Drawing the Circle Wider

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce

The first lesson for the Fifth Sunday of Easter comes from the Acts of the Apostles. After Peter returns from Caesarea, the disciples say to him, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Peter makes his defense by recounting a vision in which he is covered in a large sheet containing “unclean” animals of every kind. A voice tells Peter to “kill and eat,” but Peter refuses saying, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter interpreted this vision to mean that God has also included Gentiles (non-Jews) in the salvation of the world.

Like Jesus, Peter is accused of eating with “un-worthies,” those considered outside the fold. Peter ends his defense by saying, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” This story is the beginning of a major theme in the Book of Acts, which ultimately leads to the Council of Jerusalem, when the Apostles determine that Gentiles are to be full members of the Church.

The Church has long struggled with inclusion but drawing the circle wider is deeply part of the Christian tradition. Remember, Jesus was accused of eating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and notorious sinners.  Jesus, and Peter, chose to draw the circle wider, to include those their communities wished to exclude.

Erring on the side of inclusion is part of our tradition. The Church has not always been quick to draw the circle wider, and it has often taken centuries to convince those in power that change is needed. Looking to the example of our Lord has allowed the Church to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. More recently, drawing the circle wider has allowed us to reexamine who is called to ordained ministry and who is called to marriage.

But here’s the thing, we must resist believing we are finished. It is tempting to believe the circle is plenty big and it need not get any wider. Speaking to a group of clergy in 1909, early Civil Rights advocate and Bishop of South Carolina, William Guerry said, “If we are to be truly catholic [universal], as Christ himself is catholic, then we must have a church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living human soul.”

This story from Acts asks us to consider the people in our communities who are still knocking on the doors of the Church, asking us if we might draw the circle just a bit wider. What fruit of the spirit do you see in your neighbors outside of our faith community? What gifts might they offer the Church?

Consider these questions this week, and as each of us confronts the human impulse to exclude, may we choose to draw the circle wider, erring on the side of inclusion, and remembering that God has never created a person God does not love.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Priest-in-Charge

25th Anniversary of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Peter’s

Anna Hurdle
Director of Children’s Formation

The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. -John 10: 3

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The parable of the Good Shepherd is a rich scripture passage that speaks so deeply to our children and to us; a shepherd who loves, cares for, protects, who calls his sheep by name to abundant life. The children at St. Peter’s come to know the love and presence of Jesus the Shepherd as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. The sheep receive it and respond to it by offering their love in return.

Catechists of the Good Shepherd often think of this day as our Patron Saint Day. This year marks the twenty-fifth year of St. Peter’s use of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as our primary method of Christian formation for our parish children.

Even though we have been around for a long time, our approach may still seem unfamiliar at times. For those who would like to discover more, we will be offering an adult formation class for adults this summer. Part I will be held June 17-21, 9:00 a.m. -4:00 p.m. each day and you can use this link to register.

Parents, religious educators, clergy, and other interested adults are drawn to the very rich, retreat-like courses in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Through formation courses in Catechesis, adults have the opportunity to see age appropriate presentations and materials given to children from the Bible and liturgy. The formation course includes preparation in giving the presentations (the lessons) to children, provides a solid background in the theological and pedagogical underpinnings of this work, assists the catechist in preparing his/her album, introduces the prepared environment: the atrium, and guides catechists in making the handmade materials used for the children’s work.

Please consider if the Good Shepherd is calling you to formation. For more information or to learn more about this opportunity, please feel free to contact me directly.

Anna Hurdle
Director of Children’s Formation
(704) 749-6156

Even the Least of These: Understanding God’s Call to Service

St. Peter’s Social Justice Greensboro Museum Trip, March 30, 2019

Throughout the Gospel, there are numerous accounts of Jesus ministering to the masses, particularly to the outcast and downtrodden, and encouraging his disciples to do the same. As we reflect on the profound power and impact of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we are called to honor his legacy as a living sacrifice by loving and supporting all of God’s children, particularly the most vulnerable and least considered members of our communities.

St. Peter’s Social Justice Ministry has been focused on advancing God’s love through the efforts of outreach and inclusion, striving continuously to uphold Jesus’ admonition to “feed and care for His lambs and sheep.” In a modern context, it means we are called to ensure that all of God’s children are able to live full, equitable, and inclusive lives, unbridled by the sins of oppression, hatred, and undue negativity.

Recently, St. Peter’s partnered with the only two predominantly Black Episcopal Churches in Charlotte, Chapel of Christ the King and St. Michael’s and All Angels, to visit two civil rights sites in Greensboro, N.C. (click here to view more pictures from our trip). In our journey to these sites, we sought to be reminded of how these nonviolent protest movements led to vast changes in American life for millions of people not recognized as equal because of the color of their skin. One goal in assembling this diverse group was to revisit the painful history of segregation that has led to much suffering and separation in our country. Our group also sought to better discern through history how each of us can more effectively advocate for causes that we are called to address.

St. Peter’s was awarded the Act On Grant through the Foundation for the Carolinas challenging us to “Share. Listen. Act.”  For us, that means to share God’s word, hear the stories of our fellow man, and act in ways that transform ideas of social justice to deliberate acts of social change.

We invite you to join us as part of the Social Justice Ministry Team as we continue to pursue our call to serve, uplifting God’s word, and follow Jesus’ example in caring and advocating for the least of us.

Gwendolyn G. High, Ph.D.
on behalf of the Social Justice Ministry Team

Education for Ministry (EfM)

The Reverend L. Murdock Smith
Assisting Priest

Why would I want to do EfM? What’s the purpose of Education for Ministry? Where can it take me, and how can it transform us as church? All good questions but first let’s be clear that, though education and learning are vital, they are just the building blocks, the tools to a deeper purpose. EfM’s purposes are the creation of learning environments for substantive, in-depth adult Christian formation, experiencing a continuing community of prayer-based support for spiritual formation, and all aimed at discovery and clarification of ministry. Being a mature adult Christian is less about being able to proclaim the faith with words, and so much more about living the faith in ways that bring others to Christ. So how does this happen?

Though you would commit to one year at a time, EfM has four modules of approximately nine months each (covering the Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, and Theology). Yes, there is reading to be done, discussion within each weekly session, exploration into one’s spiritual journey, ongoing fellowship, regular prayer and worship, and, importantly, there are those steps taken in one’s spiritual journey that grow out of this unequaled experience and commitment.

EfM is not for everyone. EfM may be for you but not right now. If you are newer to the Episcopal Church, then perhaps EfM will be right for you in the future. EfM is not Bible study, but that can be a good beginning for some as a foundation (we all need to know our Story). It is not exclusionary but recognizes timing is everything.

There is information on the table in the Gallery, between the Church and the Parish House. A Monday evening session is scheduled to begin in September, and there will be a Monday morning session if there is sufficient interest. Cost is $375 per year (includes texts) with payment options that mean cost should not be an impediment. Email me if you want to know more at FrMurdockSmith@gmail.com.

The Reverend L. Murdock Smith, Assisting Priest

Love Will Not Fail

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce,

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. But Easter 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 sin and death will not have the final word.  By the Resurrection of Jesus the whole world witnesses God’s redeeming work: “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, p. 280.)

Each year during Holy Week I am reminded of my favorite choral anthem: “Jesus, so lowly” composed by Harold Friedell with words by Edith Williams.

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 beautiful because they contain the depth of our Easter faith: Death is not the final word. 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, Priest-in-Charge

Palm Sunday is Just the Beginning

The Reverend Keith C. Lane,
Assisting Priest

Palm Sunday has profound meaning for those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. For many, the truth of that meaning was formed in them as children. Born from their earliest memories of excited celebrations at church, where all took part regardless of age or status. And one of those particularly joyous and counter-cultural celebrations was the liturgy of the palms. Many may recall taking those palms home after church, seeing who could twist and shape them into a cross. Many would place them somewhere in their home and come across them unexpectedly throughout the next weeks or months.

When you came upon them there was a spark of recollection that transcended the expected. You found that you were suddenly in a place that ignites the presence of God. That was certainly true for me. I didn’t understand the true meaning of this until many years later, when I happened to pass by an Episcopal Church one Sunday morning in New York City. That Sunday I saw the Palm Sunday procession, that sacred reenactment Christians have been celebrating since that day two-thousand years ago on the Mount of Olives.

The power of this memory is the same kind of recollection you have when you hear a piece of music that transports you back to a life changing moment or experience… and yet sometimes, you’re not completely sure what about that memory has become a part of you. What we know, however, is that we are at the start of the Holy Week journey, the Passion of Christ to save us from the worst of ourselves, to move us to a place of holy liberation. This journey is marked by blessing upon blessing. It is about being called by the Lord of Heaven to take our place by His side. It is at the beginning, when we are called to untie the “colt,” to follow the agent of our salvation into the depths of this journey. Join us for Holy Week at St. Peter’s. Palm Sunday is just the beginning.

The Reverend Keith C. Lane, Assisting Priest

Images of Our Beautiful Diversity

The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson,
Associate Rector

One of my favorite parts about distributing the Holy Eucharist is looking at people’s hands as I hand them the bread and wine. They are so beautiful! Our hands tell stories about who we are in all our beautiful diversity. At the communion rail, I see hands representing every shade of skin; baby hands that are new and small and chubby; elderly hands that are thin and wrinkled after a long life; hands that are calloused and worn; hands that are smooth and manicured; hands that are seemingly whole; hands that are missing digits or carrying significant scars; hands that I know have held and caressed and worked and struggled and prayed. The diversity of our hands as we hold them out to receive communion is an absolutely beautiful sight! 

We use our hands to do so many things in our lives and when we come to communion, we hold out those same hands in expectation of receiving in them the body and blood of Christ. There is something wonderful about that continuity. When we come to the altar rail, we bring all of ourselves – the loving parts, the angry parts, the tired parts, the excited parts, the known parts, and the secret parts. And for just a moment, all of ourselves is represented in our outstretched hands as we participate in one of the great mysteries of our faith. We trust Jesus to meet us in the Eucharist and we hold out our hands to receive him. 

As we move into this final week of Lent, may we also reflect on Jesus’s own hands. His hands blessed, healed, held children, touched the “unclean,” ate with social outcasts, broke bread, and poured wine. Those same hands were eventually nailed to the cross. We bring all of ourselves when we hold out our hands to receive the Eucharist, and Jesus brought all of himself when he stretched out his arms on the cross. Over the next few weeks, I encourage you to reflect on these images of hands – both Jesus’s and our own – and marvel at the work that God has done.

The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson, Associate Rector

Lent is a Season to Run Home

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce,

In January of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. For two weeks my classmates and I traveled throughout Israel and the West Bank to visit holy sites central to the life of Jesus. We spent the second half of our trip in Galilee, the region north of Jerusalem. One afternoon we visited a small hill on the far side of the sea, commemorated as the place where Jesus delivered the Gerasene Demoniac. Perhaps you know the story: In Mark’s gospel, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee into the “land of the Gerasenes” where he encountered a possessed man living among the tombs. Jesus asked the demon for his name and the demon replied: “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  Jesus then drove the demons out of the man and into a herd of swine. The herd rushed into the sea and drowned. The young man was suddenly clothed and in his right mind. When Jesus began to leave the young man begged to follow, but Jesus told him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you…”

As we stood on that windy hillside, looking out on the sea and imagining the scene for ourselves, an elderly priest in our group offered a reflection. He wondered about the connection between this story and the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in this week’s gospel. In this parable a young man left home, wasted his fortune, and found himself living among pigs. Starving among the herd, he eventually came to his senses and traveled home. Instead of encountering an angry and disappointed parent, his father began running from a great distance, with arms wide open, ready to receive his son. The priest in our group said, “The reason Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal Son was because he had met him. He knew his story. Perhaps the Prodigal Son and the Gerasene Demoniac are one in the same.”

Now, there is no evidence these two stories are connected. But Christians shouldn’t be too worried about reading between the lines of scripture. The Bible is a story of our encounter with God, a testament to God’s revelation to humankind. It is in these narratives that we see God’s love for us more clearly. Though biblical scholars would never link these two stories, both contain a powerful lesson for us in Lent. In both stories, the young men find themselves in dire straits. And, in both stories, the young men go home.

Lent is about going home. The season asks us to consider what is keeping us from God, what is keeping us from going home. Lenten disciplines are not exercises in groveling and guilt. Lent is calling us home, asking us to return to the one who greets us not with disappointment but with outstretched arms.  May this be a season to run home, to fall into God’s loving arms, and tell our friends how much the Lord has done for us.

The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Priest-in-Charge

Transitions and Discernment on my Mind: Reflecting on the Priest-in-Charge Model

John Frederick, Senior Warden

I co-facilitate the Monday evening Bible study entitled God Calls Leaders, and as the name implies, the focus of the study is how God calls us to do God’s work. As we read about these biblical prophets and Kings who were discerning the will of God, I am reminded that the St. Peter’s Vestry and the Priest-in-Charge (PIC) are in a period of discernment and transition. Scripture says, “God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore… (1 Kings 4:29).  We pray that God will guide the church, grant us wisdom and a discerning spirit in our time of transition.

On August 15, 2018, the Vestry announced that the Reverend Jacob E. Pierce accepted the call be to the Priest-in-Charge to lead St. Peter’s through a time of transition and discernment for a period of twenty-four months. During the transitional time, the Vestry will discern whether to call the Fr. Jacob to become the permanent Rector; similarly, the Priest-in-Charge will discern whether to accept a call to be the rector of St. Peter’s. For the first eighteen months the Priest-in-Charge and vestry conduct business as usual and during the last six months they will engage in an intentional and goal oriented discernment about the call for the permanent rector.

In October 2018, as part of the transition process, the Vestry and the Priest-in-Charge met with Catherine Massey, Canon for Transition, and the Reverend Rhonda Lee, Canon for Regional Ministry, to engage in a facilitated discussion about mutual expectations. The purpose of this exercise was to establish some clear expectations and parameters for the discernment process. The facilitators asked, “What does the Vestry expect from the PIC and what does the Vestry think the Priest-in-Charge expects from us?” Similarly, they asked the PIC, “What does he expect from the Vestry and what does he think the Vestry expects of him?” It was remarkable how similar these expectations were of each other. For example, maintaining a tradition of excellence, spiritual leadership, respect and support, liturgy, boldness, radical welcome, and diversity were all common expectations. Following up on the fall exercise, the Vestry and the PIC met with the Reverend Ms. Lee in February to ascertain where we were in the process. Seven months into the Priest-in-Charge model for St. Peter’s, as outlined by the Office of the Bishop, we are living up to the mutual expectations and the process is humming along beautifully.

So, what can we expect in 2020? For the next ten to eleven months, we will continue with business as usual. Beginning in January through May 2020 there will be a final, active discernment process with the Bishop and/or his designee in which the Vestry and PIC will review where we have been, where we are, and what we have mutually discerned at this time. The congregation will have a role to play as well. There will be congregational meetings to gather data and complete the Office of Transition Ministry portfolio. The Canon for Transition and the Regional Canon will co-facilitate these meetings. It is my hope that our journey together will be clear and transparent and result in a call for our  next rector. To learn more about the Priest-in-Charge Model, visit our transition page on the St. Peter’s website.

John Frederick, Senior Warden

Upcoming Lenten Evensong and Choir Residency

Elizabeth Lenti
Director of Music and Organist

On Sunday, March 24 at 5:00pm, St. Peter’s Choir will sing J. S. Bach’s monumental motet “Jesu, Meine Freude,” as part of a special Lenten Evensong. This motet is unique among Bach’s output in this genre in that it alternates between settings of the chorale text and biblical passages from Romans. Bach likely wrote this motet for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin who had requested that her funeral include both the hymn “Jesu, Meine Freude,” and the text of Romans 8:1-11. The underlying theme of this work is trust – the belief that no matter the trials and struggles of this life, our joy is found in Jesus:

Go away, mournful spirits, for my joyful master, Jesus, now enters in.
For those who love God even their afflictions become pure sweetness.
Even if here I must endure shame and disgrace, even in suffering you remain,
Jesus, my joy.

We are also taking the opportunity of this special musical offering to begin talking about our next pilgrimage to England. Many of you will remember that St. Peter’s Choir served as the choir-in-residence at St. Albans Cathedral in August of 2017. This was the first England residency St. Peter’s Choir had done, and it was an incredible experience for all. It was not long after our return that we began discussing another trip.

I am thrilled to announce that St. Peter’s Choir has been accepted for a second residency, this time at Ely Cathedral in July of 2021. The Cathedral city of Ely is located in Cambridgeshire, about 15 miles north of Cambridge. The Cathedral dates from the 11th-century and is considered one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in all of England.

Why a residency? Singing for daily services at Ely will give the choir the opportunity to experience the roots of our Anglican tradition, and to sing the music of that tradition in the place for which is was conceived. We will have the opportunity to travel beyond Ely to sight-see during the week, and we will also experience the life of that city, and of the Cathedral, on a day-to-day basis. A residency is a chance for us to “stretch” as a choir – to learn new music, refine old favorites, and improve as an ensemble. Singing together on a daily basis and traveling together as a group will make us a better choir and a stronger community.

We will be talking more about this wonderful opportunity and ways in which parishioners can support, and even take part in, this trip. I am grateful for the dedication and beautiful singing of St. Peter’s Choir, and we are grateful for the support of the congregation of St. Peter’s.

Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist