We will celebrate all the blessings that God has bestowed on us by gathering for Holy Eucharist at 10 a.m.
All are welcome!
We will celebrate all the blessings that God has bestowed on us by gathering for Holy Eucharist at 10 a.m.
All are welcome!
By The Rev. Kathie Galicia
Originally published in Instrument of Thy Peace Magazine by St. Francis Episcopal Church, July 2019
When I was quite young, 12 or 13 years old, one of my classmates was the daughter of a woman who had survived Auschwitz. Her mother wrote a book about her experiences; around this time I also read The Diary of Anne Frank. In high school, I read books by Elie Wiesel, Corrie Ten Boom and others who spoke of their experiences during the Holocaust. One of the things that always bothered me about that period of world history is that so many people who thought of themselves as Christians simply ignored what was going on around them. Even clergy and other church leaders became complicit by looking the other way or, in some cases, aiding the Nazis in their quest to exterminate those who were deemed “less than” the ideal.
Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation from television, radio, or social media, you must be aware of the tremendous outcry there has been in the past week about the conditions in which migrant children are being housed. Reports by lawyers who represent migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. have opened our eyes to the horrendous conditions many children have been subjected to. According to a report on NPR, one attorney who visit the detention center in Clint, Texas, said, “Never before in my life have I witnessed, heard of, or smelled such degradation and inhumane treatment of children in federal immigration custody.”
When taken to task by the media, attorneys, and health care professionals, many of these detention centers have moved children temporarily to other shelters, or made temporary improvements to minimize the level of neglect and mismanagement that are taking place. Many of these detention centers are privately owned and receive more than $700 per child per day to house them. There is not a lot of incentive to reduce the centers’ population when they are making that kind of money off of innocent children.
The fact that in these United States in the year 2019, migrant children are sleeping on concrete floors with only an aluminum “emergency” blanket, denied basic hygiene such as access to soap, water, a toothbrush, and clean clothes is almost beyond our comprehension. Children as young as 7 or 8 are trying to care for toddlers, being asked to change diapers and provide comfort even as they are denied any basic comforts themselves. Children are surviving on oatmeal, soup, a cookie, and a pouch of Kool-Aid; many are ill with flu and most are infested with lice.
I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, but what I have read there is almost worse than the reports of this cruelty. Because what I have read cuts me to the heart and holds me accountable for the conditions these innocent children are living in. Someone posted on Facebook recently: “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the Holocaust, or the civil rights movement, you’re doing it right now.”
What is happening in our nation today is outrageous and unacceptable, but at the same time it is a wake-up call to all of us who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. When we recite the Baptismal Covenant, the oath we or our godparents took on our behalf when we were baptized, we have promised God that, with God’s help:
We will persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
We will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
I don’t want my grandchild to ask the question I asked about those who stood by and did nothing when confronted by the evil of the Holocaust. I don’t want her to say, “Why didn’t they DO something?” when she is old enough to hear the story of these migrant children.
We must make our voices heard if we are to end this evil. Pray about this, read about what’s happening, don’t look away, as painful as it is. Call and write your representatives in Congress, our Governor and the White House. This evil will only get worse if we do nothing.
Originally published in the St. Francis Newsmagazine for May 2019
There is a wonderful old hymn in the Lift Every Voice and Sing hymnal called “He Lives!” Composed by Alfred H. Ackley, it was published in 1933. We sang it on Easter Sunday as our Gospel hymn, and it made me smile. It has a lively and cheerful melody, and it truly expresses the joy that I feel in my heart every Sunday, especially during the Easter season.
I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever others say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, And just the time I need him, he’s always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.
I’ve always enjoyed a good “gospel” hymn, and our LEVAS hymnal has many great ones from which to choose, a good many of which are traditional Negro spirituals. It turns out that Mr. Ackley was a gifted cellist and talented composer who wrote more than 1,500 secular and sacred songs in his 73 years! He was also an ordained Presbyterian minister who served congregations in Pennsylvania and, towards the end of his life, in California. Some of his hymns were used in the famous Billy Sunday revivals.
Music is one of several ways that I connect with God on a deeper level, and it is a very important part of my spiritual life. Most people have one or two favorite hymns that touch them deeply. Some are connected to sadness and loss, bringing back poignant memories of a loved one. Quite frequently, people tell me that a certain hymn moved them to tears “because it was my mother’s favorite” or “We sang that at my dad’s funeral and I always think of him when I hear it.”
Shortly after I graduated from seminary in 2006, I went on a ten day trip with other students to explore mission work in the Los Angeles area. We were allowed to choose where to worship on the two Sundays we were there, and we had to attend at least two different services each day. Some of us went to the Crystal Cathedral, where the music was astonishingly good but frustrating to listen to. The massive choir would sing a wonderful anthem such as How Great Thou Art but only sang two verses. Why? Because they had to allow time for commercial breaks because the service was televised live! The whole experience felt contrived. (The Crystal Cathedral, founded by Pastor Robert Schuller in the 1950’s, went bankrupt in 2012 and was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese.)
By contrast, visiting First African Methodist Episcopal Church in L.A. was an awe-inspiring experience. The music was exciting and energetic, and I will never forget watching a petite woman in her 80’s singing a wonderful gospel hymn, “You can’t hurry God; you just have to wait” while she literally danced up and down the main aisle of the packed sanctuary, as we all clapped and danced in the pews. Remembering that day still gives me goosebumps.
But the most memorable worship experience I had was on the second Sunday, when I attended All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. After experiencing worship in many different contexts, coming “home” to that familiar Holy Eucharist Rite II service was so emotional, I found myself in tears every time we sang a hymn. I still don’t know why it moved me so much, but I suspect that since it was early in May, we were still singing those lovely Easter hymns which are some of my favorites. The fact that I had finally finished a challenging Master of Divinity program while fighting for my right to be a priest in a diocese that did not allow women’s ordination may also have had something to do with my emotions. Hearing the rector of All Saints, The Rev. Carol Anderson, preach that day, I was sure, more than ever, that I was on the right track.
One of the reasons I enjoy singing “He Lives!” so much is because I first heard it sung enthusiastically, a cappella, by an elderly priest who was serving as an interim at St. Dunstan’s in Modesto. Like many of my favorite hymns, this one does not need a 300-member choir with a full orchestra, or a massive pipe organ, or even a piano to get the message across, although Phil’s brilliant accompaniment makes it so much better! I always thing of “Fr. Mac” when I sing it, and hope that wherever he is now, he is doing well and still singing:
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian, lift up your voice and sing
Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ, the King!
The hope of all who seek him, the help of all who find,
None other is so loving, so good and kind.
He lives! Thanks be to God!
Sermon for Sunday April 28, 2019 2 Easter John 20:19-31
Thomas the Doubter, or Thomas the Pragmatic?
The story of “Thomas the Doubter” is one of my favorite readings of the entire church year. Perhaps it’s because Thomas seems so very human, as do all the disciples, hiding out as they were in that upper room on the first Easter Sunday.
Throughout this past week, I was pondering our Gospel reading for today and wondering if there is anything new I might say about it. One of the things I thought about is how different it is for us today in the way we get our information, and how we get at the truth.
We live in an age that offers a constant barrage of information, most of which can be accessed in a blink of an eye. We carry a palm-size super computer in our pocket, and we can use that to gain knowledge, play games, and to communicate with others, whether they be close family members or distant “friends” whom we will never actually meet in person.
But getting information and getting at the truth can be very different things. Most of us can remember having access to news in only a few ways—word of mouth, reading the newspaper, and television or radio. But those were very limited resources; we had three channels on TV, one or two local papers, and perhaps a handful of radio stations. Today, it is much easier to get “the news” of the day, but a lot harder to determine what is true because anyone with a computer and an opinion can instantly become an expert at distributing information that may or may not be true.
For the disciples, living in fear after the arrest and execution of Jesus, things were much simpler. You believed what you saw with your own eyes. Mary Magdalene and the other women told the disciples that they had seen the empty tomb on Easter morning, but that did not convince them that it was true. Peter and John had to go and see it for themselves. And even then they did not understand. They end up going back to their hideout and hunkering down, trying to make sense of it all. That evening, Jesus appears to them, and they believe, incredible as it is, that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.
Were these fear-filled men overjoyed when Jesus suddenly appeared among them on that first Easter evening? I think their first reaction was shock. Jesus saw this, so his first words to them were “Peace be with you.” Jesus was reminding them of what he had said to them on the night he was betrayed: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus showed them the wounds from his crucifixion—the nail holes in his hands and feet, the opening where the spear had pierced his side. He then fulfilled his promise to them by breathing new life into them. Just as God breathed life into Adam, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his apostles, sending them out to do God’s work in the world. The powers that Jesus had during his earthly ministry—healing the sick and forgiving sins—were now being given to those who would carry on that ministry after the Resurrection. That gave the disciples something else to worry about. The miraculous healing that Jesus did along with stating that he could forgive sins was what got him into trouble with the Pharisees and led directly to his arrest and death.
We do not know why, but not all of the apostles were present in the locked room on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared. Thomas was not there; after he returns, the others tell him with great joy and excitement what has happened. But seeing is believing; Thomas did not believe his brother disciples when they told him this news.
But Thomas must have had at least a bit of hope, because the following Sunday, he was in that room with the others. The door was closed, as before, but Jesus showed up in the midst of them, greeting them once again with “Peace be with you,” just as he had the week before. Jesus already knew what Thomas had said to the others. He said, “Go ahead, Thomas, touch my wounds. It’s time for you to stop doubting and believe.” Thomas’s response goes beyond the simple joy of seeing his teacher alive again. Thomas sees Jesus in a completely new way: “My Lord and my God!” he exclaims. Thomas is the first person in the Bible to name Jesus as God. Thomas’ doubt was instantly transformed into faith!
Jesus takes the opportunity to gently chastise Thomas, telling him, “You believe in me now because you’ve seen me; blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.” Those are the words that are directed to us through John’s Gospel, two thousand years after the Resurrection. Those words are for our benefit—we who did not live with Jesus while he accomplished his earthly mission, but who are blessed because we know and believe in him. Thomas is a disciple that many of us can identify with, especially when our faith is not at its strongest. He is able to overcome his skeptical nature and fills his heart with the knowledge that Jesus lives for the sake of everyone, on that day in the upper room, and for each of us today.
When the Gospels tell us these unflattering stories about the apostles’ behavior, it strengthens our own faith. It would have been easy for those early Christian writers to gloss over the weakness of the disciples. They could have left out the part about Peter’s failings and Thomas’s doubts. But those are the very passages that show us the human side of the apostles. Those are the Scriptures that offer us encouragement that it is possible to change, with God’s help. It makes the Good News of the Gospel so much better when we can identify with those first followers of Jesus, those original eleven who did not always have unwavering faith in our Lord. It took time and a lot of hard work for them to gain the faith they needed to go out into the world and preach about God who took on our humanity and dwelled among us.
Like Thomas, even with our own failings and doubts, we can still carry the message of the Risen Lord to the ends of the earth, or at least to our immediate neighbors. Discerning the truth is, perhaps, more difficult in the age we live in, but when we recognize God’s love for us, and share that love with others, we strengthen our own faith in Jesus Christ. This is the true path to knowing Jesus as he really is, our Lord and our God.
Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year C Acts 10:34-43 & John 20:1-18 April 21, 2019
Yesterday evening, we gathered at St. Paul’s in Modesto to celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. That is a very long service that contains so many elements including the Service of Light, five scripture readings that span centuries of writings from both the Old and New Testaments, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, and the Holy Eucharist in which we share in the feast that was ordained by Jesus himself. And finally, we are allowed to say “Alleluia!” with great enthusiasm.
I always look forward most to the Renewal of our Baptismal vows, because they state so clearly what we believe and also remind us that we can only fulfill those vows with God’s help. We cannot do it on our own. We will get to proclaim those vows ourselves in a few minutes, when we will baptize little Trey. Baptizing children—baptizing anyone—is one of the best things I get to do as a priest, and I always look forward to it. We are reminded that through baptism we bind ourselves to Jesus, becoming part of the Christian community, initiated into the Church by water and the Holy Spirit. In baptism, we are invited to die to our selves and be reborn in Christ.
Last night, the Gospel reading was from Luke, which is printed in your insert today along with the one from John that our Deacon just read. All four of the Gospel accounts about the Resurrection include women, many of whom are named. This is not a common thing. Most of us who live in this time and place take it for granted that women and men are equally entitled to feature prominently in any story or account that we read. But in the Bible, this is not typical. Women in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are often nameless and seldom appear as main characters who have something important to say or do. But things altered after Jesus died and rose again. Women begin to be mentioned, not only as spectators, but also as participants in new ways that included leadership in the early Church.
Our Gospel today is a good example of this change, because a woman is one of the main characters in this chapter of John. A woman is the first one to see the Risen Lord on the first day of the week, that first Easter Sunday. Even after his death, Jesus was still working to change the way his world viewed women. And it’s not just in John’s Gospel. In every one of the four Gospels, Mary Magdalene and other women are given the honor of being the first people to see that huge stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb where Jesus had lain. Jesus honored these women by appearing to them, and gave them the task of carrying the Good News of the Resurrection to the disciples.
Tradition says that the writer of this Gospel—attributed to John—was describing himself when he used the term, “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Apparently it was not acceptable to simply use the first person when telling the stories about the disciples’ interactions with the Lord. So here we have two men, Simon Peter and John, who have been devastated by the loss of their teacher. Perhaps they are still in shock over what has happened during the past 3 days; they were certainly hiding out from the authorities, fearing that they would be the next ones to die, and not knowing what to do next. Then Mary sees the stone rolled away from the tomb, and runs to tell Peter and John that Jesus’ body is gone.
Picture these two men, worn out by grief, as they set out for the garden in which Jesus was entombed. They begin to walk slowly, puzzling over what has happened to the Lord’s body. As the reality of that news sinks in, John breaks into a run, and he can’t resist letting his readers know that he beat the older man to the tomb. Yet out of respect for Peter, he waits and lets him go in first. They check the empty tomb and head for home, still puzzling and scratching their heads about what has happened.
Then the story shifts back to Mary. First, she encounters two angelic beings in the tomb, and if that isn’t startling enough, she then meets Jesus, alive, in the flesh. But he must have been changed in some way, because at first she didn’t know who he was. It was the voice of Jesus that brought her to her senses. All he had to do was to speak her name, and instantly she knew it was the Lord. The passage ends with Jesus instructing Mary to deliver the message to the disciples. This is revolutionary! Jesus instructed Mary—not Peter or John— to be the Messenger of the Good News. In Greek, the word for messenger is “apostolos” from which we get our English word, “Apostle.” That is why Mary Magdalene is sometimes called “Christ’s first apostle.”
The Good News that was given to Mary on that first Easter Sunday was a message intended for all people. As we heard in the reading from Acts today, Peter entered the house of a Gentile, Cornelius, and preached the Good News to his entire household. Peter said to the large gathering, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
To our modern ears, this sounds like a logical thing to say, at least in theory. But to a devout Jew like Peter, this is a revolutionary statement. This changes everything. For generations, Jews like Peter had absorbed the message that only they were chosen as God’s people. Everyone else was excluded from the Kingdom of God. Now his attitude has changed, and he realizes that everyone is a child of God, worthy of forgiveness and salvation. What really convinced Peter that he was following the right path is that, before he could even get around to baptizing the gathered Gentiles, he witnessed the Holy Spirit coming upon them. Jesus had promised the disciples in Jerusalem that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit, but Peter had never dreamed it would be possible for Gentiles as well as for Jews.
Remember that message when you run into people who think it’s ok to exclude others from God’s love and salvation. There is an awful lot of that going around in our world today. The message of our salvation, freely given to every one of us by Jesus is that death is no longer the end of our existence. We live on, even after death, united with God our Creator. Jesus conquered death and the grave, and has ensured our own eternal life with God, through Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.
Now it is our turn to see the miracle of redemption happen once again, as it has for untold millions over the centuries of the Church. Because that’s what happens when we baptize a new Christian into the household of Jesus Christ. As we witness the baptism of Trey and renew our own baptismal vows, we affirm our faith that through Jesus, we are born anew to a life of God’s promise of unconditional love.
Who is my neighbor? Finding commonality amidst diversity
by The Rev. Kathie Galicia
Originally published on the Diocese of San Joaquin’s Friday Reflection, March 22, 2019
This past Monday, March 18, I attended an event at the Islamic Center of Modesto, a vigil to promote peace and unity and to honor the victims of the heinous attack by a White Supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll stands at 50 as I write this, with at least 40 more seriously injured.
Community leaders from Modesto and Stanislaus County as well as Rep. Josh Harder spoke eloquently to condemn this senseless tragedy. Leaders from many Christian denominations, the Sikh community, as well as Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue reminded the audience that we are all members of the human family, all deserving of love and respect. What undermines us most in these difficult times is fear of the other. Almost all people, no matter where they are from or where they currently live, want the same thing: security for their families, freedom from hunger and disease, and a good education so that future generations may live healthy and productive lives.
It’s not the first time I’ve attended an event that brought out leaders from across the religious and community spectrum. In late October, many of us were present at a similar gathering at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue to mourn the murder of eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner addressed those gathered on Monday saying, “As I’m taught is said in the Muslim tradition, we come from God, and to God we return.. These horrible attacks were attacks on all of us, all civilized people, particularly those with a long history of experiencing disrespect through Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, anti-immigrant rhetoric, anti-Semitism, and just plain hate.”
“What happened last Friday was an attack on all of us that stand for peace,” said Rep. Josh Harder. “There’s something particularly heart-breaking about a tragedy that occurs in a place of worship, that’s intended to be a place to search for peace.” Rep. Harder went on to say that while it is critical for us to gather during times of extreme crisis, it is unfortunate that we do not do so during times of relative peace.
This was a sentiment that was expressed several times, by Imam Ahmad Kayello and other clergy who spoke to the gathering of over 350 people. In our various religious traditions, we tend to stay in our own lanes— Bp. David would say “silos”—not venturing out into other religious communities to hear what they believe and see how they worship. In the face of the divisiveness that has threatened to tear us apart, we must remember that the strongest weapon we have against hatred is our ability to reach out to our neighbors, whether or not they are like us.
It is disheartening to witness the “anti-other” rhetoric that permeates our news and social media in our country today. Unfortunately, the United States is not alone in seeing an escalation of attacks on ethnic and religious minorities; whatever the source of this evil is, it is fed by ignorance, bigotry and hatred. As followers of Jesus Christ, as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and as adherents of The Way of Love, which is being studied and promoted by several churches in our diocese, what should our response be to intolerance in our communities?
One suggestion, made by retired pastor Erin Matteson, was something she has been working on herself lately: she looks people in the eye when she encounters them, whether at the grocery store or walking in her neighborhood. We can look at our fellow human beings and recognize that, however unique we may be, we are all known and loved by our Creator. That is especially true when people seem different from us. Simply walking or biking around our own neighborhood, smiling and saying hello, can go a long way in breaking down our reluctance to interact with someone from another culture or religion.
For those of us in the Episcopal Church, our worship services normally take place on Sunday mornings, our sabbath. Some Christian churches have worship services at other times during the week. What would happen if we “progressive” Christians attended a more conservative church one in awhile? There are worship services in Modesto at the Jewish synagogue and the Islamic mosque on both Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, which is their sabbath. In our diocese, most of us live within 20 miles of a mosque or synagogue. What would it be like to attend a service that falls outside our religious comfort zone? Judging by the wonderful level of hospitality we encountered at the Islamic Center and Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto, we can open our hearts to one another no matter where we worship. Finding areas of commonality is a great way to diminish the fear we have of those outside our silos. Defeating ignorance, bigotry, and hatred is daunting, but this is where we can start.
Sermon for Palm Sunday Year C
April 14, 2019
Anyone who thinks that we in the Episcopal Church do not read the Bible should attend church this week! Our readings cover the Old Testament, in which we hear from the prophet Isaiah, through the Psalms, the Gospels, and the letter of Paul to the church in Philippi. On Easter Vigil this coming Saturday at St. Paul’s, we will hear multiple readings of Scripture that span the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This week is a good week to read your Bible, following the suggestions in the Lectionary, because all the readings will relate to the most important event for Christians—the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We began the service in our lovely garden, hearing about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, singing along in spirit with those who stood cheering him on, waving palm branches, but we will end our service with his suffering and death fresh in our minds. We will not talk about Easter yet, although it is the highlight of the week. We cannot experience Easter fully unless we also accompany Jesus on his walk through this, the last week in his life.
Palm Sunday is a day in which we realize how easy it can be for people to go from lauding and adoring someone to turning our back on them, and even demanding that they be put to death. Of course, we don’t really believe that we ourselves are capable of such fickleness, but we know that others are. We have only to read world history to see how quickly people, or sometimes a whole group of people, can go from being accepted and respected, to becoming scapegoats for all the evils that exist.
It is important to remember our own culpability, our own sinfulness, when we see the way things are played out these days on social media, on TV, or in any other way in which we get our information on what’s going on in the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
There are many sources available that will take us through Holy Week with appropriate readings for each day. The main Episcopal Church website even has an option to live stream services beginning Maundy Thursday through Easter. The Forward Day by Day booklets have a short commentary and a list of Bible readings for each day. There is a very handy website called Mission St. Clare that has all the readings listed for each day of the week. Or you can simply turn in the back of your Book of Common Prayer, and follow the readings for Holy Week which are listed on p. 957.
A few days ago, I read a short piece that spoke about the Confession of Sin, which we say most Sundays, and in the Daily Office. It made me think about the way we say the confession. While it is a good thing to do a General Confession rather than requiring each person to make a private confession to their priest, we do not really allow time to ponder our sins when we do it this way. I think a very good practice during Holy Week is to take the time each day to say the Confession slowly, to ponder what we have done in thought, word, and deed, and then think about what we have done, and what we have left undone.
At the very least, I would urge each of you to meditate each day this week on the life of our Lord; remember the tremendous blessings that have come to us because God sent Jesus to live among us, fully human yet fully divine. Be thankful. Look forward to Easter, but do not forget that we only have Easter because Jesus willingly endured Holy Week. And he did this for us; he did this for us.
April 18: Maundy Thursday; Foot washing and Eucharist at 7 pm, followed by the
stripping of the Altar and the solemn procession of the Holy Sacrament to the Altar of Repose in our Chapel.
April 19: Good Friday at 12 Noon with Eucharist from the Reserved Sacrament.
April 20: The Great Vigil of Easter: “A flame is kindled in the darkness…”
We will join the congregation & clergy at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1528 Oakdale Rd, Modesto at 7:30 p.m. for an uplifting celebration of the Resurrection.
April 21: Easter Sunday Festival Eucharist, 10 a.m. Smells & Bells! An Easter Egg hunt will follow in the Memorial Garden for the children.
One of the most pervasive ideas we hear at church when we talk about stewardship is the concept of the three T’s—Time, Talent, and Treasure.The reality is that money—“Treasure”— is usually what interests most churches. Money is required to maintain our churches and our diocese, and when there is not enough of it, we are limited in what we might accomplish. So we need members of our congregations to support the church financially, to keep the lights on and to provide a stipend to the priest-in-charge or supply clergy who serve the church. Each congregation is also expected to pay its fair share to the diocese. There is no doubt that without our members’ financial support, there will be no church.
But what about the other two T’s? The one I want to talk about is the stewardship of time. The concept of time encompasses several aspects of stewardship. Time is also the area that is most neglected when it comes to conversations about stewardship. So often, people who serve in various aspects of ministry feel under appreciated or are bored by doing the same types of ministries for years. For newer members, dedicating time to the church, other than attending the service on Sunday, is a new concept. Deciding what one is interested in when everything is new is one problem. Another is whether volunteering at church will begin to take up too much time in one’s busy life.
Each of us is created in God’s image, and God wants us to be the best “us” we can possibly be. God wants us to make a difference in the world. We are to be stewards of God’s creation and that includes God’s Church. To do that, we take our baptismal vows seriously, in gratitude to God for the precious gift he has given us—our very lives. We must do our best to give back to our community and our church a portion of the inestimable blessings we have received. Our churches exist because people do just that; they pledge their support each year and give of their own treasure to make that happen.
Many people find, however, that they are not in a position to give much because they are not able to afford to. But in many cases, those same people have an abundance of time. Encouraging church members to give something back to God through service to others is a wonderful way to involve those who feel sad because they can’t write a check every month.
At St. Francis, we take all the three T’s seriously, with time and talent being appreciated as much as treasure. One of the recent things we accomplished at St. Francis was the rapid transformation of the church from the 4th Sunday of Advent to Christmas Eve, which took place on Sunday, Dec. 24th. Led by our wonderful Altar Guild, many people pitched in to make this quick change work. In a similar way, our first Christmas Pageant since returning to our building was made possible by the hard work of our two dedicated Sunday School teachers, Judi Miller and Jenny Donovan. The script for the charming Nativity play was provided by Wil Colon from St. Paul’s in Modesto, and we were blessed with eight children and two adults who acted out the various scenes, interspersed with our singing of beloved Christmas Carols, accompanied by our talented pianist, Phil Smallwood.
Likewise, a small group of generous church members from St. Francis, Holy Cross Armenien Orthodox Church, and Light of Christ Lutheran Church serves a monthly dinner at Turlock Gospel Mission, and we have other members who faithfully attend community meetings that focus on alleviating homelessness. We were honored to be part of the first annual Turlock Candlelight Vigil on December 21st, remembering the homeless people who have died in 2017. These are examples of ways in which our members contribute to the church and community. There is always something to do; even those who are housebound can contribute their time by praying for others or sending a card.
This past summer, we began cleaning out closets and files in our office building. It is a process that will continue for some time, given the age of our church. One of the benefits of going through old boxes and filing cabinets is that you may find historically important things. There is an opportunity for church members to help organize old photographs, vestry minutes, or other important documents. Paperwork is being brought it that has lived at home with me for some time, and will need to be filed. This is an area in which people who are willing to give of their time can be invaluable. Looking back on the history of our church, recognizing those who founded it, and finding ways to share that information with our congregation can stimulate great discussions. This is especially important for St. Francis because we spent quite a long time exiled from our buildings.
There are always projects for those who enjoy cleaning things up, either inside or outside. Since our church sits on several acres, there is always “tidying up” to do on the grounds, even during the winter months. Lots of leaves to rake, bushes to trim, weeds to pull, and cobwebs to sweep. Our office, located in the small house next door to the church, is in need of a thorough cleaning, top to bottom, inside and out. Although we are a small congregation, we have made a huge difference since getting back into the church in 2013, but the work is never-ending.
We have very dedicated members who serve on the Altar Guild, host coffee hours, teach children on Sunday, read or serve at the altar on Sundays, do yard work, run bulletins, and help decorate for special events. If you are not part of this wonderful volunteer team, you are missing out on one of the best aspects of church membership–being part of a team who acknowledges God’s many blessings by giving back, blessing our church with time, talent, and treasure.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about how you can give back to the church and community in turn for all God’s blessings:
Wishing you all a peaceful, prosperous, and happy new year!
Our Episcopal heritage has many things to commend it, but particularly noteworthy is our Book of Common Prayer. We are familiar with it since it is used for Sunday worship, although for visitors, it can be a challenge to figure out “where we are” at some points in our service.
But did you know that there is a wealth of other material in there, too? Historical documents, the Catechism, a calendar of the church year, Morning and Evening Prayer, Daily devotions for families, and lots of special services such as those for Ash Wednesday, Easter Vigil, and the Penitential Order are all contained in this lovely book.
“But wait! There’s more!” If you turn to page 810, you’ll see a long list of Prayers and Thanksgivings. While some of these may be inserted into the Prayers of the People on a Sunday, generally these heartfelt, well-composed prayers are not often used. Prayers for the world, the Church, national life, the social order, creation, and family life are all contained here.
I especially like the prayers between pages 821-827, and utilized many of those recently at an Evening Prayer service on January 19, the eve of the inauguration of our new President. I was amazed, as I read through this section, how timely the prayers are and the comfort they bring in this time of uncertainty.
There is one prayer that I overlooked, however, and I’m including it in the Prayers of the People this Sunday:
Prayer 39. For those who Influence Public Opinion
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I encourage you to explore the Book of Common Prayer on your own. You’ll find the entire contents online for free at bcponline.org, or you can buy a copy for personal use for as little as $8 on Amazon.