October in Northern Virginia is an explosion of color: the trees are red, gold, orange, yellow, with a cerulean blue sky above. Our schedules are also more active with business trips, meetings, school functions, and sports of all sorts and varieties at the forefront of almost everyone’s life. It is no wonder that amid all of this activity and transition from one season to the next, life can feel more vibrant and more intense than at other times of the year. In fact, it may be especially surprising that while life seems to be intensifying on one level, with each falling leaf, with each completed sports event, with each passing day we move closer to a season of dormancy and stillness. This weekend we will once more “Fall Back” as our clocks return to what some would call normal time. For some of us this is a welcome event, for others the shortened days, and the gentle yet persistent journey toward winter is more of a challenge. Where, in the natural seasons of life, do we find meaning or peace?
God has chosen to create with seasons; seasons in nature and seasons within our human experience. We may be familiar with this passage from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible:
For everything there is a season, and a
time for every matter under heaven:
² a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
what is planted;
³ a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build
⁴ a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
⁵ a time to throw away stones, and a time
to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain
⁶ a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
⁷ a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
⁸ a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What may be less familiar is a passage a few verses later:
God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.
¹⁵ That which is, already has been; that which is to
be, already is; and God seeks out what has
There is an inherent collapse of time in this passage; an understanding that all that was, is, or will be…already is in God. No doubt such an understanding might be troubling as a feeling of inevitability creeps in! However, in saying “whatever is to be, already is…” there is also a hopefulness, an encouragement that we need not worry or fret that things will turn out as planned. As St. Julian would tell us, in God “all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Within each season of life, within each moment, we have an assurance that God, the God of eternal love, has already enfolded us in love, and our baptismal vows affirm, “We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
Are we afraid of loss? Of failure? Of change or of insecurity? Whatever we may believe about God, all of creation surrounds us, inviting us into a bigger celebration of what life can mean. Humans, whose days are measured in sunrises and sunsets, tend to measure life in numbers: the length of our days, the amount of our paycheck, the number of times we feel successful. And yet our lives are happening within a much wider, more vibrant relationship to the whole of God’s divine work, we are but one thread in God’s divine tapestry. So regardless of the numbers or our human perspective, there is a peace in knowing that all, the cumulative of all existence, is held within God’s eternal love and grace. Each sunrise, each moonrise, each light, each dark, our days are numbered as moments of all that was, all that is, and all that will be in God’s divine dance of eternal love…and so we dance with joy!
The fall is traditionally, and agriculturally, a time of harvest, and in our faith tradition images of harvest are often associated with the mission of the church. When we think of ministry as the planting of seeds, the tending of spiritual growth and eventually of harvest, in what ways do we see God already at work in the community of St. Peter’s in the Woods? Are there seeds that need planting? Are there places where we are called to focus our ministry, ‘pruning’ out distractions that are keeping us from deeper meaning and spiritual growth? And are there fields ripe for harvest? Over the next month I will be blogging each week a reflection on one of our ministries as related to this understanding of God’s work as sowing, tending, and gathering God’s harvest.
This weekend’s Fall Festival is clearly a time of harvest; many people have devoted their days, evenings, and weekends to plant seeds and tend the growth of this program. Their preparation has been an act of service, of stewardship, as they have given generously of their time, talent, and treasure. There are also those who have not been called to participate in the planning but who will attend the festival and offer their own stewardship of time and talent in supporting this ministry. They will arrive willing to support, to join in an ongoing work. And then what of those in our community who will attend, the ones without any connection to our parish whose presence at the festival is an act of joining in, of becoming part of our parish mission and outreach? It would be easy to overlook those who attend from our wider community as merely recipients without an understanding that they are also active participants. In Northern Virginia there are a myriad of possible activities on a Saturday. Those who attend have responded to our invitation, they have chosen to make our festival a priority. It will be their own stewardship, their own treasure, whether or not they realize it that will nurture our parish ministry of mission and outreach. When we use these funds to serve others, they will have played a vital part. And what of those in our community who have not been able to support this ministry? I, myself, will be absent on Saturday as I am in South Carolina to celebrate the marriage of Kelley Fennessey and Gavin McDuff. Each year I have found the Fall Festival to be a joyous occasion for meeting new people, and enjoying the fellowship of our welcoming and vibrant community. It is at times like this that I am most aware of God’s blessings, for we share in ministry together regardless of geography or time. You and I are part of God’s Kingdom, part of an expansive act of divine love and reconciliation. When we are apart we pray for one another, supporting one another through the power of God’s Holy and life-giving Spirit. So, what part will you play in the harvest that is the Fall Festival? In all of our ministries as a parish? This weekend your attendance at the Fall Festival, even if for a short time, would be a blessing to you as well as to others. And for those who will attend, I pray you will greet all people, known and unknown, in the name of Christ, knowing that those of us who cannot attend will be holding you in prayer, inviting God’s Holy Spirit to create in you a good work. In keeping with this week’s lectionary, let us not forget that we are created by God, called by God, and empowered by God to serve others. May we be faithful in our call, sharing the Good news of Christ’s redeeming love that heals and renews our broken and hurting world.
Godspeed, Rev.. DeDe+
Is a busy schedule the sign of purpose or a lack of priority? Each week I hear people talking about their busy schedules in a variety of ways. Some lament days when the pace of life seemed easier, others speak of a packed calendar with a sense of purpose and even pride. While we may lament a packed scheduled, we also attribute a busy life with personal value, a life well-lived, or some other positive, external attribution. The Book of Common Prayer, on page 836, contains a Prayer for Thanksgiving that poignantly addresses the human drive for activity:
Thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
Each of us have been blessed by God with talents, abilities, and desires God intends to be a blessing, to ourselves and to others. Jesus tells us not to put our ‘light under a bushel’ but to bring the light of God’s grace within us to lighten a dark and forbidding world. And this light, as the saying goes, “It is not in some of us, it is in all of us.” So how do we balance shining our light and using our gifts with God’s command to seek respite in the Sabbath? We profess to believe that God has created us and yet when it comes to how we live, it is often our focus on God that takes last place. It is so easy to immerse ourselves in work, kid’s activities, and assorted other busy pursuits as a way of feeling alive, valuable, and fulfilled. We work overtime, buy the new toys, and spend our days moving from here to there and back again.
Is it working? Do we feel a deep sense of fulfillment and peace? Or does our hectic schedule hang like a weight around our necks? For those of us who love Jesus, this never ending cycle of desire and seeking can be healed and redeemed. We may still live busy lives, but the internal feelings of inadequacy, searching without finding, and the need to feel valued or affirmed by external means is no longer so intense. Knowing that we are created in God’s image means knowing that we have a foundational relationship with the source of all life. Our lives are best lived in concert with our source, living the dominical commands (commands of Jesus) by loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves, a fragrant offering of hope, peace, and never-failing love for ourselves and for all those we encounter.
As Henri Nouwen says, our value is realized by being God’s beloved child and is a value untainted by our fears, external fulfillment, or our failings. The above prayer from the Book of Common Prayer continues by saying,
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
A busy schedule does not make our life either valuable or good; the goodness of our lives comes from the source of our be-ing; opening our hearts to divine love as God’s beloved children. Regardless how we feel about the balance of our lives, it is not too late. Today is an opportunity to prioritize our schedule, to open our hearts to love, to service, and to the life-giving joy that comes from be-ing a be-loved Child of God. What delights your soul? What reminds you most of God’s love for you? When was the last time you felt ‘satisfied,’ ‘delighted,’ or ‘acknowledged your dependence on God alone?” This is a day that God has made…let us rejoice and delight in the saving love of our creator!
Saint Peter’s in the Woods is one part of a very large, multi-faceted church, The Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) that is also an intrinsic part of the Anglican Communion around the world. As part of TEC we share “Five Marks of Mission,” developed by The Anglican Consultative Council between 1984 and 1990. This understanding of mission, rooted in the Baptismal Covenant, concerns how we live out our faith in the world. As the TEC website states, you can view the TEC website here, these marks “have won wide acceptance among Anglicans, and have given parishes and dioceses around the world a practical and memorable “checklist” for mission activities.”
The Five Marks are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
In what ways are we living out these marks of mission within the parish of St. Peter’s in the Woods? Or to put it another way, to what extent does our life as a parish church realize these marks? It is tempting to see this list as a task or a goal, but SPW is just one part of the greater church so our part in living out this ‘practical and memorable checklist,’ is to be faithful to God’s specific call for our church. During the formative years of St. Peter’s in the Woods there was a heart-felt desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ by building up a worshipping community in Fairfax Station, the western portion of Burke, parts of Centreville, and south towards Lorton. Today SPW is comprised of people who drive from these areas as well as surrounding areas to take part in the life of our church. There was also a desire to serve Christ through the support of mission and outreach. We have begun to post a section in our weekly enews called, “Did You Know” in which we highlight different aspects of our faith community. Over the next few weeks we will be posting some of the highlights from our mission and outreach ministry during 2014, as we prepare for the first Serving with the Saints to be held in the summer, and as our mission team prepares for the parish mission trip in August.
Currently we are also preparing for a very active year in 2014-2015. Each program, each service, each aspect of the faith and community we share at SPW an integral part of the wider mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church.
It is a normal part of our human existence to feel more comfortable and emotionally connected with some people, and less so with others. Perhaps this is a human pattern (“birds of a feather flock together”), or merely a factor of time and a limited ‘band width’ to maintain more than a few close friendships at a time. Whatever perspective we may have about why this is true, within a group of people there will be those with whom we feel a closer connection than others. Within a church this human reality can have a significant impact on our shared ministry; if our friends are excited about the upcoming picnic, we are more likely to participate. Again, this is a normal part of being human and a very positive aspect of being active in a church. It is a wonderful blessing to discover friends who share similar beliefs and with whom we have an ability to form lasting friendships. It is also true that opening our hearts to people with different experiences, and perhaps different perspectives may deepen our understanding of God’s mercy in our lives. My hope is that each member of St. Peter’s in the Woods will discover other parishioners with whom they can be in meaningful relationships, inside and outside of our scheduled church events/programs.
In terms of our relationships with one another, it is important to recognize the difference between a clique and a close-knit group. A close-knit group within the church will feel vibrant and life-giving to the members of the group as well as to the larger church. Hopefully we have all experienced what it is like to walk up to a group at coffee hour, engaged in a meaningful conversation, who widen their circle and invite us to join in the fun. Unfortunately, we may also have experienced the awkwardness of walking up to a group who make no attempt to welcome us or include us in a conversation…or worse, who openly make plans for lunch without extending an invitation or an explanation of the exclusivity.
At St. Peter’s in the Woods we are part of a faith community; a group of people who worship God together and seek to serve God together. It is important that we form friendships with one another that add meaning and value to our lives; loving our neighbor is at the heart of everything we do! It is equally important that we stop from time to time and take note of our relationships within this community. Are we open to making new friends, developing meaningful relationships with more than a prescribed group of people? Do we feel that we have enough friends so someone else should talk to ‘them?’ People often cite time constraints or platitudes (“you just can’t be friends with everyone”) as justification for the existence of cliques. However, our resistance to opening up our groups or forming new friends may be a fearful response (I’ve been hurt before and I feel safe with this group), or have to do with a feeling of power (I’ve been here a long time, the newer people need to do the welcoming now), or some other feeling that is not born out of our shared commitment to live for Christ.
When we stop to think that the Holy Spirit is alive in our midst, is drawing people to join us in worship, is guiding us to meaningful ways of living out our faith, each person who attends at St. Peter’s in the Woods is part of the fabric of this work. By remaining isolated, or even imprisoned, in our cliques we will miss out on moments of delight and of challenge in which we encounter the reality of God in our midst.