shape our future goals. St. Mary’s youth are going to do and witness and experience amazing things, and I can’t wait to see it all in action.

May God Show Us the Way Forward

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 3, 2018

By: Bob Hetherington, Priest Associate

The program year is winding down. Soon we will be deep in summer. The ever-changing rhythm of our lives continues. Summer is a time to change the pace. This gives us an opportunity to take stock of things. We have a chance to look back as we begin the process of planning the next chapter.

Over the past two years St. Mary’s has gone through a lot of change. Now we eagerly await the arrival of our new Rector, the Rev. David May. The Rector Search Committee has worked very hard to find David. He has a unique blend of faith, skills, experience, background, style, sense of humor, and a host of other attributes which should help St. Mary’s move forward in the best way. Thanks to good past leadership there is a remarkable sense of unity to the whole ministry. David will also inherit a staff that has done remarkable work during this interim period. This has kept the St. Mary’s ministry from hardly missing a beat. This is an exciting moment in the life of this parish.

Youth Sunday and confirmation Sunday showed how St. Mary’s is positioned for the future. We are very intentional about our ministry to youth and young families. The staff and Vestry work in a deeply collaborating way. Every aspect of this ministry affects every other aspect of ministry. We cannot have a strong ministry to our young families unless we put strong emphasis on pastoral care.

The key to strong parish life is our sense of mission: God calls us to serve the needs of others. The process begins by building a strong sense of Christian community. As we deepen our connection with each other through worship, prayer, and spiritual practice we are reminded how important it is to lean into life. There is a lot which can be done in this world. The world has many needs. Where does God want St. Mary’s to put its focus? Transforming the world for God takes a lot of discernment – and then it takes a lot of hard work.

God has richly blessed the ministry of St. Mary’s in the past. Now as we journey into a new future, may God show us the way forward.