Heavenly Father, you called your servant Bede, while still a child, to devote his life to your service in the disciplines of religion and scholarship; Grant that as he labored in the Spirit to bring riches of your truth to his generation, so we, in our various vocations, may strive to make you known in all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Collect for St. Bede, Holy Women, Holy Men, May 25th]
A Homily for St. Bede’s Day, May 25, 2016
at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Anne, Arlington, MA
“I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.”
I was raised by an historian father – my dad taught British history at Stanford – who told entrancing stories about times gone by. He bred in me a deep respect for the past, and made me feel strongly its importance for informing the present, since we humans do tend lamentably to repeat our mistakes, and it’s best to know about them before we stumble over them again! Indeed, he had such an impact on me that I followed in my dad’s footsteps - partway anyway - and got my BA in British history myself. So it is a pleasure to be invited to meditate today on the life and contribution of “the Father of English History,” the Venerable Bede.
Then, too, I was ordained a deacon from St. Bede’s in Menlo Park CA, the church where, some eleven years before, I had been baptized after four years of singing in their church choir. Being a chorister himself, Bede would thoroughly appreciate the fact that I was evangelized by Anglican church music – “Stanford in C” and Anglican chant psalms and Benjamin Britten and Herbert Howells anthems!
And it’s a pleasure to be your preacher today also because though I’ve never been to Jarrow, the site of Bede’s monastery, I’ve always had a deep fondness for County Durham, ever since my parents took me to the immense Norman Romanesque cathedral on the promontory over the River Wear back when I was 13 (and LONG before that baptism at St. Bede’s, or that ordination to the transitional diaconate). Being a child raised in a secular humanist family, I had absolutely no language for spiritual experience. I only knew that the instant I walked into that magisterial holy space, I wished strongly to put my arms around the immense columns of the towering barrel vaults – a physical impossibility but one that compelled me deeply, wordlessly. Once I got to know Jesus Christ and to feel the power of the Holy Spirit, I understood at last that back in that cathedral, I was having perhaps my first palpable encounter with the Divine. I was falling in love with the immensity of God.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that as I’ve been meditating on Bede in this last week, it hasn’t been his Ecclesiastical History of England that has captured my imagination. Rather, it is his long faithfulness to the quiet discipline of monasticism, up there in that cold country, at a time when it took a long time just to get to York, and when Bede most likely never did get even as far as London, let alone Rome, the navel of the spiritual universe. Within the walls of his monastery, with only a quill pen and vellum to enable his penetrating understanding, Bede wrote some 60 books over his lifetime, interrupting his concentration – as you sisters know better than I! – at regular intervals throughout every day to sing and pray and praise God and “recollect himself” and put himself in “right relation” to God’s creative power. I picture him also out in the northern sunshine in the herb garden, surrounded by the kind of birdsong you hear in your garden right here in Arlington, balancing that choral chant of his with the chant of songsparrows and thrushes, balancing “ora” with “labora,” getting those scribal hands into the dirt so that he wouldn’t forget the simple genesis of God’s goodness in his eagerness to penetrate the subtleties of historical fact and theological analogy.
How rare it is, today, in this day of fast-paced social media, of broad access to worlds apart from our own world and to information crashing at us like Niagara Falls, to create for one’s scholarship the kind of deliberative, iterative spaciousness of prayer and music and quietude in which Bede could pursue his God-given gifts of perspicacity and eloquence. What depths could one plumb if one were not being pulled in a thousand different directions every waking moment – and even some of the moments one should have been turning off the computer and sleeping!
I imagine each of you, living the monastic life as you do – as you have for a long while now – could tell me not to get too sentimental about the quiet of the monastic life. No doubt the computer – and the television – exercise their powerful lures upon you as well. No doubt the vicissitudes of human relationship demand your attention and call upon your spiritual resources, whether within your immediate community or in the wider world. But today I invite you to turn to the Venerable Bede, with his whole long productive life marked out within the Jarrow walls and the rhythm of worship and prayer and chant, close to the earth and the seasonal unfolding, and let him invite you to open yourselves into the space those disciplines provide: a space for wisdom, historical and emotional; connected to the Spirit of Wisdom, “a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.” It’s a Spirit we desperately need, we driven 21st century Americans. It’s a Spirit that can make God known in all the world. AMEN.
Vestry Minutes: April 19, 2016
Approved May 17, 2016
Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini
Members Present: Sylvia Weston, , Lucas Sanders, Mardi Moran, Jules Bertaut, Tom Beecher, Andrew Rohm, Thomas Wohlers, Tom Tufts, Marian King, Olivia Hamilton
Members Absent: Nancy McArdle, Sarah Forrester, Matthew Abbate
Guests: Rev Eric Litman, Jeff Zinsmeyer
● Dinner was provided by Olivia, Mardi, and Andrew
● Spiritual Practice was led by Olivia who invited us into a Spirit of Creativity. She read from John’s Gospel 13: 31-35 - then a poem on Kindness and Self Compassion.
● Thomas W. moved that we enter Executive Session for a redevelopment update by Jeff Zinsmeyer. Jules seconded. Approved unanimously.
● Sylvia moved to exit Executive Session. Mardi seconded. Approved unanimously.
● Tom B, reviewed last month’s meeting where members signed up to be liaisons to one or more of the Ministry Areas and to work with the leaders of those ministries. Expectation is, instead of interacting with Ministries, and reports come in monthly, we will focus the interactions around these Leadership Events. There will be Shared Leadership meetings and possibly trainings. Job number one is Currency of Relationship. Number 2 is to do a Health Check, try to understand what is going on in that Ministry area.
● Olivia, Jules and Tom B. are Shared Ministry Leaders. Need our help in recruitment for the meeting. Will email details. The goal is to have all these meetings by June vestry meeting.
● Some concerns: Jules commented that Sunday school needs more guidance and time from Eric.
● Outreach - Tom T and Mardi are Liaisons. Food Ministry falls under their area. Time for consideration of outside support for Food Pantry. Holly will send out notice to the Board about a possible May 14th meeting. Holly is in conversation with Isaac who has agreed to come to that meeting. It can be an open meeting. The goal: talk about the experience of being on the board and look at what the LDI process has to offer us and what it would entail. Might ask board members to help encourage others connected to the Food Ministry to come. Marian recommends we invite the man from Malden food ministry to come.
Black Lives Matter Banner
● Presentation and discussion about exactly where to hang the banner. We have referred that question to the building restoration committee.
● Sunday School teachers will work with the church school children to have a sign that will go along with the banner.
● Holly will send an Article to the Porter Square Association’s Economist
Minutes of February and special March Meetings
- Thomas W. moved that we approve the March meeting minutes. Jules seconded. Approved unanimously.
- Decided to vote on the March Executive Session minutes at the next meeting.
- Lucas reported, although we are not quite up to where we would have hoped to be in terms of parish giving, there was a surge in March that is bringing us close. However we are still (in terms of pledges) about $10,000 shy of what we budgeted this year.
- We need to do audits for 2014 and 2015 financials. We are engaging the outside Auditor we used in 2015. We are scheduling that for July.
- Balance Sheet: General fund checking account has a large balance right now. Some of that is the insurance money for interior repairs.
- Lucas clarified various accounts: Kitchen fund has been repurposed as Eric’s Discretionary fund; Food Pantry balance trending upwards over the past few years pretty steadily. We merged Food Pantry into the church’s financials; Altar Guild - largely small passbook checking accounts - or typically memorial accounts. We use them for large Altar Guild expenses.
- Tom moved to approve Financial report. Seconded by Jules. Motion passed unanimously.
- Holly reports that someone wants to make a financial contribution of $5,000 or $10,000. Discussed using it for interior restoration--the monies can go into the General Operating Fund. Eric says we have an offer to buy Godly Play equipment lessons from Cheryl Minor in Belmont.
- Jules moved that the funds be allocated to the interior restoration of the church; seconded by Olivia. Motion passed unanimously.
- We reviewed the calendar items.
- Visions 2-day training for up to 12 members in the congregation - hopefully in June or September.
Parish Activities March – April
- Olivia’s Discernment Committee up and running well. Expect to consider supporting her postulancy application at our June meeting.
- Holy Week and Easter were awesome. Thank you, St. James’s family, for investing yourselves in making these powerful liturgies surge with the Spirit. What more need I say?
- An assortment of pastoral responsibilities, including some “outside” the parish; elder care and pending funerals, including Tony Marsh’s this Saturday.
- Looking forward to St. James’s Discovering God’s Economy group’s dinner next weekend w Jean Horstman of Interise, which counsels entrepreneurs of color and helps access funds for business expansion, and to connecting with the local folks at Accion Loans and others who will help us discern a good connection for our experiment in “growing the local economy” by investing in small business in economically challenged communities.
- Great preaching line-up for Easter season: Nicholas, Kenneth Chomba, Isaac, Bob Massie, and after I preach Pentecost, Mary Beth.
- The Worship Commission Pentecost sub-team will meet on April 27th to plan the Feast of Pentecost and the summer half of the long season after Pentecost. The Rev. Angel Marrero will preside at Eucharist on Sunday June 19, while Eric and Pat and I are away at the Parish Retreat.
- Great to have the opportunity to hear from Kenneth Chomba, director of Tatua Kenya, the Missions Grant and Dollar-A-Day-for-Lent recipients, as our preacher for the 5th Sunday in Lent. Thanks to Nancy and Mary Beth for lining it up.
- Anti-Oppression Team active in pursuing the Black Lives Matter banner. We continue to discuss plans for our training with VISIONS, using the prospectus we received from VISIONS at the end of March, and are on the point of beginning active recruitment of parish leaders to become trainers. The planning team of St. James’s A-O Team members, St. Stephen’s Lynn’s Beloved Community team members and the Mission Institute facilitators met over dinner at my house April 10th to plan for St. Stephens’ visit to St. James’s for conversation and a “dinner Eucharist.” We’re calling this event “A Balm in Gilead: Diverse Congregations Building Beloved Community Together,” we are offering a living epistle every Sunday until the event takes place on Pentecost Sunday, 4 – 8 PM, in order to invite the whole congregation of St. James’s to participate. Conversation at the event will be facilitated by Mission Institute Director Diane D’Souza, who is white, and her African-American co-facilitator Zena Link. Elaine Agard and the Hospitality Committee will provide the dinner and Pat the music.
- I’m moving toward the formation of a Food Ministry Discernment Team to work w Leadership Development Institute (LDI). Isaac will resource the meeting of the Food Pantry Board on May 14th, and we will invite ALL who volunteer in the Pantry to be part of that meeting, in prep for signing on for LDI coaching of this revitalization in the fall.
- GBIO recruitment ahead for a May action. Sylvia is in charge.
- Tom Tufts and his planning team continue to work on sponsoring a performance of "And Still We Rise," a participatory dramatic presentation by people who are post-incarceration or who have family members incarcerated, on April 24th.
- Eric will report on continuing progress toward the Parish Retreat and the good bonding happening with Nursery Coordinator, Julia Reed-Betts.
- My service on this year’s Clergy Conference Planning Committee wending its way toward conclusion with the Conference itself on May 2-4 (with the Rev. Dr. Andrew MacGowan, presenter!).
- Mission Advisory Team met last week (quarterly meeting).
- Eric and I will be at Clergy Conference Monday-Wednesday the first week of May.
- Have been continuing my labors on our parents’ estate in VT. Lots still to do.
- Vacation plans: Looks like I may take the week after my late-October CREDO professional retreat to spend time with my daughter in New Orleans. So my summer vacation will be only three weeks, probably in August. Eric and I have yet to work out our schedules so we can cover for each other.
- Continued maintenance work on the Boiler.
- Hong has reported problem with WiFi and also with the Alarm and telephone. Repair work has been going on.
- Had Michael Cave of Artech Church Interiors visit the church to assess work to be done and to submit an estimate.
Assistant Rector’s Report
- Eric reported on a dinner at Anne Read’s, preparing to plan the Parish Retreat.
- Meeting with Confirmation students - Kids for Peace - youth 12 to 16 year olds at Brandeis. Build bridges across faiths. Meet once a month, then go the Camp together for some weeks in the summer on the Cape. Dynamic organization. Will look into it for next summer.
- Julia - Nursery coordinator, will not be here for the summer, but will come back in the Fall. So looking for nursery person in the summer months.
- Confirmation Class is continuing; Katie Rimer is running this class in her house. Eric’s been helping out with that.
- Scouts continue to go well.
Evaluation, Norm check in
- Discussed “How are we listening. How are we stepping up - and stepping back?”
- Tom mentioned that we did a good job on managing time. We are right on schedule.
Recorded by Sylvia Weston
Edited and submitted by Nancy McArdle
Pentecost Year C 5-15-16
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Acts 2:1-21; Ps. 104:25-35,37; Romans 8:14-17 (Living Epistle, Pat Michaels); John 14:8-17, 25-27
All of us who are led by your Spirit, O God, are children of God. You did not give us a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. You gave us a spirit of adoption. Every one of us, when we cry ‘Abba, Papa!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are your children, and if your children, then your heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Alleluia! Amen. [Romans 8:14-17]
I’ve always loved that this Feast of the Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter, this high feast of the church year – the feast that is the very culmination of Easter Season, the final fruition of Christ’s self-offering death and resurrection, when we become not just witnesses to the resurrection but are now imbued with the very Spirit of God herself, the pneuma, the ruach, the Breath of God’s shalom, God’s wholeness and creativity breathed into each and every one us, entering every corpuscle of our bodies like oxygen, animating us and making our cognition, our feeling, our motion and action, our very lives possible – I love that this feast opens with the reading of Acts 2. I love that we open our celebration of Pentecost by hearing the wondrous babble of so many sounds – this morning, Latin and Greek, Chinese and German and French – telling us the wonderful story of the disciples being set afire. And that we begin by learning again that the disciples are not just set afire with the Spirit but with LANGUAGE, EACH OTHER’S LANGUAGE, EVERY LANGUAGE KNOWN, suddenly able to communicate across every distinction, every difference, connecting across everything that keeps us separate from one another. I love that the story does NOT say, “suddenly everyone spoke THE SAME LANGUAGE” but that suddenly they all spoke EVERY LANGUAGE. That God’s extraordinary gift of variety – a plethora of variety we are far from cataloguing even now these many millennia into human history, into natural history – is honored in this story and held up as the very sign of God’s presence abiding WITH us, and indeed IN us, as the Gospel of John says.
So the Feast of the Giving of the Holy Spirit – which we also call the Feast of the Birthday of the Church, because with the gift of the Holy Spirit we, the assembly who gather in Christ’s name, become ministers, stewards of God’s love in the world, a royal priesthood of all believers – this great Feast of the Spirit’s presence in us is also the Feast of Full Inclusion! Every one of God’s creatures is adopted, as my opening prayer from Paul’s Letter to the Romans says, adopted into the family of God. Every one of God’s creatures, even the most unlikely ones, becomes full of potential, full of imagination and heart, capable of hearing new things and seeing new things, or hearing and seeing old things afresh and more clearly than ever before. Every one of us is capable of IN-spiration – which literally means “breathing in,” breathing the Breath of God, which is what both the Greek and the Hebrew words for “Spirit” mean – ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. Breathing the Spirit Breath, we are capable of all the creativity and persuasive energy, commitment and desire that the word “inspiration” implies. And with this breath of the Holy Spirit in us, we are capable of understanding one another across all linguistic, cultural and experiential barriers. Nothing can separate us from the love of God and each other, in the power of the Spirit. We are many. And we are One, participating in the One Divine Life.
Although we are not baptizing anyone here at St. James’s this morning, the Feast of Pentecost is a baptismal feast, second only to Easter in historic importance as a time appropriate for baptisms. And in the anointing of baptism, we are SEALED by the Holy Spirit, the liturgy says, and MARKED AS CHRIST’S OWN, FOREVER. That’s the covenant part of this gift of the Holy Spirit: God’s covenant of absolute fidelity. We can only try to equal that fidelity as best we can in our peculiar freedom to collaborate with God’s loving intention and creativity or resist it. And the strange and endlessly confounding thing about being “sealed in the Holy Spirit” is, the Holy Spirit “bloweth where it listeth,” as the wonderful King James Version says, not where we expect it or direct it. It’s always moving out from under us, inviting us outward and onward, inviting us to affiliate anew with new and different people, with new and different information and knowledge, with new and different ways of being and creating in the world. “Sealed,” yes. But not confined. Set free. Free to heal from past traumas. Free to “try on” new ways of seeing the world.
I was blessed this week to read a story in the New York Times in a new series of graphic articles – articles expressed in art as well as words – that introduce us to people who somehow ended up incarcerated on Death Row without firing a bullet. This story was about Kenneth Reams. Born in an Arkansan city called “Pine Bluffs,” second only to Detroit in crime rankings in 2012, Reams had the classic story of African-American poverty – a mother with mental health challenges; left home at 13; attended school by day and dealt drugs by night, got caught at 18 trying to rob an ATM with a friend, a friend who somehow ended up shooting a driver. And when the friend pled guilty in return for life in prison and Reams pled “not guilty,” the friend got life and Reams got the death penalty. Not a promising scenario. But in isolation in prison, Reams “started pushing back the walls of his cell. He read, painted and wrote poetry. He has a fiancée in France, Isabelle. With her help he founded a registered nonprofit, “Who Decides,” to educate people about capital punishment. Their first project, an art exhibition. A friend told Reams, ‘What show are you talking about? Do you understand you’re in a cell?’ Two years later, she was invited to the Nov. 2014 opening in Little Rock.” Kenneth Reams, even though he is a person who is the very epitome of the un-free – he is very much still behind bars on Death Row – is someone whom the Spirit has most improbably set “free.” [http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/04/opinion/how-to-get-on-death-row-without-firing-a-bullet.html?_r=0]
If you grew up black and poor in this society or if you happened to be born into a gender morphology that didn’t “fit” you, you have had a very, very different experience of community, liability and possibility than I have had as a privileged white person whose gender identity is more conventional. The gift of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to open our eyes and hearts to each other’s experience, no matter how different, and understand it and connect in a new way. That’s not the common wisdom of our society. And it’s not the common experience. The common experience is of devastating separation, isolation, fragmentation and all too often, oppression. But just as no one could sentence Kenneth Reams to a life limited to his cell, no one can sentence us to the dismal racial, economic, gender and religious isolation from each other. Because by the power of the Holy Spirit, we CAN hear each other in our own language. Not just once, but over and over and over, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can weave and re-weave the filaments of affection and concern so that the fabric of our society – the fabric of God’s Kingdom, God’s Realm in our very midst – is strengthened and made richly beautiful in new ways. Just as we discover what it means to have been baptized into Christ, not just at the moment of our baptism, but over and over.
It’s a drastic analogy – even an infelicitous one in some ways, because our baptism is NOT a prison, and a prison is no sacrament of God! – but in some ways you could say that Kenneth Reams’ incarceration became the discipline within which – and against which – he was formed by the Holy Spirit into a loving artist, a man of vision and capacity beyond his or anyone’s wildest imagining. He’s not the only one who has found amazing spaciousness within the confines of suffering. Some of us here in this church, sealed by the Holy Spirit though we are, have had devastating experiences not so very far removed in their imprisoning aspect from Reams’ incarceration. Whether through poverty or addiction or abuse or trauma or illness, some of us too have felt as Reams feels, that we were on Death Row. Yet the Holy Spirit, living and active in us, capable of providing healing in the most impossible of circumstances, where everything seems to militate against it, has brought astonishing gifts of healing and caring and creativity alive in us, opening up God’s infinity of love in us, defying the seeming deathliness of our imprisoning experience.
In the midst of oppression, freedom. In the midst of degradation, dignity. In the midst of dishonesty, truth. In the midst of ugliness, beauty. In the midst of sin, righteousness & justice. In the midst of death, life. That is our sealing in the Holy Spirit: promise that confounds limitation. Always proffered to us. At all times, in all places. And always unexpected, because Christ’s imagination is greater, more fertile, more resilient than ours.
How do we trust such an evanescent, evolving, confounding, even disorienting thing? THAT is our invitation this Feast of Pentecost! In a minute, we will be invited to think about our lives in terms of where we see the fruits of the Spirit in us in the ordinary, everyday places where we find ourselves, bringing the loving power of the Spirit alive in our work, our relationships, our activities, our play. And then we’ll renew our “baptismal ministries,” the many, many ways in which our faith invites us to make God’s love present to those around us just as Kenneth Reams makes beauty present within the walls of Death Row.
And the Pentecost invitation to trust the Holy Spirit extends beyond this morning: come back at 4 o’clock this afternoon, hungry for dinner from our Hospitality Committee. Hungry to join with our fellow parishioners and the similarly diverse community of the Episcopal congregation of St. Stephens in Lynn who are joining us, to try out this capacity in the power of the Spirit to hear and perceive and love each other across our differences of language, gender, race, class, orientation, ethnicity. Come back, hungry again for the Body and Blood of Christ that heals and strengthens us in our communion and fellowship with one another.
You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Come experience that Spirit at work, knitting us back together, healing our divisions. Setting us free. AMEN.
May 15, 2016
I am Pat Michaels, and I’ve been your Minister of Music for 30-some years. I would like to spend a few minutes with you, reflecting on liberation and oppression – first, with a little of my own history and then as a member of St. James’s. I won’t be speaking about music, although I do believe that music is an amazing gift from God for our liberation.
First, I want to acknowledge that I am male, white, straight, middle class, late middle-aged, and Christian; I’m was also the oldest boy in my family. I hope these characteristics won’t cause you to immediately cover your ears and tune out to what I have to say.
Next, let me see what you think: I bet that you aren’t too old to remember being young. Raise your hand if you remember being young and regularly interrupted in conversations; how about being young and having older people ignore your ideas; or, so young that you didn’t get to make choices that you felt you could easily manage? Or, did you perhaps feel too young to be having to make such adult decisions? How about – young enough to have older people always telling you what to do... or how to feel?
I do remember some of these things, and I try not to forget them. As an older person now, I find myself automatically in an oppressor role towards young people. And here’s what I mean by that word:
After a lot of thinking on this, I have come to believe that an oppressor is someone who benefits from an oppressive system; it’s not the one who created the system or built it up, or even someone who believes in it – just somebody who benefits from it. Under this definition, I can’t help being an oppressor in the system that we now live in because I benefit by being older – I no longer have people telling me what to think and feel – at least not all the time. I call these benefits that I receive my “oppressor privilege.”
I have two short but significant memories on this subject: When I was a younger middle-aged adult I remember having a regular conversation with my sister and I was surprised to hear her say, “Well, I think Mom and Dad treated you differently than us girls”? When I heard that – as some people say in rural Minnesota – it got my attention.
A second memory: When I read and studied feminist theology, I learned that men were the oppressors. And patriarchal theology, patriarchal tradition, patriarchal society were the weapons that men used to dominate women. My wife, Laurie Rofinot, says that she remembers that when I was reading Mary Daly’s books on this subject, I started referring to “men” as “them”, as if I weren’t one myself. It was a good way to distance myself from the pain and anger that women felt toward men privileged by an unfair system. I could simply imagine that I wasn’t a man, or to pretend I wasn’t part of the system, that I was outside of it all.
These two experiences and many others led me to a new insight. I confirmed from my own experience that the thing about being in an oppressor group, whether it’s men, or white people or straight people, or some other group – the dynamic of belonging in such a group means that you don’t have to think about it. The basic privileges of belonging to such a group are... 1. the privilege of denying that there is a problem; or, 2. if I choose to admit that there is a problem, I still have the privilege of deciding that I don’t have to invest my own personal time and energy into a solution. This insight was worth thinking about.
Slowly, I’ve come to believe that if I don’t cultivate a good, strong memory of how and when I was oppressed (for me, that’s remembering what it was to be young and oppressed by older people) I’ll probably never be a “good Christian." And, likewise, if I don’t have a growing sense of how I have been and remain an oppressor to others – and remember, I belong to many such groups – male, white, straight, middle-class, older – I’m not really on the Way, I’m not really walking the walk.
As members of this community, we are all disciples of Jesus and, like his other disciples, we would like to live in an intentional community – I want to live in a Christian community that is conscious of what it is, conscious of who it is, and perhaps even conscious of where it’s going.
Quite a few people at St. James’s have been intentional around some of these issues – coming together with the name “Anti-Oppression Team” – they have committed themselves to a particular vision of a community in need of new consciousness, in need of new insight and in need of new connections. That community in need is our own church.
My experience of this group over the past few years has been deeply rewarding. I often find that the conversations I am often most reluctant to initiate, the ones I think will be the hardest, are the most rewarding and life-giving ones.
The Anti-Oppression Team has been intentional about finding the best leadership that it can to challenge us and help us find our deepest connections and to wrestle with issues of oppression. In this group, our communal understanding of oppression and our personal stories of learning start to be connected: Being conscious of these connections in me and in others gives me the freedom to understand my place in the world. This IS liberation, this IS living abundantly, and the freedom and the release of positive energy can be astonishing – it’s like Easter!
Whether or not you are called to join a group like the Anti-Oppression Team, you are part of this community. So let’s make an effort to set aside our fear, or our shyness, or our New England reticence and just decide now to take another step on this journey that is, after all, our home. Our next opportunity for that is at 4:00 p.m. today right here. There will be singing, guided conversations, Eucharist and dinner.
I’d like to finish with two quotes from the words of two great musicians – both of whom have inspired many hundreds of people. Ponder their words:
As the remarkable voice teacher Roy Schuessler used to say “The best way to learn to sing is to sing.”
And as Ysaye Barnwell, the great singer and song leader has taught us in a song which she takes to heart:
“We are going;
heaven knows where we are going,
but we know within.
And we’ll get there,
heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.
It will be hard we know,
and the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there,
heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.”
There Will Always Be Light
By Yvette Verdieu
When I was five or six years old, growing up in Port-Au Prince, Haiti was a fun place to be. At that time the situation was not so bad in terms of political unrest and poverty. My family was not rich, but we were a middle-class family. For the sake of protecting people’s identities, I will not use their real names. In those days there was a classmate that I considered a close friend. Her name was Sophia. We were always doing fun things together. We were always at the same gatherings and family activities. One Monday morning while our class was in process we heard a loud commotion outside the school yard. The students rushed to the balcony and saw Sophia’s father getting a beating by two officers. I assumed his beating had something to do with his involvement with the government. Sophia rushed to her father’s rescue and begged the officers for mercy. The officers rudely pushed her away without acknowledging her pain and sadness. Because of his mistreatment and the soldiers ignoring Sophie’s feelings, I sensed the powerlessness that Sophia felt at that time. Because of my age I didn’t know then what I know now. Normally, when people think of Haiti they think about the poverty and the political chaos the country is under. As time went on, it was not unheard of to hear of beatings, murders, and even people disappearing because of the politics in Haiti. All these events happened under the regime of Papa Doc Duvalier, the late president of Haiti, and the Tonton Macoutes.
From a young age and as the only girl in my family I was sheltered by my family from a lot of these atrocities. But as a child I could still feel and sense the pressures of the unfairness around me. It would appear that even with the changing of leadership the situation in Haiti today in terms of poverty and politics has not improved. Some may say it is even worse today because it is almost unspoken of or ignored by the rest of the world.
When I first arrived to the Boston area, as a native Haitian woman, it was not easy for me. I faced many challenges and obstacles. The language was one of the biggest obstacles that I faced, along with cultural differences. I did not let this deter me. I still wanted the American dream. I finished my education and went on to get my Master’s degree. And I never stopped working until I got my first home. There were times I worked three jobs to support my dreams, and I was always a faithful employee remaining in my position for many years. But time after time I was passed over for a promotion in favor of less experienced and less educated people. Some of them were fresh out of high school. The only difference between them and me was that I was an immigrant, but I had more experience and more education. Why didn’t I receive those promotions? The only assumption that I can make is because I have an accent. They thought that because I had an accent I was not intelligent or could not hold a conversation. Even though I tried so hard to be the best I could be, my experience taught me that there will always be people who try to keep me down. But they cannot keep me down. I will not stay down! I have a voice and I want to be heard.
Part of the American dream is fighting for what you believe in. In a situation like that I feel that people try to take away my sense of pride and power, just like those soldiers made Sophia feel so many years ago. I didn’t know better then, but now I know that my accent is part of me. I embrace it; I should not be made to feel ashamed of it. To make anybody feel that their accent makes them less than others is trying to diminish who they are. To me that is social injustice. The questions that I ask myself often are: Should I let these obstacles handicap my hand, my soul and my spirit? Should I let people’s insecurities keep me down? Should I lock myself in the closet feeling sorry for myself? NO: I choose to stand tall. I choose to pursue my dreams. I will not allow intimidation run my life. Instead of standing by to let all these negative things happen to me or to others I choose to take control by being active in my family, my church, and my community.
I thank God for a strong black Haitian mother who taught me – and is still teaching me! – how to be strong and to persevere. She believed in me and has been an inspiration in my life. Mother has been always there for me. She has always reminded me not to give up. She is a woman full of gentleness, wisdom, and kindness. In her sweet quiet voice she is always whispering to my ear, “After the darkness there will always be a light. God is able and God is good.” My mother is a living testimony to how God is good and God is able. The strongest person I know is my mother. She is a role model in my life.
I never knew my father. My mother was pregnant with my twin brother and me when he passed away. Even though my father was not there, my mother took on the role of fighter and protector of the family. She always made sure that all of her seven children were provided for. Everything that we did was grounded in prayer. This was my foundation. This is my legacy. It is because of an angel like her that I am who I am today. I feel God always places people in my path to help me along the way. Now I feel is it my turn to help others along the way.
Rogation Day (6 Easter Year C) 5-1-2016
Lections: Deut. 11:10-15; Ps. 67; Rom. 8:18-25; Mark 4:26-32
So this is kind of an unusual day, right? It’s not every Sunday that we get to march around our garden. We’re even deviating from the usual Eastertide lectionary this week, which, I have to admit, made me a little nervous to preach today. We’ve had such a fun time in the books of Acts and John, with the risen Jesus and the early church, and suddenly we now find ourselves reading Deuteronomy and Mark. What’s up with that?!
As you (hopefully) have picked up by now, today we are celebrating a Rogation Day, which, our Latin nerd friends can tell you, comes from rogatio, or “asking”. The story behind it is that around 470 A.D., a French bishop, St. Mamertus, saw his diocese threatened with fire, famine, earthquakes, and even wolves all within a single year, and so, he instituted a period of communal fasting and prayer, asking God to spare them from these natural disasters. Apparently, it worked well enough that it caught on and became a spring-time tradition held the three days before Ascension Day, which is this Thursday. Thanks Mamertus!
But enough with the history lesson. What does all that have to do with us in Cambridge in 2016?
To start answering that, let’s look again at the passage from Deuteronomy. Here we have the Israelites still stuck in Moab about to cross the Jordan River and finally enter the Promised Land of Canaan. Moses, about to die and pass on leadership to Joshua, is giving the people of Israel 34 chapters of final instructions and a blessing. In the portion we read, Moses tells the Israelites that Canaan is not like the Egypt they left 40 years before. In Canaan, there is no Nile floodplain that allowed a farmer to irrigate from the river simply by digging channels with his foot. Instead, the people will have to rely on the seasonal rains for their crops. And Moses promises that God will send those needed rains but only if Israel will heed God’s every commandment, loving God and serving God with all their heart and soul.
If. What a powerful word. We humans like our conditions and stipulations. We like to know what the options are and what’s required of us and we really like putting conditions on others. We are addicted to seeing ourselves as always the actors and architects of our own blessing and cursing. And if there’s anything we excel at, it’s trying to make God in our own image.
A few centuries after Moses, Mamertus, that French bishop, also managed to convince his flock that if they fast and pray, then God would deliver them from the natural world that was distressing them. In the Pentecostal church I grew up in, it was a known fact that the reason America was so powerful and so prosperous was because we were a Christian nation that had obeyed God. But we were in imminent danger of losing God’s blessing if we stopped being a Christian nation. Even in my own life, I can’t help but think that if an unusually good thing happens, like me getting into divinity school, it’s solely because I did something good and right.
And on the flipside, I am often tempted to think that bad things happen to me or those I love because I didn’t pray enough or in the right way or with the right words. If I had loved God more, if I had truly served God with all my heart and soul, then would my friend Jesse have died in that terrible car accident 2 years ago? If I truly heeded God commandments, then would I feel so alienated from my family? Yes, if is a powerful word, my friends.
Jesus understood the power of this word, the power of the conditional mindset. In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons over and over again. And if there was anything that proved to first century Jews that God’s blessing was conditional on people’s behavior, it was being struck with a disease or being possessed by unclean spirits. But Jesus comes to liberate those afflicted, to heal extravagantly, to restore people to right relationship with God and each other. He came to meet people in their brokenness and show them God loved them and that transformed them. And he didn’t put conditions on any of it, especially not ones based on people’s behavior.
In fact, in the two “agricultural” parables from today’s reading, we see Jesus confront the destructive mindset that our actions can have such a direct relationship with God’s love for us. In the first parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God, this new reality of liberation and reconciliation, to a seed that is sown but grows without the sower really knowing how. When Jesus says, the “earth produces of itself,” the Greek verb there is related to our word automatic; it doesn’t require the sower to do any work at all to produce the grain, the fruit of the kingdom. We are only needed at the beginning, to sow, and at the end, to bring in the harvest. God does the rest.
I like to see this parable as Jesus speaking directly to our 21st century diseases of over-commitment, over-achievement, and individualism, the tendency we have, myself very much included, to think that the good fruits of our lives are all dependent on our every action. But we don’t know why or how God blesses us, how God allows our freedom from sin and shame, from brokenness and fear to multiply in our lives and in those around us. We can only chalk it up to God’s abundant love for us.
In fact, back in Deuteronomy, before, Moses lays out the if-then scenario, he first says to the Israelites that Canaan is a land that God looks after, that the eyes of the Lord God are always on it. So God is always preceding us, blessing our lives before we ever deserve it, because God knows we can never deserve it. With his ministry, Jesus is thus simply reminding the Israelites, and us, of that ancient truth that God doesn’t formulaically meet sin with punishment nor righteousness with blessing, because we can never be sinful enough that God doesn’t love us nor can we be righteous enough that we don’t need God to love us.
It’s only when we acknowledge how extravagantly God loves us that we are transformed, and only after that can we can embark on the long, hard road of heeding the commandment to love God and our neighbors, to serve God with all our heart and soul. We realize God’s conditional blessing is just a restatement of God’s unconditional love. Then, yes, ultimately, patiently we wait for God to give the rain in its season and we gather in our grain, wine and oil and eat our fill.
If we can do the work God has given us to do, without thinking there are limits to God’s love, without thinking it all depends on us, without putting conditions on others, then we will be part of building this mustard seed kingdom, where the small seed grows beyond imagining into a place where everyone can find their own liberation. On this rogation day, let us ask God for that kind of blessing. Amen.
Vestry Minutes: March15, 2016
Adopted April 19, 2016
Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini
Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Nancy McArdle, Lucas Sanders, Mardi Moran, Sarah Forrester, Jules Bertaut, Tom Beecher, Andrew Rohm, Thomas Wohlers, Matthew Abbate, Tom Tuft, Marian King
Members Absent: Olivia Hamilton
Guests: Rev Eric Litman, Jeff Zinsmeyer
● Dinner was provided by Tom T., Matthew, and Sylvia
● Tom B. led us in a liturgy featuring readings on Gracious Leadership and Vocational Discernment
● Nancy reviewed the norms that we devised at the retreat. Lucas suggested distributing the “guidelines across difference” to the Vestry. Holly says that Kathryn can do that. Sarah is going to help create an embroidered version of the “guidelines across difference.” Holly mentioned that, although not it adding to the official list, she would like to have the norm of ending by 9:30pm.
● Thomas W. moved that we enter Executive Session for a redevelopment update by Jeff Zinsmeyer. Jules seconded. Approved unanimously.
● Jules moved to exit Executive Session. Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.
● Tom B. led a discussion of the new shared ministry system. He reviewed the intent and expectations of the plan as well as the roles of ministry team liaisons and shared ministry leaders. Tom led us through a process for selecting the roles that we as vestry members would like to fulfill. This successful process led to the following assignments.
● Outreach – Tom T., Mardi
● Formation – Nancy, Andrew, Thomas W.
● Worship – Marian, Matthew
● Administration – Sarah, Sylvia
● Shared ministry leaders – Tom B., Olivia, Jules
Black Lives Matter Banner
● Following the discussion in church on Sunday by Alexis Toliver of Black Lives Matter, the Anti-Oppression Team (AOT) met and unanimously recommended to the Vestry that we should hang a Black Lives Matter banner from the church . However there were differing opinions in terms of whether we should join the Black Lives Matter movement.
● Mardi moved that we put up a Black Lives Matter banner. Sylvia seconded. Approved unanimously.
● There was discussion and ultimate support for having a smaller additional sign with explanatory text at a lower level to the banner.
● Marian raised the possibility of an LGBT banner. Holly suggested that this should be explored in a separate process.
● We discussed the possibility of a public ceremony or some other event at the time of the raising of the banner. We will ask the AOT to oversee production of the banner and draft wording for the smaller explanatory sign. We will also ask them to suggest a process for considering an LGBT banner.
● We will ask the AOT if there are events or actions we could commit to in order to express commitment to Black Lives Matter. We will listen to discern whether people might be interested in issues of affordable housing in general and as it pertains to the Cambridge participatory budgeting process.
Minutes of February and special March Meetings
- Jules moved that we approve the February and special confidential March meeting minutes. Thomas W. seconded. Approved unanimously.
- Lucas reported that 2015 was a good year financially. So far in 2016, things are in line except pledge income is running behind what we might expect for this time of year. Nevertheless, Lucas expects you will get around 240,000 this year in terms of pledge income. Lucas will look into the zero dollar amount listed as being spent for Sunday School in statement for last year.
- Thomas W moved to accept the financial documents. Marian seconded. Approved unanimously.
- Lucas presented and explained proposed revisions to the 2016 budget.
- Sylvia moved to approve the 2016 revised budget. Thomas W. seconded. Approved unanimously.
- There was a round of applause for the good work of Lucas and the finance committee.
- Lucas intends to schedule an investment committee meeting in April.
- We reviewed the calendar items. There was some question about the scheduling of a Trans 101 program.
Parish Activities February-March
- Terrific Vestry Retreat – thank you, Officers and Natalie Finstad!
- Olivia forming Discernment Committee. Still short one committee member. The Committee will meet Sunday evenings over dinner for 8 weeks this spring. She has just learned that her “8th Sin of Racism” presentation at the Cathedral on March 3rd will included in a Forward Movement book on the series.
- Holy Week planning takes considerable Lenten time and energy (and gives considerable joy). The week ahead looks rich, multi-participatory & wonderful. Don’t miss the Holy Triduum: Maundy Thursday w Olivia preaching; Good Friday with a wonderful roster of “Seven Last Words” preachers; the Theodicy Jazz Collective providing a unique jazz take on the Easter Vigil, and Jenny Grassl being baptized; the three small Mazzottas being baptized on Easter Sunday.
- An assortment of pastoral responsibilities, as usual, but including two different elder support matters and several Lenten “rites of reconciliation.”
- Members of St. James’s Discovering God’s Economy group will dine in April w Jean Horstman of Interise, which counsels entrepreneurs of color and helps access funds for business expansion, and connect us with the local folks at Accion Loans and others who will help us discern a good connection for our experiment in “growing the local economy” by investing in small business in economically challenged communities.
- The Worship Commission Holy Week & Easter sub-team of JT Kittredge and Lauren Zook has enthusiastically endorsed Pat’s offering the Caribbean Mass during Easter season from the Third through the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
- My Inquirers/Confirmation Class finished last Sunday with 3 participants. I will offer five weeks of Inquirer’s Class in late Pentecost – Sept. 11 through Oct. 9th - on “mystagogy:” the sacramental shape of life, time and space in the practice of the Episcopal Way. Confirmation with Alan Gates at Our Redeemer Lexington will be on October 15th.
- It seems that the 12-step-for-Lent class has gone well. I don’t have participation nos.
- Various people have stepped forward to publicize “Dollar A Day for Lent,” but it has received nowhere near the attention of previous years. Next year, we will need a new team to oversee this and select the recipient. In the absence of such a team, I simply chose one of our Missions Grant recipients, Tatua Kenya, since Mary Beth Mills-Curran is on the board there.
- The Monthly Healing Liturgy would end up on Easter Sunday, so I have canceled it for March. I am unsure, given Eric’s solid overcommitment of his one-third time with us and Reed’s having effectively moved to Nuevo Amanacer with Britta, whether this can continue or even SHOULD continue, given the small numbers of participants. I will appreciate some help with this discernment. It was an experiment to begin with. I’m inclined to let it go, and simply plan a healing Eucharist when we feel the need for one.
- Anti-Oppression Team met Sunday Feb 21st, and will meet again Sunday Mar. 20th. We continue to discuss plans for our training with VISIONS. VISIONS is providing us with a prospectus for the training before this coming Sunday’s meeting. They recommend that we include our part-time staff in the initial four-day “basic training” (for which we will compensate our staff for their time), but that we focus the advanced “training of trainers” on program staff and program leaders among the laity. A-O Team member Lauren Zook has already stated her willingness to be trained. You have heard our report to the Vestry about becoming a formal part of BLM Cambridge, discerned last Sunday after Alexis Toliver’s presentation. The planning team of St. James’s A-O Team members, St. Stephen’s Lynn’s Beloved Community team members and the Mission Institute facilitators will meet over dinner at my house April 10th to plan for St. Stephens’ visit to St. James’s for conversation and a “dinner Eucharist” – inviting the whole congregation of St. James’s to participate, and facilitated by Diane D’Souza and Zena Link of the Mission Institute – on Pentecost Sunday May 15th.
- We need to flag the formation of a Food Ministry Discernment Team.
- GBIO held an action at which we had at least a half-dozen St. James’s members present, last week.
- Tom Tufts and a planning team continue to work on sponsoring a performance of "And Still We Rise," a participatory dramatic presentation by people who are post-incarceration or who have family members incarcerated, on April 24th.
- Eric will report on good progress toward the Parish Retreat, as well as strong growth of our new Church School class of little ones, solid service from our Church School teaching staff, and about our new Nursery Coordinator, Julia Reed-Betts.
- I’m preaching and presiding for the Sisters of St. Anne’s Wednesday morning Eucharist, Holy Wednesday, Mar. 23rd.
- Attending Clericus and Deanery Assembly.
- Serving on Annual Clergy Conference Planning Committee
- The staff has Easter Monday off, but I will work Easter Monday – Easter Wednesday, then take Thursday-Sunday away on family business in Vermont. Eric will preach and preside on Sunday April 3rd.
Continuing Ed in 2016:
- 1) Eric and I will be at annual diocesan Clergy Conference, May 2-4 (with the Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, friend of St. James’s, as presenter!),
- 2) We will also be at MED-DioMass new-clergy mentoring program conference May 31st to June 2nd at Adelynrood (or Bethany House).
- 3) I will be attending the CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" from October 24th through October 31st, 2016 as "continuing education," which will include being away Sunday October 30th. I’ll be back in plenty of time for All Saints Sunday.
- Drawing class on Monday afternoons beginning March 28th. 3-times-a-week swimming continues.
- There was a good GBIO meeting on March 8. We are pledged to bring 35 parishioners to the May 24 meeting.
- A team of cleaners came in to clean the church for Easter.
- Still going back-and-forth on estimates for the needed interior work.
Assistant Rector’s Report
- Eric is happy to report the hiring of a new nursery coordinator – Julia Reed-Betts.
- For Maundy Thursday the families will be providing soup.
- The Scouts are doing great – Michelle Holmes is the new liaison.
- One scout may do an audit of our digital needs as a service project.
- Eric is still working on getting kids interested in summer camp which he feels he can get for almost free.
Evaluation, Norm check in
- People believed that, for the most part, we followed our norms.
- Want to start check-ins promptly at 6:30
- Holly mentioned that she appreciated the quality of listening that took place
● We finished with commissioning Tom B. in his role as Warden. All other Vestry members were commissioned on Feb. 21, 2016.
Submitted by Nancy McArdle
St. James's helps support Tatua Kenya with one of our Missions Grants. This week, we are delighted to host Tatua's Executive Director Kenneth Chomba as our preacher. Kenneth Chomba Njue, 21 years of age, is a co-founder of the organization and has worked for the organization since inception. He left a career in finance and accounting to follow a deeper call in pursuit of fulfillment and accomplish a purpose discovered to serve humanity and the people at large. He is continually moved by the fact that every human being has a God given capacity and power to change the world. He believes that his work is to arouse the power in the people into action and encourage communities create common pools of resources towards solving common community challenges. This he will do until the dignity of every human being is assured.