A Breathtaking Year of Children’s Formation  

This past Sunday was our first children’s sermon of the summer, and I had prepared a light offering of song and fellowship. I did so out of a sense that – having doubled the amount of time our parish children participate in religious formation this year – they deserved and would be ready for more playful and informal worship. I was wrong.

As I wrapped up the short words I had prepared about Sarah, her laughter, and the closeness God shares with her, I got questions. Questions from an eight-year-old about how many of our stories are about men and not women. About how even when they’re about women, they’re often about mothers. Questions from a ten-year-old about the Gospel reading, which we hadn’t even explored: how Jesus tells his disciples about the suffering they will endure – “he pretty much seems to say, ‘you will die for me’” she said – and whether or not our faith offers us enough to make that bearable. Real questions. Meaningful ones.

Their questions were a great privilege to encounter, and I answered them as thoughtfully as I could, making space both for the ways in which our scriptures do speak to their doubts, and the ways in which we’re left to wonder. More importantly, I promised them that I would take their questions seriously. That we would wrestle with them – those questions and the ones to come – in the months and years ahead. That I would be beside them as we took up this beautiful and challenging lifelong work of following Christ.

And I thanked them.

Though I had anticipated a lighter worship service, I wasn’t at all surprised to find them reaching for more. This past year has been a deep dive into gorgeous material, and our children soaked it all up. But rather than tell you about that myself, I’d like to offer you insights from this year’s generous team of children’s formation guides.

In the year’s first series, “Understanding The Book of Common Prayer,” the wise and thoughtful Dr. Elizabeth Kraatz introduced the book and its history; guided our youngest parishioners through the daily offices; taught them the structure of a Collect and helped them write their own; explored how our sacraments are outlined there; and moved through our Holy Eucharist, taking the time to dwell in the language that helps us remember those four holy actions: took, blessed, broke, gave.

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This led beautifully into our second series: Brian Lonberg’s rich and moving exploration of the Holy Eucharist. Of that series, Brian offers the following insights:

In the fall the wonderful children of St. Luke’s and I came together to talk about the Eucharist. We focused on three aspects of the sacrament: Community, God, and Forgiveness. In the first week we talked about what makes a community: who gets to be in, and who is excluded; what rules we place on membership; why community is important; and how the Eucharist creates and sustains our community. We each took a turn waiting to be invited to the table, being welcomed to the table, and inviting others. I saw the stress, joy, and generosity in turn from each of the kids, and it really opened them up to thinking about what limits we can place on things – especially precious things like a favorite group, toy, or the Eucharist itself – and where we have to let limits go for the sake of others.

The second week was spent looking around the back of the church, touching and seeing up-close the liturgical tools we use to, as Fr. Randall would say, “Make Eucharist.” We talked about sacramentals like incense and stained glass, and how we use those to heighten our senses and our experience sharing a space with God. And we talked about Covenants with God, as with the Eucharist – places we know God is, and where we can experience God. Our final week together we talked about forgiveness. We read the story “What if Nobody Forgave?” and talked about what forgiveness is, what it means, and how it felt both to forgive and to be forgiven. And we talked about forgiveness in conjunction with Jesus giving up His life, and by giving us this Sacrament. Then we spent time as our small community making the bread that we as a whole community would use for communion on the following Sunday.

I was amazed by the depth of our children. Growing up in the Roman church, I was used to the standard 2nd grade first communion. The idea that you had to “understand” what you were partaking in. After spending time with these kids – all but one of whom wouldn’t have been allowed to stand with the adults at communion in the Roman church – I could see that even when they lacked facts or history, they felt and understood the Eucharist in a place deep within their bones that not all adults can access. It showed me the importance of having this open table, and the importance of having all of our community welcomed.

The third series, “Home as a Family’s Spiritual Center,” was led by warm and gifted teacher-parishioner Amy Hanson. Amy writes:

It was my great privilege to work in children’s formation this past year. I loved sharing with the children how our family made our home a spiritual center in November. We talked about how home devotions can start when children are small and then change as children get older, incorporating bible reading and prayer. We made our own “prayer books.”

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This brought us to Advent, and many of you saw the fruits of Becky Edmonds’ work with the children that season. Having completed three rich fields of study, these weeks gave kids the space to use their hands, to make tiny nativities, to offer God their love by imagining and then recreating the Holy Family.

During Epiphanytide, Amy Hanson once again graced us with her kind and loving guidance, returning to teach the “The Story of Joseph,” the fruits of which have been visible all year in their new and clear understanding of the book of Genesis. Of this unit, Amy offers these words.

In January, I was happy to be invited back to delve into the story of Joseph. Renee provided wonderful materials: a beautiful robe, gorgeous story books, and other meaningful objects. We read the story, acted out the story, and talked about it. Joseph’s story is such a rich trove of biblical learning. Writing the Hebrew word for “dream” in clay as part of our response was a huge hit!

Dr. Fritz MacDonald led our next series: “Matthew & First-Century Nazareth Context.” Fritz is, of course, a life-force in the classroom. He writes,

It was fun for all of us and most enjoyable for me to work with the children.  Renee was always available for guidance and inspiration. Thank you Carrie for helping us learn the Hebrew song, “Shalom Chavarim.” The kids were quite curious when I brought my Euphonium to class to accompany them in song and dance. The “Beatitudes” are not simple to comprehend and our discussion with children and parents was very stimulating. Thank you everyone for your support.

We then carved out space, once more, for acts of creation, as Madeleine Roberts joined us to lead the Lenten Series:Exodus, Art, & Music.” We all saw the fruits of that series on display in the chapel for Eastertide.

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Of the work itself, Madeleine writes:

The story of Exodus in its dramatic telling of the power of God is arguably the most important to Jewish people, is remarkably easy to read, and children enjoy the dynamic storytelling. In Exodus, Art, & Music, the story was taught first, using a beautifully illustrated children’s book, then moving to the Bible. Painting five Chagall inspired canvases showcasing five scenes from Exodus allowed the children to interact with the story, solidify the plot to memory, and a chance to show creative prowess.

Comparisons were drawn between Moses as “The New King” and Jesus as the “New Moses.” For this lesson, only the second week of the unit, I fully expected the children to need some refreshing on the details of the story and of what they learned about Jesus in Matthew, so I made the activity a Bible scavenger hunt, marking helpful pages in a Bible and coming prepared to prompt their memories. To my surprise, the children remembered details from the week before (only having learned them once) and from other units to reach the ultimate comparison completely on their own.

After underscoring the importance of Moses to the Jewish people by comparing him to Jesus, we moved on to the story of the first Passover. We discussed traditions as taught in the Bible that are maybe not practiced today, such as the household slaughtering of the perfect lamb, and others that are, such as ridding the house of unleavened bread. Finally, we told the story of the Last Supper, one that they recognized from church, connecting our entire unit back to Lent.

In a special moment together, we recited the Shema prayer in English (and to my surprise, heard it in Hebrew from memory from two children). As the first prayer many Jewish children learn, this allowed our children to learn more about the traditions of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and fostered a sense of same-ness with the community outside our church walls.

I had the privilege of leading our penultimate field of study, which was an in-depth look at the Acts of the Apostles. Together we explored what that book tells us about being the church: the model it offers for following the apostles’ teachings, leaning in to fellowship, continuing in the practice of breaking bread, and committing to a life of communal prayer. For the final week, we gathered costumes and performed six Acts scenes, from Peter healing a disabled homeless man to the apostles’ persecution, arrest, and release; the conversion of Saul; and Paul’s dramatic shipwreck. Watching them perform these stories was joyful and heartening. They were silly and playful, all while engaging with reverence these accounts of our earliest Christian brothers and sisters. I wish you all could have seen them.

Finally, Dr. Jeremy Sabella led our last series, which mirrored the adult form series of “Ecclesiology, or ‘What is Church?’” Jeremy brought studious wonder to the program year, taking our children seriously and offering them whole new depths of knowledge. Of this final series, Jeremy writes the following.

I led the ecclesiology unit. I’ve long believed that, as complicated as the finer points of theology can get, virtually everyone is able to grasp the essential points of the Gospel. Figuring out how to explain the concept of the church to children as young as three years old certainly put this to the test!

The three sections took the form of an extended meditation on the Body of Christ.

For the opening section, we talked about the human body and how necessary every part of the body is. When we hurt even a small part of the body, like a finger or a toe, doing everyday things becomes a lot more difficult. We then talked about how groups of people function like a body and how Christians are Christ’s body on earth.  We thought through all the things that people needed to do to keep St. Luke’s running week in and week out (somebody needs to change the lightbulbs, buy the donuts, do Scripture readings, etc.). We also emphasized how children are an important part of the body. Jesus tells us that to enter the Kingdom of heaven, we must become as children. Children remind the adults of how to be childlike before God.

For section two, we examined how the “body of Christ” metaphor applies, not just to individual churches, but to the worldwide network of churches. We used photos of amazing churches on every continent, from underground, medieval-era churches in Ethiopia to a spectacularly colorful earthquake-resistant cardboard church in New Zealand.  The children would locate each church that we looked at on a giant inflatable globe.

For section three, we talked about what the Body of Christ looked like in action. Jesus’s ministry emphasized the importance of healing the body. We examined how early Christians followed in Jesus’s footsteps by starting the first hospitals, and how Christians have continued Jesus’s work by caring after the sickest and most vulnerable people in society. We also talked about how ministries such as soup kitchens, diaper drives, and shelters allow Christians showing the love of Jesus to others by caring for their practical needs.

Thank you all for the support you showed this program year. It was an enormous undertaking to move from holding children’s formation during church to keeping children in church, offering a sermon just for them, and then guiding them through an entirely new educational program during forum hour. Though the creation of such a year was challenging, it was likewise an incomparable joy.

My enormous gratitude, too, for the whole team of wise and generous guides. It was a pleasure to plan, research, write, and teach alongside you. The conversations that emerged have fed this parish in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Finally, my love to all our parish children, who again and again brought their curiosity, growing knowledge, faith, doubts, insights, instincts, and wonder to the shared work of understanding our faith tradition, our history, our God, our community, and ourselves. It is a great privilege to do this work alongside each and every one of them.

Yours in Christ,
Renee

Accessibility & the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp

Dear friends,

Preparations are underway for our third annual St. Luke’s Music Camp, which will be held from Monday, July 10th through Friday, July 14th. As most of you know, our camp offers children the opportunity to learn about music history, culture, and composition. They sing, study some of the great composers and periods of music history, and explore cultures from around the globe. Campers develop rhythmic ability on Orff instruments and are introduced to basic concepts in music theory. They become more aware of themselves, their communities, and the music at hand by participating in various art and mindfulness projects. In a follow-up essay to this one – which we plan to publish in the next week – you’ll find details about this year’s thrilling theme and structure. Stay tuned for that! But for now we wanted to share some details about this year’s focus on accessibility.

In “The Families that Can’t Afford Summer,” KJ Dell’Antonia asserts that only 7% of Michigan families fits the traditional stereotype, and that 35% are single-parent led. Students have a 10- to 11-week break each summer, yet only a quarter of American families are able to have one parent home. This means that three-quarters of American families have to find care for 440 hours per child. Because of the impossibility of meeting such an expense, many parents are forced to leave children home alone. In one of far too many examples, a South Carolina mom was sent to jail for leaving her 9-year-old to play in a park while she worked.

According to the Michigan Wage Calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single parent working full-time for minimum wage earns $17,680. For that parent to meet the full living expenses for her/himself and two children (housing, healthcare, nutritious food, childcare, transportation, et cetera) s/he would need to earn $56,693: more than three times our minimum wage. Additionally, the average American one-week day camp costs $304, which is only $34 short of a full week of minimum wage page. This clearly means that for many, camp is not an option.

Additional barriers for summer camp access include the fact that most summer day camps run either in the morning or the afternoon, while most full time jobs require employees to be present for nine consecutive hours with the exception of a lunch break. Families without a stay-at-home parent often simply cannot coordinate mid-day pick-ups and drop-offs. And many families rely solely on public transportation, which makes three hour camps a logistical impossibility.

Also disconcerting is the impact of inconsistent summer care over academic achievement. Dell’Antonia contends that while “most kids lose math skills over the summer…low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. She concludes that this regression accounts for nearly “half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”

Finally, a disproportionate number of families living in poverty have experienced trauma, which is itself a barrier to both enjoyment and education. Across Kalamazoo, programs that help children deal with trauma have waiting lists. Trauma and ongoing toxic stress interferes with a child’s ability to pay attention, complete tasks, and learn new skills, which adversely affects their social and emotional well-being.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience demonstrate that repeated childhood trauma (or adverse childhood experiences) can disrupt brain development and effect changes both at the biological and psychological level.

In more heartening news, however, a study from Frontiers in Psychology reports that “The directed use of music and music therapy is highly effective in developing coping strategies, including understanding and expressing feelings of anxiety and helplessness, supporting feelings of self-confidence and security, and providing a safe or neutral environment for relaxation.” In this manner, music heals and helps individuals reach their wellness goals. Over the past decade, music therapy has emerged as a creative art form that has been used to address stress and coping with survivors of trauma. And the American Music Therapy Association identifies some of the benefits of music therapy treatment in cases of traumatic incidents, which include anxiety and stress reduction, positive changes in mood and emotional states, enhanced feelings of control, confidence, and empowerment. Engaging creatively with music can also lead to positive physiological changes, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, relaxed muscle tension, and improved emotional intimacy with peers, families, and caregivers.

Through our partnership with the YWCA, the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp will offer opportunities to engage in art and music in ways that are specifically designed for trauma mitigation. Children will make drums to take home, which will help them alleviate aggression in a healthy manner. They will sing songs together, helping them understand their importance in a community of voices. They will learn breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that they can take with them after camp ends. They will create art and be encouraged to trust their creative impulses. And they will learn history lessons about people from around the globe who have known difficult times and have used music to not only survive, but to thrive. Additionally, we will set up “comfort spaces” in each educational area – spaces where children can recede to feel safer without having to leave the learning site altogether – and the YWCA will offer training to all staff and volunteers to prepare us for the work of facilitating education for those who have faced trauma.

These new measures will allow us to expand access to our rich and meaningful camp. Moreover, including kids who are living in poverty and with trauma will benefit children with more stable and secure home lives as well. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia write that “students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” Additionally, researchers out of Queens University, Charlotte assert that “Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them. This promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions.”

Our collaboration with the YWCA has helped us meet the needs of low-income families by creating trust for our program with mothers in-residence at the shelter; helping us to plan and implement full-day wraparound care to make for A FULL WEEK of free childcare and no mid-day pick-up and drop-off needs; and offering transportation for YWCA folks to and from St. Luke’s. The YWCA is donating the trauma-mitigation training sessions, and lending us two full-time, experienced staffers for the week.

The biggest hurtle we therefore now face is expense. In the past, music camp has been free of charge to all children. However, running the camp was not free. Donations were used to purchase instruments, musical resources, art supplies, and snacks; to hire an accompanist and several guest lecturers; to provide T-shirts for all children and team leaders; and to host an end-of-program ice-cream social. This year, our proposed expansion in numbers and collaboration with the YWCA led to the decision to ask for a fee of $125 per child for families for whom this is not a burden.

This is low compared to the average summer camp in Kalamazoo. Additionally, families can take advantage of the wrap-around care and lunch, easing or eliminating childcare costs for the week. Finally, scholarships are available to anyone who desires to attend but cannot afford the suggested fee. Our camp is a space where children grow intellectually, artistically, musically, emotionally, and socially. We want all of the children of Kalamazoo to know that they deserve such a rich education. We could make this happen this year if only 50% of families were able to pay, and if we continued to secure the generous level of donations from the congregation that we have in the past.

We have additionally applied for two grants: one from the Gilmore Foundation and one from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Through that process, we learned that the ability to demonstrate strong internal funding support is necessary for securing grants, which is another reason we’re asking for a fee from those who can afford one, as a fee this year will make grants more likely next year. We anticipate that grants will eventually be our main source of funding.

Funding this camp will allow us to practice “spirituality in action.” Music Camp offers a one-of-a-kind ministry to community children and benefits Kalamazoo-area parents, who can take advantage of our wrap-around care. Our parish kids will get an even richer educational experience because of the diversity of their fellow campers. And it makes it possible for us to restore and deepen into our rich parish history of offering music education to children.

Thank you for supporting us in this community endeavor. We remain, as ever, grateful to serve Kalamazoo alongside you.

Yours in Christ,
Renee & Carrie

A Letter to the Women of St. Luke’s

Dear women of St. Luke’s,

In my time in this parish, I have been privileged to witness the strength of the women who call this place home. We are courageous, communal, generous, nurturing, and invested. We serve with a willingness that is startling to behold. I trust that you all have generations’ worth of stories to tell: stories about St. Luke’s women who have offered wisdom and insight; who have nurtured, fed, and healed you; who have listened and offered a steadying voice or hand. I already have more such stories than I can number. When I think about what our community of women is teaching our children – about grace, about relationships, about what it means to follow Christ – I am especially grateful.

But we are stretched thin. Our obligations can be demanding. We come together to be fed by the liturgy each week, but we may not always have time for other practices that nurture us or offer space for restoration.

Becky Clore and I have been working together to discern a way that we might more intentionally celebrate the sacred, multigenerational community we share in one another. We want also to address the fact that women’s own needs often go unmet. In the spirit of Christ – healer, listener, nurturer – we feel called to gather in a multigenerational sisterhood.

We are therefore thrilled to introduce a reimagine ministry: the St. Luke’s Women’s Group. As our first act, we want to offer some rest and restoration. Therefore, we invite the women of St. Luke’s to gather with us for an overnight retreat at Transformations Spirituality Center from the morning of Saturday, April 22nd through the afternoon of Sunday, April 23rd. As a community of women, we will be nurtured together, sharing as we feel called in periods of silence, leisurely fellowship, meditative walks, the breaking of bread, communal prayer, and worship.

Joan Chittister writes:

It is women’s experience of God that this world lacks. A world that does not nurture its weakest, does not know God the birthing mother. A world that does not preserve the planet, does not know God the creator. A world that does not honor the spirit of compassion, does not know God the spirit.

In celebration of the holy and vital work that falls to us as women of God, please mark your calendars for the weekend of April 22nd and 23rd. Please watch for more information on both the retreat and the women’s group in the weeks ahead. And please see me or Becky with questions, concerns, expressions of interest, creative offerings, or stories that bear witness to the work, fellowship, and history of the women of St. Luke’s.

Yours with love, in Christ,
Renee Maria Lee-Gardner

2016: Communal Grief and its Lesson

In addition to the difficult personal losses we’ve sustained as a parish this year, public figures keep dying: actors, artists, musicians. People whose lives were creative offerings; they keep dying. This isn’t new: people die; we know to expect that. But it seems, to many of us, that it’s happening more right now. More frequently, more quickly, on a grander scale.

In social media and elsewhere, there’s a sense that 2016 is to blame for these deaths. It’s this year – we seem to be saying – which has, let’s face it, been a difficult one. Syria, Russia, the destructive violence of a divisive election cycle, and now this sense that amidst so much hardship, 2016 has robbed us of some of our favorites. We are hurt. We are indignant.

But this communal sense of grief is intriguing. It isn’t just that, for example, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, and Leonard Cohen died. Instead, the sense is that we lost them. It’s about us; that’s what’s different right now. Collectively, these losses feel like ours. We are weathering them together. In the story we’re telling, we occupy the position of the bereaved. Not as family members – nor even as individuals – but as a nation. We; me and you; us.

Witnessing this public reaction has brought to mind another time when loss felt communal: when it seemed to reach across class and race divisions and political divides. Most of us can recall that in the wake of 9/11, there was a strong sense of bearing so much death collectively. Even as we differed in our beliefs about how to move forward, we came willingly together to carry the pain. Few among us actually knew victims that day and yet: we had lost them, and along with them some sense of who we were.

A field of scholarship emerged in the decade following September 11th in which researchers considered that day and its aftermath through psychological, historical, sociological, and literary lenses. Theorists wrote about our collective grief, and a picture began to emerge of how it functioned. The sense was that our sorrow had much to teach about pre-9/11 culture. That the relief we found in collective mourning revealed a need to engage with those emotions in our own lives. Fear of death and resistance to grief are dominant norms in contemporary American society. For this reason, we as a nation struggle to allow ourselves sufficient space for the work of grief. We aren’t good at it. Considered in light of this cultural weakness, the atrocities of 9/11 offered space for depths of mourning that we, as a culture, otherwise avoided. We were already grief-stricken, the theory goes. But planes flying into buildings – the shock of it, the horror, the staggering death count – served as an invitation to mourn rigorously. To do so publicly. To do so in communion with one another. We could righteously lament all that wasted life, and as we did, we could perhaps yield more fully to our own unacknowledged distress.

It feels worthwhile to consider our collective reaction to the various deaths of this year through a similar lens. If we accept that for most of us, this particular grief is less about the public figures we’ve lost and more about our sense of having lost them, we gain access to insights about our current state as a nation. So too, if we take space to consider our scapegoating of 2016 as the reason we have had to endure these public losses, we might come to understand with more depth what this year has cost us.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed, and perhaps you’ve noticed it too. Public figures for whom we feel affection seem to be dying suddenly, and friends, families, and communities are commiserating with one another about the sadness and injustice of those losses. We’re sharing with those around us a sense of affront: coming together with humor, anger, and sadness. Thus I argue that this year, public loss is serving a profoundly important function: it is granting communion. This is so because when we see these emotions, we recognize humanity. We can’t not. Our grief makes us human. It helps us see ourselves in one another. It helps us look with kindness upon those around us in a way that we haven’t been doing enough of this year. And we’re leaning in to that grief, I think, for precisely this reason: we need to see one another; we crave it.

2016 was divisive. It saw unfold a polarity that has dangerous historical antecedents. In the U.S. alone, 2016 bore witness to threats and actualized violence against marginalized groups of citizens. It bore witness to anger, fear, and hatred. And perhaps most frighteningly, it revealed a widespread and startling resistance to the hard work of real listening. It gave rise to a destructive and ever-deepening sense that we as a nation are an “us” and a “them.” But however painful this is to face: anger, fear, divisiveness, and refusal to listen aren’t a product of this particular year. Instead, those reactions are a product of us.

This piece too is familiar. In the wake of September 11th, 2001 – in addition to uniting us with one another in sorrow – collective grief led us to search for someone to blame. In part as a result of that search, we retaliated against hidden terror cells in Afghanistan. Whatever your sense of the political necessity of the bombs we dropped, few would argue that the killing of Afghani citizens brought about collective healing. Facing that lesson, we would do well to acknowledge that as painful as 2016 has been, 2017 will not heal us in any substantive way. This is true, again, for the reality articulated above: anger, fear, divisiveness, and a refusal to listen are a product of us, not this year. We will only be free of those realities when we refuse to perpetuate them.

With this in mind, I want to suggest that as we welcome 2017, we do so with a sense of having acknowledged our collective sins of 2016: foremost our willingness to allow our brothers and sisters to be defined by a short list of political associations and perceived as less human whenever that short list differed from ours. I want to suggest that we recognize in our cathartic sense of collective grief an indication that some of what this year has cost us is the ability to see ourselves as one in Christ: to understand ourselves as in communion. And I want to urge us to see in our reaction to public loss an immense and unmet need for connection. To meet that need in other, more intimate ways. To reach out, in this new year, across the divides we’ve let define us; to begin again the work of listening and seeing to which Christ calls us.

Paul tells the Ephesians, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Public figures need not die for us to know ourselves to be one dwelling place for God: to understand with gratitude that which joins us together as one holy temple in spite of our differences. Enormous as our current cultural divisions truly are – and critical as it is that we commit ourselves to the work of addressing them – our shared grief reveals that part of our suffering comes from our willingness to give in to those divisions. It is worth considering what – of ourselves, of our culture – might begin to change if instead we “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” by seeing one another as members of God’s household; by listening; by committing ourselves to kindness. We may well discover that such work lends itself to the political aims we are otherwise finding frustratingly unmet.

May this new year of our Lord bring you healing, comfort, and communion. May you enjoy one another with the freedom and unguarded pleasure of our creator God. And may a collective desire to meet one another in full recognition of our shared humanity heal us and our wounded nation, showing us a worthy path forward.

St. Luke’s Youth Program Year 2016-2017

We officially have a structure for this year’s youth program! Our particular size and demographics have required creative and communal thinking, but we love where we’ve landed. This new structure will allow us to focus on our St. Luke’s youth values of scripture, service, and solidarity in ways that are especially suited to our youth, our parish, and our vision of “spirituality in action.” Here’s a glance at what we’ll do.

Scripture: Instead of holding separate Bible study classes, our youth are committed to investing deeply in the lectionary readings each week, and to participating in an online forum – hosted by our youth leadership team – to respond in community to a question or prompt. The question each week will come directly from that Sunday’s readings, the homily, and an understanding of the issues faced by teens in contemporary culture. Our youth will respond not just directly to the prompt, but to one another in conversation. With their permission, I will share a few of these discussions throughout the year, so watch for that!

Solidarity: We will also gather regularly in person in two ways. First, the youth will meet during Forum Hour on the first and third Sunday of every month. These occasions will be informal, allowing them space to play, talk, and slow down together; for older youth to offer guidance to younger youth; and for their understanding of themselves as a fellowship to deepen. This largely unstructured time feels especially important in a culture that asks so much of our young people. Additionally, we’re in the process of planning five to six Youth Group Recreation Nights to fall throughout the program year. These nights will include playful and bonding activities, and will offer opportunities for youth members to invite friends and siblings into the fold. We trust that these will prove to be joyful and connective endeavors for youth and youth parents alike.

Service: Finally, we know that young adults tend to maintain the religious practices that fed them as children if, as children, they understood themselves as a vital part of their parish at large. To this end, youth members will take a spiritual gifts survey on November 20th (during the Stewardship Brunch). After we’ve explored the gifts those surveys unearth, we’ll invite the leads of various ministries to come speak with the youth on December 4th: to explain their ministry’s purpose and to outline what gifts might particularly lend themselves to each group’s needs. Ministry leads will then work in concert with youth and youth parents to forge connections for year-long volunteer engagement. This will, of course, both benefit the church and allow our youth to understand their vital role in our community.

And of course we’ll be fundraising for next summer’s pilgrimage – with a likely return of last year’s Youth Work Days – so feel free to save us some home improvement projects!

Finally, if you find yourself interested in this growing and fulfilling ministry, please let us know. We would love to offer your experience, wisdom, and guidance to these dynamic young parishioners.

Our upcoming Program Year

As many of you know, our focus at St. Luke’s this year will be “Attending to the Presence of God,” and our formation offerings are a delightful invitation to do so. Here’s a brief sketch of the good things coming our way. To hear more, join us at a forum on September 18th. And take note: this year finds us rich with new volunteers, whose names and roles are bolded below. Also, we are still in need of volunteers who feel called to offer their gifts to this year’s powerful offerings. Please see Renee to talk through where and how you might join these new endeavors!

Children’s Sermons:

During the 9:30 Eucharist, we will continue with our summer structure: keeping kids in the pews for the Liturgy of the Word; having them join Deacon Greg for the Gospel Procession; offering them a sermon, music, and art in the library; and then returning to the church at the Peace. This will keep kids closely connected to our worship gathering, and will allow them to sit with us through the mystery, praise, and complexity that is our liturgy. Laura Mercadal will serve as an alternate in leading these sermons, and we’d love to have one more person who might take pleasure in guiding our children this way.  

Children’s Formation:

In addition, beginning September 18th we will kick off a new religious formation program. This program will run from 11am to 12N, will be held on the third floor, and will be divided into nine units based on the topics we want kids to explore this year (and the liturgical seasons in which those topics fit). Some of these sessions will be intergenerational (we’ll bring kids down to learn alongside adults, and once even to teach us!), but most will be designed for ages 4-10. Part of our goal this year is to widen the lens of our children’s religious formation: we don’t want to limit the voices they hear. This is important because we are gifted with a parish full of wise and experienced teachers, scholars, and leaders, which is an immense privilege, and one from which our kids should benefit. It likewise allows individuals to devote themselves deeply for a series of weeks, and then to return to their own formation practices.

The topics we’ll cover include:

  • The Book of Common Prayer
  • The Eucharist
  • Home as a Family’s Spiritual Center
  • Isaiah, Art, & Music
  • The Story of Joseph
  • Matthew & First-Century Nazareth Context
  • Exodus, Art, & Music
  • Acts of the Apostles
  • Ecclesiology (or “What is Church?”)

And I am thrilled to announce our team of volunteer teachers this year. Though we are still searching for two lead teachers and a number of assistants – should you be interested! – so far our spectacular line-up includes Elizabeth Kraatz, Brian Lonberg, Amy Hanson, Becky Edmonds, Jenny Sanderson, Fritz MacDonald, Madeleine Roberts, and Jeremy Sabella. 

Adult Formation:

Adult Formation will also gather from 11am to 12N, and as I mention above will include intergenerational days, as well as content crossover, which will make it exciting for kids and parents to share what they’ve learned. There will be two forums per week, the content for which is being carefully created and cultivated by both St. Luke’s staff and our new Adult Forum Team: Frankie LeClear, Linda Snyder, Caleb Molstad, and Jax Lee Gardner.

Topics will include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Attending to the Presence of God
  • The Rector’s Fall Class: The Eucharist
  • The Home as our Spiritual Center
  • Adult Art Series: Writing Christ Icons
  • Social Justice & Outreach
  • Prayer Practices
  • The Adult Lenten Study
  • Anti-Racism Work
  • Music & Drama
  • History & Community
  • Ecclesiology (or “What is Church?”)

Baptism:

We’ve spent joyful time this summer creating a new structure for baptismal formation. Baptismal candidates and/or their families will prepare via communal exploration of the sacrament’s scriptural precedence, the liturgy in which they’ll make their covenant, and the history of the sacrament itself. Then – in the weeks following their baptism – they’ll experience the fullness of the corporate life of the Church and the mystagogos or “mysteries” of faith as they begin to live into Christ’s death and resurrection. This formation structure, therefore, is designed to make clear that the invitation to baptism is available for all and need never be earned, and that the work baptism initiates is lifelong, mysterious, and communal. As a parish, we are privileged to witness this process, and to consider the catechumens as living examples of our common need to reexamine and reaffirm our baptismal covenant.

I’m also happy to announce that Carla Baublis and Dennis LeClear have joined our new Baptism Preparation Team!

Confirmation, Reaffirmation, & Reception:

We’ve likewise revolutionized our process for confirmation, reaffirmation, and reception.

Candidates will engage deeply with the following topics:

  • Scripture
  • The Anglican Communion
  • Liturgy
  • Rule of Life
  • Discernment
  • Prayer Practices
  • Sacramental Rites
  • Stewardship
  • Safeguarding
  • Social Justice
  • Outreach

Our intention is to offer a flexible program that need not be met in any particular way. Though rigorous, this process is a journey and not a destination. It is an invitation to cultivate an approach for sustaining a rich spirituality throughout one’s life. Please let us know if you might feel called to explore this sacrament with us.

Also, join me in welcoming John Tucker to our Confirmation Preparation Team, and please reach out if you have interest in lending your voice to this new program!  

Fellowship:

Please also join me in welcoming our new St. Luke’s Socializes Planning Team, which is comprised of Laurence Hawthorne, Stacey Marquee-Flentje, and Art McNabb. See these folks with ideas about food and fellowship!

Youth Group:

Finally, our youth group is growing, and we’re looking for an engaged volunteer leader. See Renee if you feel called to offer your gifts to this wonderful community of young parishioners.

The volunteer position will require:

  • 3-5 hours most weeks;
  • strong listening skills, creativity, empathy, and patience;
  • reliability and a talent for organization; experience with social media a plus;
  • the ability to work well with parents/caregivers, and to understand family dynamics;
  • the ability to connect with the interests and concerns of today’s youth;
  • engagement with our youth group principles of scripture, service, and solidarity, as well as our parish identity: “Spirituality in Action”;
  • flexible hours and energy for intensive fundraising endeavors;
  • summer flexibility, and a willingness to help plan and lead our yearly pilgrimage;
  • a likelihood of long-term (two-year) availability;
  • safeguarding certification (which can be completed before volunteer commencement);
  • a background check (completed by us);
  • experience working with youth and/or positive personal youth group history a plus;
  • enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with youth of diverse gender identity, sexuality, and background, and from a variety of family configurations.

An Invitation to Rest

On the Question of Rest:

A thing that has been said to me is that I’m not great at relaxation. And it’s something that worries me because: I believe in rest. I’m not interested in more-is-more life, or parenting, or work. And I’m for sure not interested in busier-is-better spirituality. The people I most admire move more slowly than that. They make more space.

But I don’t move slowly. At least not on the surface. On the surface, I’m not great at relaxation.

I tried to tackle the problem by imagining a way out of some of the work in which I engage. But the truth is, I engage in it because it feels worth doing. And I imagine that’s true for most of us. How I parent. How I labor. What I cook. The walks I like to take and the books I like to read. It’s all important to me. More important than the indulgence I’m supposed to want.

And yet I’m tired. Most of the time. Part of this is because I’m a parent of young children and – ask any of us – tired is a thing. I’m also lucky enough to have deeply fulfilling work, which has the gratifying if exhausting consequence of meaning I long to do more. I stay up late at night because doing more brings me joy. And so: tired.

But I’ve been offering space lately to this question: how might I meet my need for more rest without giving up any of the beloved endeavors to which I offer myself? Without ceding to the notion that I’d be somehow more whole if I binge watched episodes of Orange is the New Black instead of reading theology and listening to sermons once the kids go to bed.

And so I’ve turned to an old practice. Like, Genesis-old. I’m far from alone in this return, of course, though what I see of this practice being practiced is scattered. And it is by all accounts countercultural in contemporary America. So:

The Invitation:

This isn’t a post that extols the virtues of a long-held practice of Sabbath-keeping, though plenty of those exist. It isn’t a summary of the scriptural origins of the practice, though do read those because there’s immense wisdom in what our desert mothers and fathers had to say on the subject. And it isn’t a deep-dive into the theology behind Sabbath-keeping, though Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a pretty gorgeous one of those, if you’d like to read alongside me. Instead, this is an invitation. Because like many of us, I work best in community. And because I’m guessing that lots of you wish you knew how to slow down too. I’m not alone in needing more rest, and I’m not alone in being unsure how to get it.

So (the Tiniest Little Bit) About Sabbath:

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori teaches here that “Sabbath can be an opportunity to learn more deeply what God asks of each of us — loving our neighbors, each one made in God’s image, as we love ourselves.” And she asks: “How and where will you find time for Sabbath that will stretch and deepen your mind and heart?”

Jane Carol Redmont describes Sabbath keeping as “a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy.” But Redmont also writes about how hard it is to get students even to experiment with the practice. I met with such resistance when I tried to get students to do media blackouts: to unplug for forty-eight hours. Lord have mercy; they found even the suggestion traumatic.

Rabbi Heschel writes what is, perhaps, my favorite recommendation. He says, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement….to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

And then there’s also this:

Sabbath-Keeping as Protest:

Author Stephen W. Smith writes that “when practiced, Sabbath-keeping is an active protest against a culture that is always on, always available and always looking for something else to do.”

It was in talking this through with my wife that the reasons for our cultural resistance to true rest became clearer to me. We’re offered ways to buy rest: television, movies, dessert, alcohol, amusement parks, vacations, prepared food brought to our table. And don’t get me wrong: aside from amusement parks, I dig these things. But really, most of those forms of rest are stimulating, right? They might bring pleasure; they’re surely entertaining; and they offer a passive form of indulgence – maybe even luxury – that might pass for rest. But they aren’t likely to bring us stillness, a sense of enough, or gratitude for what is and not what can be made to be.

Heschel writes: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” It seems to me that real rest is a form of celebration. And it doesn’t make anyone money. There’s nothing there to market to us, which is probably why we’re culturally discouraged from making space for it. There’s nothing to sell because rest, celebration, means enough. It means more than enough.

Our First Sabbath:

So this week, for the first time, my family kept a sort of Sabbath, which consisted among more nuanced shifts of a commitment to abstain from all internet/media activities. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday (because church work means I can’t keep Sabbath on Sundays), we put the devices away. We played music from neglected CDs on our old player in the kitchen (instead of our carefully curated playlists on Spotify). That first night, when the kids were sleeping and the chores were done and it was only 9:30pm, I settled in our old glider and read almost fifty pages of a novel in a dark house with no glowing screens. And then I prayed for longer. And then I slept.

The next morning, we went to the farmer’s market, and I didn’t take pictures of my kids’ faces when I said they could have the freshly fried donuts they smelled from the other side of the market. I didn’t take pictures when they saw red sunflowers or tasted the most perfect yellow tomatoes on earth.

When we got home, I cooked lunch slowly, enjoying the sound of the boys playing outside, and the feel of my cool kitchen, and the indulgence of good food. We invited friends over spontaneously, and watched the kids get wet and muddy. I paid a little more mind to my breath, to my posture. I paid a little more mind to my wife. I worked (cooking, parenting, sweeping the floor), but more slowly, with intentionality and joy. I took pleasure even in washing dishes. I worried less about how long bedtime would take. There’s no evidence, but I think I smiled more.

I’m in, at least for the year. At least until next August, some version of this will be our lives from Fridays at sundown through Saturday nights. I’m already looking forward to next week. If you think you might join us, will you let me know? I’d love insight into what you’re reading, or how you’ve kept this spiritual practice in the past, or how your family practiced it growing up. I’d love to know how it works for you now. Even in this new, fumbling stage, I am grateful to be on this road, and I would be thrilled to have company.