On Being Community: Life at St. Peter’s

rencherThe early Christians had their whole lives in common. We read about them in the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-33: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them.”

I suggest that we at St. Peter’s also have our whole lives in common: we are bound together by one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Even as we often share that we don’t know each other throughout our ever-changing, growing, and thriving parish family, this sacred place is our faith community. Several such opportunities await us all. On Sunday, June 5, we will learn about the stewardship ministry of Planned Giving and St. Peter’s 1834 Legacy Society; hear choristers from The Choir School at St. Peter’s during the 10:45 a.m. liturgy; and gather for food, fellowship, and play at the Parish Picnic at Independence Park on East Seventh Street. On Tuesday, June 7, we will welcome neighbors from beyond our doors for a “Community Dialogue on Race in Charlotte” to examine racial justice, equity, and community in the Queen City. These are some examples of how community is celebrated through life at St. Peter’s.

Our parish Vision is to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte. May all that we are and offer strengthen the meaning and experience of what it means to be a Christian community.

In thanksgiving for our birth and life together,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

A Review of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

It is often said that the mark of a compelling literary work is one which the reader cannot put down. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a book that you are going to want and need to put down in order to reflect.  You must put it down as it hits you smack in the face with some of the most tragic and horrific humanitarian accounts I have ever come across.

I would like nothing more than to burn Just Mercy’s pages, and the stories that fill them, from anyone’s working memory.  Not because the accounts are not compelling, they are just too tragic.  It is simply astonishing the horrors our brothers and sisters, and our children, have endured – and, sadly, continue to endure.  But the accounts are necessary medicine if we are to get a healthier place as a people.  There is indeed plenty of work to be done.  Do not let anyone tell you otherwise without offering them the deep yet sorrowful learning experience that is Just Mercy.  Regardless of one’s political ideology and/or upbringing and cultural experience, as Americans — as human beings — we ought to all be on the same page when it comes to basic human rights and access to the legal system.  And if we are on different pages for whatever reason(s) – it is most definitely a goal worth striving for.

If you are one that is interested in the intersections of race and poverty, mass incarceration, the death penalty, the marginalization and abuses of women, and the prevalence and abuses of children in prison, then you are interested in attorney Bryan Stevenson’s work as director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which is a private nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s candid reflections about his battle on the frontlines of racial inequality, and the gross pervasiveness of a corrupt, and oftentimes inaccessible, legal system.

I could not complete Just Mercy and feel at peace with the status quo, and my limited role in the social justice movement.  I could not even finish the first couple of chapters without feeling like my life has been largely meaningless, sheltered, and privileged, despite my constant quest to seek new information and to keep an open mind about nearly all matters.  I cannot be at peace with the fact that so many have not, and likely will never, be afforded the same access to opportunity as I have.  I cannot be at peace about the fact that my access to justice is so much different than so many others’.  I cannot be at peace about the fact that as a white male, I am so much less likely to face any systemic abuses that have shattered the lives of so many others.  In the eyes of the criminal justice system, I am special.  However, the United States Constitution instructs me that all men [and women] are created equal, and that there are certain inalienable rights inherent in every human, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These inalienable rights are endowed by our Creator.  My soul tells me the same.  These are basic principles.  But the world is, sadly, not such a basic place.  Far from it.

Just Mercy will compel the reader to confront challenging and at times frustrating questions such as why is there so much hurt and sorrow in the world? What is justice, really?  Is our criminal justice system, just?  And if it is not, what can be done to change it?  Is our criminal justice system broken?  Who broke it?  Was it ever really “fixed”?  What step(s) can we take to change it?  How should the system really operate?  Are we fighting a fight of idealism vs. realism, and is justice even attainable?  How do we purposefully and radically strive for peace, love, and understanding in the world?  How do we celebrate our differences?  Are criminals worthy of our love and understanding?  What is a criminal?  What is true reconciliation, and is it even possible in this social justice context?  Are our relations with one another clouded by misunderstandings, biases, prejudices, and/or the machinations of the political and prosecutorial processes?  How do we give those with no voice a place to start to defend themselves against the abuses of the system?  How do we give those whose voices have been silenced the strength, courage, and tools to mount a defense that carries real weight?  How do we have the fortitude to do and consider all of this — despite how steep the climb may be — no matter how formidable the fight may be?  How do we stem the tide, break through the shackles that bind us, and put a just and rightful end to all of this happening in the first place?

If we here at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church truly are to be a crowd that effects good change for the world, and a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte, we must first take a step back and understand the depths of the injustice and sorrow that permeates our world today. Though it slaps us square in the face and shatters our souls, Just Mercy provides a lens through which the social justice ministry can provide greater understanding, lead to further dialogue, and foster even more growth.  We must first fully come to grips with the abominable realities facing our brothers and sisters, and children, today.  And then we as church body must find some way(s) to effectively and compassionately serve others in the cross hairs of systemic racial injustice.  Doing so will fully mount St. Peter’s as a beacon of hope for our city, and perhaps even our nation as a whole.  As Bryan Stevenson so beautifully illustrates, changing — or even saving — one life is worth the world.

Bryan Stevenson is fighting the good fight with all his might. He is giving all that he can, despite the enormous discrepancies in power structure and resources he and his team face.  He implores us to have the courage, and the unconditional love for our brothers and sisters, to do all that we can do to fight alongside him and the Equal Justice Initiative.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are commanded to love the Lord with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our strength, and all our minds. And to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Bryan Stevenson dutifully shows us the way in Just Mercy.  What is it that we are called to do?  Are we giving it our all?

– By Parishioner Walt Hutchinson

Resources for Understanding Racism

Below is a list of resources to help us – and to help white people in particular –understand more deeply how racism is expressed daily in our culture. These articles have been curated by a member of our Social Justice Committee and don’t necessarily represent the views of St. Peter’s per se, but are relevant to the committee’s work of educating the parish on social justice issues.  Skim, read, react and share your thoughts with other parishioners.

The Most Important Writing From People Of Color In 2015

This is what white privilege is

The Rules: Making Sense of Race and Privilege

A 5-Step Guide for Macklemore and White Allies Afraid of Doing Anti-Racism ‘Wrong’

Why the Church Should Support #BlackLivesMatter

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Ferguson: ‘The ‘come to Jesus’ moment for us in the church’

Test Yourself for Hidden Bias

White People, Racism, and Doubting Thomas.

Michelle Alexander: “A System of Racial and Social Control”

Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality

28 COMMON RACIST ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIORS

A Meditation on Reconciliation and being honest with myself

“It is difficult to like some people.
It is difficult to like somebody threatening your children.
It is so difficult, so
difficult
to like
some people.
…But Jesus says Love them.”

I heard these words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the noontime concert last week, and the lines struck a bell in my head that’s been ringing every since.

The song spoke to me, because I realized that I do find it difficult – so difficult! – to like some people. When I feel ignored, or belittled, or attacked; when I find someone’s rhetoric divisive, their platform dangerous, or their behavior (as they say) “unforgiveable” … if I’m being honest, there are actually whole lots of people that I really can’t say I like very much.

It’s easy to say “I love Everybody” when I’m in a place I feel comfortable, with people I enjoy, and an environment in which I feel safe. But it’s hard to feel love for certain people when I truthfully don’t like them much at all. And rather than searching for a point of commonality, typically I’ll find myself throwing up walls of emotional self-protection: “This person makes me uncomfortable, so I’d prefer just not to engage.” (aka, how long do I have to smile until it’s polite to walk away?)

But these walls, I now realize, are the very place where discipleship really begins. It’s about loving even when I’m hurting, about reaching out a hand when I most want to run away and curl up into a little ball. Reconciliation means loving even when I mistrust, loving even when I feel unsafe, loving people even when I find them difficult to like … and (!) the challenge is that it’s hard.

Thank you Ms. Goldsby, for sharing Dr. King’s wise words … this week, I’m praying for strength.

Lisa Jan Wielunski
Charlotte, NC

I am because you are.

rencherUbuntu. As you and I abide in, reflect on, wrestle with, and respond to the sin and state of racism within which we live, I receive great hope from the word “Ubuntu” (pronounced uu-Boon-too, derived from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa). The core of this African philosophy [Ubuntu] offers that all human beings, equally created in the image of God (imago Dei), must understand themselves in relation with the world in order to be whole persons. It means for each person that “I am because you are.” This I find to be both true and mysterious and definitely a “God thing.”

Ubuntu. Daily, I pray that all human beings will work on realizing that each of us actually is “un-whole” if the common bond with all human beings is ignored or minimized or broken. Regardless of what labels or histories we have received from family, society, choice, or force (like American slavery), how and with whom they identify, or what circles they have chosen to be social, study, travel, and play, we are because others are. The recent Charleston massacre and subsequent discussions about the Confederate flag have ignited something fierce throughout our region and nation; both point to reminders of the Ubuntu philosophy. We are because others are: when one dies or hurts, all die and hurt.

Ubuntu calls all Christians and non-Christians to do the hard, uncomfortable, and scary self-examination work of Ash Wednesday and Lent, every day of our lives. The God within each of us dares us to always be reconciling ourselves with God and one another and to “see the face of God in each other,” all so that we might be whole persons.

Life at St. Peter’s will always include collective and individual opportunities for us to do our “race work,” in the name of our parish vision to become bold followers of Jesus and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte. I look forward to praying and walking through this hard and holy journey with you by God’s grace and in the spirit of Ubuntu.

God’s blessings and peace to your journey,

–The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Responding to Charleston and The State of Racism

“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

– Collect for the Human Family from The Book of Common Prayer

rencherIn the wake of the June 17th killing of nine of God’s beloved children at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as they gathered for prayer, fellowship, and study of The Holy Scriptures, I invite you, first and foremost, to join me in unceasing prayer before we act. Let us pray for the human family and for God to do what only God can do: heal us and make us whole.

This earthly journey calls for us to navigate its brokenness and its broken people, employing the faith imparted to us through the waters of Baptism and acknowledging that every human being is created in the image of God. The journey also expects you and I to be (or become) a people of hope, justice, and love, amid our natural sadness, anger, confusion, questions, and Christian belief that death is not the final answer. Life—through God’s love and with God’s help—is the final answer.

Whenever tragedy occurs, our faith, like that of the people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, commands us to come together for holy conversation that is rooted in prayer and the Holy Scriptures. We are offering four ways to engage in this holy conversation.

  • First, join us Sunday at 9:30 a.m. In the Parish Hall to reflect together on the tragedy in Charleston.  How does our faith affect our response to what happened?  What questions do we offer to God?  What might we do with the strong feelings rising up in response this senseless act of violence has?  This conversation is both the continuation of the conversations we’ve had over the last year about racial reconciliation, and it is the beginning of a new conversation recognizing the deep tear God’s tapestry experienced on Wednesday night in Charleston.
  • Second, you can join the wider Charlotte community for a conversation on Monday evening in Queen’s University Chapel. This conversation will be facilitated by MeckMin; details on the time will be shared as soon as they are available.
  • Third, fellow clergy, lay leaders, and I will host a time of worship, prayer, and conversation on Thursday, June 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the sacred space, the nave at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Open to parishioners and non-parishioners of all ages and sweep of feelings about what has occurred in Charleston and the current state of racism, we will offer The Great Litany, read from and reflect on Scripture, share feelings, and consider small and big actions that might be best for us—individually and collectively. So that we can plan appropriately, please let us know you’re coming at web.st-peters.org/rsvp.
  • And fourth, talking about such violence can be hard for everyone, especially in families with children.  We’ve made available a resource that provides thoughtful, faithful guidance for parents and educators about how to talk with our children. It is available here.

At the writing of this message, my wife Ellie and I are on vacation until early next week. We will miss gathering around God’s Table with you for the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, June 21.

On God’s new day, I hold you and yours in prayer and give thanks for our life together as people of faith who make their spiritual and sacramental home at the corner of North Tryon at West Seventh streets in Center City Charlotte.

God’s peace to you, blessings, and prayers unceasing. Faithfully, I am…

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

St. Peter’s Parish Vision is to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte.

Why?

josA black woman stands with a hand-written poster that simply says “WHY?” in front of a palm tree outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. As I learned about the horrendous shooting in this downtown, historical Charleston church founded by a slave, I found myself wondering the same thing. Perhaps the most faithful thing we can utter to God when confronted with such evil is “Why?”

This tragedy might resonate with us here at St. Peter’s in particularly strong ways: We are an urban church that has decided to keep our doors unlocked during the day. We have been the target of a small group of people who disagree with our Gospel conviction that all of God’s children (gay, straight, black, white, brown, young, and old) are welcome in God’s house. We are committed to becoming “a place known for radical hospitality and love,” as we say in our vision.

In all these ways, we are vulnerable. And I can’t help but wonder if this vulnerability is one of the main ways St. Peter’s practices being bold followers of Jesus. Jesus was vulnerable to the point of death, and in some mysterious way I think this is our call, too.  But that wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story. Nor is death the end of the story for our nine faithful brothers and sisters who died so senselessly last night. Resurrection is. In Baptism, we participate in both Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection. Life is the final word. In this promise, lies my hope…and indeed the hope of the world which cries out “why,” even as it sings “Alleluia.”

A Prayer for the Human Family (p. 815 of the Book of Common Prayer)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer, Associate Rector

God’s Tapestry Conversation Continues

“God’s Tapestry” – The conversation about racial reconciliation continues.  Clergy and other parishioners engage this vital but challenging conversation about race and God’s mission of reconciliation in light of recent events in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Md., and Charleston, S.C.
Facilitators (9:30 a.m.): The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, The Reverend Joslyn Ogden Schaefer

Guidelines for Communication Across Difference based on work by VISIONS, Inc.

1.    “Try on” new ideas and perspectives.
2.    It’s okay to disagree.
3.    It’s not okay to shame, blame or attack.
4.    Practice self-focus – as much as possible use “I-statements” instead of “We” or “They.”
5.    Notice both process (how we say things, who is saying things) and content (what is being said).
6.    Practice “both/and” thinking.  More than one thing can be true at the same time.
7.    Be aware of both the intent and the impact of your message.  Be willing to give and receive feedback about the impact of our words upon others.  Be willing to say “ouch” and explain why something didn’t sit well with you.
8.    Confidentiality – Please don’t share details of another person’s story outside the group.  You are encouraged to share your story and general perspective and learnings from the course.
9.    It’s okay to be messy.

St. Peter’s Parish Vision [is to become]
a community of bold followers of Jesus;
a crowd that effects good change for the world;
a place known for radical love and welcome; and
a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte.

Background for Reconciliation Work in the Life of St. Peter’s
The mystery of creation and the human condition calls each of us to understand and celebrate differences that make each of us who we are as God’s beloved children, made equally in the image of God (imago Dei).  Regardless of our natural cautions and generalizations, inherited perspectives, and even experience-based positions about the “other,” reconciliation is a central aspect of “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” in The Book of Common Prayer.  Specifically, we are reminded [Catechism] that the “mission of the Church” is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Rooted in The Baptismal Covenant, Episcopal Christians and all people, for that matter, are invited (and vow) to: strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; proclaim the by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; and persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and turn to the Lord.”  All of this is vowed to be done “with God’s help.”  More than ever, the world needs the Church, the body of Christ, to lead the change that the world both needs and desires, but quite easily and naturally does not know where to begin the journey of reconciliation.

After St. Peter’s March 6-8 Lenten Reconciliation Retreat Weekend facilitated by the Rev. Dr. William Kondrath, author of God’s Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences, parishioner Jim Bartos posted the following on March 23 on St. Peter’s “God’s Tapestry” Blog (www.st-peters.org)
“Ouch,” she said. Barely had the Lenten retreat at St. Peter’s concluded. There was the usual post-event chatter in the parish hall. Participants were lining up to thank the retreat leader, Dr. Bill Kondrath, for challenging and (yes) entertaining us. It was good. And thanking Joslyn for making it happen. And saying good-bye to the familiar and the brand new friends. And then she said “Ouch” to me and the two of us, in our own mini-retreat, added a coda on an informative, thoughtful event. Did I say challenging? My new friend, a St. Peter’s member whom I had seen at Sunday Eucharist many times, but always from a distance and never spoken to before, put into practice one of the guidelines for the retreat: be aware of intent and impact, and when the impact hurts say “Ouch” and so she did and so we both learned. I learned that no matter what I meant or did not mean, what I do/say can cause pain in another. And not necessarily wanting to speak for anyone else (another learning that weekend), I rather suspect she learned how courageous she could be to admit her vulnerability to a relative stranger (me). So we talked, and learned, and grew. And it was very good. — Jim Bartos

Questions to Guide Our Conversation on May 31

1.    As you reflect on the various reports of racial injustice and unrest, particularly in light of recent police-involved shootings, what Biblical stories come to mind?
2.    What feelings have you had or do you have now when we think about this issue or hear about these news stories?
3.    What do you “do” with your feelings?
4.    Where do you see hope in the neighborhood, local, state or national context?  How do you think God’s Spirit is moving among us to enable reconciliation?

Retreat Reflection by Jim Bartos

“Ouch,” she said. Barely had the Lenten retreat at St. Peter’s concluded. There was the usual post-event chatter in the parish hall. Participants were lining up to thank the retreat leader, Dr. Bill Kondrath, for challenging and (yes) entertaining us. It was good. And thanking Joslyn for making it happen. And saying good-by to the familiar and the brand new friends. And then she said “Ouch” to me and the two of us, in our own mini-retreat, added a coda on an informative, thoughtful event. Did I say challenging? My new friend, a St. Peter’s member whom I had seen at Sunday Eucharist many times, but always from a distance and never spoken to before, put into practice one of the guidelines for the retreat: be aware of intent and impact, and when the impact hurts say “Ouch” and so she did and so we both learned. I learned that no matter what I meant or did not mean, what I do/say can cause pain in another. And not necessarily wanting to speak for anyone else (another learning that weekend), I rather suspect she learned how courageous she could be to admit her vulnerability to a relative stranger (me). So we talked, and learned, and grew. And it was very good.

Jim Bartos

Understanding and celebrating our differences can be hard to do!

josI’m re-reading Dr. Kondrath’s book God’s Tapestry as part of our “Parish-Wide Lenten Read.” I first encountered much of the content for this book when I attended Episcopal Divinity School, though some of the book’s ideas were familiar to me from past work training. Some of you will be familiar with the content of Chapter 1, where Dr. Kondrath presents the “Guidelines for Recognizing and Valuing Difference,” as I’ve used them in several St. Peter’s contexts, including a Parish Hall Forum series on Outreach and Social Justice and at the beginning of retreats.

Each time I read or work with the Guidelines I uncover new insights that help me become a more effective communicator and more compassionate human being.

For those of you not able to read along with us, here are the Guidelines, and a few personal reflections on each one:

1 – Try on new ideas, new feelings, new behaviors.
I don’t know about you, but judging situations comes quickly and naturally for me. This guideline challenges me to a) become conscious of my ideas, feelings and behavior in a given situation and b) consider experimenting with another approach.

2 – It’s okay to disagree. It’s not okay to shame, blame or attack oneself or others.
Growing up as a woman in South, I learned disagreement was something to be avoided at all costs!  Much better to be polite than to “make waves.” But as I’ve matured, I’ve realized there is a real cost to always “keeping the peace,” beginning with a cost to my integrity. The trick for me has been practicing the ability to disagree and maintain healthy relationships. More and more, I understand that healthy, respectful conflict is a sign of relational strength, not failure.

3 – Practice self-focus.
So much of this guideline resonates with mindfulness practice and Jesus’ teachings about staying alert and awake. The more I can be in touch with my emotional reactions to a situation, the more consciously and grace-fully I can respond.

4 – Practice “both/and” thinking.
This one is so challenging because we live in an “either/or” culture in which we yearn to quantify and qualify everything. “What is the “right” thing to do?” “What is the “best” way forward?” These types of questions imply either/or thinking. But I am hopeful as Anglicans we might have some intuition to ask, “What is the middle way?” What if there are at least two “right ways”? What if there is no “best”?

5 – Be aware of intent and impact.
This language provides a way forward in many interpersonal conflicts. I was in a meeting where a man used a derogatory term in describing a specific woman. His intent was to describe his strong negative feelings about this particular woman. However, the impact of his using that term was hurtful to me and to several other women. By using terms like “intent” and “impact,” we can own our feelings about situations without assigning blame.

6 – Take 100% responsibility for one’s own learning.
As a white person it is easy for me to surround myself with other white people, predominantly white media, and white culture. Yet I want also want to grow in my understanding and appreciation of multiculturalism. This guideline invites me to go out of my comfort zone and spend time in places and situations where I am the minority.

7- Maintain confidentiality.
Nothing violates trust more quickly not being able to honor another person’s story theirs, not mine. It can take practice to say “I hope to talk to so-and-so directly about that,” but once you get into the habit, you’ll enjoy not being draw in to unnecessary gossip or contributing to unnecessary drama.

8 – It’s okay to be messy.
Like guideline # 2 about disagreement, for some reason growing up I got the cultural message that relationships needed to always be polite and if conflict emerged to snuff it out as soon as possible. Permission to be messy recognizes that conflict and difference can take time to truly understand and eventually celebrate. The key is everyone being committed to working through the mess, instead of running away.

9 – Say ouch.
I have a fear of being perceived as “weak” or “too emotional,” and at times that fear prohibits me from honestly communicating when I’ve been hurt. This guideline establishes the norm that genuine relational work will sometimes result in hurt feelings. We don’t do anyone favors if we consistently keep hurt feelings to ourselves.  

Feel free to contact me at anytime if you’d like to discuss the content of the book further. I look forward to being with many of you this weekend at the retreat.

Wishing all of us Lenten Mercy –

 

Joslyn+