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.

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.