Archive for May, 2014

This week, I have been reflecting on what it means to connect and to disconnect from each other. One thing that prompted my reflection was an NPR piece entitled “Home Has 4 Wheels: Photos of People Who Have Broken Down Walls.” (To see, go to http://www.npr.org/2014/05/29/316866566/home-has-four-wheels-photos-of-people-whove-broken-down-walls )

A Seattle-based photographer, Andrew Waits, has done a documentary project, focusing upon people who live in motorhomes, vans, buses, cars. Some of these folks are homeless, some have abandoned the stress of a career or a huge mortgage and bills, some are retired, some are disabled. Some are on the road and some are not. Some are in urban areas, some out in the desert.

Waits’ project, “Boondocks,” is a photo essay on the NPR website, ultimately to be a book. As I clicked through Waits’ pictures and his subjects’ comments, one of Waits’ observations about his encounters with people really caught my attention:  “One of the most surprising things was people’s willingness to talk,” says Waits, “to really open up to a complete stranger. Once they realized I wanted to listen, it shocked me how personal people would get. No one turned me away.”

While some of Waits’ subjects are clearly loners (one of them commented that if he could see someone else’s camper, they were too close), there was also an obvious need for some kind of community–even in a transient living situation. As human beings, we need community. If you have ever studied Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, LOVE is one of those needs. And even people who are a bit eccentric or who are avowed loners (not only Waits’ subjects but people who have lived as hermits–even within convents or monasteries) for whatever reason sometimes need the contact of another human being.

What does this have to do with a church?

Recently, I attended a workshop, and one thing that a speaker noted is that people used to come to church for God, and found community. At some point in time, this flipped. Now a lot of people come to church for community, and in doing so, find God.  Folks are in high stress jobs. Young adults finish graduate school, heavily burdened by debt. Some families are separated by work situations, including military deployment. Few of us live close to our families of origin–and sometimes that is deliberate! 

A church community becomes, for some people, a place where, as one of our parishioners has noted, “You can choose your family.”  While that remark drew chuckles, the laughter was not entirely light-hearted. Most of us knew what this means. We have not all experienced a good situation with our families–perhaps the environment out of which we came was abusive, or not nurturing, or anxiety filled. Maybe the family dynamics take too much energy to be worthwhile. So perhaps some folks come through out doors with some trepidation. Will we put too much pressure on them to “get involved”?  Will we have a place for them–whatever place they want?  Will we even speak to them–especially if they do not fit our personal ideas of what an Episcopalian looks like (whatever that is)?  Will they look stupid if they sit down when we stand up or if we kneel and they don’t know to do that? What if they don’t LIKE this particular church family? Yet something drives them to connect–somehow, somewhere–and sometimes they end up at St. Philip’s.

Many years ago, when I was in radio advertising sales, I began to be aware that some clients would open up to me in a way that was astounding. I would walk out of some people’s offices thinking, “Wow, why did he share that with me? I was just there to do business, and by the time I left, I knew all about his mother in a nursing home.”  I began to realize just how little we, as human beings, REALLY listen to each other. Our noisy culture has made us think we have to talk all the time. Yet when we truly are present to someone, when we truly open our hearts to listen, people will tell us what is in their hearts.  As Waits noted, people would get very personal about sharing their lives.

Yet if we are to be open to others, we must practice the presence of being with people. We must pay attention to who, in the room, needs us to walk over and sit down, to begin a conversation. That is not something that comes naturally to the introverts among us–no doubt about that.   But it doesn’t take much.  In the next few weeks, as you come to church, pay attention. Notice someone with whom you have not had a conversation–perhaps a complete stranger (yes, maybe they are strangers because they attend “the other service.”) Take cup of coffee, or a soft drink (if you come to our picnic), walk over and introduce yourself. Ask a question or two, then just pay attention and listen. Be present to that person. See what unfolds in your conversation with, your connection with, another one of God’s children.

I am convinced that one reason Jesus was such a powerful person was that he was completely PRESENT to people with whom he came in contact. I can imagine him with the disciples at days’ end, sitting beside a fire in the dark, leaning forward and looking directly into a person’s face, intent as he listened. I can imagine that when one of those with him posed a question, Jesus was thoughtful and reflective–turning over that question in his mind and heart, not immediately answering with some quick, pat answer. If you and I follow such a Master, perhaps we could think about how we might learn, how we might be better at paying attention, listening, and opening our hearts to “the other” who is with us–whether that person is homeless, a traveler on the way, or someone who has camped for a while among us.

In such encounters, we can allow ourselves to be made better, and deeper, human beings in the image of God. ~Sheila+

Read Full Post »

african-woman-5ed150fc-f11a-4a8a-8880-b2076ab67a11O Lord, hear the prayers of your daughters; do not hide your face, do not close your ears.

Do you not see, O Lord? Do you not see strangers drag us from our mothers’ homes and force us to live in tents of slavery?

Do you not hear, O Lord? Do you not hear the screams of your daughters who only went for water, only went in search of wood for the dying fire? The wood scatters, the water spills, and the blood soaks the earth as the evil rape the young and force the mothers to watch.

Do you not feel our pain, O Lord? We give love and life with our bodies, but cruel, dark power forces hate into us and cuts innocence out of us; we collapse like torn rags on a dirt floor.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy. We have known too long the weapons of violence and rape; cast away from your presence, the women huddle in war’s dark shadow.

O Lord, do not forget your daughters, for your daughters have not forgotten you. But how long must we wait to drink the water of your love? How long must our tears spill over hot, cracked, dry earth as we wait in darkness?

portrait-of-african-american-woman-with-shawl1O Lord, hear the prayers of your daughters and do not close your ears to the cries of our hearts. Come to us across the dry wasteland of our lives. Bring to us abundant streams of cooling waters and anoint us with Gilead’s healing balm.

When we drink your water, O Lord, we will rejoice at your coming; when we are healed, we will sing your praises.

Then we will know that you have not forgotten your daughters; then we will know that we will sit, white-haired and free, at our own fires again. Amen.

© Sheila N. McJilton in Lifting Women’s Voices: Prayers to Change the World, Margaret Rose, Jeanne Person, Abagail Nelson, Jenny Te Paa, Editors (Harrisburg, New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2009), 125.

Pictures accessed through Google images

Read Full Post »

Cornerstone Wyatt sm1 Peter 2:1-10

“. . .like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house. . .’See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious’. . .”

 Last Saturday, at the close of Main Street Festival, I was helping others bring tables back inside, as well as picking up some trash along the iron fence near Wyatt Hall. As I made one of my trips up the steps, I noticed the stone set into one of the front pillars of Wyatt Hall. It has a simple inscription: “To the Glory of God” and two dates with a cross etched between them: 1848 and 1998. St. Philip’s became an official parish in 1848; in 1998, the building of Wyatt Ministry Center began.

According to Sally Bucklee’s book A Church and its Village, “when the cornerstone was slipped into place May 1, 1998—the Feast Day of St. Philip the Apostle—it said it all: the Ministry Center was dedicated simply ‘To the Glory of God.’”[1] I must admit that this cornerstone aroused my curiosity. So on Friday, I wandered around this campus looking for other cornerstones. While I am pretty certain there is a cornerstone for this worship space, built in 1848, I could not find it. However, I did find one for what we now call the Administration Wing—originally the old Parish Hall. If you walk down the sidewalk towards the big mail box and look among the rhododendrons, you will see a large cornerstone which is quite different from the other stones around it. The only thing on it is the date: 1927. Yet this cornerstone fits the classic definition. “A ‘cornerstone’ is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls. . .but is one prepared and chosen for its exact 90’angle; as such, it is the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right corner is basic not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to its stability and longevity.”[2]

Cornerstone. The first letter of Peter—probably not written by the apostle himself, but attributed to him by a loyal disciple—focused on Jesus Christ as cornerstone and Christian believers whom he insisted God had chosen. By the time this epistle was written—sometime between 70 and 90 CE—social tensions for Gentile Christians had sharpened. Roman society was patriarchal. Social status, an established household code and a well-defined political hierarchy were critical components to a stable society. Rome eyed this Christian religion with suspicion, because it reversed established hierarchical relationships and disregarded social standing among its members. It also allowed women to be leaders, and chose allegiance to Jesus the Christ as the Son of God rather than to the Roman emperor as a Son of God.

The writer of 1 Peter acknowledged the tensions of living as Christians and living as Roman citizens. In order to ease this tension to some degree, the author called the Christian community to an ethic of holy living. By holy living, he meant a way of living that would witness to the love of Christ, yet still exist within the social expectations of the Roman world. [As an aside, when modern readers read this letter, we must remember that its exhortation of slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands was written not out of our context, but out of a first-century context.]

Christian leaders were trying to negotiate living a new way while not threatening the Roman society. Christians were respectful of the emperor (without worshiping him.) Christians paid the required taxes. Yet the writer of 1 Peter reminded the Christians that their true foundation was not based upon a city-state political system. Their true foundation was not based upon how much money they earned or their social standing. Their true foundation was not based upon how large their business was, or how many slaves they owned, or how well-behaved their wives were. No. Their true, strong foundation was Jesus, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Jesus had come to show people how to live as chosen people—people God chose as precious, spiritual and holy.

The Christian writer of 1 Peter was firmly grounded in the Hebrew tradition. For example, in the mid 700’s BCE, the people of Israel were getting caught up in religious pluralism and the worship of the pagan god Baal. So God commanded the prophet Hosea to denounce Israel’s behavior through symbolic actions—even going so far as to name his own children strange names. Hosea named one daughter Lo-Ruhamah, which literally means “Not pitied.” He named one son Lo-Ammi, which means “Not my people.”

Seven centuries later, the author of 1 Peter claimed that God’s living word, the Word made flesh, had fulfilled an ancient prophecy and transformed a community of faith. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Through the waters of Holy Baptism, following the example of Jesus, Hosea’s ancient prophecy was finally fulfilled. And this fulfillment was fundamentally communal. In other words, a cornerstone is only a cornerstone when it is critical to the strength and support of other stones. And in a Christian community, these stones are not merely physical as we see them in a stone or brick and mortar building. They are spiritual and living.

If you and I are spiritual, living stones as God’s people, what does that mean in our daily lives? How do we witness to Christ the cornerstone?

Cornerstone Admin smLast Saturday, lots of strangers wandered onto the St. Philip’s campus, either because they went to our book sale, or their children were playing games, or because they needed a place to sit and eat their lunch on the front steps of the worship space or on Wyatt Hall’s front steps. Later, two of our parishioners told me that some folks had asked “What do you all believe at this church?” This was a question that neither parishioner felt all that comfortable in answering, but they tried.

How would I answer that question? Let’s see. . .“We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. . .We believe in one Lord, Jeus Christ, the only Son of God. . .We believe in the Holy Spirit. . .” Okay, not helpful to launch into the Nicene Creed at the Main Street Festival. If you visit websites of more evangelical churches, you will pretty quickly see what their doctrine is. You will see it, but you may not understand it, because they use phrases like “substitutionary death,” “regeneration,” “sanctification,” glorification”—words that make my eyes glaze over.

The bad news about the Anglican expression of the Christian faith is that we do not have a quick and easy way to express what we believe. The good news is that we do not have a quick and easy way to express what we believe. Now on one level, we do. We believe in a Triune God, and we probably express that best in our Baptismal Covenant, which we proclaim out of community every time we have a baptism. God the creator. Jesus Christ the Son. God the Holy Spirit. One contemporary Anglican theologian has argued that our Anglican understanding of the Gospel is this: “God is the creator of all that exists and. . .[God] has entered into and shared our human life in Jesus Christ so that the whole creation might come to its fulfilment.”[3] The whole creation. In other words, as we live our lives modeled after the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we become more of our selves than we would be without Jesus. The cornerstone—Jesus—makes us stronger in our faith. We become fuller spiritual beings who, for a time, live in human bodies.

As we become fuller spiritual beings, we know love. We claim that God loves us, no matter what, and we claim that out of God’s unconditional love, we love others. In order to live this way, we must gather in community. As we promise in our Baptismal Covenant: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? I will, with God’s help. . .Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help. . .Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.”

You and I are not “no people.” You and I are God’s people: created out of love, nurtured out of love, strengthened out of love. God sent part of God’s very self, Jesus, to show us how best to live and move and have our being. God offers us a life that is rich with forgiveness and brimming over with joy. Because of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, we can claim the fullness of love for broken people and a broken world.

This world desperately needs forgiveness, joy and love. It needs reconciliation, justice and peace. And we are able to offer that because we claim it for ourselves. We are able to offer that because we come here as community, nurtured in the great Paschal mystery of bread and wine blessed, broken, offered and given in the name of Christ.

 That is who we are. Jesus is the cornerstone: chosen, living, precious. You and I are the other stones, part of God’s building. We, too, are living and precious because God has chosen us and we have chosen God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Pictures of Cornerstones taken by McJilton

[1] Sally Mitchell Bucklee, A Church and Its Village: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, MD, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001), 388.

[2] Joy Douglas Strome in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010), 463.

[3] Louis Weil, “The Gospel in Anglicanism,” in Stephen Sykes, John Booty & Jonathan Knight, The Study of Anglicanism, Rev. Ed., (London & Minneapolis: SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998), 57.

Read Full Post »

BishopThis afternoon, I sent out my weekly e-mail to the parish, which you can read below. Ironically, within minutes of hitting the SEND button, Bishop Mariann sent HER weekly e-mail out to the diocese, which you can read at http://www.edow.org.

We had written about the same event, from different perspectives. I thought I would share my perspective with my parishioners.

“Dear friends in Christ,

This week, I spent two days at a Diocese of Washington (EDOW) Clergy Retreat, which is held annually. Bishop Mariann has been with us almost three years, so the theme evolved out of the Road to Emmaeus story in last Sunday’s gospel, asking the questions “Where are we now?” and “Where do we go from here?” Bishop Mariann did some speaking, and a lot of listening. As I watched her listen carefully to my colleagues and me–either in the large group, small group discussions, or one-on-one conversations, I found myself giving thanks to God for her leadership.

I remembered that during the Walkabouts before the election three years ago, Frank Lamancusa (a delegate from our parish) went to a particular Walkabout session which I did not attend. Later, I asked him, “Well, what did you think about the candidates?” He indicated that he was impressed with Mariann Budde from Minneapolis. In further discussion, he said, “You know, she doesn’t look like a bishop now. . .but in a few years, she will.”

As I watched +Mariann speak, pray, sing and respond to her clergy and staff over the past few days, I remembered what Frank had said. He was right. She looks more like a bishop now than she did three years ago, and that has nothing to do with vestments or liturgical things. Indeed, at our retreat, she never wore a collar or purple shirt. She never put on her mitre or any ecclesiastical vestments–not even when presiding at our Eucharist. Yet she is clearly our spiritual pastor and leader. It exudes quietly and powerfully out of her being.

Retreat 1During our final worship yesterday morning, we were given a chance to go forward and have her pray with us or bless us. As the final hymn began, clergy began to stand and get in line. One by one, we moved to stand in front of our pastor. Each of us spoke a few words to her for specific concerns. As I came forward, she laid one hand on my head and one on my shoulder, and–fully present to me–prayed specifically for me. Those moments felt very holy and precious, and I felt loved and cared for by my sister in Christ, by my leader in ministry. I felt encouraged and supported. And after all who wanted prayers had gone forward, someone suggested that we pray for HER. So the clergy of the Diocese of Washington–in jeans, Birkenstocks, sneakers, casual dress–all gathered around our chief pastor (also in jeans and tee shirt), laid hands on her, or if we could not reach her, on each others’ shoulders. We prayed for strength for her, for rest when she needed it, for wisdom. And in those moments, there was a palpable sense of the presence of God’s Spirit among us.

This coming Sunday is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Priests are often referred to as shepherds of their flocks. But in our Book of Common Prayer, only one order is recognized as shepherd: that of a bishop.

In the service Ordination of a Bishop, the following question is asked by one of the already ordained bishops:

“Bishop: As a chief priest and pastor, will you encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, nourish them from the riches of God’s grace, pray for them without ceasing, and celebrate with them the sacraments of our redemption?
Answer (from bishop-elect): I will, in the name of Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.” (BCP, 518)

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the most perfect incarnation of a shepherd that we have. And a bishop is entrusted with the human responsibility of guiding his/her flock–which first and foremost, I believe, is her clergy. This week, I was grateful–and not for the first time–that the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully three years ago when this diocese elected a chief priest and pastor who is, without a doubt, a faithful shepherd to her flock. I hope you will join me in asking God’s blessings on +Mariann Edgar Budde, and in giving God thanks for her leadership and ministry among us. ~Sheila+”

Read Full Post »