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

Caring for Our Flock

Last Sunday, we heard the Reverend Dr. Leòn preach movingly on Christ as a shepherd. Indeed, in foretelling Christ’s coming, Isaiah (40:11) tells us that “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” How does St. Peter’s try to live up to Christ’s example for the flock who are our congregation?
Informally, we all demonstrate our caring for one another by reaching out and checking on how we can help one another.

The formal aspect of our caring is coordinated through the Pastoral Care Team. The clergy and lay team coordinates the efforts of ministry groups ranging from those who provide assistance to families celebrating a birth to families grieving a death. Ministry groups offer a homemade meal or a handmade shawl when it is a reminder of the congregation’s, and God’s, love. Volunteers reach out to homebound parishioners and celebrate eucharist when receiving it at St. Peter’s is no longer practical. Those who would like additional prayers for healing or hope are welcomed each week for intercessory prayer. Clergy and laity also offer a safe place for caregivers and those living with chronic illness to express their joys and challenges.

We recognize that the confidentiality offered in these services sometimes means that they can become hidden. It is my hope that this message can shine a light on their availability.

To learn more about these services, call the church office at 704-332-7746 to speak with a member of the clergy. If it is after hours, call the Clergy-on-Call number at 704-749-6175 where a member of the clergy is always available. We urge you not to rely on email or word of mouth in the hopes that clergy will get the message, as these are not always reliable and parishioners are sometimes upset that the church didn’t respond to a need it didn’t know existed.

If you would like more information about volunteering with a pastoral care ministry, please contact me.

John Hall
Vestry liaison to Pastoral Care Team

The Road to Emmaus is All Around Us

Saint Luke’s Gospel tells the story of two disciples who were joined by a stranger along the road to Emmaus. They did not immediately recognize the stranger as the risen Lord, but as they reached their destination they urged Jesus to stay with them and break bread. At table Jesus broke bread, gave it to them, and vanished from their sight. The disciples remarked, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”

The geographic location of Emmaus is unknown and historians and archeologists have been unable to locate a village by that name. The late theologian Marcus Borg would often write, “Emmaus is nowhere, because Emmaus is everywhere.” Emmaus is everywhere because we often encounter Christ along the way, in the unexpected places, in the breaking of bread, and not in one isolated location.

Christ’s revelation in the breaking of bread is twofold. We encounter Christ in the Holy Eucharist as we break bread together and share in the sacred meal of his death and resurrection. We also encounter Christ in community at table. When we gather for meals with Christians sisters and brothers, we witness to the truth that Jesus is always with us, even in the simple sharing of food and drink.

The road to Emmaus is about trusting our burning hearts and seeing Jesus along the way, in the places we least expect, and especially in the faces of our friends and neighbors. The Emmaus story is about seeing Jesus in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread, and in the love of God that binds us into one risen body.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Faithful Thomas

The gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is the familiar story of the disciples in a locked room after Christ’s Resurrection. The Apostle Thomas is skeptical that Jesus is alive after witnessing his painful death. It is because of this story that Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas.” It is an unfair characterization for the disciple. We should remember that it was only Thomas who was willing to follow Jesus to the cross and to be killed alongside him. Thomas’s disbelief in Jesus’ Resurrection is not due to his lack of faith, but to the pain, trauma, and grief he has experienced. We would do better calling him “Faithful Thomas,” who after seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds, falls to the ground and worships his Lord.

What has struck me most about this story is the account of Jesus’ wounds. Even after his resurrection, Jesus bears the marks of his shameful death. A friend and colleague shared this reflection from Richard Rohr writing on exactly this subject in his July 2014 Daily Meditation. Rohr writes:

The significance of Jesus’ wounded body is his deliberate and conscious holding of the pain of the world and refusing to send it elsewhere. The wounds were not necessary to convince God that we were lovable; the wounds are to convince us of the path and the price of transformation. They are what will happen to you if you face and hold sin in compassion instead of projecting it in hatred.

Jesus’ wounded body is an icon for what we are all doing to one another and to the world. Jesus’ resurrected body is an icon of God’s response to our crucifixions. The two images contain the whole message of the Gospel.

In this Easter season, may we be like Faithful Thomas, eager to see our Lord’s wounds and to be reminded that transformation in Christ is possible, for our sake and for the sake of the world.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Love will not Fail

In Holy Week, we witness our Lord’s suffering and death, the darkness and abandonment of the tomb, the despair of sin, rejection, and betrayal. Easter, however, leads us out of despair and into hope, out of the tomb and into new life. The Resurrection of Jesus is more than a commemorative event, it is the very meaning of God’s love. Through our Lord’s Resurrection we know that destruction and death will not have the final word. By the Resurrection of Jesus Christ the whole world witnesses God’s plan of salvation: “that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…” (Book of Common Prayer, 280.)

Several weeks ago, the St. Peter’s Choir sang an anthem composed by Harold Friedell with words by Edith Williams, Jesus, So Lowly:

Jesus, so lowly, Child of the earth: Christen me wholly, Bring me new birth.
Jesus, so lonely, weary and sad; Teach me that only Love maketh glad.
Jesus, so broken, Silent and pale; Be this the token Love will not fail.
Jesus, victorious, mighty and free; Teach me how glorious death is to be.

Edith Williams’s words are so haunting because they exemplify the depth of our Easter faith: Death is not the final word for those who follow in the way of Jesus. Our Lord’s victorious triumph over the grave is not a sentimental symbol, but a clear and distinct sign of this simple Easter truth: Love will not fail.

Happy Easter,

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Come to Holy Week. Journey with us.

When I was growing up in a small town in rural Western North Carolina even the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were culturally Baptist. Every year when Holy Week came around the oddity of our Episcopal tradition became obvious to our religious neighbors. Our priest would reassure us by saying, “Baptists have revivals, but we have Holy Week. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.”

As Christians in the Anglican way, Holy Week is an essential part of our faith story. We reenact and participate in beautifully ancient rites and traditions as we trace the final days before our Lord’s Resurrection. The liturgies of these days are called the Triduum. For at least 1,700 years Christians across the globe have observed Holy Week through walking with Jesus to the garden, to the cross, and to the tomb.

Our Triduum services at St. Peter’s will begin on Maundy Thursday: we remember the last meal Christ had with his disciples; we remember the institution of the Eucharist as a recollection of God’s saving acts in Jesus; and we remember Christ’s new commandment, the mandatum, that “you love one another as I have loved you” as we wash each other’s feet. At the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service, the church is darkened and the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.

On Good Friday we will hear meditations, readings, and music which reflect on Christ’s passion on the cross. Those in attendance will have an opportunity to venerate the cross, an ancient practice of touching or kissing the instrument of our Lord’s death but also the instrument of our salvation. On Good Friday, we will receive the Eucharist from the sacrament reserved on Maundy Thursday and the clergy will consume all consecrated elements in the church, leaving the church bare of any symbolic presence of Jesus. We will also walk the way of the cross by remembering the various events that took place as Jesus journeyed to Calvary.

At the Great Vigil of Easter, we will light the new fire in the churchyard, process into the dark nave with the Paschal candle, recount the history of our story as God’s people, baptize the newest Christians in the Church, and proclaim that Christ is risen with much fanfare and celebration.

These ancient practices of the Triduum are so very important because they are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our journey into Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, but our journey with Christ to the garden, to the cross, and to the empty tomb begins at our baptism. Maundy Thursday will begin our Triduum observance, and as we journey with Christ deeper into the mystery of his death and resurrection our guide will be his words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Come to Holy Week. Journey with us. Discover the love of God which cannot be contained on the cross or in the tomb. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Our Relationships Build God’s Kingdom

Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us,

“the Holy Spirit is the love relationship between the Father and the Son. It is this relationship itself that is gratuitously given to us. Or better, we are included inside this love.”

God, in the Trinity, models for us how to live in relationship with each other. As a Vestry member liaison to the Congregational Development Team at St. Peter’s, our group focuses on the part of our church vision becoming “a place known for radical love and welcome.”

Payson Adams, a new parishioner a St. Peter’s, reminded our team that Jesus describes the Good Shepherd as one that “calls his own sheep by name.” A good place to begin relationship is to call someone’s name. Having implemented permanent name tags over the last several months for all those who come to St. Peter’s, our group has witnessed a blossoming of connection among parishioners, excitement for new relationships, and furthering the work of God here in our church. I have seen that excitement in Newcomer Coffee Hour where new and long time parishioners have answered the question “What is your passion?” and quickly discovered someone who shares that with them. New creation (God’s Kingdom) is formed with each relationship and with God’s blessing. I see this happening all over at St. Peter’s.

Meister Eckhart, a theologian and mystic, said “in this life we are to become heaven so that God might find a home here.” We have much work to do in this world and even at St. Peter’s to heal broken relationships, form new relationships, and build the God’s Kingdom, now, as we are called. I was inspired this week in reading about an effort to heal racial divides by asking folks to invite a family of another race into their home for a meal. At St. Peter’s, we have begun a monthly potluck lunch series on the second Sunday of each month. I encourage you to join and begin a new relationship. You might be surprised at the blessing it brings.

Peace.

Cooper Morrison, Vestry Member for Congregational Development

Holy Pilgrimage for our Teens

 

Our Youth Formation program’s mission is to provide St. Peter’s youth with opportunities for spiritual growth, personal development, and Christian fellowship in a caring, safe Anglican environment. Our vision has four parts: to strengthen their relationship with God through Christ; to build community; to foster appreciation of our youth and their gifts; to increase their involvement in parish life; and to teach them responsibility for society through outreach. We accomplish this mission for those who participate regularly through the Journey to Adulthood program, a comprehensive curriculum that nurture’s each teen’s spirituality, knowledge of scripture, love and care of self, and of society.

To these ends, we spend the year in classes Sunday mornings in a 6-year program and we take trips to build fellowship, to retreat, to help others, and to learn. Our ultimate trip is a Holy Pilgrimage, taken in their 10th/11th grade year, to a place where they will walk in the footsteps of the saints of our faith, and where they can see and feel their faith, writ large on the canvas of an ancient city. As a Class, they choose their destination and then spend three years (after their two years of Rite 13) learning about and growing into this special journey of faith. Our Pilgrim Class of 2017 decided on a pilgrimage through Rome, Assisi, and Milan. As the group travels together, staying in convents, using public transportation and feet (a lot), visiting churches and holy sites, this group of communicants will pray daily for their St. Peter’s community who have made this journey possible. Please email prayer requests to lholt@st-peters.org and the group will offer your prayers at St. Peter’s Basilica, The Basilica of St. Francis, and the Duomo in Milan. In this way, we will have the parish with us and will share the blessing of this faith adventure with you.

Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation