Treasured Letters

Weekly Reflection, Friday, September 9

By: David May, Rector

The Apostle Paul’s letters follow a clear format. In Paul’s day there were no envelopes nor address, so each letter began by saying, ‘this is Paul writing to all the good people in Rome.’ Followed with a thanksgiving to God for the folks to whom he was writing. The body of the letter sorted through questions of faith and life that he knew a congregation was working on. He’d conclude by sending greetings from folks where he was (‘we all send you our love and prayers!’) to the congregation he was writing (‘be sure to give Chloe a hug from me!’). Congregations treasured those letters, held onto them, read them over and over again. We still do.

Letter writing is a lost art. Which is a shame because a real live letter written in a real live person’s handwriting has a special power. It’s as if that person is right there with you and you can keep something of that person. I’ve kept some letters from over the years, from my mother, my sons, a parishioner right after I was ordained urging me to hang in there, and a whole bunch from my wife Emmy. One I treasure is from over thirty years ago from someone I never met along with a picture of her grandson who was born with profound physical and mental disabilities. The letter includes words I know by heart: ‘please pray for him. He struggles so hard, and he is the light of my life.’

From time to time, I’ll take one out and re-read it. I realize that most of the letters I’ve kept came from pivotal moments in my life. When I re-read them, they guide me when I need guiding, encourage me when I need encouraging, or bless me when I stand in need of blessing.

The Vestry has written a letter to the people of St. Mary’s. Senior Warden, Missy Roberts, alongside Junior Warden, Wayne Dementi, will read it to you this Sunday morning. I am not going to steal their thunder, but it is not a letter asking for anything. It is a letter that comes at an important time in the life of our parish family. Like everyone else, we have been through such a hard few years. And hard for lots of reasons. And like everyone else, we are beginning to live our lives more fully again. God is putting us back together while the Spirit does her work to show us who we are and who we may be.

The Vestry’s beautiful letter is coming to you at the right moment with the right words full of the great hearts and spirits of the members of the Vestry. It may even be one you’ll end up keeping and taking out from time to time for guidance, encouragement, or blessing.

It is the Small Things

Weekly Reflection, Friday, September 2

By: Sue Thompson

A few days ago, I was, as usual, rushing around trying to do one too many things. I’d just come in from doing some yard work and was pretty messy.

My 5-year-old granddaughter, Ellzey, came up to me and said, “Look, Gummy, you have a caterpillar on your shirt!” I looked and indeed I did. It was a tiny one, less than 1/2” long. She looked at it, as did I, and we both thought it might be a Monarch. Ellzey rushed to a bookshelf, picked up her Ranger Rick book on Monarch butterflies, and started looking through it. She got to a page illustrating the caterpillar and pronounced, “It’s an exact match!”

We probably all have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle about a thousand times. I still love it! Remember the picture of the very tiny little caterpillar on the first pages?

So I thought, what do we do with this tiny caterpillar? Well, I happened to be growing a native plant called Asclepias syriaca or Swamp Milkweed. It is the host plant for Monarchs. We grabbed a tissue and hastened out to the plant. When we got there, we carefully transferred the baby from my shirt to the leaf, trying not to touch it with our hands. The caterpillar cooperated and crawled onto the underside of the leaf. With hope and a bit of luck, it will eat its way through the leaves and be transformed into a Monarch butterfly who might be heading south to Mexico before too long!

For me, this was a tiny God moment. Ellzey is so keenly attuned to nature. I would have put my shirt straight in the wash and missed the tiny creature clinging to my sleeve. Instead, we ventured out and found it a home. It was a joyful time and such a small event in the big picture. Rachel Carson has a quote, “In nature nothing exists alone.” How incredibly true are those words? Nature surrounds us with its beauty, its mysteries, and its magic. It gives to all of us the chance to see God in every tiny creature as well as in glorious sunsets and starry nights. Even more, it gives us the miracle of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. God gave me a moment that day to stop, to hold the hand of a child, to connect to the earth, and to be filled with a sense of wonder.

St. Mary’s as my Safe Harbor

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 26

By: Meriwether Roberts

While some Christians wear a Cross necklace as a symbol of their faith, I wear an anchor. Most assume the anchor represents my love of sailing but to me it has a deeper meaning. Anchors are found throughout the bible alongside fishermen and storms in parables that help us understand the stability and constancy of God’s love. My favorite reference, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” is hidden within the passage “The Certainty of God’s Promise” as God is reaffirming his commitment to us (Hebrews 6:19). As a competitive offshore sailor who has spent many days and nights at sea, I understand what level of hope, safety, and security anchors convey just as the Hebrews did.

This summer, I sailed in the 635-nautical mile, Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda Race. Sailing across the open ocean can feel hauntingly isolated. This race was particularly challenging as we navigated through washing-machine-like waves and unrelenting winds. Non-sailors always ask me, “Why do you do it? Aren’t you afraid? And what do you do if there’s a big storm?” The simplest answers are: “I love to sail!” and “We keep racing unless it gets really bad, then we throw out a sea anchor.” A sea anchor, just like the metaphorical anchor in the passage, provides safety and stability in the worst storms. Fortunately, I have only used anchors in port, but I find comfort and solace in knowing we always have an anchor on board.

My necklace is a symbol of that comfort. It represents the faith, stability, and security I have in God. With my faith as my anchor, I know I can weather anything. However, a true anchor needs something firm, like a rock, to keep it secure. St. Mary’s has always been the rock that secures my faith even in the most daunting personal storms. My time at St. Mary’s has given me wonderful friendships and a safe harbor to grow as a person in Christ. I am thankful for the opportunities St. Mary’s has provided me, specifically the chance to work closely with the children and youth of our congregation. Each memory fills me with such joy and optimism for their bright futures ahead. Additionally, I thank the staff and the members of the congregation that shepherded me through my own spiritual and musical journey.

In a few days, I will be setting sail on my next adventure as I move to London to complete an MBA program. Almost every aspect of my life is changing like shifting tides and turbulent waters. Despite all this, I leave with peace knowing my anchor will always be there as a reminder of God’s promise. Thanks to this community, I can take each adventure in stride knowing the love and support of the St. Mary’s congregation is grounding me. I will miss St. Mary’s tremendously, but I know this isn’t a permanent goodbye, because sailors always return to port.

Do you ever ask God, “why”?

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 19

By: Harrison Higgins

Do you ever ask God, “why?” Why did this bad thing happen to this good person? Why is there so much evil and suffering in a world made by a good and loving God?

It is a big question that deserves a serious and honest response. I have tried to give serious and honest responses to this question, both to myself and to others, sometimes even in sermons. Inevitably these answers are abstract and theoretical. They may even be correct. God created us free which means we are allowed to choose evil. To control us so we don’t do stupid stuff means that the good we do would not be us doing good but God. We would be puppets on a string and our life would not have much meaning.

This reasoning works when the “why” question is theoretical. There have been a few times in my life when it wasn’t theoretical. The first was when a friend in his mid-twenties got sick from liver cancer. He was part of the group getting Young Life started in Richmond and he had a bright future in Christian ministry. Many groups and churches were praying and even fasting for his healing. We had faith. Then he died. We had done everything right. It didn’t make sense; God didn’t make sense. Why God? At some point in the weeks that followed I realized that Jesus had asked the same question I was asking from the cross. That turned my doubt into trust.

Years later, the question returned with terrible force following the death of my son and a friend in a car accident on the way to a Bible Study. In the months that followed the “why” question was a shadow that followed me, especially to the altar rail each Sunday at St. Andrew’s Church. There I received the bread and wine. And ever so slowly I became aware that God had experienced what I was going through – this pain He knew – and I was able to trust Him again.

Recently, I lost a friend in a freak bike accident and the question has returned. To be honest, I have been angry at God. But what I can describe only as a thought that came to me out of the silence was this question, “where does love come from?” What I realize in all these instances of asking “why,” what made this question urgent, necessary, and supremely important was love. If love had not been part of these stories the “why” question would not have been asked.

I think Jesus answers the “what” questions; the Holy Spirit answers the “how” questions; and God the Father answers the “why” question. And the answer for it all will be love.

Experiencing Relationship Ministry

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 12

By: Rebekah and Francie McKay

During the week of July 18, four youth and one adult led by the Rev. Deacon Kilpy Singer drove down to Wise County, Virginia to participate in a week of mission work with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP). In a recent reflection, Kilpy shared how ASP’s founder believes that a week with ASP is a time and place to “accept people right where they are, just the way they are.” Two of the team members, mother and daughter, Rebekah and Francie McKay, share their own experience of this relationship ministry.

Rebekah writes: Appalachia Service Project likes to call itself a relationship ministry with construction on the side, and I saw that vividly on that final Friday morning. It had ben 24 years since I had traveled to Wise County, Virginia with my childhood youth group to participate in ASP. Now I was back with my teenage daughter on her first trip. Most of my memories of ASP are of friends, evening talent shows, and seemingly impossible projects that my group leaders handled, while giving us “character building” tasks on the job site. Now I was in the group leader position, and while it was important to complete our task of laying new flooring and installing drywall, it was just as important that we make a connection with the community we were serving and our homeowner. I realized on that last morning, while I had been preoccupied with power tool safety and making sure the angles on the baseboards were correct, the girls had been doing their own ministry of love and connection with our homeowner and each other.

However, that morning of our last workday, I got my opportunity to make a community connection. We stopped at a local coffee shop as a treat for a successful week. On our way out, we were stopped by a gentleman who had obviously noticed our coveralls and inquired about what we were up to. I spent the next half hour learning about his 30 plus years in the once prosperous coal industry. I could have spent much longer, but remembering we had a project to wrap up, we said our goodbyes. As we walked out of the coffee shop, the girls said they were proud of me for making a friend.

Francie shares: At the beginning of the trip, I didn’t know what to expect. I was traveling to an unknown place with unknown people, and I felt vastly underprepared. However, to my surprise, friendships and trust began to grow between our group. And soon enough we were laughing and joking like old friends. I learned so much over those few days about how thankful we should be for what we have and I cannot wait for another opportunity to go back.

Francie and Rebekah are looking forward to returning next summer with more experience and more to gain. They would love the opportunity to speak with any youth or adults that are interested in learning more about the ASP mission and experience.