Isabel’s Graceful and Persuasive Presence

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 27

By: The Rev. Dr. John Miller

St. Mary’s is set to celebrate Isabel’s birth centennial. Let the festivities begin! Our beloved Isabel Coale Souder Correll is an icon for our parish community. She has exemplified God’s graciousness, radiating love and faith, friendship and hospitality for decades, thereby putting her distinctive stamp on the character of our church.

Even before she and Holt arrived at St. Mary’s with their children, Ann, Basil, and Marshall, after he became rector in 1962, Isabel had been a part of this parish. She had worshipped here, and served as treasurer, in her youth during World War II. On the day of her marriage to Holt in 1947, she and he had knelt at our altar railing to receive Holy Communion prior to their wedding at St. James’s. So, Isabel has spent most of her remarkable life at St. Mary’s. In many ways, we are who we are because of her presence among us.

I got to know Isabel when I was in seminary. I had accepted Holt’s call as youth minister, and then as assistant rector after my ordination, and they were my wonderful advocates. I began and ended my day with visits to the rectory, the parson’s residence. At those times, Holt and I would go over our agenda, and Isabel would treat us to a delicious lunch or tea. Her sparkling presence made those occasions more like parties than simple refreshment. Our family even lived at the rectory one August when the Souders vacationed in Maine. Those experiences prepared me for my future as a rector, because in those days, the rectory was the office and daily hub of St. Mary’s activities.

When Holt retired, I was elected rector of St. Mary’s in 1984. Isabel and Holt were the first to call me “parson.” To my mind, that title belonged to Holt, so their recognition of my new ministry was both humbling and uplifting. Isabel served on the vestry in my first years and continued as an altar guild expert and needle-pointer, producing floral beauty and gorgeous kneelers, as well as coats of arms for my vestments. She and Holt were always generously supportive, giving me advice when I needed it and plenty of space to develop my own leadership style.

By the end of the 1980s, St. Mary’s had grown significantly. We were attracting more members than we could seat for services. We made the bold decision to construct new buildings and expand the churchyard. Isabel and Holt were cheerleaders for these innovations. While Holt preached a sermon that endorsed the shift from small to large church model, Isabel had the insight that Little St. Mary’s would remain our “physical logo.” In simple Carpenter’s Gothic design, we tell the world that we are a mission church, accessible to everyone.

As the building project commenced, Isabel had another brilliant idea. She said, “Let’s build berms around the new churchyard, and plant daffodils and daylilies to make everything beautiful!” And so we did. Isabel oversaw the planting of thousands of bulbs. The result was colorful, comforting, and symbolic of the renewal of hope. Isabel’s dream created a floral embrace of the churchyard where our faithful departed rest in God’s peace.

Thank you, Isabel, for your graceful, persuasive presence throughout your life. Your loving guidance and support have been, and always will be, blessings to us all.

Bringing God’s Garden Inside

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 20

By: Jan Betts

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One’s nearer to God’s heart in a garden,
Than anyplace else on earth”
Dorothy Francis Gurney

When I was a child, on a Sunday afternoon we used to walk to the public park, a beautiful green manicured area with formal flower beds and swing parks and a bowling green. Not that the two latter were considered Sunday fare in post-war west of Scotland. A sedate walk, still in Sunday school clothes was all that was considered proper (according to my Granny).

The park was only a short walk from our house, and on the corner just before the park gates, there was a house with a beautiful garden. Every kind of perennial you could think of grew there, and the daily Scottish rain showers ensured their continued survival. There was a small tidy lawn, and in the middle was a sun dial with a square capital. Around the edge was this little poem, and we could read the first three lines, but try as we might we could never get into the right position to read the last line. In these pre-Google days, we had no way of finding out, and even our Granny (who had God’s ear as far as we could tell) could not finish the stanza for us. Then came the red-letter day when my father simply jumped over the wall – my sister and I were scandalized and thrilled all at once – it was so out of character for him or anyone to step on someone else’s property. But we walked on home hugging this last line of the poem to our breast. The child that I was, was sure that this prayer was true, and that to have access to God’s heart, you only had to be in a garden of flowers.

Many, many years later, I am no less convinced that this is true, and when I was first asked to join St. Mary’s Altar Guild about 30 years ago, I felt it was an invitation to be bringing God’s garden inside.

The incredible energy that our Clergy and church staff expended to bring the church to us during the pandemic was heroic, but we all missed each other, and missed being in church. Our Altar Guild group was lucky enough to be first in line for decorating behind the Altar when we returned to indoor worship, and May was a wonderful month for exuberant flowers. After all the time of forced separation, we were a little anxious that we should do it right, and not trip up, or have too many people in too small a space. David assured us that all would be well, and that if we did our best, God would know. On our last weekend for set up, everyone on our team turned up—far too many to do the job required, but we were so happy to be with each other—to be giving advice about flower placement, to be moving the candles just so, and to be again blessed by being in God’s garden

Learnings from St. Mary’s Youngest Members

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 13

By: Amelia McDaniel

One of the greatest joys of my job here at St. Mary’s is spending time with our youngest parishioners. This summer, in addition to holding Storytime for the younger set of kids, we offered a book study for kids in 3rd – 5th grade. Our assigned book was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

L’Engle is widely known for her fiction and non-fiction writing about spirituality. A Wrinkle in Time is now a classic novel which tells the story of an epic battle for good and love. And this group of kids were ready to tackle it.

For several weeks we gathered to talk about the book. Each meeting left me more certain of the incredible ability of children to process and absorb what is difficult in this life. Topics that we grown-ups often want to shield them from are topics that they can and do process and understand. What our young members see and say has a depth and perspective that is impressive and humbling.

I learned that these kids in the book study are kind and resilient and thoughtful. I learned that they see and understand the relationship between what they know to be true about God, and the pain that they see out in the world. I discovered that they are deeply grateful for the many opportunities that they have. In the end, I walked away from my time with them hoping I could be more like them. That all of us could be more like them.

The other thing I learned from them is how much they value being a part of this community. They talked about missing getting to be together on Sunday mornings. “I’ve missed learning about the stories and the questions that are asked.” They miss cookies after the lesson is over and the playground. They miss seeing the friends they don’t go to school with. They miss you too. “I’m most excited to see people I haven’t seen in a long time, and not just kids, I’m excited to see everyone.”

Each time a child is baptized, we promise, along with their parents, that we will uphold their life in Christ. The time I spent with the book study this summer reminded me that this promise is not one sided. These children who we promise to love, love us too. What a blessing it is to worship alongside them.

Spreading Our Wings

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 6

By: Kitty Williams

The pandemic was not 17 years long. Really!

For some of us, though, it felt like we had burrowed many feet underground like those 17-year cicadas. At other times, we drew the curtains and wrapped ourselves tightly in blankets, as if in cocoons, like caterpillars. In order to stay safe, we entered a kind of suspended animation similar to that endured by our insect brothers and sisters.

At first, it was hard to imagine that we would ever again join the cicada chorus, the floating butterfly ballet — or our dear church community.

As humans, we yearn for connection with one another. As humans during the pandemic, we learned just how powerful that yearning is. So, we were resourceful. We socialized from opposite sides of driveways, met by conference calls, and discussed books on Zoom.
The obstacles gradually turned into stepping stones and bridges. From our gardens and our living rooms and our porches, we read the lessons and prayers, played instruments and sang. We emailed our video files to Ashley Cameron, who figured out how to piece them together into gorgeous crazy quilts: the pre-recorded St. Mary’s worship services on YouTube and Facebook.

We saw each other face-to-face, where we lived, albeit through computer screens. The 9 o’clock and the 11 o’clock congregations — and distant friends — came together in ways that were both alien and intimate. We were deeply moved by the prayers and preaching, smiled at the out-takes, and caught glimpses of Rachmaninov (Rocky) the musical marmalade cat.

Now we are out in the open air again, our wings unfurling and our voices being heard in chorus. The danger isn’t behind us, but we have a new understanding of the preciousness of community, and of our importance to it.

What next?

The temptation is enormous to slide back into a routine, taking it for granted that someone else will keep the momentum going. Someone else will handle the details.

That would be a tragic waste. We have discovered in ourselves new powers, both practical and emotional. We have found the courage to try new things.

Attending services in person, to be inspired, stimulated, and refreshed, is beyond priceless. But each of us brings gifts as well, “according to the grace given to us,” as Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans.

Your own particular gifts (yes, yours!) are vital to the health and vibrancy of our St. Mary’s. One gift you could consider giving is to volunteer as an usher.

It’s not that complicated. Ushers greet new visitors and old hands, keep things moving smoothly, and generally keep an eye on things during the service, in case anyone needs help – or directions to the rest room. It’s a bit like welcoming friends into your own home.

St. Mary’s has a team of seasoned ushers who will gladly take you into their ranks. Training, virtual and in-person, will be available.

The first training session will be a brown bag lunch at St. Mary’s at noon on August 19. The church will provide coffee, iced tea, and lemonade.

Do join us! Let us know when you’d like to serve – 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. – and anything else we need to know. If you can’t make it on August 19 for training, we can work with you to bring you up to speed.

Call Elizabeth in the church office to let her know you’d like to attend the training. We hope to see you there!

Update Regarding Health and Safety Protocols for Worship Services

Two Sundays ago, David May included the information that we were continuing to closely monitor public health data in case we needed to adjust our guidelines for gathering for worship on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, this past week we have seen a rise in new COVID daily case numbers and an increase in transmission rates due largely to the Delta variant. Beginning tomorrow, Sunday, August 1, we recommend that you wear a mask for the 10 a.m. service in New St. Mary’s. This recommendation is for all whether vaccinated or not, bearing in mind especially concern for children under 12 years of age for whom the vaccine is not yet available and for parishioners attending who may be immuno-compromised.

We are clearly in a new phase of the pandemic and will continue to track relevant public health data and continue to make adjustments when necessary.