All Things Made New

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 5

By: Amelia McDaniel

Back to school planning is in full swing. You can’t miss it wherever you go. It was such a joy recently to watch the Bright Beginnings backpacks, donated by parishioners for the Goochland Family YMCA, fill the office waiting to be delivered – full of fresh new supplies. This year it feels like it is possible to fully give way to all the imaginings that a new school year can bring.

When I lived in Baton Rouge, I worked in an Episcopal Day School of about 300 PreK – 5th grade students. Throughout the school year on each Friday, the whole school gathered for Eucharist. But the very first Eucharist of the school year had a special tradition – New Crayon Day. The rector would hold up a brand new, super-sized box of crayons. I mean, imagine the teacher supply closet kind with 800 crayons in it. You could smell them even from way far back in the congregation.

The rector would hold up the box and examine the new crayons ready to do their work for the year. He explained to the children that they were just like those new crayons. No matter what had happened last year or over the summer that had been less than expected or defeating, they were starting this new school year as strong and new as the crayons in the giant box he stood beside. He told them that, with God, all things can be made new. As the children came up for communion, they got to choose a new crayon for their own to take and tuck somewhere special to remind them throughout the year just how God sees them – strong and capable and new. It was so dear to watch them reach into that box and choose just the one right crayon for themselves.

Whether you have a kid going back to school or not, I hope you let yourself have a fresh start in this season of returning to a more normal and scheduled life. The last few years have been hard and unexpected in so many ways. In the midst of it all, God’s faithfulness to us has continued to make things new. I hope our children see themselves this way as they start back to school. And I hope you do too. Maybe even go buy yourself a box of crayons.

Tending to St. Mary’s Garden

Weekly Reflection, Friday, July 29

By: Kitty Williams

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – Genesis 2:15

The buildings and churchyard grounds at St. Mary’s delight our eyes and soothe our souls. Along with the preaching, teaching, fellowship, and outreach, they embody the vibrant spirit of this place.

At Easter, our churchyard is filled with children racing around hunting Easter eggs. For decades, we’ve brought our baskets and spread our blankets between the markers for annual Church Picnics in May.

St. Mary’s churchyard is a sacred place where we go to weep, smile, and celebrate the lives of our loved ones whose remains rest in the earth under the trees. Walking through these grounds is a journey through the history of this beloved church. We see the small stones marking the graves of the coal miners and the people for whom this little church was built well over 100 years ago. We look with fondness at those gravesites of dear friends with whom we had shared so much life here. And we mourn again for those who left this earth too early. All around us, we see a reflection of love and now deep peace.

But just like the garden of Eden described in the book of Genesis, our garden needs tending. At the very beginning, God put humans in his garden to work, and our St. Mary’s grounds need the same kind of care.

Although we are fortunate to be able to hire landscaping professionals to do the heavy stuff, they can’t do everything. Planting annuals, weeding, pruning, watering, and general tidying up requires many hands.

Years ago, parishioners formed the WEED Rather Not! team to tend our garden. Many of those original members are now at rest in this very place. We – and, I think, they – now invite you to come take up their trowels and pruning shears.

Novice, experienced, or in between, all gardeners and would-be gardeners are welcome to join. There will be fellowship, conversation, and lemonade in the shade. Gardeners are the best teachers, and you’re almost guaranteed to learn something you didn’t know.

We‘ll be pulling weeds, watering, raking acorns, or pruning back luxuriant foliage. Sometimes we’ll pitch in to do general churchyard cleanup. Occasionally, we hope to do some planting as well! An experienced gardener will always direct our efforts.

WEED Rather Not! is forming again and looking for new members to join the team. The hope is the group will meet several weekends throughout the year. Please reach out to me, Kitty Williams, or Sue Thompson to sign up or learn more.

Returning to a Regular Routine

Weekly Reflection, Friday, July 22

By: David May

I’m almost embarrassed to say how disoriented I became during periods of time in 2020 and 2021. I had trouble tracking simple things like, what month is it?! Or, I’d think I had talked with someone months ago and it would end up that it was just last week. Things like that. I know I wasn’t alone in that, but it really bugged me. I think my disorientation stemmed mostly from all the regular routines and habits of our lives being upended, over and over again.

It was that. But for me, there was something else too. Because for so long most of our worshipping life was virtual or prerecorded (or, frankly things we completely made up as we went along!). Through that we sort of lost track of the seasons of the Church Year. I missed Advent. And Lent. And All Saints Sunday. Maybe that’s especially true because I’m a parish priest. Except that I’ve always treasured the seasons of the Church Year. Passing from Advent to Christmas or Lent to Easter tells my soul who I am. It strengthens my faith and energizes my spirit to be about God’s work in this world. The seasons of the Church Year help me inhabit the life of Christ and put me on my feet to be in the world in a different way, like seeing Christ in the face of a stranger, or remembering to love my enemy, or seeing how precious the outcast is to the Lord.

In a way, we began to reclaim celebrating and observing the seasons of the Church Year a little closer to normal this past Lent. It has felt good. But I also see that whether we are reclaiming the regular round of our sacramental life or adjusting to new habits in our day to day lives, we’re still making our way back to our lives in some ways.

There is polling out there that suggests a significant percentage of people who had regular habits of going to church before COVID, will probably never return to their regular habits on Sunday morning. I don’t know. Maybe that’s true.

For my part, I’m just grateful to be pretty clear that it’s July. That this Sunday I’ll be in church singing hymns with other people, listening to Jesus tell another parable of the Kingdom, praying for forgiveness with the hope that God won’t give up on me. I’m grateful for the pattern of being here on Sunday morning that puts me back together in ways that I may never fully understand. But it puts me back on my feet and in this world in a different way, to have one foot in this world and one foot in the world to come, praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Loving People Right Where They Are

Weekly Reflection, Friday, July 15

By: Kilpy Singer

This Sunday, I and a group of St. Mary’s high schoolers are headed to Wise County, Virginia. We are going to serve with Appalachia Service Project and are assigned one home to do repairs on all week long. If you haven’t heard of ASP, it is a wonderful program that has been serving families in Appalachia since 1969. They work with congregations of all denominations and people of all ages. I actually had the chance to go to Kentucky with ASP when I was younger and am thrilled to be partnering with them again.

In my opinion, ASP is a wonderful program because of its priorities, and what it holds most dear: the people. ASP’s founder, Tex Evans, described it as “a relationship ministry with a little construction on the side.” I don’t think he means that the house repairs aren’t important or are an afterthought. Rather, it seems to me that Tex understood that any and all service we do should be grounded in our love of neighbor. Yes, we will do home repairs, but does that really matter if we haven’t loved the people who live in them?

Sounds simple enough. However, on my first ASP trip, I learned otherwise. We were assigned to put a new roof on a house, which involved hoisting steel roof panels and baking in the mid-summer sun. I thought surely that would be the most challenging part of the week. Yet, when we met the homeowners on the second day, I had no idea what to do. They invited us inside for lemonade and I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to talk to these folks. They lived differently than I did and spoke differently than I did, and I wasn’t sure how to relate to them.

As it turns out, ASP’s founder had some advice for us regarding this. He believed that ASP is a place to “accept people right where they are, just the way they are.” Remembering this, I took a second to get over myself and refocus on the priority – the people. The rest of the week was full of conversations and storytelling and chances to discover more about the beloved child of God sitting across the table. By the time we packed up on Friday, the roof was fixed and new friendships were made.

As our group heads to Wise County this week, I’m hopeful that we will get to love some pretty awesome people with a little home repair on the side. We welcome your prayers as we travel and work and rest. And we invite you to join us in this work from wherever you are this week by accepting and loving those people God has placed around you, right where they are, just the way they are.

The Kids are Better than Alright

Weekly Reflection, Friday, July 8

By: Amelia McDaniel

For many of us the world seems to be spinning off its axis right now. There is strife, dishonesty, and anxiety filling the news. In order to live into our promise to God that we will love each other the way God loves us, it is certain that we as humans have a lot of work to do.

However, I am here to report to you that despite how badly we grown-ups may seem to be messing it up, the kids are alright. Last week, I spent four days with a bunch of preschool and elementary students for the return of Vacation Bible School after three years. From this group I learned that the news is good – so good.

The theme of the week was “Our Big Neighborhood” and we focused on the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s words, “imagine a world where love is the way.” The younger kids learned about places far away from Richmond – Ecuador, Ukraine, and the Philippines. The kids tasted bread made by parishioners and heard stories from each culture. All the while understanding what makes these cultures unique from us but more importantly what makes us all so similar in the eyes of God. And that we are all neighbors.

Simultaneously, the VBS On-the-Go kids, rising 4th and 5th graders, traveled around the larger neighborhood of Richmond and Goochland serving organizations that feed the hungry, assist foster children, and take care of abandoned and abused animals. They learned that we have many neighbors in need and many neighbors who step up to help.

This theme allowed for the kids to take the time to think about the needs of others and try to come up with ways to respond in love – whether it was a four-year-old on the playground helping a friend or one of our elementary kids talking about what they saw at GoochlandCares. In addition, the youth volunteers modeled patience and love with little ones who tested limits and failed to use “listening ears”.

All of this goodness would not be possible without the help of so many wonderful youth, parents, grandparents, and parishioners. Many thanks to all the adults who stepped up to make this week special for our whole community. This multigenerational group who modeled God’s love is the stuff that our children’s memories hold close about their time here.

Throughout the week, I loved listening to big ideas form and hearing them imagine how to be a good neighbor to people we know and people we don’t know. A tangible way this imagining happened was by collecting hygiene products. The children (with the help of their parents) collected a large bin of toiletries to be shared through the YMCA with new people in our neighborhood, Afghan refugees, who have arrived here this year.

During the closing Eucharist, a young VBS participant looked right up at David and for the whole group to hear said, “David, God loves everyone.” And that’s the good news I was reminded of last week.

So the next time you start to despair about the state of the world, take heart. The kids are alright, better than alright. Because they are imagining a world where love is the way in our great big neighborhood.