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How race shapes baptismal living

by Fletcher Lowe

We at Partners for Baptismal Living have been exploring how race impacts our daily lives. There is a major contrast.

Here are conversations with two African Americans.  A former CEO of a large Richmond, VA hospital said that white privilege is subtlety present as he interacts with white folks in the workplace. He has also been aware that in promotion, his path has been harder than others who were white, having been passed over even when he felt he was more qualified.  An African American lady, shared that fear was omnipresent when she goes out – fear of police pulling her over because she is in the wrong neighbor or driving too fancy a car.  In stores she always gets a receipt lest she be accused of stealing.  She also feels that the playing field is not level with both her race and her gender being liabilities.

Now for the contrast.  For the white folks we have conversed with, the racial issue is less the backdrop of one’s daily life. Awareness of race comes less from how it affects these whites directly and more from how it affects people of color connected to their work situations. A friend who is in Virginia state government’s office of Conservation and Parks mentioned how they are reaching out to employ more people of color in his agency and how they are training the Park rangers in dealing with situations of racial harassment among visitors.  A head of a mental health non-profit spoke of how his agency works with Black congregations to help them help their members overcome the mental illness stigma that sometimes prevents them from getting treatment.

Some of us white folks are often blinded by our racial assumptions.  The CEO mentioned above was in the church building of the multiracial congregation of which my wife and I are a part.  In came a couple of white tourists for the building has historical significance. They began a conversation with the CEO and asked him how he liked his job as the sexton. Without losing a beat, he replied, “I am not the sexton, I’m the Senior Warden!”

As each of these people is a committed Christian, it raises the question for us: How do we work to level the playing field, to work so fear is not a constant undercurrent. The Advent message of preparation for the coming of the Prince of Peace calls us to work for that peace among races that manifests itself in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Listening = Action

by Pam Tinsley

Our Baptismal Covenant is much more than the words we recite at baptism or when we renew our baptismal promises. Our Baptismal Covenant is a call to action. It is a call to live our lives differently from secular society by living and loving as Jesus does. And that call applies to every aspect of our lives, whether we’re at home, in the community, at work, or at church.

Sometimes the action that we are called to do is simply to listen – in particular as we, the body of Christ, strive for racial justice and to respect the dignity of People of Color.

In October the Diocese of Olympia devoted most of its day-and-a-half annual convention to listening to the voices of those who have been deeply hurt by the Church. Our diocesan Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color invited us into a Listening Circle of Voices in The Wilderness. A dozen or so panelists shared their experiences of pain and perseverance in response to the questions:

  • What do you love about being part of the Diocese of Olympia?
  • What harm have you experienced or witnessed in the Episcopal Church?
  • What might the diocese do to more fully become the Beloved Community?

Each story revealed how deep and pervasive both systemic racism and cultural indifference to it are. Panelists relived the historical trauma that the dominant culture had inflicted upon them with the uncertainty of how others would respond.  Sharing their personal pain was a profound act of trust. These advocates of repentance, reconciliation, and justice were willing to invite those of us who benefit from White privilege into this circle of love so that together, through acceptance and respect, we can transform the world.

Their stories of pain were at times heart-wrenching. And yet, we also heard stories of joy and we heard wisdom – simply by listening deeply and respectfully to our friends as they called us to live more intentionally into our baptism in order to be more fully the body of Christ.

Who might you listen more deeply to as a first step in inviting trust?

Embrace your call

by Demi Prentiss

“There is not a single Christian who has not been equipped by God for the particular tasks which God has given him or her. There are no exceptions. All of us are ministers of God and ministers of the Church. All of us have been equipped in some way to participate in this important mission.”

Br. David Vryhof

The Society of St. John the Evangelist chose “minister” as their Word for the Friday after Thanksgiving. They drew inspiration from a message preached by Br. David more than four years ago – before the 2016 Presidential election, before COVID-19, before the economic downturn linked to the pandemic. One of the great lessons of 2020 has been reinforcement of the message: The church is not a building; the church is the people of God, on mission. The fear and isolation we are experiencing reminds us, viscerally, that our faith community is a lifeline in our daily practice of faith. And every single one of us plays a vital part.

Br. David goes on to remind us that our primary mission responsibilities are to teach others and, always, to proclaim God’s Good News – to collaborate in God’s work of wholeness among us, bringing compassion and healing to all we encounter.

You are ministers of God in the world, laborers sent into the harvest…. You are the means he has chosen to extend his love and grace into all the world.  Embrace your call.”

Who? Me?!

by Fletcher Lowe

I sing a song of the saints of God, by Lesbia Scott

One of my favorite hymns, especially around All Saints, is “I sing a song of the Saints of God” – with one big exception: Toward the end of the second stanza are these words, “…and one was slain by a fierce wild beast, and there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.”

Well, I do have a good reason – being slain by a fierce wild beast is not my preferred way of dying!!

Given that reservation, the hymn does illustrate clearly that the real action of the Christian is not in the church building but out in the world.  “One was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green…. and one was a soldier and one was a priest…. you can meet them in school or in lanes or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea….”

I, too, want to be a saint of God, where the Christ in me meets and greets the Christ in the other. Wherever.  This Covid pandemic has put a new dimension on the life of the church community.  Because, for the most part, we have been unable to meet en masse, in person in our church buildings, we have recovered  the fact that the church is not the building, but the people – and the people are in shops and in lanes and at sea, and everywhere. We’ve recovered the truth that the action of being a Christian takes place wherever we live and move and have our being.  In a pandemic that calls on us to be the church in our worlds, we are the church when we relate to those with whom we call by phone or meet at social distance, or write a note or connect with someone who lives alone or, or, or.  And doing all that for Christ’s sake!!

Without Sunday church going, we are freed of the sense that ministry is defined by our going to church to worship or to teach or to be on the Altar Guild or to usher.  Freed are we to be the church in our daily lives.  Is that not some of the Good News coming from the pandemic shut down?  We are freed of the illusion that ministry is the domain of things churchy.  Real ministry in in our daily life as we relate with others because of our faith.

So, as the song goes, you may want to meet Christians in shops and trains and even at tea, but we already are saints of God via our baptism. We are called to live that out, as another hymn puts it: “…now we go to seek and serve thee through our work and through our prayer; grant us light to see and know thee in thy people everywhere.” (Episcopal Hymnal, 336)

What does practicing my ministry look like?

by Demi Prentiss

Dr. Fixit is on the job – Flickr – Mike Bitzenhofer

I am a life-long, baptized member of the laity. I understand that to mean I have a ministry in my daily life, above and beyond whatever I might be doing for my faith community. All my life, I’ve felt called to be the church, at work wherever I find myself.

I used to think that my ministry involved helping people. Which often involved “helping” people to change – change their way of doing things, change their attitude, change their outlook. And often, that meant “change to look / act more like me.”

I’ve come to understand that I am not a repair person, a fixer, called to fix people’s faults. I am not 9-1-1. I am called to be a repairer of “the breach,” as the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign reminds us. And for me, that involves working on my side of the break-down, trusting that others who seek peace and wholeness will be working from the other end of the broken places. And partnering with them in that work.

I am not called to fix people – only each person can do that for themselves. I am called to repair relationships – my relationships – and to take action to heal my own brokenness. As I do that, I can begin to heal the brokenness of a broken system.

A recent post by the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper offers a real life example:

There was a widow in that town who kept coming to the judge with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”                 Luke 18:3 (NIV)

When the policeman across the street from me had a no-social-distancing party with 40 folks, some in uniform, on his deck in plain sight, no masks anywhere, while I continued my personal quarantine, I was really mad. I thought of calling the cops, but they were the cops. I live by a general rule: Don’t try to fix people. You are not a repairman. You are also in need of repair. Relationship is better than repair. Unconditionally love the person and keep that love going no matter how many times it is rejected. And don’t overdo yourself: attitude is more important than activity.

Just say, “Tell me more.” And listen. Really listen. Don’t spend your time thinking about what you will say or do next. Just “tell me more.” Don’t name anyone your adversary if you can help it.

That’s why I didn’t call the cops and didn’t report the situation, but spoke to my neighbor, face-to-face, the next time I saw him walking his canine on my street. “I was really worried about you on Saturday night.”

He just said, “Why?”

When it came to the party and the judgment I feel about people who don’t wear masks and don’t distance, I have had a very hard time moving out of my own self-protecting didacticism.

I need help.

PRAYER – God of all things, including the maximizing of free will, even to the point of permitting us to self-harm or do harm to others, help me. I know you will. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper

Finding ‘AHA!’ in the workplace

by Fletcher Lowe

As part of my pastoral ministry, I have, over the years, visited members where they work, sitting across their desks or benches and share their Sunday-Monday faith / work connections.  Sometimes they experience an “AHA,” when they see that their real ministry is in their workplace rather than their congregation.  Here is just such a conversation with Lisa Knight, a corporate lawyer who works in Richmond, Virginia, and worships at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, one of the congregations where I have served.

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I am a corporate “transactional” attorney, which means that I work for a corporation (UPS Freight), as opposed to a law firm. I primarily work on transactions that the company is involved in, such as buying or selling real estate or entering into a contract for some type of services or goods. Because of this I work with people in many different positions within the company. From Service Center Managers that are at locations all over the country to senior management in Richmond. I negotiate and write all kinds of contracts – contracts to buy software, to lease trucks, to acquire janitorial services, to hire guards at our terminals. If it involves a contract of any type, I’m usually involved in it. They can be for very insignificant amounts or multimillion-dollar transactions.

Writing contracts as “God’s work” (photo courtesy of depositphotos.com)

Originally, I agreed reluctantly when Fletcher Lowe originally asked if he could visit me at work to discuss the “faith connection” –  that is, the connection between what I do to make a living and my faith.   I wasn’t reluctant to talk with Fletcher or to talk about either my work or my faith. I just wasn’t sure I saw any connection between the two. So, I agreed, but planned to rely on Fletcher to steer the conversation, because I really couldn’t draw a connection there. I mean, after all, how could working as an attorney for a trucking company tie in to God’s work anyway?

I really hoped the focus of the conversation wasn’t going to be that I needed to do more to bring my faith to work – i.e., a “spread the Good News” to my fellow employees kind of discussion. That’s admirable, but just not me!

I should have known that Fletcher had a different take. In our discussion, he challenged me to see how the gifts I have and the work I do is in fact God’s work. That drafting up a contract fairly is applying my faith and the values rooted in my faith. That treating my fellow employees with respect, behaving in an ethical manner, and being able to help two parties work through issues and come up with a problem solving approach, rather than a conflict based disagreement, is doing God’s work. That, in fact, doing what I have the skills to do, using whatever talents I may have, is God’s work.

It was a revelation to me! I tended (and still tend, it’s hard to re-train my brain after 48 years), to view “God’s work” as what the priests and choir directors and youth ministers and Mother Teresas of the world do. I viewed the “work world” as separate from the “faith world.” To my mind, God’s work is things like tutoring at Woodville, serving our homeless guests, even writing a check to the Carpenter’s Kids. Our conversation turned that assumption on its ear, helping me see that maybe simply applying the talents God gave me is, in fact, also doing “God’s work.” As dry and un-faith-like as writing up a contract sounds – it did seem possible that somehow that type of work might also serve God’s purpose. And, in that setting, St. Paul’s and the community there, isn’t separate, but is a foundation, as Fletcher likes to say, a “base camp,” for the rest of the week – a place to focus, resupply, and prepare to go back out and do whatever work is set out before me.

Grounded by God in the ER

By Pam Tinsley

I was recently listening to a podcast from the Theology of Work Project, which featured an interview with emergency physician Mike Sunu, MD. The podcast title, God in the ER During a Pandemic, caught my eye not only because our daughter-in-law is an emergency room nurse and has shared her own stories of working during this very difficult pandemic, but also because Dr. Sunu shares how his faith has shaped and sustained him through the years.

When asked about how he experiences God’s presence in the workplace, Dr. Sunu shared how often he experiences God afterward, as he reflects on his workday during his commute home. He might have responded with rudeness or impatience to a situation, and instead of saying he would try harder to be a kinder person, he could ask for God’s grace instead. He would pray, “God, I need you tomorrow. I need you today. I need you all the time.” By asking for God’s grace and strength, day-after-day and week-after-week, he feels that he has a deeper understanding of the Gospel. He’s not only brought his faith to work; he has discerned God’s presence in a way that shapes his faith and helps it grow.

Dr. Mike Sunu

The interviewer also pointed out that Dr. Sunu is in a helping profession, where people often come to him in life-or-death situations. And yet, he also begins his work by humbly asking God for help. His interactions with patients help him to examine his own spiritual condition. Because God treats him with compassion in spite of his sins, he’s reminded that he should do the same with his patients – including, for example, those suffering from drug addiction who come to the ER regularly.

Although the podcast is specific to the ER, its lessons are applicable to any of us. Whether our workplace is in the ER, a restaurant, an office or a classroom, God is already there and is working within us, shaping us and our faith – and often in unexpected ways.

What’s your brand?

by Demi Prentiss

Are your shoes Nikes? Is your workout gear Under Armour? Is your car a Tesla? Or a Ford? Or a Toyota? Does your hoodie say Mystics or Storm? Does the logo on your sweats stand for Harvard or Howard or Texas State?

What we wear brands us. Often, people who meet us can instantly know something about our loyalties and our values, just by reading the signs of what we are wearing or driving – even without badges or bumper stickers.

Being “branded” used to mean carrying a scar – an identifying mark seared in the flesh that made clear what “herd” you belonged to. Now “branding” is a communication essential: Distinctive logo plus well-placed promotion can mean recognition that “boosts your brand,” adding value.

Being baptized is a branding experience. We are, with water and with oil, “marked as Christ’s own forever.” We may not choose to recognize it, and we may not be scarred, but it’s permanent. For some of us, that brand is recognized and valued, as we are reminded by those who love us that we a “child of God, beloved and called.” For some of us, we are treated as “knock-offs” and devalued. For many of us, claiming our authentic brand is a struggle, especially when we have been persuaded that we must be “fakes.” Sometimes it’s hard for us to “own” our brand – that baptismal mark may align us with a crowd we don’t really feel part of. And every once in awhile, remembering that we carry Christ’s brand, we have the courage to be the person we were made to be – loving and just, caring and creative, a beloved child of God.

When the saboteurs in our inmost thoughts attack us, when the disparaging outside voices wear us down, may we hear the Truth that sets us free: “See, you have nothing to fear. I, who made you, will take you back. I have chosen you, named you as My own.” (Isaiah 43:1, The Voice) Our hearts carry the Creator’s indelible mark, and it calls us to wear our baptismal brand “with pride, with dignity, and with integrity.”

Who will equip the saints?

by Fletcher Lowe

The ordination of Gwynn Crichton (Facebook Live screen shot) September 14, 2020, at St. Paul’s, Richmond, VA

…making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

So the Episcopal bishop, in quoting Ephesians, began the consecration of my good friend, Gwynn, as a priest recently.

I heard those words as I “attended” virtually her ordination. Aside from my joy in joining with her as she enthusiastically responded and celebrated, my mind began to look at the service through the lens of how the new priest is called to empower the Baptized in their daily lives. Although the service was specially about her calling, there were some nuggets reminding both her and us of her calling to empower us all in our calling as a holy priesthood (1 Peter2:5).

For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry that they may serve you in a truly and godly life. we pray to you, O) Lord. 

Those words, coming early on in the Litany for Ordinations, reinforces Ephesians, underscoring that all the Baptized have vocations and ministries.

When my friend was examined by the bishop, some of these words resonated:

All Baptized people are called to make Christ known as Savior and Lord and to share in the renewing of his world, and You are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.

Then I heard words that, in this specific case, are for the priest, to radiate out to all the Baptized:

Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?

Will you persevere in prayer, both in public and in private, asking God’s grace both for yourself and others, offering all your labors through the mediation of Jesus Christ and in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit?

Along with these relevant quotes from the service, one other thing struck me.  Because of the virus, there were only ten people in person at my friend’s service.  It reminded me of one of my visions about the relationship of Baptism and Ordination.  My vision is that when we have fully restored the centrality of Baptism, the major sacrament, in the life of the Church, Baptisms will take place in packed cathedrals amidst trumpet sounds and full processions with choirs and crosses and banners! Ordinations, on the other hand, being a minor sacrament, will take place in smaller venues with a few friends and family in attendance!

Anybody share my vision?

Our sewing saints!

by Pam Tinsley

Each Sunday at worship, Naomi, an internationally renowned organist and musician, blesses our congregation with her gift of music. And prior to the pandemic, she regularly performed locally, nationally, and internationally. Music is not only her profession and passion – it is her vocation. Naomi’s faith radiates whenever she interacts with others, be they musicians, choir members, or parishioners. And the love for Jesus that she has instilled in her four-year-old son, both at home and in church on Sunday, is recognized by all.

With concerts cancelled because of the pandemic, Naomi discovered another way she could serve Christ in her daily life. Naomi has close contacts in her home country of Japan, which led her and her husband to become an aunt and an uncle to students at an orphanage school in Osaka. Once the pandemic has passed and it’s safe to resume gathering, Naomi hopes to do some fundraising concerts and events with the pastors at the church that runs the orphanage.

A thank you letter sent by one of the Osaka school children, along with a gift of his origami art made with special colors reserved for special occasions: a boy in gold, a crane in orange, and a cicada in silver.

In the meantime, Naomi learned that the school had a need for masks. Without hesitation Naomi offered to make 100 masks for the children! Unfortunately, after sewing just a few masks, her sewing machine broke – at a time when inexpensive sewing machines were sold out everywhere.

And then Naomi experienced God’s work first-hand. A friend gave her a sewing machine – a super fancy one at that. And then, because she was a beginner seamstress and also making masks of all sizes, she realized she needed help – at a time when many people were tiring of making masks. That’s when the sewing saints appeared! Two women stepped up and, with their help, Naomi was able to send 100 masks to Japan in less than two weeks!

Now the kids wear them when they go outside and when they are in class. The principal wrote that the kids think their new masks are the coolest. Not only are they handmade, but their aunties in America made them for them! (And they came with American candies.)