Let it Begin with Me

Weekly Reflection, Friday, May 13

By: Cindy Blanton

I opted into the Lenten series “Let it Begin with Me” for two reasons. One was to connect with church members as I reconnect with the church as a whole. The second was to find others interested in exploring the impacts of racism in our society and what steps we can take to help. Then there was a bit of “I’ve got to see this because, really, what can a suburban white church group really do in the space of racism?”

Personally, I’m on a journey to understand racism but more specifically, its long-term impact on our society. I realized that when I have a visceral reaction to something, that’s a sign that I need to take a step back, investigate, and learn more so that I can change that reaction to a response that is grounded by information rather than a gut feeling. During the series, Harrison used Jesus outside the boat full of disciples as a metaphor for looking at something from a different perspective. I am looking at all that I have from a different perspective.

It’s easy to stick my head in the sand and say that since I’m not a racist, I can’t do anything to help the issues. Truth is that I must dig in and understand my part in continuing the status quo of a society that was built by white men perpetuating white European culture as the right way. I picked up a definition that shed light on the word racism. “Racism = Bigotry + Power.” Accepting that I have power simply because of my skin color has helped me acknowledge that by saying and doing nothing, I contribute to racism.

While I was struggling to understand the cry for “healing” the African American experience, I found this paragraph from Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans helpful: “The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.”

As we understand more about racism, what it looks like, and its pervasive impacts, we can help each other simply by highlighting ways to reframe conversations. Rather than calling someone out, we can call them in. “You might not realize how I heard what you said” is a gentle way to reframe conversations and grow together. Words matter.

I’m following the advice that I hear every time I travel by airplane, “secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.” I am committed to my own education and have an extensive reading list. Let it begin with accepting my role in racism so that I can effect change in my surroundings. Fortunately, I’ve found a community here at St Mary’s on the same journey.

A Note from David – Continuing the Conversation and Ministry

During this past season of Lent, a group of 20-25 parishioners met on Sunday afternoons for a Christian Formation offering called ‘Let it begin with me’. This program was offered as a Lenten discipline following the Ash Wednesday exhortation to prayer, study of the Holy Scriptures, and self-reflection as a means to engage a renewed call for racial justice in our nation. Each Sunday afternoon, a staff member offered a teaching based on Luke’s telling of the Temptations of Christ. Then participants broke into small groups for reflection and conversation.

Many of the participants wish to continue this work and ministry with the hope of contributing to the healing of our own hearts and the world in which we are called to serve and minister. If you would like to be a part of this on-going conversation and ministry, please be in touch with David May.

A Nurturing and Meaningful Experience

Weekly Reflection, Friday, May 6

By: Adam O.C. Reynolds, Confirmand of the Class of 2022

Confirmation at St. Mary’s is an informative and nurturing experience. I had originally assumed that I would attend confirmation classes and be confirmed in my eighth grade year of school as is the standard age. However, as we all know, the past two years have been complicated by the pandemic. I am now a freshman in high school and started confirmation in January of this year.

Our first meeting, in true pandemic fashion, was done virtually but all that followed were in-person. We started the confirmation process by setting a list of intentions for the course that centered around respect and faith. As we made progress, we learned more about early Christianity and the creation of the Episcopal church. We took the historical knowledge and applied it to our scripture studies. Interpreting the gospels and parables gave us a greater understanding of the Bible. The class also took a meaningful retreat to Richmond Hill and spent time learning more about our faith and the power it has to shape and contribute to communities.

Now that confirmation is here, this is a perfect time for all of us to reflect on what it means to be a part of the church community. Personally, that means attending church events and services and participating in Holy days like the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday. The beauty of St. Mary’s lies in its incredible leaders like Rector, David May, and Director of Youth Ministries, Kilpy Singer. David May’s inspiring insight to religion as a whole and Kilpy’s thoughtful lesson planning made confirmation an incredibly meaningful experience.

Thinking back on all the time I have spent at St. Mary’s, from preschool to confirmation, I am so grateful to have such a serene environment in which to worship or even just think clearly. Going forward, I am eager to continue my involvement in church and further my faith in this environment.

An Unexpected Gift

Weekly Reflection, Friday, April 29

By: Kathryn Scott

I was baptized during this year’s Great Easter Vigil. It only took me 52 years. In fairness, I had the belief, an assumption really, that I had been baptized as a baby. Only recently, because of taking the Inquirers Class, did I seek out the details of my baptism (my parents are deceased). I was quite surprised to discover that I had not been baptized as a child. While I had never been particularly “religious,” I always thought that I had a foundation to fall back on when I was ready. I no longer felt that way.

I sought out David’s counsel. He kindly listened intently to my story. When I stopped talking, he asked me directly, “Do you want to be baptized? Is it important to you?” To which I replied without hesitation, “Yes, it is.” I must admit that I had hoped to be baptized inconspicuously, as I was a little embarrassed to admit at my age that I was not. I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I did.

David helped me see things differently. To him, being baptized was something to be celebrated – publicly – no matter your age. So, he suggested doing it at the Great Easter Vigil. There was another member of the Inquirers Class who also wanted to be baptized, so I wouldn’t be alone. That did make me feel a little better (thank you, Jim). I agreed, knowing that I could always change my mind. It was a choice – my choice.

But I didn’t change my mind. I showed up at the Great Easter Vigil with my eyes and heart open. I experienced it all – the symbolic start of the service outside, the beautiful music, Kilpy’s poignant sermon, and my baptism. As an adult, I knew why I was there, why I was publicly making my vows, and the significance of the moment. And I didn’t feel judged; I felt loved and supported.

The next morning, Wayne Dementi sent me a picture he had taken from the night before. When I saw the picture, I immediately noticed the joy on my face. And then it struck me: being baptized at 52 years old was a gift. Even if I could go back and change the timing, I wouldn’t. It happened for me exactly when it was supposed to and I’m grateful.

A Farewell from Eleanor

Weekly Reflection, Friday, April 22

By: Eleanor Wellford

Although I’ve been old enough to retire for quite a while now, I’ve never “felt” that I was old enough to do that. Besides, wonderful opportunities have always seemed to come along at just the right time to make it easy for me to put retirement on hold. That certainly happened over three years ago when David May asked me to come back to St. Mary’s and serve with him. There was no way I was going to say, “no” to that opportunity!

When David began his ministry as Rector, he came at a time of significant changes in leadership. He especially came at a time when St. Mary’s needed healing. And it has been my delight to witness his leadership and healing spirit transform St. Mary’s into an energetic, empowered, and engaged community. Despite not being able to gather in person for worship on a regular basis during the pandemic, we felt connected in so many ways – thanks to the amazing creativity and resourcefulness of the staff and the gracious and giving spirit of our parishioners.

It’s such a wonderful time to be a part of God’s story at St. Mary’s! As much as I’d like to continue to be part of this story, I feel as if my time has come to (maybe?) retire.

For those who know me well, they’ll know how much I live by the mantra, “timing is everything.” In fact, I had “TIMING” as my license plate for quite a while. The way time seems to be flying by faster than ever has made me rethink how I want to spend it. My oldest grandson, whom I would swear was born just a few months ago, will be starting Junior Kindergarten this fall. Then I think that if I merely blink, my youngest grandson, who actually was born a few months ago, will be off to school soon, too. My heart is with my grandchildren now.

I’ve already left St. Mary’s once in 2015 and I remember all too well how difficult it was. It will be no less difficult to leave again, except that I leave when the presence of the Holy Spirit has never felt stronger here than it does now. Thank you for the honor and privilege of letting me serve among you, once again. May the Lord bless you and keep you always as the apple of his eye. Amen.

A Note from David…

You may not know this, but Eleanor and I served together at St. Andrew’s, Oregon Hill, over twenty years ago. She was, at the time, a part of one of the happiest times in ministry I’ve ever experienced. Something else you may not know is that Eleanor was a really important part of how I ended up here at St. Mary’s. I found old text messages between us from the late winter of 2018 and found her encouraging, wise voice. Which led to one of the happiest times in ministry I’ve known here at St. Mary’s. So, Eleanor is one of the really important people in my life for which I thank God!

I was so grateful when Eleanor said ‘yes’ to coming to serve here at St. Mary’s as our Priest Associate. I was basically brand new here at St. Mary’s and our shared history and friendship over these past years has been such a source of strength and encouragement for which I will always be grateful to God, and to Eleanor!

When Eleanor and I talked about her ‘retiring’ as our Priest Associate, I heard a call to a new time in her life, like God saying to Abraham, ‘get up and go to the place that I will show you.’ I admire Eleanor’s attentiveness and faithfulness to God’s voice. I will sorely miss her being a part of the ministry and leadership of this parish. But I rejoice for what God will show her next.

Please put on your calendar our ‘Thank you God for Eleanor!’ Sunday on Sunday, May 22. Eleanor will preach and celebrate at both services. Following the 11a.m. service, we will gather on the Terrace for a picnic to offer our thanks to God for her and to send her forth with our blessings and grateful hearts.

Engaging in this Worship Experience

Palm Sunday Reflection, Friday, April 8

By: Kilpy Singer

This Sunday, we sort of get a liturgical two-for-one. It’s “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday” which means we get both the joyful waving of the palms as Jesus enters Jerusalem, as well as, the solemn retelling of Jesus’ final hours and his crucifixion. Yes, this makes for a packed morning. The transition from praising Jesus with palms to seeing him nailed to the cross happens quite abruptly. However, it also makes for one of the most engaging worship experiences of the Christian year.

As Christians, we are always invited to engage our whole selves, whether we are reading Scripture, praying, worshiping, or learning. Our faith is an embodied one and provides ample opportunities to use of all our senses and ourselves. This is especially true in the Episcopal tradition with the kneeling, singing, bellringing, and incense swinging. I heard this captured well recently when someone said, “I love going to Episcopal services, but all the participation makes it hard to get in a good nap.”

Our duo of liturgies this week also captures this reality of an engaged and embodied faith. We get to engage our hands, our feet, our voices, and our emotions. Most of all, we get to use our imaginations. We wave palm fronds, process around and around, shout, and sing. We reenact the passion narrative and feel the betrayal and the sorrow. We imagine what it must have been like for Jesus, for the crowds, for Pilate, and for Peter. We can even go as far as considering what it was like for the colt who carried him, and the men crucified beside him.

I wonder what parts of this Sunday’s service will stand out for us as we engage our whole selves. Will it be a smell, or a touch, or a song, or a feeling? I wonder where our imaginations will take us as we experience the story this time around. Maybe we hear it with a new dimension? Or consider it from a different character’s perspective? Yes, it might be hard to get in a nap this morning. But in its place, may we offer all that we are so that we might enter anew into Jesus’s story and leave with a deeper knowledge and love of him.