How awesome is this place!

Every year at Advent, the start of the Church New Year, the Annual Meeting of the Parish is held to gather as many adults and youth who are able to attend. While this year’s December 10 gathering will undertake business matters, including the election of new Vestry members and sharing of key reports, it will also be a vital time simply to celebrate the awesomeness of St. Peter’s. Indeed, we are blessed by who we are, what we have, and who are called to become through our parish vision.

This awesomeness I know from having had the privilege to experience my first-ever sabbatical, earlier this year. Between worship and engagement opportunities in Charlotte, Cape Town, the United Kingdom, Manhattan, Atlanta, Memphis, and the Society of St. John the Evangelist Monastery in Cambridge, Mass., my enthusiastic perspective about our common life, and just how good we have it, was reaffirmed.

North Carolina composer, Dan Locklair crafted the commissioned-anthem, St. Peter’s Rock (1999), whose text includes, “How awesome is this place!” As we move through this Church calendar season of waiting to meet God in Christ, yet again, I call us to reflect on the complete text of St. Peter’s Rock:

Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam. (You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.) Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’

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 beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte. May God give us strength for the journey, and the patience to slow down just enough to reflect on and respond to “How awesome is this place!”

Advent blessings and peace as we grow in faith,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

People Look East

Each year on the weekend just before Thanksgiving, St. Peter’s Choir travels to Valle Crucis for our annual choir retreat. It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year. Choir members arrive at the inn on Friday afternoon. The table in the common area quickly fills up with all the delicious food everyone has brought to share. There’s plenty of time for fun and fellowship. There are games of ping-pong and a card game for which I can never recall the rules year-to-year, or sometimes even hand-to-hand. And there’s a fireplace we can all gather around to chat at the end of the day.
 
But mostly, we spend our time rehearsing. The timing of our choir retreat is not accidental, falling just before the start of Advent. Our time in Valle Crucis is a time of preparation as we head into one of the busiest times of the church year. The amount of music St. Peter’s Choir will offer in worship, between Lessons and Carols this Sunday and the two Choral Eucharists on Christmas Eve, would feel overwhelming if not for our time together in the mountains.
 
A non-choir member asked me recently if we really need to hold this retreat in Valle Crucis. Why not just have extra rehearsal time at St. Peter’s? Wouldn’t that be far more convenient? And it’s true, for many of us, finding space in our busy lives to be away for that weekend can be a challenge. But finding that space is important – stepping away from our daily routine is precisely what makes choir retreat such a special experience. And in this season of Advent we are called to do just that: to find space in the midst of our busy lives to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. 
 
People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist

Diocesan Convention Reflection

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.  —from Evensong at Diocesan Convention, November 17, 2017

This year, I had the honor of serving as a delegate to the convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, joining the other parishes and ministries of our diocese to fellowship, worship, discuss and prioritize the way forward together. I’d like to share some snapshots of this year’s convention, entitled “Becoming Beloved Community.”

Thursday evening, our diocesan historiographer, the Reverend Dr. Brooks Graebner, and the Reverend Jemonde Taylor from St. Ambrose, Raleigh, presented “One Great Fellowship of Love?” which outlined the history of black people in our diocese. While our diocese appeared progressive in writings and speeches of the time, the reality of how they were treated was much less progressive.

On Friday, the Right Reverend Sam Rodman preached about “Becoming Beloved Community” in four steps: Tell the truth; Repair the breach; Proclaim the dream; Practice the way of love. Then, our own rector, the Reverend Ollie Rencher, moderated a panel of five (including Tony Craghead, also from St. Peter’s) who addressed questions about how prejudice touched their lives and how they responded in faith.

On Saturday, Bishop Rodman began his pastoral address by reminding us that “unity is very, very, very, very hard.” and then suggested five priorities to “Become Beloved Community.” 1) Engage in truth-telling; understanding that truth is messy. 2) Support vulnerable congregations. 3) Collaborate in mission—like our Galilee Ministries in East Charlotte. 4) Lifelong formation—intergenerational, relationship-based. 5) Reconnect to the land.

If you would like to read a more robust summary of this year’s convention, including videos, please go to the website of the Diocese of NC, by clicking here. You will also find details regarding resolutions passed by the body and committee members elected for various diocesan positions.

Thank you for honoring me with the privilege to represent St. Peter’s Episcopal Church this year.

Amy Dillon King, Convention Delegate

Confronting Compassion Fatigue with Prayer and Action

In his sermon last Sunday, Father Ollie spoke of the need for followers of Jesus to be prepared to face the challenges of our world. It seems as if every week we witness another mass shooting, another devastating storm, or more scenes of senseless violence. If you’re like me, at some point it all blends together, and it becomes difficult to recall and distinguish one tragic event from another.

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 5, I read the first reports of the massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I found myself simply acknowledging the sadness of the event, but going on with my day, unsurprised by the news. There have been 307 mass shootings so far in 2017, and many other tragic shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012.

The Right Reverend Matthew Gunter, Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du lac, recently wrote how Christians can love their neighbors in this “age of compassion fatigue.” Gunter wrote, “It takes a toll. I wonder if our whole society isn’t experiencing a mild (or not so mild) form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Or more accurately, perhaps, the related condition of ‘compassion fatigue’. Compassion fatigue has traditionally been associated with people in the helping professions – doctors, nurses, therapists, police officers, social workers, etc. But, with the increased connectivity and access to images and information, I think it has become more generalized. And yet, as Christians, we must resist this tendency even as we acknowledge its reality and power. In his summary of the Law, Jesus enjoins us to, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ That is a call to compassion, a call to care. How might we respond to that call while avoiding compassion fatigue?” Bishop Gunter goes on to note that through prayer, through practicing vulnerability, through keeping Sabbath, through worshipping in community, and through acting for the welfare of others, we can avoid the temptation to be complacent, to be worn down, and to be fatigued by the evil in our world.

Recently, there have been conversations about how the Church is to respond to violence. Should we respond with prayer, with action, or both? Two “hashtags” appeared on social media after the shooting in Texas: #PrayersForSutherlandSprings and #ThoughtsAndPrayersAreNotEnough. The Episcopal group “Bishops United Against Gun Violence” released a statement on this very topic. The Bishops wrote: “Prayer is not an offering of vague good wishes. It is not a spiritual exercise that successfully completed exempts one from focusing on urgent issues of common concern. Prayer is not a dodge. In prayer we examine our own hearts and our own deeds to determine whether we are complicit in the evils we deplore. And if we are, we resolve to take action; we resolve to amend our lives…One does not offer prayers in lieu of demonstrating political courage, but rather in preparation.”

As Episcopalians, we have the gift of the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, and when faced with “compassion fatigue,” when faced with the question of whether to act or pray, when we can simply look to our baptism for the answer. The answer is both. In the Baptismal Covenant, we promise to continue in worship, fellowship, and the sacraments; to resist evil and repent when we fall into sin; to proclaim the Good News of Jesus; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; and to strive for justice and peace among all people. The answer is “all of the above.” When we follow Jesus in baptism, and seek daily to live out our baptismal promises, we will find that God is with us, holding us in the fatigue of the world, and granting us courage and strength to confront evil with Love.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Thanksgiving for Our Vestry Past, Present, and Future

Since St. Peter’s was established as a parish in 1844, after its organization in 1834, the Vestry has played an essential role to support life at St. Peter’s. The women and men who have answered a call to be nominated and, if elected, to serve as a Vestry member become the elected spiritual lay leadership body primarily responsible for collaborating with the Rector, Wardens, Staff, and Parish House Volunteers on carrying out the broad and specific work of God’s Church through the administration and programs of the parish.

Daily, as I give thanks for our common life, I am mindful of all who have served, are serving, and will serve through this particular ministry. On Sunday, November 12 at 9:30 a.m., please join the Wardens (Bert Miano and Maria Long) and me at the Parish Hall Forum for an “Introduction and Conversation with 2018-2020 Vestry Candidates.” Vestry Nominees, Marcus Clarke, Ellison Clary, Mike Hoffman, John Hurst, Perry Mixter, Mary Lynn Sepkowitz, and Amanda Wommack will be present to engage a relaxed conversation with us about the past, present, and future of life at St. Peter’s, as well as the several expectations associated with their call.

Each Vestry member is expected to be a faithful and visible presence among the congregation; pledge to the annual fund; communicate and plan proactively with staff persons and team leaders; provide a monthly ministry area report to the Vestry; and attend every meeting of the Vestry, except in cases of an emergency.

I ask your prayers and support for all members, newcomers, staff, volunteers, and clergy of our vibrant parish community as each is called to answer God’s call to discipleship and to serve in our own intentional ways. In our prayers, let us also give thanks for the Vestry Classes of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, as we prepare for the Annual Meeting of the Parish on December 10.

God’s peace and blessings as we grow in faith,

Ollie+
The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

All Saints: Remembering and Being Servants

Every year, on All Saints’ Day (November 1) and the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, I find myself praying and droning a rather moving rendition of “Remember your servants, Lord, when you come in your kingly power.” Attributed to the Russian Orthodox liturgy and included in The Hymnal 1982 of The Episcopal Church, this adaptation of The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) gets me every time. Watch out for the flood gates!

Antiphon: Remember your servants, Lord, when you come in your kingly power. Verses: Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when the world reviles you and persecutes you; and utters all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake: Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven. Antiphon: Remember your servants, Lord, when you come in your kingly power.

The richness of the discipleship words, ebb and flow of the tune, and the shivering, lush chords remind and connect me with the saints of God, known and unknown, who have gone before me and you. They remind us of the saints of God who live among us and the lives to which each of us is called as a servant of God through baptism. They hold up the commitment that is intrinsic to the God and faith that lives within and invite a certain paying attention to Jesus’ words in the gospel of Matthew (18:18). “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Indeed, whatever we do in thought, word, and deed actually matters.

All Saints’ Sunday 2017 at St. Peter’s is a day of rejoicing as we remember the countless servants of God; baptize new servants, William, Imogen, Terren, Josie, and Amelia; offer pledge commitments to Giving with Gratitude: Support Life at St. Peter’s; and renew our baptismal covenants to be servants of God. It may even reveal heaven on earth.

Thanks be to God for 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. Together, we are bound to be servants and even saints, as the beloved children of our God who is and will be pleased.

God’s peace and blessings as we grow in faith,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

“Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith…”

My favorite part of Rite I, the traditional language version of the Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer, is the Summation of the Law: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The text for the Summation of the Law is found in this week’s Gospel reading from Matthew. The Pharisees test Jesus by asking which commandment is the greatest, and his response is a paraphrase of the shema, that ancient Jewish prayer recited twice daily from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the Lord is one. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Jesus adds a second commandment from Leviticus 19: “…you must love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

According to our Lord, the entirety of scripture, the arch of God’s story with creation, is summed up in two commandments: Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. These commandments are at the heart of what God is revealing to us in Jesus Christ. Love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self is certainly a simple rule to live by, but it isn’t easy. Thankfully God’s grace and mercy is abundant, and every day we have new opportunities to live more deeply into these two commandments. We have new opportunities to learn what it means to love God with all we have, to love our neighbors, and to love ourselves as God loves us.

The culmination of God’s mission in the world is reconciliation, and reconciliation looks like justice and love. But the hard work of living more deeply into the love of God, the love of neighbor, and the love of self must be learned. We all have opportunities to discover how to deepen our commitments to Christ’s call, but we cannot do it alone. We learn to love God, to love neighbor, and to love self by engaging in our community, in worship and formation, in care for one another, in outreach and social justice in our larger community, and in giving with gratitude of our time, talent, and treasure.

There are numerous opportunities for us to explore God’s mission of reconciliation here at St. Peter’s, such as the Social Justice film night series with conversation, Parish Hall forums on Social Justice and Outreach, and regular offerings of worship and music, with more information in the eNews, the Sunday Leaflet announcements, and Life at St. Peter’s magazine.

As we all seek deeper communion with God, let us discover together what it means to love ourselves and each other, by participating in formation, worship, and outreach opportunities where we will discover the abundant love of God in Christ.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Encountering God in the sacraments…

…and becoming agents of God’s Love

When the Church of England began ordaining women in the 1994 many of the Church’s historic devotional societies came out in opposition to the ordination of women. That same year, in the Diocese of Southwark in London, a group of Anglican clergy founded a new devotional society committed to honoring and valuing all people who are called to ordination the church, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In 1994, the Society of Catholic Priests was founded. Today the SCP has hundreds of members throughout the Anglican Communion, in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, and Australia.

Last week I traveled to Chicago for the Annual Conference of the SCP where I was inducted as a member. Several people asked about the bright red SCP lapel pin I wore on Sunday, and when I explained the pin to be the insignia of the Society of Catholic Priests, you can imagine many more questions followed. The SCP is a catholic society, but not Roman Catholic. It is a Society committed to advancing the sacramental practices which are part of our heritage as Episcopalians. Just as we recite our belief in “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” in the Creed, so we also claim a sacramental and theological connection to the historic Church of the Apostles, to the One Universal (Catholic) Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Membership in the SCP is made up of clergy, seminarians, and professed religious who believe that the churches of the Anglican Communion are part of the one holy and catholic and apostolic church; embrace as colleagues all those admitted to Holy Orders regardless of gender, ethnic background, or sexual orientation; believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; embrace the sacramental life of the Church as means of God’s grace; and keep the Rule of Life of the Society. You can read more about the Society at www.thescp.org.

The Annual Conference in Chicago was both educational and inspiring. Attendees heard from bishops throughout the Church, such as the Right Reverend Melissa Skelton, Bishop of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop Skelton spoke eloquently of the need for “catholic evangelism” in our day: “The Church is a place where we encounter a God of unfathomable beauty, mystery, and love, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine life is mediated to us through the sacraments. The Church is the place that equips us and inspires us to be the Body of Christ. Because God’s idea of beauty is justice.”
The heart of the catholic movement in the Episcopal Church is never simply about incense or vestments, but about the sacraments and worship of the Church pointing beyond our doors, inspiring us to go beyond the threshold of the church, to become Christ’s Body for the world. It is about encountering God in the beauty of worship and then becoming agents of justice so we might advance God’s mission in the world.

I am grateful to St. Peter’s for continuing education opportunities which allow clergy and staff to participate in such conferences. Above all, I am grateful for our shared life of worship, music, and outreach: where we gather for beautifully inspiring worship, encounter God’s grace in the sacraments, and are sent out into the world to be agents of God’s kingdom and love.

The Reverend Jacob Pierce, SCP, Associate Rector

Welcoming Our New Bishop Diocesan

The St. Peter’s parish community will have the pleasure of welcoming our new Bishop Diocesan, The Right Reverend Samuel Sewall Rodman III for his Visitation to St. Peter’s between October 14 and 15. (Details are available in news and notices.) Having had the honor and privilege to interact with “Bishop Sam” on a few occasions, it is evident that he is eager to spend time with and learn more about us, including how we might join him and the diocesan community in responding to the mission of God’s Church.

Bishop Sam Rodman was elected twelfth Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina on March 4, 2017 and was consecrated on July 15 at Duke Chapel amid an ecumenical and interfaith crowd, which included several representatives from St. Peter’s. Prior to his election, he served as Special Projects Officer and Project Manager for Campaign Initiatives for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and for sixteen years as the Rector of St. Michael’s in Milton, M.A. The 9:30 a.m. Parish Hall Forum on October 15 provides an opportunity to engage him more through an intentional time of questions and answers after his plans to attend Holy Chow breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in the Community Room.

Our Bishop revealed the early draft of his vision for the diocese during the October 3–5 clergy conference at Winston-Salem and will likely offer highlights when he is among us. In addition to those who will be baptized, confirmed, received, and reaffirmed during his visitation, I invite all able-bodied parishioners to be present on October 15 and join me in paying close attention to Bishop Sam’s “Consecrated for Mission: Congregations, Collaborations, and Convergence of Concern” as it is unfolds. This diocesan community mission is bound to help us in our parish ministry and serve as an essential companion to 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 grow in faith,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Pastoral Care at St. Peter’s

Pastoral care at Saint Peter’s takes many forms. We offer support when parishioners are ill and when families experience births, illness, and death. Lay people and clergy reach out with visits, prayer shawls, casseroles, cards, Holy Eucharist, and prayer.  These are some ways we share God’s love with each other. The chronic illness and caregiver support group meets monthly, and no one explains what they do better than group member Jim Bartos.

“How are you?” is not a polite throwaway greeting at the first Friday gathering of St. Peter’s chronic care group  (we’re searching for an appropriate name.  How does Lazarus Guild sound?). The question is asked because we indeed care. Chronic is what we each live every day, whether the care-giver or the care-receiver. We’re both part of this monthly meeting of grown-ups who are in need of support from caring people and know we need that support. And under the wise guidance of Fr. Keith Lane and Dan Busch, support is what we get.  From 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the lounge at St. Peter’s we share the worries and hurts that burden us and the weight is lifted a bit. Often that’s enough. Shared also are the victories, some quite small…often that’s enough. The dozen of us there (sometimes more, sometimes fewer), as any other random dozen might be, bring unique hurts, joys, sources of strength, roots of pain, disappointments and triumphs, our tears and our laughter, and we find support, needed support. There’s more than a whiff of Jesus’ command to love one another in that room. It’s sweeter than the aroma of baking bread or the perfume of  incense at the Easter vigil. What is chronic does not magically go away. It is surrounded by care and prayer. And that’s better than magic.  So, how are YOU?

Elizabeth Richardson, Pastoral Care