Lenten Reflection: What Advice Would You Give to the Newly Baptized/Confirmed/Received Coming into Our Church?

March 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

10701_783645675034512_6653114807260103021_nAmong the possible questions suggested for those of us willing to write a reflection in the form of an answer to an interview question was this one: What advice would you give to the newly baptized/confirmed/received coming into our church? I found this to be an intriguing question. In years past, I served as a Formation Sponsor four times: twice for persons being baptized and twice for persons being received from another tradition (in both cases, Roman Catholic). I spent a lot of time with my candidates, preparing them to come into the church, but maybe not enough time preparing them for what comes after the Easter Vigil. It seems to me that the interview question is asking about that post-Vigil time. In other words, what would I say when a newly baptized/confirmed/received person asks: “OK, I’m an Episcopalian, now what?”

I recognize that this is a natural question. During Lent, those in formation are concentrating on learning as much as possible. They go on retreat, attend an instructed Eucharist, go to weekly classes, meet at intervals with their sponsors. The Easter Vigil may be seen as the culmination of the process, and it is a glorious one. However, when Easter is over, the new Episcopalian may understandably feel a bit of a letdown, or may feel exhilarated but not sure what to do next. If asked for my advice, I would stress to the one asking that the Easter Vigil is just the beginning of the rest of his or her life as a member of our community. The possibilities for continuing life in community can seem overwhelming if one looks at the list of activities in each week’s bulletin. Just some examples: for those who want to continue on an educational track, St. Luke’s offers a rich and varied adult education program; for anyone who wants even more educational opportunity, there is an Education for Ministry group at St. Luke’s; if the new member of our church is looking for something of a more spiritual nature, we have a weekly centering prayer group; for those who prefer something more active, there is no dearth of service and even social opportunities.

What is the common thread running through the activities enumerated above? It is that they are all a part of what makes a community a community. So here’s another bit of advice: No one should shy away from trying out one or more possibilities, nor should anyone be afraid to admit that whatever he or she tried isn’t the right fit. The important thing is to find one’s place within the community, even if for at least a while, that means just showing up. Keep thinking about why you decided to get baptized, confirmed, or received. Of what did you want to be a part? Take some post-Easter time to get the lay of the land, so to speak. The Spirit will lead you in the right direction, if you trust. Don’t feel you have to do everything, or anything, right away. But do recognize that you have God-given gifts and talents and that your experience in the church will be enhanced when you put those talents to use as a member of the community. Be open to the ways in which you can, in a paraphrase of the post-Communion prayer “do the work which the Father has given us to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”

May the remainder of Lent be a fruitful preparation for the wonder that is to come at the Easter Vigil and your life as a member of your new faith community.

– Julia Alberino

Parish Interview: What Do Ashes Mean to You This Year?

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
Bestowing life!

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