Defining Stewardship at St. Peter’s

Stewardship is the act of responding to God’s abundance by offering time, talent and treasures for the present and future welfare of the parish; engaging initiatives associated with the life and sustainability of parish ministries, and efforts focused on care and environmental sustainability of parish buildings and grounds.

Carolyn Carlburg and Ellison Clary are the Vestry members charged with leading our stewardship ministries alongside several others. As Vestry Coordinator for Stewardship and Strategic Visioning, Carolyn is supervising a strategic visioning process, with expert advice from Jeanette McDonald of the Episcopal Church Foundation. The Strategic Visioning Team gathered for a retreat on May 5 to begin work that will involve the entire parish from 2018 into 2019. As Vestry Coordinator for Stewardship and the Annual Fund, Ellison is working with Annual Fund Co-Team Leaders, John Buric and Amanda Wommack. This team held its organizational meeting on May 7.

Smart spending of monies raised during annual fund campaigns is a priority for St. Peter’s Vestry. Throughout the year, you will be reading and hearing a great deal about fundraising to support initiatives that make our parish what it is as well as deliberate planning for what we want to be in years ahead.

The Episcopal Church says stewardship “is reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity.” This feels like the right approach for St. Peter’s in our annual fund canvass. Amanda and John want to enlist the support of all members. Our goal is for every household to offer a pledge that, joined with other pledges, will guarantee that we raise a minimum of $1 million to support the parish operating budget.

You will hear much more about these and other stewardship programs throughout the year. Communications will be coupled with updates on progress of those working on annual fund-raising and the strategic visioning process. With your help, they will set priorities and develop strategies for the most effective use of our money.

Empowering our Youth on their Journeys

One of the most important things a parent can do for their teens is engage them as regular, active members of their church’s youth program. After over twenty years of experience and study of youth ministry I am convinced that parents who engage their children in faithful worship attendance, formation classes, and outreach ministry, provide their teens with a strong foundation for navigating the teen years, college, and adult lives.  

Most of the 80+ youth who have “graduated” from the youth program remain in touch in some way. All have become successful young adults. The youth leaders and I believe an essential part of their success comes from their relationships with God and J2A friends; from knowing that St. Peter’s and their J2A leaders continue to pray for and remain available to them; and from the lessons of our curriculum. Those lessons include knowing and understanding God, how prayer helps in times of ease and stress, the importance of serving others, how to love and care for themselves without being self-centered, and how to see their own sexuality as a gift from God and to cherish that gift and use it wisely.  

I recently received a text from one of our college sophomores, Callan Ghareeb. With her permission, I share her text with you: “I recently Googled myself and discovered a recording of my sermon from Youth Sunday. Listening to it made me tear up a bit because I still love you and Erin (McGillicuddy, her best friend, met through Episcopal Outreach Camp) so much and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities being a member of St. Peter’s youth group gave me. You, Harris (Holt), Jim (DiMartino) and Elsie (Erneston) truly shaped me to become who I am today and I could not be more grateful for you all.” Callan is studying to become a human rights lawyer. She asserts that her experiences in the youth group cemented her desire to work with marginalized people. St. Peter’s has many such stories of our former young people practicing radical love and effecting good change for the world. Please email me to hear stories of other youth, and/or to discuss involving your teen today! 

Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation

Strategic Visioning to Sustain St. Peter’s

Eastertide, a period of new life, presents the perfect season for our parish community to embark on the practice of strategic visioning. Congregational development professionals suggest that such planning usually has two purposes: the activity of seeking God’s Will for a ministry or church, and the decision to act in faith on what has been discerned. To this end, the Vestry has commissioned a Strategic Visioning Team to lead us in reflecting on the past and present, and envisioning what effects will be required to sustain our ministry and sacred space in Center City Charlotte.

In this endeavor, Vestry Coordinator for Stewardship (Strategic Planning), Carolyn Carlburg will collaborate with a team of approximately twenty members, including Vestry Coordinator for Stewardship (Annual Fund), Ellison Clary, Senior Warden, Bert Miano, the Clergy-Staff Team, and all who are committed to life at St. Peter’s. Through the generosity of St. Peter’s Endowment, funds have been approved to engage the services of the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) and one of its staff consultants to guide us through this significant process.

ECF helps Episcopal communities of faith develop strategic, leadership, and financial resources for ministry. On Saturday, May 5, ECF Consultant, Jeannette McDonald will facilitate a retreat with the Strategic Visioning Team before all are invited to the Sunday, May 6 Parish Hall Forum: 2018 Strategic Visioning Process Introduction at 9:30 a.m. This event will focus on a process overview, timeline, expectations, and underscore listening as a key component to success.

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. I hope that you will make every effort and encourage others to share in all things necessary to sustain St. Peter’s and fulfill our Vision – with God’s help.

Eastertide blessings,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Good Shepherd Sunday

This Fourth Sunday of the Easter Season is lovingly referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is a “feast day” of sorts for the children and adults who participate in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd approach, with some of our favorite readings and hymns. During worship on Sunday some of our children will be celebrating Eucharist together, culminating a sacramental retreat held Saturday.

One of our primary aims of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is for the children to fall in love with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and to see the Kingdom of God as a place they want to be, developing a relationship grounded in love, not in fear. The parable of the Good Shepherd is the central theme for the 3-6 year-old child, revealing the personal love and protective presence of Christ who calls us by name, knows us intimately, and to whom we learn to listen and follow. According to Dr. Sofia Cavalletti, “Through this parable the child’s silent request to be loved and so to be able to love finds response and gratification.”

Often the youngest child equates the image of the Good Shepherd to that of a parent who cares for the child. As Fr. Louis Leon reminded us in his sermon on this date last year, in the parable, Jesus never promised that nothing bad will ever happen or that we will be shielded from all trouble. Instead, the good news is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will be with us, beside us, always. One of the greatest religious capacities is the need for relationship and celebration is that relationship, illustrated in this parable.

For the older child this image is integrated with that of Jesus as the True Vine (John 15) which introduces the covenant relationship between the Father, Jesus, and us, drawing the child into the mystery of a life-giving union with Christ which bears fruit for the world and inviting us to “abide” in this love. Jesus the Good Shepherd calls us to follow, Jesus the True Vine invites us to stay, to remain. The children who have been participating in sacramental preparation have explored these images of Jesus and our inextricable relationship with him. They are celebrating that relationship today in the Holy Eucharist.

Final Evensong of the Season: “Rejoice in the Lamb”

Next Sunday, April 22 at 5:00 p.m., St. Peter’s Choir will sing for a special Eastertide Evensong. This service will feature Benjamin Britten’s beloved masterpiece, “Rejoice in the Lamb.” This cantata was commissioned in 1943 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the consecration of St. Matthew’s Church, Northampton. Britten takes the text from Christopher Smart, an 18th-century British poet, who by all accounts led a difficult life. He struggled with mental illness and poverty, and he spent long stretches of his life institutionalized. It was during his confinement to an asylum between 1759 and 1763 that he penned his most famous poem, Jubilate Agno, (“Rejoice in the Lamb”).

The tone of Smart’s poem stands in stark contrast to the bleakness of his living conditions at the time. He doesn’t say, “Woe is me,” or “Out of the depths,” – No. Even in the direst of circumstances, he cries: “Rejoice!” Smart sees God everywhere: in flowers, in a mouse courageously defending his lady-love, in the alphabet, in musical instruments, and, most poignantly, in the elegant movements of his cat Jeffrey, his sole companion in the asylum.

Even when he laments his situation, his faith remains. He writes: “For I am in twelve hardships, but he that was born of a Virgin will deliver me out of all.” This is the source of his joy. He knows that God is his Savior and can thereby see past his own suffering to recognize God all around him.

In “Rejoice in the Lamb,” Britten asks us to see the world through Christopher Smart’s eyes: to marvel at the beauty of Creation, to recognize the innumerable miracles that surround us, and to rejoice – because we know that there is no darkness so deep or burden so heavy that God’s love will not ultimately overcome.

For at that time malignity ceases, and the devils themselves are at peace. For this time is perceptible to man, by a remarkable stillness and serenity of soul.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah from the heart of God, and from the hand of the artist, inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly harp, in sweetness magnifical and mighty. Hallelujah.

Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist

Eastertide: Walking like Saint Thomas

O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death today [Easter] rose triumphing. Alleluia! That night the apostles met in fear; amidst them came their Lord most dear, and said, “My peace be on all here.” Alleluia! When Thomas first the tidings heard, how they had seen the risen Lord, he doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia! “My pierced side, O Thomas, see; my hands, my feet, I show to thee; not faithless, but believing be.” Alleluia! No longer Thomas then denied, he saw the feet, the hands, the side; “Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried. Alleluia! How blest are they who have not seen, and yet whose faith has constant been; for they eternal life shall win. Alleluia!

O filii et filiae, The Hymnal 1982

We are called to walk as Saint Thomas walked. For centuries, it appeared that many throughout the Church Catholic (Universal) have labeled him “Doubting Thomas” because of his natural first response to the Risen Lord. Instead, I offer that the Church might call and even commemorate him “Faithful Thomas” because of his far more common journey to believe. In John 20:19–31, Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If we are waiting to see and touch the Risen Christ, aside from the real presence of his Body and Blood at the Holy Eucharist, we are likely to be disappointed and to remain in doubt. If we walk by faith and not by sight as a baptized people of hope, justice, and love, asking questions about God along the way, we are bound to be blessed eternally. Like Saint Thomas, it will be evident that we are believers in and bold followers of Jesus.

Easter blessings and peace as we try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Practicing Resurrection

Easter triumph, Easter joy, these alone do sin destroy. From sin’s power do thou set free souls new-born, O Lord, in thee. Hymns of glory, songs of praise, Father, unto thee we raise; risen Lord, all praise to thee with the Spirit ever be.
– Salzburg, The Hymnal 1982

The Resurrection is the Christian belief that life not death is the final answer; light breaks through darkness; hope overcomes despair; good can top evil; all shall be well in and through the One who makes the impossible possible. So, how might we live each day of our lives in the spirit of Easter triumph and Easter joy?

Easter living commands us to stop, pay attention, create a sacredness about our lives, care for others, choose compassion, do justice, and love foolishly, all in the name of Jesus, who was raised that we might have life. Considering this and the humbling reality that each new day is the only day we are guaranteed to know, Easter living is about practicing resurrection.

Society, work, school, and the diverse circles in which we find ourselves rarely are the most reliable backing required to practice resurrection. I offer that the Church, the body of Christ, in our many imperfections and deep beauty is the community intrinsically designed to nurture and empower the faith that lives within each of us. Moreover, it is the collective experience of worship and music, learning, community life, in-reach and outreach, and giving in all possible ways that will support our vows to practice resurrection. Faithful steps and radical measures to engage everything available through the space of life at St. Peter’s will keep us focused on what matters most: God and life. Then, all the rest will fall into place.

The world and its people need much of what the Church can offer: hope. Our hope is in the name of Lord, fully divine and fully human, raised into the new life that we all seek and likely want for others. With God’s help and together, let us practice resurrection, because we believe in God and life.

Eastertide blessings,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Holy Week to Eastertide: No Cross, No Crown

From the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday through the Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day, life at St. Peter’s provides time and space for a majority of our parish community to be radical in engaging the “holiest of weeks” on the Church Year Calendar. Several weeks ago, I read, “The humiliation of the crucifixion is the glory of the exaltation of Jesus. There is no exaltation apart from crucifixion, “no cross, no crown!”

Radical is what comes to mind as I ponder who people of faith are called to be in 2018th year of Lord. As we prioritize our days, I offer that journeying with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, oddly fixed on the events of his earthly life, crucifixion, and resurrection through intentional presence for the Holy Week – Easter services, will transform and empower us for whatever may come our way. Remembering is an essential part of practicing Christianity.

In 2015, James Carroll reflected in the Boston Globe on “the wicked irony of Holy Week” and ended with these words, which have affected me greatly: The misremembering of Jesus Christ did not cause all the world’s ills, any more than Christian anti-Judaism alone caused Hitler. But to read and hear the texts of Holy Week, with their relentless scapegoating of “the Jews,” is inevitably to confront the way in which a movement full of good intentions can go wrong. Wanting to alleviate suffering, the Jesus people compounded it. To reckon with that mystery is to confront a deeper one — that every human project can be complicit with the inflicting of hurt. If there is to be redemption, it begins in facing that.

Just as we were called on Ash Wednesday to observe a Holy Lent, now we are called on Palm Sunday to observe a Holy Week, specifically the three-day experience of the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Vigil of Easter (or Easter Day). Radical is one of the many ways to describe our Lord. With God’s help, may we too become radical in our ways of being.

Blessings and peace as we try,

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

The Journey of Christian Formation

The journey of Christian formation begins with baptism. But baptism is the beginning and Christian formation does not end with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for children or Journey to Adulthood for youth. No Christian ever “graduates” from the Church, even in death.

The Lenten Season is an opportunity to recommit to our baptismal promises, particularly those promises which call us to deeper learning and formation: “to continue in the apostles’ teaching…” (Book of Common Prayer, 304).
There are many opportunities at St. Peter’s to engage in study and prayer this Lent. The Parish Hall Forum continues every Sunday, alongside an Adult Bible Study in the Second Floor Conference Room. During the week many gather for a Monday Night Bible Study in the Parish House, the Wednesday Lenten Series with Evening Prayer in the Chapel, the once monthly Social Justice Film Series, and various other offerings found in the Life at St. Peter’s Magazine insert, in the parish e-news, and on the website. There are also Lenten study materials found in public spaces on parish grounds.

If you have an opportunity to join us for one of these many formation offerings, please do. If your schedule does not permit your participation, please consider developing your own study through materials provided in public spaces. It’s never too late for formation this Lent!

These formation offerings are made available to deepen our study as we approach Holy Week and Easter. But for Episcopalians, the greatest formation opportunity is the liturgy. In the next two weeks we will enter the climax of the Christian year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Please do not miss the opportunity to pray in dark Gethsemane, to stand at the foot of the Cross, and to encounter the empty tomb. The journey of Holy Week is so important because it is potentially transformative for the Christian disciple. Journey with us and encounter Love that is stronger than death.

Blessed Lent,

Jacob
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector

Hymns

For those of us who grew up in the Episcopal Church, or in any liturgical tradition for that matter, the singing of hymns feels so commonplace that it is hard to imagine that it was ever any other way. But congregational singing, and particularly the singing of texts outside of the Psalter, was not the norm until the 19th century.

In England, it was the influence of Isaac Watts (1674-1748) that began to shift this paradigm. Watts is often referred to as the “godfather of English Hymnody.” He was a prolific hymn-writer and inspired many that came after him. We continue to sing many of the hymns that he wrote. A brief scan of the Hymnal 1982 will lead you to such central texts as “When I survey the wondrous cross,” and “O God our help in ages past.”

The inclusion of the poetry of centuries of hymn-writers continues to enrich our worship. In planning for a Sunday liturgy, I read the lectionary for the day; the Old Testament Reading, the Psalm, the Epistle, and the Gospel all serve as inspiration for the choosing of hymns. There are various resources available to church musicians that offer suggestions of hymns and anthems that will reflect the lectionary readings, but I often find myself leafing through the hymnal, reading the hymn texts, and hoping for one to strike me as the right fit for the day.

The Psalm appointed for this Sunday is Psalm 19. I didn’t even need to look through the hymnal – Timothy Dudley-Smith’s beautiful hymn, “The stars declare his glory,” immediately came to mind. This hymn both paraphrases Psalm 19 and ties to the Ten Commandments in the Decalogue at the front of the service and the reading of them in Exodus:

“The stars declare his glory;
the vault of heaven springs
mute witness of the Master’s hand
in all created things,
and through the silences of space
their soundless music sings.

So shine the Lord’s commandments
to make the simple wise;
more sweet than honey to the taste;
more rich than any prize,
a law of love within our hearts,
a light before our eyes.

So order too this life of mine,
direct it all my days;
the meditations of my heart
be innocence and praise,
my rock and my redeeming Lord,
in all my words and ways.”

Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist