Becoming The Beloved Community

 

On the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 26, the Church begins the transition to Lent through the observance of Ash Wednesday. We pray, “O God, who before the passion of your only­ begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” Three days later, we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.”

While I find it hard to believe that we are this close to Lent, I also am reminded that in every day of the Church year, we are afforded the opportunity to glorify God in thought, word, and deed. Epiphany is about Christ, who revealed his glory upon the holy mountain. Lent is about centering on and nourishing that Light within our own being to be and spread that Light with our lives.

With God’s help, may we respond radically to the Light and the Ash Wednesday invitation to observe a holy Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word; and by making a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us pray before our maker and redeemer.” In our doing, both we and the world are bound to become who God calls us to be as the beloved community.

God’s blessings as we pray and try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Recalling Our Strength

On the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 12, we offered an essential prayer regarding the source of our strength. “O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Offering these words at the beginning of the liturgy was a timely, true, and humbling reminder that in our weakness, human beings can do nothing good. Our actual ability to glorify and please God in will and deed is rooted in the source of our strength: God. Whenever we rely on God and entrust our lives, present and future, to the One who created us, we come closer to experiencing a certain peace that surpasses human understanding.

In a world where patience and trust appear to be dying by the minute, the faithful are invited to recall our strength. Weakness will always be very much a part of the human condition, but so can strength. May this prayer of French priest, Teilhard de Chardin encourage us today and every day of this earthly life. “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new… Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

God’s blessings as we pray and try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Salt of the Earth, Light of the World

In the gospel appointed for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany Jesus calls his disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” In my first two weeks, as your Associate Rector I have witnessed the ways in which St. Peter’s has been a beacon of light and hope in our city. I have learned of your rich history of being a parish of radical welcome and justice for the most vulnerable in our society, and the ways in which our parish in continuing this gospel work. Again, and again I have heard of the ways in which various parishioners are modeling hope in the context of our society’s fear and anxiety.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann has shared three ways in which the Church can continue to practice hope and model hope for our larger society: through truth telling, through shaping public attitudes and policies, and through acting out an alternative way of being in the world. Dr. Brueggemann contends that Christians can act out an alternative way of being in the world by practicing hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness. This alternative way of being will not be easy in a climate of fear and anxiety, but it is the way of Jesus.

I am thankful for Walter Brueggemann and his words which will guide me as I seek to be more like our Lord. Most of all, I am grateful for St. Peter’s. For decades, this parish has witnessed to and acted out an alternative way of being in the world. St. Peter’s continues to be a place of hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness. I am thankful that I can learn from your example as I serve among you as pastor and priest.

May God give us all the grace and courage to practice hope and to be salt and light in our world.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

A Personal Creed for Bold Followers

On Sunday, January 29, the first lesson appointed for the day was Micah 6:1-8. The prophet proclaims to a broken, desperate, confused, discouraged, and likely well-intended people what precisely God requires of them. They, like most people of God, wanted to know what would be pleasing and acceptable to their Creator. Full of faith and doubt, hope and fear, wanting to do things right, they were answered plainly with what one Episcopal bishop, the Right Reverend Robert C. Wright of Atlanta, has suggested could be a concise personal creed.

Long ago, Micah wrote, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Today, as I consider how I might precisely approach life on earth as a bold follower of Jesus, I am grateful for and share the following words of wisdom from Bishop Wright. With God’s help and in community with those who seek good, let us commit to do what we can to build up the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven and break down walls that separate the human family.

“Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” This is the good God has shown us. Looking for a concise personal creed? Here it is. Three action points approved by God. Small enough for a tattoo, big enough to guide your life, family, business, our nation and the world. The doing of each is its own reward. They can be accomplished without words. Each is subversive to the status quo. Consistently doing these goods will cause you to be simultaneously and in equal measure, adored and despised. But, take heart, good is where we’re from, what we’re made for.”

God’s blessings and peace as each of us is called to try.

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Invitation: Observing Personal Sabbath

Our call to “take time to be holy” warrants consideration, intention, conversation, and celebration, particularly whenever we practice the ultimate sabbath objective to pray and play on a weekly basis. In most weeks of our personal, professional, educational, social, and retired lives, we generally appear to be enslaved by schedules, technology, and more that suggest there is no good or right time to be still with God; that a “stop” period is impossible.

Not including Sunday, we are presented with an invitation to seize small, medium, and large periods of time to nurture our spirituality. Recently, I have been reminded by my spiritual director, family, and friends of the importance of taking time for sabbath, while equally aware that the if, when, and how for such will be different for all people.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, encourages our individual call to make sabbath by the meditative practice of subtracting one word at a time from Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am. Be still and know that I. Be still and know that. Be still and know. Be still and. Be still. Be.”

If you are interested in the notion of sabbath and able to attend the 9:30 am Parish Hall Forum on Sunday, January 29, Senior Warden, Bert Miano and I will reflect on the invitation to observe weekly times for rest and renewal, and wish to learn about your own spiritual journeys.

God’s blessings and peace as each of us is called to try.

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Why Transform Our Approach To Leadership?

During this past weekend’s Vestry Retreat, I was moved by the following excerpt from church consultant Katherine Tyler Scott’s book, Transforming Leadership. “Like so many other institutions, the Church is not immune from the current seismic (enormous) shifts taking place nationally and globally. Experts in every field recognize that we are in a period of such rapid and complex change to historical periods in which new epochs (times) of human understanding emerged… Churches are normally thought to be contemplative places of spiritual respite and havens of stability, but the rapidity and complexity of change is contributing to a different internal and external reality. Today, the meaning of vocation, identity of the priesthood, the redistribution of power, the definition of community, and the meaning of “the ministry of all the baptized” are concerns and opportunities for creative ministry.”

Not only was I moved, I was gladdened to know that, at St. Peter’s, we are doing something right, while equally presented with opportunities to further engage God’s ministry—through who we are and how we fulfill the mission of the Church. Our Catechism reminds us that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Our parish family’s lay and ordained ministry approach to The Episcopal Church’s Service, Worship, Evangelism, Education, and Prayer (SWEEP) calls for all people of St. Peter’s to share in leadership.

In the coming months, the Wardens and Vestry will collaborate increasingly more with the Parish Staff, Clergy, Parish House Volunteers, ministry area team leaders, and all parishioners on modeling what is suggested by a transformation in leadership. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love through the ministry of all its members. Exciting times ahead…in the name of Jesus.

God’s peace and blessings,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Alabama, 1965

St. Peter’s is a community of faith that is committed to the prayerful and important work related to racial equity, reconciliation, and justice. Parishioners of all sorts and conditions often share this same observation with others and me. Indeed, The Episcopal Church, because of the “Jesus Movement” and Baptismal Covenant about which our Presiding Bishop speaks regularly, encourages us to do whatever we can to respond to the universal sin of racism.

In the coming days, millions will remember Dr. King, who did much in his life in the name of Jesus and for the welfare of all beloved children of God. As we consider the parts that we each might take on the trek to reconciliation, let us pray, reflect, and act courageously in ways that will point to change.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led thy people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may strive to secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I hope that many will attend our 11:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist on Monday, January 16, followed by the Noon concert featuring Charlotte Contemporary Ensemble Gospel Choir, who will not disappoint. Gathering faithfully for such an occasion is bound to bless and inform our next steps.

God’s peace and blessings as we try.

 

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Resolution: Look Well To The Growing Edge

The 2017th Year of Our Lord presents us with new opportunities to live in love and service in thanksgiving for Christmas and Epiphany. We begin, again, on the discipleship journey, which comes with a cost, changes, and turns, albeit worth the reward promised us at the end. Amid the gray, rainy, and cold days of January in Charlotte, growth constantly happens and has the potential to occur within us.

Our new year discipleship suggests that we might take risks, walking by faith and not by sight, in the name of Jesus. It dares us to look to God who created us and faithfully makes all things new. Recently, I came across this poem, by theologian Howard Thurman. It captures the probability for one of our spiritual resolutions for 2017: Look well to the growing edge.

Look well to the growing edge! All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!

God’s peace and blessings as we try.

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

What’s in a Name?

When I worked as a social worker, I discovered that one of the best ways to establish rapport with someone new is to ask about how they got their name. I would learn all sorts of helpful information about the person and their family of origin, and asking the question conveyed my genuine interest in getting to know them and hear their story.

On Sunday January 1, we celebrate The Feast of the Holy Name. This year we are fortunate that the Feast is on a Sunday so that we can worship together on this special day. Mary and Joseph followed the Jewish custom of having their son circumcised and officially “named” when he was eight days old. Unlike many parents who agonize over the decision of what to name a baby, Mary and Joseph had clear direction from angels that their child would be named Jesus, meaning “he saves.”

Our church bears St. Peter’s name. Of course, it was customary for the first church in a town to be named after St. Peter in both Episcopalian and Roman Catholic traditions. That’s why there are two “St. Peter’s” churches (ours and the Roman Catholic one) on Tryon Street. What does it mean for us to be named after Peter? How do we reflect both his strengths (honesty, boldness) and some of his pitfalls (fear, obsequiousness)? How might we more fully grow into the name we’ve been given as Peter, the “rock” on which Jesus built and continues to build his church? Perhaps the old Gospel song is right: “There is power in the Name…”

This week I challenge you to ask at least one other parishioner the story of their particular name to get to know and love one another better and to celebrate that in God’s eyes and through the waters of baptism we also all share the name Beloved.

The Reverend Joslyn Ogden Schaefer, Associate Rector

A Christmas Message from The Rector

Creating A Better World. Christmas, The Nativity of Our Lord, invites us to be and do better in the name of the One for whom we wait during Advent. The birth of Christ the Savior, who was born into conditions that paradoxically mirror modern forms of darkness, poverty, and exclusion, was the mysterious delivery of who we are called to follow. Today, we ponder how we might respond to the Christmas with our own lives.

In The Road to Daybreak, Henri Nouwen offers that “Christmas is saying “yes” to something beyond our emotions and feelings. It is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative.” It is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not our own. Therefore, believers in Christmas are called to be co-creators with God on building the Kingdom on earth as one might imagine it in heaven. For those who follow God Incarnate, things will never look or feel just right or be easy. The world will continue to be broken and inhabited by broken people; always need healing; and need those who might have the courage required for creating a better world.

Our “yes” and actions are bound to glorify God. During Christmastide and year-round, life at St. Peter’s strives to provide the space and support necessary for affirmative responses to the birth and invitation of Jesus. 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. Daily, our parish family is called to try becoming what is advocated by this vision as a perfect beginning for what the Holy Spirit will complete.

In thanksgiving for Christmas, let us pray, serve, and give in ways that show our commitment to creating a better world. Now, more than ever, the world needs the Church, the body of Christ, to fulfill its primary mission, which is to restore all people to unity God and each other in Christ.

Christmas blessings and peace to you and yours.

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector