Embodying Christ’s Love to our Neighbors

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, July 14, 2019

By: Ashley Cameron

The Episcopal Church and the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry are inviting all to reflect, discern, and commit to The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life. It outlines six practices to engage and live “the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love.” These practices are Turn-Learn-Pray-Worship-Bless-Go-Rest which don’t need to be followed in that order but are there to provide guidance, rhythm, and inspiration.

The “Go” practice was fully witnessed a couple weeks ago through St. Mary’s VBS On-the-Go camp. The practice is written in the title! St. Mary’s rising 4th and 5th graders were tasked with going out to go beyond their circles and comfort to witness the love, justice, and truth of God with their lips and their lives.

This camp sends them out to new places in our wider Richmond community. Two weeks ago, they went to Peter Paul Development Center to pack snack bags for our hungry neighbors to take home; to Pony Pasture to clean up along the James River; to Shalom Farms to harvest organic, healthy food for those lacking access; to GoochlandCares to assist in the food pantry and clothes closet; and to Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church to serve lunch to the homeless.

“Send them into the world in witness to your love,” the Book of Common Prayer says. This was being lived out throughout the week, but it was the most evident on Friday at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. St. Mary’s group of 17 was broken into small groups to rotate throughout stations of preparing lunch, creating sleep mats out of plastic bags, sorting out clothes in the closet, serving lunch to over 100 homeless people, passing out new t-shirts, and then cleaning up the space afterward. It was a long day for these nine and ten-year-olds but they completed it with eagerness, enthusiasm, and joy!

At one point, two kids were “missing” from a group activity. I wandered into the parish hall to check on them only to find them diligently going around to make sure the last remaining few still eating lunch received their allocated two pieces of candy.

How are we showing compassion for one another? Brother Curtis from SSJE speaks of the generosity of spirit in everyday life and how simple kindness is continually found in the Gospels. This was never clearer than the simple kindness of a ten-year-old passing out candy to an elderly, homeless man and embodying Christ’s love in the world and to our neighbors.

“We GO to listen with humility and to join God in healing a hurting world. We GO to become Beloved Community, a people reconciled in love with God and one another.”

God’s Math

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, July 7, 2019

By: Amelia McDaniel

I was horrible at math in school. I do know that the equal sign means that there are two values that are balanced, the same, on either side of it. 2+2 is the same as, equal to 4. Last week we had some impressive numbers to add up around here.

4 VBS Committee Members
60 kids in VBS
18 kids in On the Go
32 Adult Leaders
23 Youth Leaders
5 outreach sites visited
200 snack bags packed for the children at Peter Paul Development Center
100 towels collected to help with their swim lessons

But there is no way that by counting the people and items donated the sum would ever equal or be balanced with the sum of those wonders. Watching these children and the youth and adults who come to lead and learn alongside them for the week is beyond compare; no possible way to balance that equation. There is a whole lot of being human that gets stuffed into the week. Laughter and silliness. Some tears. Some bandaids and hugs. Singing and dancing. Lots of water balloons and goldfish crackers. Lots of stories told and some remembered. Most of all there is lots of grace—so much grace.

Many thanks to everyone who helped in the making of VBS and On the Go. The leaders who dreamed it up and led the charge – Ashley Barlow, Fran Jones, Rochelle Jordan, BethAnn Romeo, Patsy Simril, Liz Williams and Catherine Ashman – and the many, many adult and youth leaders who came forward to help make the week full of love.

I may be horrible at math, but I like God’s math.

Sing Out Together

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 23, 2019

By: David May

Originally, this reflection was to offer a word of encouragement for us all to sing out in church. But maybe I don’t need to. Last Sunday, we did sing out! Even with the ancient and probably not the best-known hymn of the Church, ‘I bind unto myself today’. It didn’t seem to matter. We all sang out – for seven verses!

I’ve made a small ‘thing’ about encouraging us to sing out. I found a piece in a church newsletter from years ago that speaks to why I think congregational singing is important in the Episcopal tradition. I thought I’d share a portion of it with you:

“We make fun of Episcopalians for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you were to ask an audience in Des Moines, a relatively Episcopalianless place, to sing along on the chorus of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Episcopalians, they’d smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! Many Episcopalians are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Episcopalians to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other. I do believe this, people: Episcopalians, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad.”

When we sing together, ‘we promise that we will not forsake each other’. What a beautiful thought. When we sing out together, we are saying, ‘don’t worry, you’re not on your own, I’m joining in too, I won’t leave you hanging’. Isn’t that what we hope Christian community is like? Doesn’t our world need a little more of that same spirit?

So, let’s sing out together, especially raising our voices in praise for the One who has promised to never forsake us either.

The Spirit is Alive and Well at St. Mary’s

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 16, 2019

By: Eleanor Wellford

One of the questions that I’ve been asked a lot recently has been: “How do you like being back at St. Mary’s?” My first answer is always about how much I love being back; but then I hear myself following up with: “In many ways, it feels as if I never left.”

How could that be since I was gone for almost four years, which is a long enough time for all sorts of things to have happened – and they did. Leadership changed; most of all the staff whom I knew so well have left; new people in new positions are here; and while there are plenty of faces which I still recognize in the congregation, there are lots of new faces, too.

So, why do those four years seem as if they never happened? I believe the answer is that the St. Mary’s that I left is the St. Mary’s that I returned to, only better. There’s excitement all around me – which I think is what I really mean by “only better.” I can hear it and see it in all the new forms of communication. Staff members are passionate about their work and along with the clergy are raising up new volunteers to work side-by-side with experienced ones. And what’s most exciting is the general “buzz” in the community that goes something like: “Have you heard what’s happening now at St. Mary’s?”

What’s going on now didn’t just happen overnight. I appreciate the four years of discernment and hard work that went into transforming St. Mary’s into the community to which I returned.

The fact that I feel as if I never left is a testament to the same Spirit that has always resided at St. Mary’s. It’s alive and well and finding new places to energize our life together. Thanks be to God!

The Place where Hospitality Happens

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 9, 2019

By: David May

This past April, Patsy Simril, Barbara Tavenner, and I met in the narthex of New St. Mary’s. It’s one of my favorite places to be here at St. Mary’s. Does that seem odd? What about one of our gorgeous courtyards (where in one the pomegranate is now blooming!); or Little St. Mary’s, saturated with over a century of prayer and song; or the grand bell tower entrance of New St. Mary’s; or our radiant churchyard? I don’t know why, but the narthex of New St. Mary’s tugs at me like no other spot.

We were meeting to pray and talk about making a new beginning with an ancient ministry. The Bible calls it hospitality. We’ll call it our Welcome Ministry. In the Bible, hospitality is a sacred obligation, especially in welcoming strangers; because, you never know who you might be welcoming. It could be someone who is just the right person to ensure the future prosperity of your family; someone who says the one thing you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear; someone who shows you the path to freedom and forgiveness. Or, it could be God. Truthfully, it probably is God drawing near, at least as the Bible often tells the story.

That’s where Patsy, Barbara, and I began our conversation and prayers: by remembering that welcoming people to St. Mary’s is a sacred obligation. It might sound like one of us saying to someone new something simple like ‘good morning’ or ‘welcome to St. Mary’s, I’m glad you’re here’. It could be one of us offering to walk someone to the new parish hall for coffee or giving someone our bulletin. It could be reassuring a young family that you remember trying to corral your own kids when they were little – so don’t worry! God draws near in those moments, I am sure.

Now that I think of it, the narthex is often the place where hospitality happens. It’s the place where we greet one another – new folks, old friends – and see that God is with us. I think the narthex is one of those ‘thin places’ where heaven and earth draw especially near to one another, especially as we welcome and show hospitality for one another. Because, you never know who it might be and what means of God’s grace for you and for all of us they bring with them.