Taking the Time

Weekly Reflection, Friday, July 1

By: Elizabeth Starling

It wasn’t long after I started working at St. Mary’s in 2017 that I met a man named Allen Ferguson. I can’t remember what exactly it was that he said to me that day, but I remember laughing and joking around, as we often would in the years to come. We eventually made the connection that I had grown up at Hampden-Sydney College, where Allen was at one time a member of the Board of Trustees. It wasn’t until I mentioned his name to my parents that I learned that Allen had known me when I was a toddler—I used to occasionally tag along to Trustees events with my parents, so he’d sort of known me my whole life. Once we made that connection, he spoke so kindly of my family and often inquired about my parents. He hadn’t seen them in years, but considered them old friends and always wanted to make sure they were doing well—“Hey Elizabeth! How’s good ol’ Paul Baker doing lately?” was a regular greeting.

You see, Allen wasn’t really the warm-and-fuzzy type. In fact, he’d probably laugh at me if he knew I was writing that. But, I had the privilege of serving with him through the pastoral care ministry here, and I can tell you that he cared so deeply for people. Allen had a way with words, and was known on his pastoral care team for writing beautiful, lengthy letters to parishioners who were sick or hurting or celebrating. When it was his turn to prepare birthday cards to send out (and it was a large batch of birthday cards…), he wrote long notes to each individual, whether he knew them or not. These days, we’re so accustomed to a quick “Happy Birthday!” or “Get well soon!” text or Facebook post that to receive a thoughtfully handwritten card means so much.

I talked to Allen briefly just a few weeks ago—I specify “briefly,” because I was hurrying off to do something else and didn’t feel like I had a lot of time to linger. And, when I heard the news that Allen had died, that was my first thought—I should’ve taken the time. Life is so hurried these days. Messages can be so impersonal. We’re just busy and caught up with work and school and extracurriculars and I honestly can’t tell you the last time I sat down and just wrote someone a nice note. Today on this Friday, we gather to celebrate Allen’s time here with us. And I hope if you can, you’ll linger—share a story or a funny Allen memory. And as the days go by, I hope you’ll consider taking time to write someone a card. It might mean more to them than you know.

Goodness that Flows Below the Surface

Weekly Reflection, Friday, June 24

By: Harrison Higgins

Did you know that the “River of Life” runs through a checkout line at the Kroger grocery store in Carytown? Yes, the river that springs up from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22) reaches all the way to the left checkout line at Kroger in Carytown and I got to taste it.

I had been cutting the grass. It was hot and I was in a foul mood when I went in to pick up a few things. The reasons for my mood are complicated and a long story so trust me when I say I was a hot, stinking mess inside and out: upset, angry at the world, life, myself, slow checkout lines, etc.

So there I was faced with long lines in all but the one on the left where two women with full baskets were being checked out. I got in line behind them. After what seemed to be an hour, the first basket was emptied and bagged. It was time to move forward. I was seeing daylight. But then a large pile of coupons was produced each needing to be scanned and some needing the manger’s approval. Both women turned to me (they were friends) and apologized. “It’s fine,” I said, lying.

I watched and waited as each coupon was studied and scanned. I tried to calm myself with yoga breathing and “namaste-ing” but ended up glaring at lurid headlines on the National Inquirer. Eventually, the first cart was done and the woman in front of me was finally being checked out fairly quickly. Then another stack of coupons was produced, and she turned again to apologize for how long this was taking. I watched in amazement as her balance came down dramatically.

“Where do you find all these coupons?” I asked. “Friends, online, anywhere I can,” she answered. “It takes a lot of time. We come up here from South Boston because this Kroger takes all our coupons. My husband is on disability, and it helps.”

“What is his disability?” I ask after a pause. “Liver,” she says simply. This hits hard as I have watched a friend die from liver disease.

This woman’s total is now a fraction of what it was, and she gets out her wallet to pay. Without thinking, I tell the cashier that I’ll pay her bill. She turns to me and says she can’t let me do that. “Please let me,” I say in a choked voice. She does. And she gives me who is still a stinking, hot mess a hug and leaves.

A few minutes later, I leave too but as a different person. Something had happened. It was more than giving a few dollars to someone who could use it. The world cracked open – my world at least – and I got a glimpse of great goodness or oneness that flows below the surface of our everyday lives. I got a taste of it that day and it still makes me lightheaded.

My Journey to Ordination

Weekly Reflection, Friday, June 17

By: Kilpy Singer

After over a decade of discernment and preparation, I will be ordained on Saturday, June 25. I’m sure some day that will feel like no time at all, but right now it feels akin to a 40-year wilderness experience. Now that the day is finally here, I’ve found myself reflecting on these past 12 years and all that they’ve held. The road to this point has been anything but simple or easy, yet God has proved faithful each and every step of the way.

I first felt a call to ministry when I attended a two-week vocational discernment at Union Presbyterian Seminary at the age of 17. As a high schooler, the prospect of serving God and God’s people through a life of ordained ministry was a little terrifying and exciting, but I promised to put one foot in front of the other and see where it took me. My home church at the time, First Presbyterian on Cary Street, raised me up and supported me as a young person. It was there that I first preached, served as a Youth Ministry intern, and explored this call. That community still has a huge piece of my heart.

I eventually made my way to the Anglican Communion and, in particular, to the Episcopal Church. However, while my denomination home changed, my pull towards ordained ministry had not. I had no idea how things would all shake out, much less where I would even end up, but I knew that God was with me. After lots of conversations, praying, and even some avoidance, I began seminary at Duke Divinity School in 2016 alongside my husband Blake.

It is only by the grace of God that we made it through those three years, but we kept putting one foot in front of the other. At times, the only thing that sustained us was peanut butter sandwiches, Morning Prayer, and the memory of how God had called us. After graduating, we moved to Richmond and began the ordination process through the Diocese of Virginia. Since then, we’ve completed countless interviews, applications, ordination exams, and even psychological evaluation (don’t worry, I passed). Now, God willing, we will both be ordained as transitional deacons on Saturday, June 25 and as priests in early 2023.

12 years ago, when I heard from God, I had no idea know how challenging of a road this would be. I also could not even begin to understand how much beauty and joy it would bring. Now, I can’t imagine it any other way. And as I become an ordained person and step into my new role here, I am so grateful to God for this journey and for bringing me here to St. Mary’s.

Thankful to have had St. Mary’s

Weekly Reflection, Friday, June 10

By: John Wootton, Graduating High School Class of 2022

As I look back on my high school years, while preparing for the next stage of my life, I am thankful to have had St. Mary’s as a place of joy and solace. One of my first experiences at St. Mary’s was as the sole 9th grader going through confirmation. At first I was nervous and uncomfortable, as I did not know any members of the class. However, thanks to the mentorship of St. Mary’s leaders, especially David May and Emily Bruch, I ended up feeling secure, and ultimately reaffirming my relationship with God, which has been one of my most meaningful experiences at St. Mary’s.

One of my sweetest memories of St. Mary’s is my grandmother Bam’s memorial service. The outpouring of love and support during this difficult time was incredibly helpful for my entire family, and the service was a beautiful way to honor her. I especially appreciated reading a passage, along with my brother and sister, during the service, and seeing the genuine support from all those who attended. This service will always hold a special place in my heart.

Towards the end of my high school days, I had the opportunity to assist with the Christmas pageant this past winter. Serving partly as “security” for the more restless, youngest participants, I loved helping the children as they helped the whole St. Mary’s community celebrate the birth of Christ. This pageant spoke to the strong sense of friendship and community that is present at St. Mary’s. I look forward to being a witness for these young St. Mary’s children as they grow and serve as acolytes, readers, and are confirmed themselves. I have also loved coming to St. Mary’s each Sunday and personally knowing the leaders of every service. This connection has allowed me to get more out of each lesson and strengthen my connection with both the church and with God.

While moving forward to the next part of my life will be difficult and scary at times, I know I will always be able to come back to the Church for support. I am thankful for the lessons I have been taught while at St. Mary’s, and I feel I have left it as a better person with a stronger spiritual connection.

Electing a new Bishop

Weekly Reflection, Friday, June 3

By: David May, Rector

As I write this, we are anticipating electing a new Bishop of Virginia this coming Saturday. The Church (you, me, and all the members of the Body of Christ in this diocese) will gather and pray together for the Holy Spirit to guide us in a Special Electing Convention represented by local parish delegates – both lay and ordained. Then we’ll vote. The votes are tallied in two columns – the Lay Order and the Clerical Order. To be elected, one of the four nominees will need to gain a majority of votes in both orders on the same ballot.

In the Episcopal Church, we take responsibility together for electing and naming a new Bishop rather than one being appointed through an authoritative Bishop. This process highlights a long-standing hallmark of Anglicanism which is our belief that authority is expressed most fully and faithfully when it is exercised through the gathered community of Christ’s Church. We seek and find the mind of Christ as we gather as his Body.

This is an important election for many reasons. First and foremost, I would say, is that there has been no Diocesan Bishop serving since Bishop Shannon Johnston retired on November 3, 2017. Bishop Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan, was authorized by the Standing Committee of the Diocese to serve as the Ecclesiastical Authority – the person or persons in whom the authority of the Bishop resides. But we have not elected a Diocesan Bishop since Bishop Shannon was elected on January 26, 2007. Since Bishop Shannon retired, we have been in a necessary extended interim time.

During that time serving as Ecclesiastical Authority, I want to express what enormous personal respect and affection I have for Bishop Susan. The work and ministry she was given to do came during a season of unprecedented challenge beginning with a worldwide pandemic. I understand that she was led to make choices that frustrated, even angered people. But her leadership – some of which was conducted while being treated for cancer – during these past years has been compassionate, clear, faithful, and steady. In the best of times, the ministry of a Bishop is challenging, but her time was more than that. I thank God for her and rejoice in her gift of retirement beginning on January 1, 2023.

Our new Bishop will begin his ministry in a difficult but promising time. Bonds of affection and trust need to be rebuilt among us. Over the next few years, parishes will be challenged to increase giving to the Diocese from levels that rank at or near the lowest in the Episcopal Church. But our new Bishop will also lead us in a time of great promise. My own view is that the Church is called to bear its witness in a time when the world is especially hungry for the Good News of Jesus. Our world and people are hurting. And angry. And fearful of one another. We bear God’s good word and raise up a new Bishop for such a time as this.

I hope you will pray with me for the Holy Spirit’s good work in raising up a new Bishop for the mission and ministry of the Church, and prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide him in our new beginning together.