So have you been missing the blog the last couple of weeks?
It is one of those things that is hard to get back into after a long vacation. Here in Indiana, we are into the full swing of the school year. Almost finished with three weeks already! And then there is all the activities that have their kick-off nights. Meet the teacher, Scouts sign-up, Fall Baseball Games, and the start of high school football season. It seems like we are all getting back to the tried and true as the calendar starts to prepare to turn to September.
The same is happening in the church, we are celebrating our successes with the gardening programs and preparing to launch our independent classes this fall. I met with the Christian Education committee last week to plan the Fall semester and yes, settle the date for the Kids Christmas Pageant. Plans are in the works for diocesan convention in November and once we leave the “Bread of Life” discourses, it will be full steam towards Advent.
So I have to ask, what is on your calendar that is automatically there because it has been there year after year? What new items have appeared? What has disappeared? How does being a part of a faith community fit into your Fall schedule? Is it the thing that remains constant week after week? Or is it the item that is able to be fit in, when all the other hours have been scheduled?
This fall, I invite you to come and see St. Peter’s. We are on an exciting journey together and we are all stronger as a community of faith when we give one hour a week for the One who gave His life for us.
This week, my family and I have been vacationing in Provincetown, MA – the outermost place on Cape Cod. The weather has been beautiful, we have been whale watching, climbed to the top of the Pilgrim Monument and spent most afternoons at the beach. All of that sounds great, sounds like typical vacation stuff on the surface. Until you hear the details.
I left my 6 acre homestead on a country road, with my own pool, own bed, own television and drove one thousand miles to a town that in the dead of winter is maybe 3,000 residents strong, but in summer season, swells to nearly 75,000 people. I know. I know. I came here to find…rest?
We came to a place where Commercial Street is busy until the late hours of the night and where the barkers are out trying to get you into this store or that restaurant. A place where the bump-bump-bump of the music at the Boatslip for afternoon tea-dance is almost unavoidable. We came to a place that I know I do not fit in. A place that I can get easily anxious in, being the introvert that I am. Still, this is the place that I choose to come each and every year for rest and relaxation.
Our gospel reading this past Sunday, reminds us of our need to rest, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “Come to me all whose burden is heavy, and I will give you rest.” So there must be something to this rest thing.
Truth be told, we all need to rest. We need to take time to get away from it all and rest. Here at the outermost point of the Cape, where the land and the sea meet, I encounter the Sacred and can rest. In the midst of all the vacationing families and townies and people who have homes here on the weekend, I can rest and be just another person on this fragile earth, our island home.
Sure my mind wanders like it always does….But I have a parish that I am trying to grow and I have a full-time job where it is almost budgeting season, and I have a family, an eight year old that starts fourth grade next week, then there is termite damage to some of the siding of my house, and I have a Waycross Board meeting next week, and……
But for one week, I can experience the majesty and wonder of a place in the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore that few people get to experience. I get to walk the same shoreline that the Pilgrims walked as they set out to forge a new way of living (no, they did not land in Plymouth first). I get to sit by the ocean and its vast ecosystem and give thanks and most importantly I get to rest.
And I think, our churches should more of that. A place to come and rest and be fed physically and spiritually. To be the alternative to the denominations that tell you that you are less than and not worthy of the love of God. To hear that day after day, week after week has to be exhausting on the soul and on the mind and ultimately the body. It is hard work to constantly be working on keeping the façade going and not revealing too much about yourself, trying to say the right things. To constantly be worrying about keeping us with the Joneses, who are trying to keep up with the Smiths, who are never going to be able to keep with the Thomases. I know I have dealt with that. But then I walked into St. James, New Castle on 1 Advent 2003 and suddenly I felt that I could rest in that pew. I walked into a church and there above the altar was a carved wooden figure of Jesus with outstretched arms. It was if He was saying, “Come. Rest a while.” I have never left the Episcopal Church since that day.
I don’t know if we always get that right at the parish I serve. But I know we try. We try to welcome the neighbor to share a meal with us, to help care for the land that has been entrusted to us, to help reverse the decline of the honeybee through our instrumented apiary. Over my four years there, we have had many visitors come through our doors and some have rested with us weekly for a short time, some have stayed longer. But I am glad we are a place that people can rest with us. I also hope that we never become a place that is too busy to notice others, unable to talk to them, or to rest with them.
The state of mainline denominations is in decline. Even our tradition, the Episcopal Church, has seen its fair share of membership losses over the last twenty years. I am constantly bombarded by flyers and emails that tell me the five or seven things that I need to do right now to attract certain groups of people into my church. I admit that I read those from time to time, but I think at St. Peter's we are trying something different.
I believe that before people can get their spiritual lives in order, they often feel they must get their other insecurities dealt with. Whether it is job insecurity, food insecurity, housing insecurity, those are often the things I hear most pressing on people's minds. At St. Peter's, we cannot pretend that by simply attending church here all of those things will be solved or that we can solve them on our own. However, we do have connections to others in our community that we can partner with and work with together to help our sister or brother in their journey.
I often talk about how we can address different dimensions of wellness. I can talk your ear off on that, but that is another topic for another day. Obviously, as a church, we can (hopefully) address the spiritual dimension of wellness, when church is inclusive, inviting, and working together to build up rather than separate people. With our community gardens, we are hoping to address the physical dimension of wellness by providing healthy, locally grown food and honey to those in need. Our Master Plan for our property further expands on this through volleyball/badminton courts and a walking trail. Our Family Night and Community Events fill the social dimension of wellness. Recently, I was approached on how we could address another dimension of wellness - emotional.
Starting August 1st, St. Peter's will be a place that will host a weekly Emotions Anonymous meeting on Wednesday nights at 6pm. The purpose of the group, according to its website, is to be a fellowship of men and women who come together to work through the emotional difficulties we all face in our lives. The program is modeled after the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions that are commonly associated with AA.
I have to say that I am excited about St. Peter's being a place where this type of community will be formed. It is a lay led initiative and I want to see this group succeed. The leaders and I have met several times and talked about a launch strategy to ensure success. There are all times in our life where we may feel overwhelmed, lost, and unable to deal with a life event that has happened. Perhaps we have been hurt by the Church and told that we are less than and undeserving of inclusion or leadership because of our gender, nation of origin, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. This group will help provide a safe space to process those feelings out so that they no longer hold power over us. Through listening to others, their concerns, their setbacks and successes individuals can become stronger in the emotional dimension of wellness. Emotions Anonymous however is not a therapy group that endorses or opposes any medications and does not give medical advice or counsel.
It is just another way that we at St. Peter's are trying to connect to our neighbor, to walk with them, and share the same frustrations we all face. We are working to address the many dimensions of wellness and the Emotions Anonymous group is another way that I believe we are living out our mission. We are showing an alternative view of being the church - one that is welcoming, accepting, and caring to all people and a church that truly means it when we say "We See God In You."
At St. Peter's, we are blessed with eight acres of land and on part of the land, we have planted our Community Share Gardens. We grow corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and just about anything. We have strawberry plants and blueberry bushes. Hundreds of yards along the creek bank are filled with blackberry bushes. Our bees are busy making comb and honey in their corner of the property. Just last week we took nearly 100 pounds of fresh produce to the bi-monthly food pantry at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Today a car pulled up and sat in our parking lot. That part isn't unusual, being on the far edge of town, people will pull in our lot to turn around, make a phone call, and a few other things. Today, I noticed a couple of people wandering around the gardens and asked our Harvest House coordinators if they new of anyone coming to work the gardens. So, we ventured out and met an older man and his wife. They had gone to the food pantry at St. Joe's last week and had one of the brochures detailing the crops and expected harvest times. They were looking to see what was available. Sandy, Valerie, and I talked with this as we took them over to the 800 feet of bean fields we have and starting picking beans. The older man has some hearing difficulty and his speech isn't the best due to a stroke he suffered a few years ago. He had been a welder and machinist most of his life and used to have a huge garden at home that provided all the necessities during the year. His older years have exacerbated his scoliosis and his wife has trouble standing for very long.
We picked beans for about 10 minutes and found some cucumbers and tomatoes that the kids from our Lebanon Boys and Girls Club program had picked earlier in the day and gave them enough vegetables for a couple good meals with them. The wife talked about her favorite bean recipe with ham and onions and spices. It sounded delicious and the husband said she is the best cook. We told them there were plenty of beans left and to come back Thursday if they needed more or we would have some at the food pantry in a couple weeks.
As I was walking back with them to their car, the man said something strange to me. He said " Our church is very small only about 25." I replied, that ours was a bit larger. He then said, " I should have told you this earlier, Pastor, we're Pentecostal" I told him it didn't matter. We have been entrusted with these eight acres, to care for it, to share its bounty with others, with our neighbors. I told them they were always welcome here at St. Peter's.
As I have reflected, I wonder and should have asked if other places have turned them away because of their religion, their appearance, or for some other reason. I know our partners at St. Joe's would never do such a thing. But I wonder what kind of world we live in that a person feels they need to sheepishly admit their faith tradition, as if I would take our beans back if they were of the "wrong" one? We are all children of God, we are all hungry for physical nourishment and for nourishment found in the community of a garden.
As we launch our new website in July 2018, I am closing out my fourth year serving as the priest at St. Peter's in Lebanon, IN. I often think about that first night that I interviewed with the Bishop's Committee. This place was a dot on the map of the diocese. They had been faithfully well-served by a long-time supply priest who had guided them and walked with them until the day they would call a priest of their own.
The last four years have been about building towards the point where we are now. We launched our Harvest House ministry this summer, made possible through a grant from the Center for Congregations. We have gardens that are full and regularly provide food to our local food pantries. We have bees that help us understand their role (and ours) in Creation. A majority of our focus is no longer on Sunday mornings at 10am but on the other days of the week and the activities that go on here. It is definitely an exciting time in our parish's history.
Later this month, the Bishop's Committee will work in an all-day Planning session as we seek to emulate the Diocesan call for "The Work Set Forth". We will discern, pray and listen to where God is calling the church in Lebanon. We believe that "Care of Creation" plays a pivotal role in the revitalization of this parish. With this in mind, we have launched our new website.
At St. Peter's you will find a church grounded in the Book of Common Prayer and liturgy of the Episcopal Church. You will also find a church that is deeply connected with the earth to which we have been entrusted. We can not claim to be a church of the Resurrection if we do not stop and notice the resurrection that is already occurring around us in our community and in the world in which we live through the growth of crops, the presence of bees, and the water which flows in our streams.