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St. Thomas' Parish at Dupont Circle – Washington, DC

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Celebrating the Mission of St. Thomas’ Parish

 

[The first in a 4-part series by The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose, Rector, exploring the calling and mission of St. Thomas' Parish]

We at St. Thomas’ Parish celebrate our unique mission as part of the family of God known as the Episcopal Church.   In the words of  the “An Outline of Faith,” commonly called the “Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer defines our mission as followers of Christ like this:

  • The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
  • The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
  • The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

At St. Thomas’ Parish we take very seriously the unique history of our participation in the church’ s mission of reconciliation, which itself gives flesh to Christ’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other.

This happens through a wide variety of ministries, or ways of living and acting as followers of the living Christ.

Our primary ministry is reconciliation that we prepare for in prayer and worship and then live out in our identity and actions as Christians.

Reconciliation with God and one another  takes shape through our promotion of justice beyond, not just within, our doors.  It starts when we keep filled our Food Basket for those who come to our doors otherwise unable to feed themselves or their families. We were a founding parish of Samaritan Ministry in Washington, DC.  Our members regularly cook meals and serve at Christ House & Martha’s Table here in the District of Columbia.  Each year we furnish an apartment for a family seeking their own home through the work of the Transitional Housing Corporation.  And on a global scale we support and participate in our Diocesan commitments to the Millennium Development Goals; parishioners regularly travel to Central America to do work for the Trinidad Conservation Project.

And reconciliation happens as we learn together in community how to promote peace and love as the grounding principles of our life together. Historically at St. Thomas’ Parish this often has found central expression in providing sanctuary and support for the LGBT community.  More recently we have chosen to begin learning the foundations and practices of nonviolent communication — respectful, civil approaches to the differences of opinion and conviction that are inevitable in human society.

Christian faith for us is not otherworldly, but deeply engaged in the needs and joys and beauty and tragedy of the world we share with others, as we seek in them the face of Christ who is the very face of God-made-flesh out of God’s neverending love for creation.

We invite you to join with us as you choose to and are able to support the presence in Dupont Circle of our small circle of whose trying daily to follow The Way that God has shown us in the compassionate and extravagantly generous hospitality of Jesus.  Our mission is to do nothing less than to help God draw the world into the embrace of love like that — and to help God heal the divisions and wounds we inflict on one another and that are inflicted upon others by the injustices of the world.

As we celebrate such mission at St. Thomas’ Parish we continue to grow in numbers and resources and desire to help God heal the world.  We are by no means perfect; but we know where God is calling us, and we are learning in love to lay the foundations for a more just and compassionate tomorrow.

>>NEXT.  Why we begin in prayer and worship in community & how that prepares us to be agents of reconciliation in the world.

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VA Episcopalians OK same-sex unions

I don’t know about you, but I missed this bit of news that not very long ago would have made headlines as if Moses had parted the Potomac.   On January 21-22, 2011, the 216th Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia blithely passed the following resolution:

R-2a: Blessings of Same-Gender Unions
Adopted as amended, text pending final approval

Resolved, that the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia thanks Bishop Shannon Johnston and the diocesan team for the very fruitful “Listen … And Be Heard” sessions in 2010, and urges our Bishop to “provide a generous pastoral response” by moving forward with guidelines with regard to public blessings of same gender unions.

It may not seem like so much over here in the Bluest-of-Blue DC, but given the fact that the northern part of the Diocese of Virginia sat right on the ecclesiological fault-line that threatened to split the Episcopal Church and darned near split the Anglican Communion (it’s hard to tell how you’d know, to be honest), this is, pardon the shout-out, BIG NEWS!

Perhaps rightly, other LGBTQ-friendly voices were preoccupied with Joel Osteen’s declaration on “Piers Morgan Tonight” just a few days later that homosexuality is (still for him) a sin.  I couldn’t agree more with Joe Solmonese, president of HRC, who remarked with notable restraint, that “it’s a real shame that someone of Joel Osteen’s prominence and life experiences would repeat this tired and dangerous statement. It furthers ignorance and discrimination by some Americans and adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. … One would hope Mr. Osteen would use his pulpit, with an audience of over 7 million people, to tell all human beings that they are loved just the way they are.  Instead he chose to send a dangerous and irresponsible message.”

But while we wait … and work … for a Barbara-Bush-like change of heart from Pastor Osteen, we still can take some encouragement from the fact that something of equal significance, if not headline worthiness, happened across the river in Old Virginia.  It took a while …. admittedly a looooooong looooooooooooong while … but it’s still to be noted and applauded, even as we wait for marital equality someday also to get on their agenda.

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Voices of Wisdom: Mike Creighton

The third guest preacher and celebrant at St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle on January 23, 2011, as part of our series, “Voices of Wisdom – Radical Welcome,” is the Rt. Rev. Michael W. Creighton, Bishop Retired of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania (1996-2006). He is a 1968 graduate of Episcopal Theological School and served parishes in San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle before being elected Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in 1996.

Bishop Mike, as he is affectionately known, is the son of The Rt. Rev. William Creighton, the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC from 1962-1977.  While his father shepherded the Diocese of Washington through the turbulent period of Prayer Book Revision and the first ordinations of women to the priesthood, Bishop Mike arrived in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania the year that charges were dismissed, after years of controversy, against retired Bishop Walter Righter who had ordained the first partnered gay man to the Episcopal priesthood in the Diocese of Newark, the Rev. Barry Stopfel.

Bishop Mike later welcomed Barry as an instructor in the Diocesan School of Christian Studies, where Barry assisted Wayne Floyd in teaching lay courses on human sexuality.  And Bishop Mike also invited Wayne to co-chair the Bishops Commission on Human Sexuality that laid the groundwork for laity and clergy throughout the diocese to engage together in respectful conversation and disagreement about issues of sexuality among people representing the whole spectrum of opinion.

Based on a growing consensus in the diocese in support of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Mike and the diocesan delegation from Central Pennsylvania courageously voted “yes” to consent to the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.  And then Bishop Mike spent much of the final three years of his episcopacy providing strong and unswerving pastoral leadership with parishes and clergy who disagreed – sometimes quite ungraciously – with his decisions.

Bishop Mike is one of those inspirational “heroes” in the lives of me and Nancy Lee.  Wayne served as Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania for six years under Bishop Mike, and Nancy Lee was ordained by him to the priesthood at the Cathedral Church of St. Stephen in Harrisburg, PA.

His clear sense of faithfulness to the traditions of the Episcopal Church has been combined with a generous-hearted pastoral sensitivity that has made Bishop Mike a quiet, yet deeply effective, leader in our church during difficult times. Without the leadership of bishops like Mike Creighton, and his father before him, we would be living in a very different Episcopal Church today.  We owe him a debt of gratitude before he even arrives on our doorstep.

Bishop Mike and his wife Betty are living in Annapolis, MD, during their retirement.  We are thrilled to have him with us to lend his own powerful voice of wisdom, and his example of the integrity of radical welcome, to Sunday worship at St. Thomas’ Parish.

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Daily Office – Morning Prayer

I just finished Morning Prayer, using the online version at the www.MissionStClare.com website. I’m not a morning person, so Morning Prayer has never been my long-suit. But for four years when I taught seminarians at Sewanee we had required Morning Prayer which I attended every day. I can still sing the Canticles in my head; they’re simplified Anglican chant and are part of the Service Music you flip past to get to the hymns in the Hymnal 1982. So when I actually manage to do Morning Prayer on my own, I’m grateful to Marion Hatchett for insisting that faculty join students for this daily discipline.

The Daily Office is a time, too, to remember the “saints” in the church calendar, and today’s saint is St. Vincent de Paul. According to James Kiefer: “In 1625 he established the Congregation of the Mission (now known as the Vincentians, or the Lazarists), a community of priests who undertook to renounce all ecclesiastical advancement and devote themselves to work in the small towns and villages of France. … On one occasion, a noblewoman of the court, furious with Vincent because he refused to nominate her son for a position as bishop, threw a stool at him. He left the room with a stream of blood pouring from his forehead, and said to a companion who was waiting for him, “Is it not wonderful how strong a mother’s love for her son can be?” He died 27 September 1660.”

So today I’m praying especially for all those clergy in small and easily-forgotten churches — and even some in bigger better-known places — who have chosen “to renounce all ecclesiastical advancement” out of their devotion to the work of the church. What would it look like, I ask myself, to live like this in my life?

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Hellooooooooooooo Epis-pickle-palians!

VirtuallyFaithful here!  Are you following General Convention?  You should.  But not too closely.

It’s like watching a waterfall — powerful and inspiring, but get too close and it’ll knock you over.  You also don’t want to pay too much attention to all the droplets slashing out on the rocks.  Go downstream a bit.  Watch the water flow.  Sometimes the stream itself will shift a little.  Most times it doesn’t, because the total force of the stream is far bigger and more important than any few hundred or even thousand gallons that get dumped in all at once.

When light shines on all those exquisite drops, rainbows appear, as is right.  But the rainbows aren’t to be confused with the waterfall, or the stream that drives it.  No stream, no waterfall.  No waterfall, no rainbows.  So don’t just look at the rainbows alone.  But do notice them.  They are, after all, one of God’s favorite signs of unbreakable covenant with us all.

Listen to the water. God speaks through the mystery of that sound. It’s a different voice than you hear in Washington Weekly or on talk-radio, or even online in blog posts like this.  It’s more subtle.  Less in your face and pugnacious (there’s a word for you!).  God’s like that.  Really faithful to us.  While we’re virtually faithful, at best, in return.  That’s what it is to be the church.  So watch and listen, but more to God than to General Convention.  But since we’re the Episcopal Church, watch and listen to what’s going on there, too.  God may even choose to speak from the maelstrom, again.

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A quiet week in DC Northeast

It was a quiet week in Washington Northeast . . . . At least until the Metro crash. I had just arrived home from teaching French at Catholic University of America when vehicle after emergency vehicle went wailing off towards where I had just come from, and auto theft alarms and the hundred-thirty-pound Rottweiler next door (incongruously named Flossie) raised up their voices in orgasmic worship of the siren gods. Great fun until I turned on the news and learned what it was all about; it will be some time before I hear another really really loud fire engine and say, “Cool.”

It was a less quiet week for the fellow doctoral students whom I’m coaching through their language qualification exams in French and German. It’s easy enough for me to concoct a quiz question like, Circle the correct completion: Elles sont (a) allé (b) allés (c) allées. Not so easy for George, laboriously mastering his first foreign language at thirty, or Dave, trying to memorize conjugations while his wife is weeks away from delivering their second child and he is entertaining The House Guests from Hell – old college friends with a four-year-old, the three of them fighting like cats and dogs. Being a doctoral student at Catholic U is not a stress-free occupation.

And, curiously, especially not so for my fellow students who are Catholic.

I’m free to float past the authority claims, the arguments against permitting use of condoms in any circumstance (though shouldn’t we take care to protect lives now, so we can attend to souls later?), and the posters for pro-life novenas and campus chastity drives. My Catholic colleagues are not. Sally, an historical theologian in my German class, understands what was lost at Vatican I (1870), when the teaching authority of the church was taken away from university theologians and given to an ordained hierarchy lumbered with its own claim of infallibility. As a committed Catholic, she is stuck with living in an institution that now will not, because it cannot, ever overrule itself; there will be no Brown vs. Little Rock-equivalent doctrinal declaration in her lifetime.

By historical accident, not by superior wisdom, we Anglicans arrived at a different understanding of authority. Queen Elizabeth, knowing she faced the possibility of religious civil war in sixteenth-century England, created a Church of England that demanded uniformity of worship but knew better than to seek uniformity in how that worship was understood; “I desire not,” quoth she, “windows into men’s souls.” We were left free, individually but in community, to decide for ourselves what Scripture is really saying to us and what God demands of and for us in the major decisions of our lives. This has its own risks; where a Roman Catholic polity can be as centripetal as a black hole, ours can be as centrifugal as a dandelion gone to seed.

It also calls us to a different kind of responsibility, both in individual discernment and in balancing individual discernment with the demands of living in a communion that functions by consent and consensus. For some of us, the question is how to balance the conviction that in-church blessings of same-sex unions are not merely lawful but demanded by God’s justice, with the regrettable but deeply felt reluctance of African bishops to countenance any such thing. For others, the question is how to live with being answerable for so many choices. One of my German students is a cradle Episcopalian who became a Catholic in search of greater certainty. The infallibility of Pope in Council is for him the foundation of all spiritual security, and he scraps about it continually with Sally. Their most recent blow-up (not, thank heavens, in my class room) was about, of all things, the validity of Anglican ordinations. She, arguing for, thought the matter was still open for theological discussion. He, against, was quoting canons of Vatican I. Verbatim. In Latin.

Desmond Tutu has asked for a sense of proportion in the Anglican Communion’s debate about sexuality and authority; why is this one sin, if it be a sin, so much more important than any other? Yesterday’s Metro crash, also, is a call to perspective; are we really going to enquire into firefighters’ personal sexual orientations before letting them go into the wrecked cars to pull out passengers? Action is as important as purity of doctrine; our faith doesn’t count for much if it doesn’t take us outside ourselves and outside our immediate faith communities to serve Christ in the world. And our discernment isn’t on the right track if it makes us less, not more, charitable towards those who disagree with us. My gut reaction to Bishop Akinola is to reject him as vitriolically as he rejects me. But then I remember what living in Nigeria was like, how the culture operated, and I can see – just – how many of the authoritarian certainties that represent safety to him are threatened if two men are free to kiss. Anger and fear are joined at the hip; it is his fear that makes him angry, and we can insist that it is time for the church to endorse the blessing of same-sex unions, not later but now, and still pray for his fear. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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Selling Advent

There are almost as few things for sale with an Advent-theme as there are Lenten-collectibles.  Lent, of course, is focused on the events leading up to the end of Jesus’ life at the age of thirty-three.  Lent is a hard sell, and few people try to make a living off of Lenten trinkets.

But it comes as a surprise to many of us that one of the central themes of Advent is the final judgment.  Advent, we are jolted to learn, isn’t just about waiting for the baby Jesus in the manger, but also our anticipation of the end of all things at the last judgment when Christ comes back on ‘the last day’ as the Lord of all of creation for all time .

No wonder that both seasons – Lent and Advent – are ‘hard sells’.  They are, after all, periods for introspection about “the time of this mortal life” (BCP, 211), and thus have a certain ‘penitential’ quality to them – a tone of giving-up or turning-loose of our attachment to ‘things’. So ‘selling Advent’ sounds like an oxymoron, if not just in bad taste.

As a result, we are left with Advent Wreaths and Advent Calendars for the most part, although personally I can never find where I put the four-candle-styrofoam-form last year for my wreath, and I always get to about December 15th before I realize that I’m ten days behind with my calendar already, and give in to sloth.

So it’s been interesting to think about whether there are actually any ‘consumer goods’ out there with Advent themes that are worth considering even in an age of recession. The trick, of course, is how not to fast-forward to Christmas, even when trying to celebrate Advent — like this Nativity Advent Wreath I found for sale online this week.

In protest you could wear an “It’s Only Advent” button while you’re out doing your Christmas shopping.  Or you you could be less self-righteous than I tend to be and look at a wonderful website and blog by the artist Jan Richardson to see some of her fabulous Advent art and to buy one of her Advent books – Nancy and I own Night Visions and have just ordered The Advent Door.

Here’s someone who’s been captivated by Advent, and her art can unleash a whole new set of associations about this special season.

Spend some time looking at her Advent Hours Series of Greeting Cards, or one of her fantastic prints, like “Wise Women Also Came.”

Advent is such a curious season for so many Christians because it invites us to entertain the possibility that God chose to be in our midst precisely because creation is one of God’s favorite places to be.  God took flesh, became incarnate, because our flesh was worthy of bearing God … then … and still is now.

It’s hard to sell Advent because we’ve been so thoroughly taught that our bodies are bad that we can no longer even imagine they are good enough to be God’s place to dwell.  So we wait in Advent for this miracle to become ours again  … althought it is already, if we were only awake enough to see it.

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“Ike” Eisenhower and the Advent Calendar

Leave it to the BBC for trivia you can count on:

EDOW Advent Calendar“The first advent calendars appeared in 19th-Century Germany, when various methods of counting the days between the start of Advent and Christmas Day were used. Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, or simply on 1 December, the Protestant Christians would keep track of the days by making marks on their doors with a piece of chalk, which would then be rubbed off one by one as Christmas approached. Other practices then developed, including burning a candle or putting up a small religious picture to mark each day.

There is some disagreement as to when the first printed advent calendars appeared, although it is clear that they were first produced at some time in the 1900s. There are claims that a Christian bookshop in Hamburg produced a ‘Christmas Clock’ in 1902, and a newspaper in Stuttgart is known to have included an advent caldendar in its pages in 1904. However, the first mass producer of advent calendars is thought to have been Gerhard Lang, who worked at the Reichhold & Lang printing office in Munich. He released his first advent calendar in 1908 and had a steady business going which produced over thirty patterns of calendar until some time in the 1930s. The calendars would usually have 24 doors, but tended to be better-decorated than modern versions.

Soon enough, calendars were being designed with little doors or pouches which contained small religious pictures or bible extracts. Better still, some of the calendars also contained sweeties in order to keep the attention of young children. The practice escalated up until the Second World War, when paper and cardboard were rationed and advent-calendar production ground to a halt. Once the war ended, though, the production began again, pioneered by Richard Sellmer in 1946.

The introduction of the advent calendar to the USA was aided by ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, whose grandchildren took a shine to the idea. The calendar was soon adopted in other countries too, and in the UK chocolates began to appear behind the little doors as soon as rationing would allow. By the end of the 1950s, chocolate advent calendars had appeared, and by the following decade they had become widespread. They still exist today, with hundreds of different varieties appearing across the globe.”

Three of the best online are the Full Homely Divinity Advent Calendar — the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s fifth annual 2008 Advent Calendar — and the BBC’s wonderful, musical Bach Christmas Calendar.  Bookmark each of them (or just your favorite) and check each day for a new surprise.

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Advent anticipation

There are two seasons in the church year that ask us to wait.

During Lent we wait for the pivotal stories of Holy Week, and Good Friday, Holy Saturday …. and Easter.  Forty days we wait, with a growing sense of the immensity of what lies ahead, and our own insufficiency in the face of God’s time of need.

During Advent, the season beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, we are also asked to wait.  But now the waiting has an entirely different flavor.  It is the waiting, to use Shakespeare’s phrase from the Merchant of Venice, “With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness.”  It is the waiting for God’s entrance into our home, this place earth.

It is long enough for us to be admonished to “keep awake” — for it will come as a surprise, “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.” We are admonished, too, to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Yet there is no doubt that the point is for us to be ready “to greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer” (BCP, Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent).

Our waiting for the child in Bethlehem is “Advent anticipation” – the expectation of the unexpected.  We cannot imagine what form God is already waiting for us to experience, as we, too, discover our own flesh as capable of bearing Christ into the world.  We wait in anticipation that this year again, God will make our flesh God’s own “proper habitation” (Richard Hooker).

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Why Darwin Still Matters … as Do Our Views of Him

“Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still,” Rev. Malcolm Brown, director of missions and public affairs for the Church of England, wrote in an essay entitled “Good Religion Needs Good Science.”

“We try to practice the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Brown’s amends include a much needed corrective that Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson and other Christian creationists might consider.

“Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection. There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6: 25-33),” Brown wrote.

“The anti-evolutionary fervour in some corners of the churches may be a kind of proxy issue for other discontents; and, perhaps most of all, an indictment of the churches’ failure to tell their own story -
Jesus’s story – with conviction in a way which works with the grain of the world as God has revealed it to be, both through the Bible and in the work of scientists of Darwin’s calibre.”

Though Darwin is a hero to atheists, he was raised in the Anglican church, thought about becoming a clergyman, later attended a Unitarian church and described himself as an agnostic. “In my most extreme
fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God,” he wrote in 1879. “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.”

It has been noted in recent commentary on Palin’s nomination to run for Vice-President on the Republican ticket with John McCain that “As a candidate for governor, Sarah Palin called for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. But after Alaska voters elected her, Palin, now Republican John McCain’s presidential running mate, kept her campaign pledge to not push the idea in the schools.

She’s in favor of teaching both creationism and evolution in the public schools. ‘Teach both,’ she said in a 2006 gubernatorial debate. … McCain believes the issue should be decided by individual school districts.”

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