With Gratitude

Dear St. Peter’s Community,

In the fall of 2014, I moved to Charlotte to become the Assistant Organist and Choirmaster at St. Peter’s. From the very beginning, I felt the welcome of this congregation. This place was home to me from the very start.

As I began my work at the parish and at the Choir School, I experienced and enjoyed the beautiful liturgy and music at St. Peter’s. I found my place alongside Ben Outen, and with the choir and congregation of this wonderful community. I bought a house and made a home here in Charlotte.

The news of Ben’s departure caught me off guard, as I know it did many of you. My work with Ben has been a great gift to my life, and, with all of you, I am both saddened by his departure and glad for his new chapter.

After learning of Ben’s decision, Fr. Ollie and I began conversations around what was the best path forward for St. Peter’s and for me. I am delighted that our mutual discernment led to his offer and my enthusiastic acceptance of the position of Director of Music at St. Peter’s. It has been a pleasure and an honor to be part of the beautiful worship at St. Peter’s for the past three years as the assistant. It is a great joy and challenge to know that I will now continue here in a new role.

I am ever grateful for the welcoming community I’ve found here at St. Peter’s: on the staff, in the choir, and amongst the congregation as a whole. So many of you have reached out in the past few weeks to check in on me, to offer words of encouragement, and to assure me of your support moving forward. I am deeply grateful to all of you and for this community. With your support, I am confident in our ability to continue and grow the wonderful tradition of great music and liturgy that has already been so firmly established.

With gratitude,

Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist

 

A Holy Pilgrimage

Following intense preparation, 17 youth pilgrims embarked on a long-awaited Pilgrimage with five dedicated adult leaders. After riding in vans, planes, subways, and buses, our group arrived in Rome at the first of four convents, where our rooms overlooked St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City. The group immediately set out, armed with paper maps, internet maps, and shared navigation duties and settled into a rhythm for the next seven days. We soaked up the beauty and awe of majestic cathedrals, we experienced the beauty and the rawness of the cities we explored (Rome and Milan). We were awed by the San Callista Catacombs, the Quo Vadis chapel, the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs), St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums. We climbed to the top of St. Peter’s to see all of Rome laid out at our feet. We all fell in love with Assisi, and reveled in the beauty of the San Damiano church that St. Francis rebuilt. We cherished The Hermitage, where St. Francis spent many days speaking with animals and reflecting on God’s creation.

Our beautiful Sunday Eucharist in the undercroft chapel of our Assisi convent fed us spiritually as we continued our journey. We prayed in the church where St. Francis prayed as a young boy. We prayerd at the basilica of St. Francis built in his honor, and at the Cathedral where St. Clare still rests. We learned much from our wonderful Assisi guide, Marco. We experienced the magnificent Duomo in Milan (the interior and rooftop), we marveled at the church dedicated to St. Ambrose, whose body has been in view in the crypt since 397 CE. We prayed in the chapel (San Sebastian alla Ossa) built with the bones of people who died from the Black Plague. We were all moved by the prayers we offered for our friends and family back home at the chapel of San Damiano, during our Eucharist, and in the magnificent Duomo in Milan.

The entire St. Peter’s community was with us as we carried you in our prayers. This was a Holy Pilgrimage, where many hardships were presented and dealt with. We walked a total of 68.9 miles, we struggled with disengaging from technology and the internet, we faced disappointments in scheduling problems, we supported each other when fatigued or injured, we got lost and retraced steps, we learned to love each other through all adversity, and to practice our Baptismal vows of treating each other with dignity and respect. We cried, we laughed, and we prayed. As the days rolled on, and we reflected on what we experienced and learned during our late night prayers, the discussions were incredibly rich and full of budding wisdom and spirituality.

After visiting the church of St. John the Lateran in Rome, one of our youth pilgrims remarked, “I have never before so clearly experienced God’s majesty and mystery.” Paradigm shifts were made in the core of these teens (and the adults, too) that will inform their lives forever. That is true grace and love. That is Christianity. Your generous financial support, your prayers, and your love made this Pilgrimage possible. The impact you have made on all the Pilgrims will not be forgotten. Thank you!

– Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation

Because We Believe In Freedom

On July 4, 1776, when the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence, the legal institution and sin of the enslavement of native Africans was in full effect as what could be deemed the sure foundation of the economic development and prosperity of America. It was not until June 19, 1865, eighty-nine years later and two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), that slavery officially ended in the United States. It is literally on the backs of fellow members of the human family that we have evolved into a great nation. Because of this history, we must change.

Admittedly, we have come a long way from being a country whose founders won liberty for themselves and only certain people. Conversely, the brokenness, divisions, and violence about our city, country, and the world make it clear that we must live even more deeply into our human family call. For a whole host of reasons, most people do not see others as their equal, and perhaps not made in the image of God, the Creator of all things holy, good, and perfect. Yet, the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Because of this reality, we must change.

Today, I celebrate that we live in a nation where we have the essential human right of religious freedom. Let us not take for granted our baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Because of these vows, we must change.

Our freedom call to discipleship, which comes with a cost, challenges us to consider the words of our brother, Howard Thurman (1899–1981). “You must lay your lives on the altar of social change so that wherever you are there the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (from A Strange Freedom.)

God’s peace and blessings as we try,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

A True Beacon of Hope

Last month, Father Jacob reminded us all of a question that is central to our faith journey–to what is the Spirit calling each of us? Though the answer to that question might vary from pew to pew, some of the many generous hearts and hands that surround all of us here at St. Peter’s have provided one inspirational response. From June 4-11, our beautiful Parish Hall became a beacon of hope here in Center City Charlotte for a dozen women without a safe place to sleep due to an overflowing Salvation Army women’s shelter. For that full week, a robust team of volunteers numbering more than 40 transformed the Parish Hall each night into a place of radical love and welcome, truly. As the members of this Parish have done so many times before, St. Peter’s opened its doors, welcomed strangers into our midst, shared our bounty, and yielded to the call of the Spirit.

Our temporary shelter did not solve the intractable problems that many of our guests face every day. But for one inspired week, our temporary shelter did create a new community where none existed, between this Parish and the women we came to know. For one week, they did not have to worry that they would not have a safe place to spend the night. For one week, they were able to count on a warm bed, a great meal, and – most importantly–spending time with friends every single night. It was a blessing, indeed.

It is not possible to thank all those who contributed to the overflow shelter ministry here in this space. There are simply too many to name. In a very real sense, every member of this Parish made the shelter possible by routinely, eagerly, and joyously giving so much of themselves that the idea of not providing this shelter in the face of the great need seemed unthinkable.

So unthinkable, in fact, that we are doing it a second time.

During the week of July 16-23, the St. Peter’s Parish Hall will once again become a sanctuary in every sense of the word. We will invite 12 women in need of some generosity into our church home and into our hearts. They may arrive as strangers, but they will leave as friends. Of course, we will once again need your time and giving spirit, so watch this space for details about getting involved in meal planning, transportation, laundry, or overnight duty. As always, reach out to me if you have questions or suggestions.

I am so proud to be a part of this crowd that lives out its vision to effect good change in the world.

Peace,

Bert J. Miano, Senior Warden

Summer Sunday “Conversations with the Clergy”

This summer, beginning June 25, all adults, youth, and children are invited to join my Associate Rector, the Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, and me for a four-week, inter-generational formation series. “Conversations with the Clergy” is designed to seize the rare season in life at St. Peter’s when all ages have the gift of time to gather on Sundays, simply to learn together, make connections, and foster Christian relationships after the 8:00 a.m. or before the 10:45 am liturgy. Light breakfast refreshments will be available.

Mindful of what appears to be a cultural custom for some to take a summer break from worship and formation, this special 45-minute offering and all that occurs every Sunday and weekday at St. Peter’s are to the glory of God who gives us life and blesses us, daily. Indeed, we are better, stronger, and more equipped to navigate this sinful, broken, and violent world when each week of our lives includes the practice of engaging God’s Word and Sacrament with others from our parish community or wherever summer travels might take us. The Holy Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:11) recalls the importance of “encouraging one and another and building each other up,” which is done primarily by being together and sharing faith journeys.

“Conversations with the Clergy” will cover topics, such as Unpacking the Theology, Purpose, and Ministry of Reconciliation; Practicing Reconciliation in a Violent World; The Holy Eucharist: A Response to Violence; and Music: A Source for Healing of the Heart. Each session will be facilitated in a way that should be easily accessible for adults, youth, and children alike. It will be a sacred time for individuals and households to benefit from our sacred space beyond the pews. More details and childcare information is provided under “Worship and Formation” in the parish news.

It will be a delight to gather with you in the coming weeks, as we focus together on our Parish Vision 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.

God’s peace and blessings as we try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Music in the Air

Life at St. Peter’s, among many wonderful things, includes the extraordinary gift of music. Across centuries and genres, the art of music continues to be a blessing that can unite the human family and help one to connect to the God within. Indeed, music is in the air at St. Peter’s and all around, offered with admirable devotion by adults, youth, and children alike. Music is such a vital part of our existence in this world that “Music: A Source for Healing of the Heart” will be the topic of our parish’s July 16 Conversation with the Clergy at 9:30 a.m. in the Parish Hall.

Music is in the air: when parishioner Edith Johnson listens to a myriad of classical pieces while preparing a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium for Sunday use; during a Holy Eucharist when the finest of organ playing and superb singing by the St. Peter’s Choir is offered; at a weekday concert, like the May 22 Center City Concert by Gemini Winds (oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn); when The Choir School at St. Peter’s amazes area audiences and blesses the souls of congregants through talents aligned with its mission to enrich and strengthen young lives through excellent, rigorous music education and choral performance; and throughout religious and community spaces in South Africa, the UK, and the USA, where I immersed myself in the sounds of jazz, classical-choral, blues, gospel, and Taizé during my recent sabbatical. Thanks be to God, music is in the air.

On June 11, before their June 15–20 summer tour, the Tour Choirs and MasterSingers of The Choir School dismissed 10:45 a.m. worshippers with “Music Down In My Soul,” inspired by the spiritual “Over My Head.” Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere…I got this music down in my soul, and it fills my heart with the joy of the Lord. Let us give thanks for music, which can help us to connect to the God within–and even fill our hearts with joy.

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Summertime: A Season of Worship and Formation

In anticipation of the Church calendar’s new season of Pentecost beginning on June 4, our Associate Rector, the Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, recounted a point of significance for Christians in 2017. “Gathered together on the fiftieth day since the Lord’s resurrection, the disciples were amazed as God poured out the Holy Spirit upon them…Saint Peter interpreted this event for those gathered and the church was born. What a perfect occasion for a celebration!”

Indeed, you and I are called to celebrate the birth of God’s Church and a corporate faith that mysteriously binds all Christians. Through intentional commitments to worship and formation, we offer our selves, souls, and sacred bodies before our Creator, alongside others, in thanksgiving for life and blessings, known and unknown.

Summertime at St. Peter’s provides weekly opportunities to assist adults, youth, and children in upholding the vows and promises made to God through baptism, especially to worship and be formed in faith. Even though curriculum-based classes, such as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Journey to Adulthood, and the Parish Hall Forum, are suspended during summertime to give devoted facilitators (Catechists) a break, the worship of God and faith formation continues in keeping with the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.”

Over the years, I have found, often hear, and appreciate that summertime at a vibrant parish like St. Peter’s creates a rare season and welcome space in often packed lives for making connections and building relationships. These benefits are major aspects of faith formation and important results of simply being present for worship according to our Sunday and weekday schedule.

It is a joy to return to St. Peter’s after an incredible three-month sabbatical leave–a gift for which I am most grateful. The parish community was always in my prayers. I am well rested, restored, and recharged for what God has for us to do as bold followers of Jesus.

Summertime presents a perfect and slower season for our intergenerational celebration of the birth of the Church through radical commitments to worship and formation. I look forward to gathering and growing together at St. Peter’s.

God’s blessings as we pray and try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

A Perfect Occasion for a Celebration

After witnessing the Ascension of Christ, the disciples travel to Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Shavuot. Shavuot is a Jewish agricultural holiday, translated in ancient Greek as “Pentecost.” Gathered together for on the fiftieth day since the Lord’s resurrection, the disciples were amazed as God poured out the Holy Spirit upon them, in an episode of violent wind and fiery tongues. Saint Peter interpreted this event for those gathered and the church was born.

Unfortunately, our English translation underplays the imagery in the book of Acts. Theologian Frank Crouch writes that the imagery in the Greek text is much more “fear-inducing, adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed, smoke-filled turmoil.”

Just after the Holy Spirit makes its grand entrance in that smoke-filled moment, Peter explains what has happened by quoting the Prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

Men and women, young and old, sons and daughters, boys and girls, slave and free shall prophesy. God pours out the Spirit on all. The Holy Spirit is poured out in the same inclusive love with which Jesus lead his disciples. All people are included: young and old, slave and free, male and female. The old systems are being cast down and God’s life-giving and loving Spirit is freely available to all people.

What a perfect occasion for a celebration! On Pentecost Sunday, we mark the birthday of the Church with baptisms, beautiful music, and much fanfare. We welcome back from sabbatical our Rector, the Reverend Ollie Rencher, and we will continue our celebration after worship with a Parish Picnic at Independence Park (more information in the news and notices).

Happy Pentecost to all on this celebratory feast! May God’s celestial fire burn in our hearts as follow the way of our risen Lord.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Worship and the Arts at St. Peter’s

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless…. – From the Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Book of Common Prayer 1979

These words, from the opening Collect of this final Sunday of the Easter season, fix with precision our current spiritual and liturgical coordinates. We rejoice in Christ’s ascension, yet there is a sense of waiting, expectation, and perhaps even of nagging uncertainty as we wait for the other comforter, the advocate, the Spirit of truth and understanding. To what, as Father Jacob asked us in his sermon this past Sunday, is the Spirit calling each of us? To what is the Spirit calling St. Peter’s? In more than two years working alongside Paul Keller as a vestry liaison for worship and the arts at St. Peter’s, I have seen how a few of those callings are being worked out in our midst.

Worship feeds us in times of uncertainty. As we wait for the coming of the Spirit in our own lives and in our broader community, we come to church and find in the worship of God something of what we were searching for. Whether it be through hearing a favorite hymn or anthem, an ear-catching phrase in the lectionary, the message of the sermon, or participation in the Eucharistic feast, we are filled with the love of Christ.

As we are filled with the love of Christ, we reflect it into the world. Worship is the source and the expression of our ministries as a parish. When we are joined together in Christ’s love, we are called to show that love in the wider world. Our outreach, our strivings for social justice, our artistic endeavors all find their inspiration in our collective worship. We support the Choir School at St. Peter’s and Center City Concerts because we know that these organizations feed souls and bring joy. Whether we feel ourselves to be bold followers or slightly timid ones as yet, we are called to do Christ’s work in the world.

Worship leads us to a life of dedication. Whether in service to our parish or to the wider community, members of St. Peter’s show their dedication. A conservative estimate of the hours members spent volunteering just in liturgical roles was 9,000 hours in 2016. The Spirit calls lectors to read the Word of God. The Spirit calls members of the Flower and Altar Guilds to bring beauty to our church building each week. The Spirit is calling the choir not only to weekly offerings in worship, but to take a pilgrimage to St. Alban’s, England in August to grow as an ensemble and to bring back to St. Peter’s a renewed sense of dedication in worship and the arts.

As you contemplate your life at St. Peter’s, to what is God’s Spirit calling you?

Abigail Cudabac, Vestry Member

Ascensiontide

Before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer the Episcopal Church observed an older Kalendar which ended the Easter Season on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter Day. Ascensiontide, as it was known, was the ten days of celebration which marked the Ascension of our Lord into heaven until the Even of Whitsun, an older Anglican name for the Day of Pentecost. The Day of Pentecost is fifty days after Easter Day, hence the name.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer sought to reclaim an older tradition of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, from Easter Day to Pentecost Day. An unintentional consequence was the lessened significance of Ascension Day and the loss of Ascensiontide. There are nine hymns in The Hymnal 1982 appointed for Ascension Day, and The Book of Common Prayer lists Ascension Day as one of the seven Principal Feasts of the Church.

So, what is so important about the Ascension and what theology is undergirding our observance of this day?
Ascension Day held significant meaning for the early Church who believed that the physical ascension of our Lord into heaven was a visible reminder of God’s authority in Christ. The Ascension means that God has not only raised the crucified Christ from the dead, but that God has also given the crucified Christ authority and power. Just as God chose to become human for our sake, to take the form of a baby and to live, die, and be raised for us, God has also chosen to take our human form to God’s self.

Imagine for one moment, what it means for the creator of the universe, who formed us from the dust of the earth, to take our human form into the Godhead. If Christ is ascended to God’s right hand, then God’s very nature is changed for all time, and in God’s nature there is a human body.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see God’s never-failing love towards us. In Christ’s ascension, we lift our eyes to the same God, who took our human form to himself and reveled a love that will not cease, until all of creation is reconciled in Christ.

Join us for an Ascension Day service of Holy Eucharist with organ and hymns on Thursday, May 25 at Noon.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector