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.

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.