Am I my brother’s keeper?

Weekly Reflection, Friday, February 25

By: David May

Senior seminarians in the Episcopal Church take a set of exams called the General Ordination Exams (GEOs), which cover core areas like the Bible, Ethics, Liturgics, etc. I took GEOs in January 1993 and one of the ‘Bible’ questions has stayed with me. The question asked if, “the biblical witness, taken as a whole, emphasizes the priority of the individual or the priority of the community in God’s eyes?” The answer (with no desire to be cagey!) is ‘yes.’ The Bible proclaims the beauty and splendor of each created person. This is especially established in the book of Genesis with the words proclaiming that each person is made in God’s image. Like, the annoying person who parked their cart in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store, your neighbor who is losing it as a teacher, your friend who drinks too much, the immigrant at Walmart with two loaded carts, the harassed mother in the turning lane who stays put and texts all the way through the green light. God established in creation, His kind regard for each one of them.

Later in Genesis, God looks at the creature God has just made and realizes, ‘oh no! It is not good that the man should be alone.’ God made us to be with each other. In fact, it looks like we can’t be fully human without each other. God’s intention is for us to be a people who belong to each other and to God. There is no ‘I’ or ‘me’ without there also being an ‘us’ and ‘we.’ Which, frankly, cuts starkly against our current cultural and social esteem for the priority of the individual above all else.

So, which is it – the individual or the community that God treasures most? Am I my brother’s keeper? Who is my neighbor? I think how we live into those questions is part of the splendor and wonder of this glorious life that God has given to us, and a part of the means of God’s salvation.

I find myself interested in this again as we enter into Lent together. Lent is a sacred time to look our own hearts squarely in the eye. I have work to do with God and God has work to do with me. But we’re meant to do that in a community of sisters and brothers, where we say, ‘You’re not alone. I am in need of forgiveness, too. God knows.’ This bond of our common, broken, and beautiful humanity – when we know it – is such a source of joy and healing.

So, I urge you, to come to church to be together, or join us through the livestream. You are precious in the eyes of God and precious to your sisters and brothers here. The season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday. We will offer the Ash Wednesday Liturgy at 12 p.m. (which will be livestreamed) and 6 p.m. in New St. Mary’s. In the beloved community of Jesus, ‘we’, by God’s grace, given the ‘me’ that is most truly whom God made you to be in the first place.

Practice Tuning into God’s Presence

Weekly Reflection, Friday, February 18

By: Kilpy Singer

This past week, someone asked me what I was planning on doing for Lent. The first words that jumped out of my mouth were “Oops!” followed by “Darn it.” This happens every year. After the Christmas season, I plan to come up with some thoughtful Lenten practice. Then, before I know it, Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Well, so much for being intentional. Maybe next year.
I haven’t always done a Lenten practice. I grew up in a household that technically observed Lent, but we didn’t do anything other than normal, weekly church attendance. While I knew that some people gave things up for Lent, it seemed a little too pious for my liking.

At some point, some kind soul walked me through the origin and meaning of these practices. They shared that, when giving up an earthly practice or item, Christians are identifying with the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. We remember that, just as God sustained him, so does God sustain us. In taking on a spiritual practice during this season, we open ourselves up to God’s presence and seek to walk closer with Christ in the journey toward Holy Week.

The most important thing I learned, though, was that Lent is not really our work to do. We are not the ones making our way toward God. Our practices cannot make us right with God, make us more desirable to God, or make God love us any more. Rather, Lent is about God’s work. It is about God’s action in our lives. God is drawing near to us and loving us unconditionally. We really can’t make that any more or less true. We can, however, tune into that reality more deeply, and this is exactly what our practices are for.

It doesn’t matter if, like me, you are late on deciding. Or maybe you’re just starting to learn about all of this for the first time. Just set aside a moment or two each day and keep it simple. That is enough for God to work with. All we need to do is practice tuning into God’s presence, and then we will start to glimpse His nearness to us and unconditional love for us.

Remembering Charlotte Green

Weekly Reflection, Friday, February 11

By: Elizabeth Starling

February is Black History Month, so when I was asked to write this reflection, it felt important to use this short piece to remember Charlotte Green. Maybe you’ve seen the small plaque dedicated to her in the narthex of Little St. Mary’s, or maybe you’ve read a bit about her in the Dover Lounge exhibit. I told someone recently that her plaque in Little St. Mary’s is what really inspired me to research St. Mary’s history. I’ve worked with several Black communities over the years to research their ancestry and heritage, and each time it proves equal parts fascinating and impossible. The same could be said for my attempts to learn more about Charlotte Green, fondly known to parishioners at the time as “Aunt Charlotte.”

Aunt Charlotte’s parents were Henry and Sarah Thompson. We know this because of the 1866 Cohabitation Register, and because Charlotte is listed as living with them in 1866, we can deduce that she was born into slavery. We know that she married William Green/Greene, and they had a son named Lewis. She spent most of her adult life working at St. Mary’s, caring not only for the building, but for its parishioners, and especially for their children. Because she cared for children while their parents went to church, I like to think of her as our first Sunday School teacher. She also served as a midwife, and delivered babies who would grow up at St. Mary’s. We know from her death certificate that she died on April 20, 1936 from health complications, and the undertaker who helped her family was A.D. Price, Jr. at 12 East Leigh Street. Years ago, her cabin stood in what is now Randolph Square; but now, there remains no evidence of that residence. We don’t know where she was buried, although it’s not entirely unreasonable to wonder if she may be buried somewhere here.

We ultimately know very little about Charlotte Green, but I desperately wish we knew more. I want to see photos of her; hear stories of her work with the children of St. Mary’s; understand her relationships with early parishioners here. I want to know how she came to work here. I want to retrace her daily walk between her cabin in the woods and Little St. Mary’s, and I wish I had a record in her own words of what St. Mary’s meant to her. As I talked with David about this reflection, he said, “We don’t put up plaques for no reason,” and he’s right. Charlotte Green was for many years an integral part of the St. Mary’s family, and I hope that we continue to wonder and learn about her life and keep her memory alive.

Come Back to the Present Moment

Weekly Reflection, Friday, February 4

By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate

How many times, especially during the last two years, have we wished for things to be different than what they are? Things like: I wish this pandemic would end and that we wouldn’t have to wear masks in church or have to take Communion in only one kind. Or, I wish I were younger or smarter or prettier or any other adjective that compares me unfavorably. Or, I wish it wasn’t so cold, or so hot, or so…what? The list is endless.

I wonder how much time I have wasted wishing for such things as if wishing could make a difference in the outcome. The worst part of wishing is that it interferes with our ability to appreciate and live in the moment.

What are we really wishing for, anyway? The word “normal” comes to mind and when it does, there’s usually a sigh that accompanies that thought. But, normal is elusive. It’s one thing one day, and something else another day because nothing stays the same. Normal means one thing to one person and quite another to someone else because it’s all relative. So why are we wishing for something that doesn’t really exist?

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Asheville, NC, about 10 minutes away from the hospital where my daughter delivered her first baby two days ago. The snow and ice and wind are making traveling next to impossible. And the pandemic has taken away my ability to visit her in the hospital. So, guess what I’m wishing for? And guess what difference it will make?

So, I stop for a moment and come back to the present. And when I do, I notice that the view outside my window is actually beautiful! The clouds are covering the mountains, but I know they’re there. The landscape is pristine. My room is warm and cozy and quiet, and I feel safe. I realize that my daughter and son-in-law and baby are getting all the care that they need at the hospital. So breathe…just breathe and let go of wishing for the moment to be any different than it is.

Things are just as they are supposed to be. They are unfolding as God intended. I only wish that I could remember that!

My Three Years on Vestry

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 28

By: Danny Williams, Jr., Member of Vestry Class of 2022

Ashley Cameron asked me to reflect on my three years on Vestry which have now come to an end. I hope I can speak for Ann Ramsey, Christy Gurkin and Harry Baldwin, my vestry classmates. The highlights were the new friends I made and the old friendships that grew.

By just about any measure, St. Mary’s is in better shape than it was in January of 2019. We have more members, more children, and more money than we had back then. I feel very privileged to have had a front row seat to witness the steady hand of David May as we made our way through a couple of world changing events.

The COVID-19 pandemic began to disrupt St. Mary’s and churches everywhere in March of 2020. Fourteen vestry meetings through April of 2021 were held by Zoom. In person services were suspended. Every aspect of church life was affected. Livestreaming, outside services, and masks are gradually helping us return to normal but we now must consider whether some of the changes might be with us from now on.

As a means to keep people connected, David came up with the innovative idea to assign each vestry member a mini congregation of 40 to 50 households. The idea was to communicate with them by e-mail every other month to bring them up to date with life at church as a supplement to the weekly eNunciation communications.

Then there was the racial reckoning brought on by the events at the end of May 2020 and the local unrest that followed. David asked each of us to compose a collect to help us seek God’s will for ourselves and St. Mary’s. This was a first for most of us and it led to very thoughtful discussions.

All of these issues are still with us but we are facing up to them thanks largely to the leadership of Harry Baldwin, our 2021 Senior Warden. He initiated a council of former Senior Wardens, he formed a task force to consider the long term effects of the pandemic, and has proposed an adult education course to foster racial harmony and reconciliation.

Thank you for giving me this wonderful experience.