April 4, 2017 Comments Off on Parishioner Interview: Kyle Henderson
It is my understanding that St. Luke’s Formation program is much more immersive than what is common in other Parishes. Given the world we live in today, I find that to be so very important in helping people to understand the rituals and customs of the Episcopal Church and to understanding the history. Formation at St. Luke’s, specifically, has planted the seed of curiosity, not just for the Church, but also for the Bible, that has become part of the identity of my spiritual life. Coming to St. Luke’s and being a part of the Formation Program feels a little like trying archery for the first time and hitting the bullseye on my first shot.
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What are you looking forward to most at the Vigil?
Kyle Henderson: I started coming to St. Luke’s last summer when the choir was on hiatus. I was so moved by the service and the warm feeling that seemed to envelope me every Sunday. Everyone told me, “If you are moved now, just wait until the choir returns.” I heard this over and over and I thought, “These people are really building up this choir. I am afraid they are setting my expectations far too high.” It turns out, they didn’t give the choir enough credit. I was moved to tears for at least a month after the choir returned. As Easter is approaching, the people of St. Luke’s are talking again. They keep saying, “The Easter Vigil is the most beautiful I have ever experienced.” This time around, however, I know not to assume for one second that my fellow Christians at St. Luke’s are exaggerating. My heart is bubbling over with excitement in anticipation for the Easter Vigil; not simply for the inspiring beauty, but also for the deep connection to Jesus that I know I will feel that day. I really don’t know what to expect for the Easter Vigil, but I know that my first Easter at St. Luke in the Fields is going to be a day that I will never forget.
March 7, 2017 § 1 Comment
One of the choices given to us bloggers is to offer a “Parishioner Interview or Reflection.” In past years, I have alternated between interview and reflection. This year, I’m attracted to one of the interview question possibilities: “What is your favorite Lenten practice and why?” For many years, I have chosen a mixture of practices during Lent, seeking to balance “giving up” with “giving out.” In recent years, the “giving out” side has become more predominant for me. Last year, when I wrote here about thinking of Lent as being about Love, the “giving out” aspect was one thing that made that paradigm shift possible.
This year, I have added a new practice to my mix, courtesy of a suggestion from my long-time friend Ronald. Though I doubt any of the blog readers actually know Ronald, and I got his permission to write about this particular practice with credit to him for the idea, I am limiting myself to first name only for privacy. The practice in question is simple, can easily be combined with whatever else you’re doing to observe Lent, and has many permutations, limited only by the limits of your imagination. Ronald worded his challenge to his friends this way: “Instead of giving up something for Lent, do something for someone. It could be making a donation to a charity, or volunteering, or maybe spending more time with an elderly relative or neighbor.” Ronald’s own example of what he did last year was to put aside $2.00/day during Lent, and at the end of Lent use the money to buy socks for a homeless shelter in his area to distribute to its guests. The shelter director had told him that for that shelter, a priority donation other than money was socks. I’ve since read several articles in which other shelters report the same need. That’s just one example of how this practice can work.
This is how I’m doing the practice this year. I am putting daily money aside, and will reflect during Lent on where and how to best deploy the donation at the end of Lent. I’m leaning toward a struggling local not-for-profit that provides food and services to the homeless in my increasingly gentrifying neighborhood. It’s symbolic for me to put the money aside each day, not just in weekly chunks, so that I reflect each day on the needs of so many, sort of like the old mite box tradition that some may remember from childhood. In this year in which there are so many competing needs at every level, taking time each morning to think beyond myself seems particularly relevant to the idea of Lent as being related to love, and to Lent as a time of penance and sacrifice in memory of Jesus’s sacrifice and subsequent resurrection.
If you feel moved to do so, choose your own option for giving out during Lent, either instead of or in addition to giving up. Think of “giving out” as spreading a bit of sorely needed kindness in the world.
– Julia Alberino
February 16, 2016 Comments Off on Parish Interview: Mary O’Shaughnessy
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: How do you think Lent differs and prepares us from the other liturgical seasons?
Mary O’Shaughnessy: I think of Lent as the season in which we open ourselves to the value of pruning ourselves and our commitments in order to be more fruitful at a future time.
It is so easy to fall into a spiral of ever-expanding demands on my time–where each individual ask is small, but the weight of the accumulated requests threatens to cause me to buckle, body and spirit. I think this is particularly insidious for those of us with resources. Good jobs, steady income, social capital are all good things I want to put to good use, but there has to be a time to just stop.
Many years ago here at St. Luke’s, a priest associate by the name of Molly McGreevy, of blessed memory, preached a terrific sermon on cutting back.
Molly described how she and her husband had bought a house with a lovely apple tree in the front yard. The first couple of years the tree produced apples, but fruit stopped coming after a few seasons. There were plenty of leaves, just no fruit. Concerned, Molly and Earl called an arborist, who said basically, “Oh, you haven’t pruned it. It needs pruning.” So they gave him the okay to go ahead, and went on with their day.
When they came home, the tree was nearly bare and had had limbs removed. The tree, to their eyes, looked dead. They were horrified, despite the specialist’s reassurances.
The next season, to Molly’s delight, the tree produced lots of apples. The tree had needed some care that looked painful, and looked destructive, but in reality was restoring it to its healthy, fruitful state.
People, families, ministries, and parishes all need to ask ourselves on a regular basis:
- What needs pruning back?
- Where are we no longer fruitful?
- What could we look like with healthy trimming of unexamined commitments and demands?
- Are we afraid that, having answered those questions, we will look selfish or lazy to those who have come to expect much from us?
- What could grow if we trimmed back and left room?
June 11, 2015 Comments Off on Gay and Christian and Parenting
I’ve been so fortunate. And I’m so grateful. As a gay man now entering his 7th decade [well, just entered], I’ve experienced so much, traveled around the world and have the pleasure of so many friends, among whom are many St. Luke’s parishioners. But nothing can beat the joy of having and raising a child. On many Sundays I see same-gender couples in the pews with a new-born or young child and I think “They are so lucky. So dedicated. So loving.” I know. I’ve been a parent for 22 years.
Gay and lesbian parents have many advantages. One is that we don’t become parents by accident. It’s often a long and difficult journey, and even more so for some who may live in certain areas of the US. There are long conversations, lots of research, seeking out others in the LGBT community who have children. And here in New York, we’re privileged to be in a city and state that has long been supportive of differently-constituted families from the norm. And as members of the Episcopal Church, we also have a faith community that makes sure we feel welcome in the Body of Christ. In fact, in my own case, having a child was what brought me back to church!
It was in 1993 that my husband Keith and I brought home our then week-old son Christopher. We were fortunate to find an adoption agency – in Texas, of all places – that was willing to work with single men [there was no marriage equality then] looking to be parents.
We knew before Chris even arrived that we wanted him to have an experience of a church, as both Keith and I had growing up. For myself especially it was exciting, as I had grown up very active in my home-town Roman Catholic parish, and had actually majored in theology in college with an eye to entering seminary after. But as with many things, I met Keith at the time, and began to grow further and further away from the RC church, in large part because of its anti-LGBT positions. There were a few decades where we would go to church pretty much only at Christmas, and it was one Christmas that we went to the tiny Episcopal Church in our neighborhood. It was nice, but at the time there was nothing to draw us back except the holiday services.
But we went anyway once we had Chris at home, not knowing what kind of welcome we’d receive. Being a very small parish – maybe 15-20 on an average Sunday – anyone new walking through the doors was immediately scrutinized. However, we were made to feel immediately welcome and part of the parish family. There was absolutely no issue when we asked about having Chris baptized. The only question the vicar asked us was ‘When?’
Gay men raising children in New York City, even over twenty years ago, is undoubtedly different than raising a child in other, less inclusive and diverse part of the country. The same can be said of our experience with a church family. Our church became a part of our lives. There were a few children around Chris’s age, and they quickly became friends. Even now, Chris has a close friend from those years. Sunday school and church activities were a part of the journey. And the parish sponsored a children’s theatre program into which Chris and family immediately dived in.
Things of course do change. It’s not at all uncommon for a teenager to move away from church-going practices as they seek and learn and grow. My family is no different in this regard. I’m the sole ‘full-time’ church-goer these days. And that’s fine. But what I can say with full assurance, is that in both the church families that have been a part of our lives over the last two decades, there has never been a single instance where our sexualities or family structure was ever an issue. For this we are grateful for the work of the Episcopal Church in including all – families and single persons, children and the elderly, straight and gay, male and female and those who choose another way of expressing gender. At the same time I always try to remember that there are many families like mine, living in places where it’s difficult, even painful, to raise children. For these we must continue to pray and work for justice and inclusion that my family has been fortunate to experience.
April 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What was your formation experience like in the process to be Confirmed?
Tom Wharton: It’s been just about six months since I first walked into a Monday evening Eucharist at St. Luke’s on an impulse that I now understand was the working of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was caught up in a current that I couldn’t, and didn’t want to resist. When I looked
around at the people at St. Luke’s, the commitment, the passion, the community, and the joy, I knew that wanted to be part of the Formation Group, although frankly, I didn’t really understand what formation meant. Looking back over the experience now, I can see that in addition to having been joined to a body of people with whom I feel at home in a life in Christ, I’ve also come away
two additional gifts.
The first gift is that I think I finally have a sense of who I am, and in turn how to be myself. For many reasons, this has always has been difficult for me. I think the main reason is that I’ve always been the kind of person who lives in their head. For a whole lot of reasons, it seems as though I was trying to think my way through life, planning and controlling events and people as much as I could to ensure that things would go as I thought they should. I don’t think I entirely
trusted my heart—which to me meant out of control feelings, which needed to be watch and kept under control like beautiful, but poisonous flowers. And, let’s face it, when you live in your head, there isn’t really much room for mystery.
I discovered that the Truth of God is a body, mind, heart, and soul experience. Because the formation process forced me to engage and question everything about myself—what I think, feel and believe, I came to realize that the way to God was to relax into the truth of who I am, and that all of us are wonderful, unique expressions of the ultimate Truth—God’s love. When I sit with this
knowledge, how can I not be happy and at peace. Being myself has become much easier for me. When I love, I am myself, the most myself I can be.
The second gift was the path to humility. The realization of this came during a Eucharist when we were all bowing while confessing our sins. I realized how foreign, unpleasant and unnatural the idea of bowing—humbling myself—was
to me. Maybe it’s an American thing. We don’t bow to anyone… we’re self reliant… we’re masters of our fate… only the weak grovel. I’ve learned through formation that when something feels unusual, foreign, or I have just plain resistance to something, there may be an opportunity for growth.
So, I gave into it. I started bowing and meaning it, and it opened my heart to the gratitude I have for my life and the knowledge that everything—down to every breath I take—is a gift. And, when I have so many gifts, gifts that I did nothing to earn, how can I not praise and thank God. At the same time, when I have been given so much in spite of my sins, how can I not love and forgive others who are no better than I. I guess it all comes down to the fact that the gifts of humility are gratitude and forgiveness. I want my life to be about gratitude and forgiveness, and I see the path is through humility.
Coming up to the Easter Vigil and my confirmation, I began to regret that the process, which had been so consuming, was nearly over. But on Easter morning, I felt completely different. I woke up realizing that this was just the beginning, and more importantly, I had the feeling that I had found my home—the place where I belonged. Home is where you are always welcome, where people are
glad to see you, and where you can just be yourself. Home is where your family is.
You take home with you in your heart wherever you go, and wherever my life journey takes me, I will have St. Luke’s in my heart. Through the formation process, I was lucky to have Robert McVey as my sponsor. The very first
time we met, he suggested that I write a prayer. I’ve revised it a few times as I’ve moved through the weeks and months. I don’t actually say it as a prayer—in some ways, who needs anything else buy what Jesus gave us in The Lord’s Prayer. But, the act of writing it and refining it has become a prayer for me, taking me back again and again to trying to express my deepest feelings about God.
Open my eyes.
Let me see your face
In all of your creation.
Teach me to pray.
Open my mind
To the language
Of your mystery.
To the music
Give me the courage to love.
For this day,
For my life,
For my people,
For my gifts,
Show me my work.
Send me into the world,
One, whole, shining reflection,
Of your union,
I reach for you,
And freely return
My life to you,
When my time comes,
Take me home.
April 3, 2012 Comments Off on Parish Interview: Andrew Goldhor
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: Lent actually originated in the early Church as a period of six weeks intended to instruct and train those new converts desiring to be baptized into the faith. What advice would you give to the newly baptized/confirmed/received coming into our church?
Andrew Goldhor: Lent is a season of preparation and examination, a time to get ready to baptize and confirm new and rededicated members of the body of Christ, and an opportunity for all of us to stand back and look at our lives as followers of Christ and people made in God’s likeness, and to imagine new possibilities.
The language of the baptismal covenant reminds us that even as we move through a time of considering our sins and omissions, we do it as a people marked as Christ’s own forever.
Maybe by this point in Lent you have started to test those disciplines. Perhaps you have held fast to the denial of some treasured treat. Chocolate? Television? Alcohol?
Or there are those of us who have added a new spiritual practice for Lent. We may have taken on yoga, meditation, or a more regular reading of scripture.
These are all wonderful possibilities for reflection and prayer, but it is important to remember that our disciplines do not secure our relationship to God. God’s grace is given to us, not because of anything we do, but because God loves us.
A dear friend of mind tells of her time working as a foster care case worker here in New York. Her supervisor was a beautiful and very kind woman, particularly to the scared and clueless new caseworker.
And she had a big personality. She had a booming voice that you could hear from anywhere in the office. But the thing that was the most striking was that she called everyone, caseworkers and clients, “Beloved.”
She did it when you came in in the morning– “Hi, Beloved.” Or when she was telling someone what to do—“Get your case notes up to date, Beloved.”
But the most compelling moments came when she did it in the midst of yelling at someone, “Listen, Beloved, you need to show up in court tomorrow.” And she really meant it. She believed deeply in God’s love for everyone, and reminded them, herself, and everyone else of this love, even when it was most difficult.
My friend has always recalled this expression, and spoke of her thanks for the message of that belovedness, which can be so hard to accept or to really believe for ourselves.
And so it is at that intersection of God’s freely bestowed grace, and our reflections that we can begin to glimpse what God has created us for. Frederick Buechner, a favorite theologian of mine, articulates the message as this:
It is our business, as we journey, to keep our hearts open to that, to the bright-winged presence of the Holy Ghost within us and the Kingdom of God among us, until, little by little, compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise, from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality, which is that the world is holy because God made it and so is every one of us as well.
As we walk towards Jerusalem with Christ, we know that are to die with him. And yet, through God’s abundant grace we know too that we shall be raised in new life with Jesus. This is the promise of the Easter morning ahead.
In that day, we realize that we do not do good to become closer to God, but rather that are we God’s and so we have been made good, and it is our very nature to share this love with one another.
March 27, 2012 Comments Off on Parish Interview: How Do you Think Lent Differs and Prepares Us from the Other Liturgical Seasons?
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: How do you think Lent differs and prepares us from the other liturgical seasons?
Chris Phillips: I struggle with keeping my Lent practice different than how I mark Advent. I try to keep both as quiet times of preparation.
At the Catholic Church where I attend as a child, they used purple to
mark both seasons. When I left home for school, the King’s College
used pale blue as the liturgical color for Advent. I remember missing
the traditional purple Advent candles I grew up with, but also growing
into seeing the differences between Advent and Lent.
I think by nature I may be more of an Advent person — dreaming,
hoping, preparing. Maybe someone has advice for me on how to find my
March 20, 2012 § 4 Comments
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What practical steps can we take to carve out time for daily contemplation?
Julia Stroud: Lately I have been wondering how the rest of the world does it. “How do you do it?!” I think when I see a friend turn her paper in on time, or when I see a co-worker working diligently on a project with no deadline, or when I see someone effortlessly descend the subway stairs with a stroller in one hand and a Blackberry in the other. How do they do it?! And by “it,” I mean, finish anything? Get to the gym? Read a book? And sleep at night? And wake up in the morning?
I feel like I need at least 5 extra hours each day to fit in everything I want to do and everything I have to do. And I don’t even have any children! This makes Lent particularly daunting for me, because it is a time when I feel drawn to do even more. Wouldn’t it be great to go to bible study every week during Lent? Or read the Daily Office every morning? Those are things that, I imagine, would make my Lent a “success,” even better than giving up cookies. But they are just not realistic.
Once, several years ago, I was feeling particularly stressed out. I felt like I had no time to think, let alone pray. All of the ambitious systems I had laid out–like waking up half an hour early for centering prayer, or downloading the lectionary on my iPod–were not working. I happened to be in the shower contemplating my failure when I realized it: the shower was the perfect place to go through my daily prayers! “God, you are awesome,” I think as I put the shampoo on my head. “Thank you for this beautiful weather,” as I wash it out. What better place to make a confession than the shower? Or to ask for help? Or to pray for those other people in your life who need it? (People who haven’t thought of this brilliant shower method, for example.)
Shower-prayer is one quirky little method of daily contemplation, meditation, and spiritual connection that has worked for me, without adding any extra hours to my day. It hasn’t really helped with turning my papers in on time, but at least I feel a bit calmer about my tardiness.
March 13, 2012 § 4 Comments
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What do ashes mean to you this year, Weiben?
Weiben Wang: There’s been a lot of death lately. In the month leading up to Ash Wednesday, I served in two funerals for friends at church. Then a friend’s father died, so, a week before Ash Wednesday, I ended up with a two funeral weekend. I saw one person’s ashes, and helped to shovel dirt onto another’s coffin. It so happened that Mother Stacey’s sermon on Ash Wednesday focused on mortality. She talked about crematoria, and images of my grandparents’ funerals came to mind. The Chinese are much less squeamish about the physical aspect of death. I watched both of them go into the furnace, and I saw them when they came out. With dust pans and chop sticks, we helped to pick through the remains and put them in jars. At my grandmother’s funeral, we wore actual sackcloth; it’s funny how the image of sackcloth and ashes was so immediate at a throughly non-Christian funeral. And we censed the dead, though with joss sticks by the fistful. Temples are full of ash from millions of joss sticks.
The other time I was marked on my forehead was at an Easter Vigil, and was “marked as Christ’s own forever.” It was the same gesture, and the same sensation, but with a different substance, and different significance, with oil rather than ash, joyous rather than somber, marking rebirth rather than death. The grace in all that ashen grimness was knowing that at the other end comes Easter, that through Lent and Good Friday, on the other side of the cross comes renewal, joy, and celebration.
In words from the Orthodox Easter liturgy, which I also like to attend:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
March 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What do ashes mean to you this year, Chris?
Chris Phillips: Ash Wednesday was an over-scheduled work day for me – with two new
employees starting at our company that today — but I need to take a
short break to honor the day as best I could. I took a quick lunchtime
subway ride from my office in Soho down to Trinity Wall Street. I was
fascinated by the crowd of people gathered for to get their ashes.
Trinity had three people distirbuting ashes just inside the door, so I
quickly made my way to the front of the line.
The woman putting the ashes on my head asked for my name. I told her.
“Chris, remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” she said.
I fixated on the sound of the dry ashes scratching on my forehead.
Hearing that gravely dry grinding in that particular place pulled me
back to the days following the World Trade Center disaster. Back
then, my office off Wall Street along with much of lower Manhattan was
coated with dust. Back then, we didn’t need a reminder that we are
dust. We were all coated with grime and dust. I can’t forget that
smell or that fear.
Maybe it is trite to make the obvious connection between 9/11 and Ash
Wednesday, but that griding dust sound is now looping in my head. I
think I am acknowledging mortality and those horrible days as we move
farther away from the day it happened, but also looking for renewal