Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

Weekly Word from the Fold – Oct 12

WEEKLY WORD FROM THE FOLD

Taking the Knee in Various Ways

As a boy chorister trained in an English parish church, I took the knee whenever I approached the tabernacle where the Reserved Sacrament was kept. I did this well before I had any intellectual understanding as to why I was doing it. I just copied what the other boys did. It was, however, a habit that shaped my disposition towards sacred and holy things. So, today at CGS I take the knee on High Day and Holidays when the sacrament has been consecrated. It’s a reflexive nod toward my restrained English catholic training. As a priest at the altar I am seeking to embody the synthesis of the infinite with the finite, the eternal with the concrete here and how.

I also take the knee when blessing children and offering them the host. I seek to honor them by getting down to their level and in order to avoid “lauding it over them.” At home I am constantly taking the knee when cleaning up after the baby. I’m trying to save my lower back while getting the job done. So, at church and at home I take the knee as a sign of reverence and because I have gotten used to getting down low out of respect to others I am in relationship with.

In contrast, as a naturalized American I stand for the National Anthem at Fenway Park with my cap in hand. While still a Brit on a Green Card, I had gotten into that habit as a frequent visitor to the ballpark. Looking back I wasn’t standing up out of respect for the Flag. It wasn’t my flag to respect. I chose to stand because I felt it was necessary to participate in something bigger than myself. In contrast an Irish friend of mine didn’t stand on such an occasion and I was made anxious by his radical stance. Being British I never want to cause a scene in public! He made it clear to me that he was exercising his freedom to remain seated.

As the role of sitting, kneeling and standing for the National Anthem at sports events is debated, I find myself conflicted. On the one hand, I want to uphold the right of any individual to exercise their human freedom to kneel for the National Anthem, if there is a vital reason for doing so. On the other hand, I want to make a claim that patriotism is vital for our collective well-being, as we join in a unified transcendent affirmation of our sense of Nationhood. What I am looking for and can’t find at this critical hour is the synthesis of national pride and unity with a concrete desire to stand with the African American victims of police violence. Such is the level of distortion as actions and words are taken out of context and re-contextualized for political gain.

So, I take the knee out of humility of not knowing where comfort and resolution is to be found. I also take the knee as I recognize that within our church community members with whom I have a relationship, are taking various stances on this particular issue. My persistent hope is that we as a nation continue to seek a solution to both uphold the safety of our police officers and the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our communities. My spiritual desire is that the State and the churches continue to hold up the ideals of national unity and the peaceable kingdom that Jesus points towards in Holy Scripture.

See you Sunday,

Gareth

Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

Weekly Word from the Fold – Jun 30, 2016

Paternity Leave

The Episcopal Church in her wisdom mandates eight weeks of paid parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. Hence I am about to begin paternity leave for the third time. I am grateful for this merciful provision, knowing that it is not common practice in the U.S. for employers to pay parents while they take leave to care for a new born. I am also aware that it’s unusual for men to be granted such a long period of time off work (paid or unpaid) to do this sort of vital care-taking. Being somewhat mindful of the privilege I enjoy as a clergy person in our Church, I have decided to “front-load” my paternity leave, beginning July 9th in order to be back at work the second weekend in September. Fran will give birth to baby “No. 3” sometime towards the end of July (a process I am calling Frexit, after the Brexit referendum in the UK). So No. 3 will Frexit in about three weeks time. In the meantime, I will spend some dedicated time at home getting ready for this next big life event.

On a personal note, I am both excited and terrified by the prospect of caring for a new born. I recall how disabled I felt when Charlie was born (let’s rename that event Chexit). I fully anticipate the same fumbling, disabling process to repeat itself this time round. The difference this time is knowing that this sort of humbling transition is perfectly normal and that there is a profound privilege coming our way very soon. I am excited about discovering who we are about to receive into the world and who it is that will join our loving family. Just in case you hadn’t heard, we are expecting a little boy, which is brilliant given that Charlie will have a little brother close to his age to pal around with. Cassie will be six in July and will be forever the big sister of two younger brothers. That strikes me as a good place for Cassie to land in the sibling “pecking order.” While I can’t speak directly for Fran, I do know that she is very excited about No. 3, not least because she is one of three children herself. She has a vision for how we will live into being a family of five and I am reliant upon her big loving heart for making that vision real. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers and continued goodwill during this time of change and transition… and, if anyone knows a cure of being a sleep deprived father of three, please pass that remedy along post-haste.

Remaining yours,

Gareth

Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

Weekly Word from the Fold – Jun 23, 2106

Guest writer- Ray Lyons

MAKE IT STOP demands the Boston Globe (June 16, 2016).
“We have a God-given right to defend ourselves, and firearms are an effective means of doing just that,” Chris Cox, the executive director of the [NRA]’s Institute for Legislative Action, said on ABC’s “This Week.” (June 19, 2016) Daily News article

So, which is it? Can we stop all guns and gun violence? Do we have an inalienable God-given right to own any firearm we want? The answer to both is a near absolute “no,” for both practical and legal reasons. From a practical perspective, I think everyone understands that a society that lacks sufficient means to defend itself will almost certainly be conquered by others who are willing to use force to do so. You may recall the opening scenes of the 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” when an ape discovers he can use a bone to bash the skulls of other apes; wielding a weapon gave him power. It was true in the 1st century when the Roman Empire reconquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It is true today in more places than I dare count. It is humans being human.

What about the law? Doesn’t it protect us and our freedoms? We hear so much self-serving, self-righteous demagoguery about “the law.” How can we distinguish truth from propaganda? Just as when Jesus resisted the Devil’s earthly temptations when Jesus emerged from the wilderness, God can help us.

This past Sunday’s Second Reading (Galatians 3:23-29) begins with “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law…” “Imprisoned and guarded under the law.” As a lawyer, this sentence always catches my attention, especially the “imprisoned” part.

What is law; why is law? We human beings create laws to simultaneously imprison, guard, and free ourselves; always imperfectly. Every law limits our freedom, but good laws expand our freedom to engage in activities with greater efficiency and less danger. Driving, for example; here in the USA we drive on the right and stop for red lights; this allows us to travel much faster and with greater confidence. But that freedom has its limits; we can’t, for example, drive 140 mph on Newtown Road.

We change our “regular,” statutory laws (those passed by the Legislature) constantly in a never ending quest to balance our safety and freedom (legal theorists talk about efficiencies of freedom, to make everyone as free as possible while minimizing harm). Even though it appears that Congress hasn’t done anything during the past 7 years, it has, in fact, passed hundreds of laws, most are relatively mundane and routine, but when the moment was ripe (perhaps a bit overripe) they passed legislation that became law. Not all laws are good; some are for political show or temporary political advantage (e.g. Gerrymandering and “Stand Your Ground”) that will not pass the test of time.

Which laws pass the test of time? From my perspective, the ultimate law is described in the first chapter of John, summarized perfectly and succinctly as “The Word.” “The Word,” unfortunately, is beyond true knowing and understanding in human hands, so Jesus, God’s intervenor to us, offered this translation: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40). Love God, love your neighbor; I’ve long struggled with the former, but feel the latter “grounds” our higher levels of laws; those intended to protect us from “the crowd” and the transitory whims of legislators and other government officials (it was “the Crowd” that condemned Jesus). I think of these higher levels of law as Human Authority that aspires to Eternal Authority. In our country they arose and evolved from the King of England (“I, the People”, acting as God’s Agent on Earth), to the Magna Carta (“I, the King, no longer Absolute, with some rights and protections granted to the Barons”), to the US Constitution (“We, the People” hold ultimate power). The US Constitution includes 27 Amendments that protect our right to free speech, religion, assembly, and to petition our government (the First), against unreasonable searches and seizures (the Fourth), to own private property and against self-incrimination (the Fifth), trial by jury (Sixth and Seventh), abolished Slavery (Thirteen), provides equal protection under the law (Fourteen), all men can vote, despite skin color or previous service as a slave (Fifteenth), and all women can vote (Nineteenth). The last four mentioned provide ample proof that even when we pass laws intended to aspire to Eternal Authority, we often fall short of the mark (what is 3/5ths of a human being?). Our founding fathers were human, not God.

And then there’s the Second Amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We all hear a lot about “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” and many people speak as if this means their right to own a gun, any number of guns, of any kind, is absolute, even “God-given.” But the Second Amendment is one sentence, not two, and the beginning phrase “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” means something; but what is that something? And what can you say to someone who claims that the Second Amendment gives us an unfettered, Constitutional “God-given” right, to own any firearm we want?

Our secular “High Priests,” the Justices of United States Supreme Court, have addressed this question many times, including this week (when they refused to overturn a lower federal court’s decision upholding new state gun laws passed following the Newtown, CT massacre: https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2016/06/20/supreme-court-turns-away-challenge-connecticut-ban-many-semiautomatic-weapons/oLKCxiMUbOXYqTY8pJPXmL/story.html). In 2008, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that we hold a Constitutional right to own a gun to defend ourselves, but this almost certainly over-stretches the Second Amendment’s literal words (4 Justices agree). It is well established, however, that for all other gun ownership questions, Congress and our state legislators hold the power to enact strong gun laws.

We can say the following with absolute clarity and confidence:
1. According to the Supreme Court, we hold the right to own a gun to defend ourselves.
2. Congress and the States hold the right to regulate guns, even to prohibit most (but not all) gun ownership.
3. We, the People, hold the right to ask our legislators to pass new laws to regulate guns – or to replace them with someone who will pass such laws.

At some very basic level, in our country the ultimate decision rests with us, “We, the People.” We are the Sovereign, the heirs of English kings; we choose the people who decide these matters for us.

A gun advocate asked me “Where do you draw the line?” That is a very appropriate question and I must admit, I don’t know exactly where we should draw the line. Legitimate hunters and sportspeople offer solid, compelling arguments that one bullet is not enough. But is two sufficient (double barreled shotguns)? Three? A six shooter? From my perspective, we must draw the line at something far less than a high capacity AR-15.

So let’s take it up one more level, to the top: what answer is most compatible with “The Word” — with loving our neighbors as ourselves? Looking back at the history of humanity, from a practical perspective I don’t think the answer is “absolutely no guns.” Unlike Jesus when he repulsed the Devil’s temptations; too many succumb to the lure of power, especially firepower; something practical is needed to keep them in check. But we also have an obligation, moral, ethical, and as Christians, to stop violent death whenever possible; to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

We have the absolute “God given” right to ask our legislators to pass laws to protect us from these death machines; don’t be afraid to say so. From my perspective, a good start is to once again prohibit the private ownership of weapons of mass murder such as AR-15s (just as Congress did from 1994 – 2004). We can “Make It Stop” – certainly not perfectly, but we can’t let that stop us from trying.

Do laws that limit gun ownership imprison us, guard us, or make us free? How do the “efficiencies of freedom” balance 49 dead people in Orlando (and the 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, alone, that killed 475 people and wounded 1,870) against the “rights” many claim to hold to spray bullets from a high speed killing machine? If we allow our minds to go silent so we can hear “The Word,” what does God say to us? How do we balance our obligation to protect ourselves and our families with our obligation to love our neighbors as ourselves? This is not intended to be an easy question to answer.

We need to talk, not shout, but we need to Talk. And Listen. And Act. As Christians and Sovereign Americans, we need to – and can – “Make It Stop.”

Ray Lyons

Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

Weekly Word from the Fold, Jun 16, 2016

Hello Strategic Planning Process

At the annual meeting in February, church member Lorraine Summerfelt called for a Strategic Planning process to get us beyond the short term thinking that governs much of our life together at Good Shepherd. The Holy Spirit was listening to her plea and so was the Vestry. At a recent all day retreat, vestry members discerned a short list of folks who would, when blended together, work well as part of an intentional strategic planning team.

So why do we need a Strategic Planning Team? Isn’t this Vestry’s Job?

Here’s my spiritual answer (hey that’s what I get paid for) to a practical question.

  • The Holy Spirit leads us and calls us to participate individually and collectively as a church body.
  • The Vestry is part of the body that meets in-between annual meetings to do the day-to-day work of managing our resources.
  • To fully meet the opportunities that God is calling us into as a church (note the future tense, here) requires careful and intentional planning that goes beyond the day-to-day blessings of simply being church.
  • With this in mind, it’s time for Good Shepherd to find a fresh focus and prioritize how we want to respond to God’s future call to ministry and mission as a congregation and as a church in the community.

    So why now? What’s the big deal?

    Over the last decade or so, much has changed:

  • In our congregation (such as turnover of membership, changes in attendance patterns, declining membership).
  • In greater ethnic/cultural diversity in our neighborhoods.
  • The general population has less apparent interest in joining churches, less time to commit to voluntary and community groups.
  • Mission outreach both global and local, needs to be focused, responsive and “time-limited” (for busy families and individuals with, “a lot going-on.”)
  • All churches are being asked, “to do more with less” (sound familiar?). The cost of “doing church” continues to rise and our income is not keeping pace with everyday expenses.
  • It costs about $900 a day to “keep the lights on” at CGS. Capital expenses not included!
  • Accordingly, the time is right to look ahead to determine the future vision and direction of our church and figure out how best to get where God is calling us to go. Put it another way, we need to ask ourselves where, as baptized members of the body of Christ with a variety of collective and individual gifts and skills, we are heading. And to put it as clearly as possible:

    We are at A and we want to get to B. We need to figure out where B is. We need to look at what resources we need to get to B.

    To begin to this process Lorraine Summerfelt and Jon Panek have been asked to lead a team to develop a Strategic Plan over the next year. The members of the team are: Bridget Chamberas, Chuba Udokwu, Barbara Magee, Dave Hazen, Gary David, Kevin Gross and Lynn Nixon. They will work in conjunction with the Vestry and present their findings in the Fall of 2017.

    See you Sunday at 8:00 or 9:30am,

    Gareth

    Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

    Weekly Word from the Fold – Jun 9, 2016

    Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

    On Sunday we say our formal farewell to Aileen, as she prepares to depart for Christ Church, Rochdale in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. As I am sure you know by now, she will serve as Priest-in-Charge in what will be her “first call.” I am very excited for her and for Christ Church as both prepare to begin a new phase of ministry and life in Rochdale.

    I am very glad that I have had a hand in Aileen’s formation as a priest and will miss having her as a colleague and a friend. I’ve had tremendous fun with Aileen and she has a great sense of humor which is vital in parish life. I will particularly miss her smart and insightful way of seeing things and her naturally pastoral manner. I know that I am not alone in saying that she is very caring and very thoughtful. Christ Church will benefit from all of the good stuff that Aileen brings.

    It takes a congregation to raise up a curate and I am very grateful to the everyone for assisting in Aileen’s formation over these last two years of change and transition. I encourage you to drop her a note or reach out during the next few weeks as a way of saying a proper goodbye. I know she will appreciate it. Although her final Sunday at CGS will be July 3rd, we thought it best to formally acknowledge and celebrate Aileen’s time with us on June 12th as this marks the end of the church program year.

    I hope that you can make it on Sunday and stay for the Parish BBQ following the late service,

    Gareth

    Alison_s Stewardship Address 2017

    Weekly Word from the Fold – Jun 2, 2016

    Gradually (and with God’s Help) Wisdom Comes

    The graduation season is upon us. Congratulations to all our young people who are moving up and moving on and to our parents too! No doubt there is much still to do, as well as parties to organize and attend. There are so many transitions during the school years as little ones go from nursery school to kindergarten, elementary to middle school and then as teens make the leap from High School to College. I spent my formative High School years in an all boys environment, so it was tremendously exciting when I finally got to be in class with young women. I couldn’t get over how smart they were and how mature they were compared to my pimply-faced, tongue-tied self!

    My own lack of preparedness for life-changing events stands in marked contrast to what I see in the way suburban kids are raised today. I appreciate how consciously parents (Fran and I, included) prepare our kids for each new phase of their lives. I take my hat off to all parents of graduating seniors for the hard work put in to get their kids to this important stage of life.

    So here’s my take-home “plug”:

    Wouldn’t it be great if those of you who are preparing to be “empty-nesters” for the college years, could find time to pick up old hobbies and also get more involved in church life? There is a common belief that suburban churches need more young families in the mix. I maintain that we need more empty-nesters given that they are more likely to have the time and resources necessary to “give back” and sustain church life in a way that many young families simply cannot.

    In terms of the process of spiritual maturation the challenge is simple (and complex): Seeing our own God-give purpose in terms that go beyond our immediate families, and embracing concern for the flourishing and fullness of life itself. Put it another way, “Wisdom comes with age.”

    May the celebrations go well, our kids stay safe and God’s blessings abound during this graduation season.

    See you Sunday,

    Gareth