Hearts and Ashes

by Demi Prentiss

We’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day, on the very same day as the lectionary reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration, marking the shift from his Galilean ministry to his prophet’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We Christians are about to move from the festivities of Mardi Gras to the solemnities of Ash Wednesday and the 40-day journey that leads us to witness Christ’s transit from death to life.

This liminal week reminds us that love is the catalytic transformational force that God brings into the world. Love – the love that made St. Valentine a martyr – gives us new eyes to perceive God’s transformational work all around us. Love – the love that announced “This is my beloved. Listen!” – created light in the darkness and lights each of our lives.  Love – the love that tenderly reminds us that we are dust – proclaims that we are made in the very image and likeness of God.

As we embark on the journey of Lent, may we remember that our calling is not to religious athleticism, demonstrating by our strenuous practice that we are worthy of God’s love. As God reminds us, in the words of the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21)  Our calling, instead, was proclaimed by Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:88)

This Lent, may we walk the Way of Love, remembering that “Go” is an essential element of the Christian life.  Go out from the comfort of church pews into the challenges of daily life. Go beyond our timeworn practices to experience a new perspective. Go into respectful relationship with unmet neighbors and unfamiliar cultures, to look into the eyes of siblings we’ve never met.

May our journey this Lent awaken us to new life, as we walk into the immensity of the reign of God.

Baptised into Light

by Pam Tinsley

YouTube – CBC News Jan. 20, 2021

Like so many, I found Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” inspiring.

I’m reminded of the promises we make at baptism by her closing verses:

When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

In John’s Gospel Jesus is the light of all people, and his light shines in the darkness. Jesus then invites us to be brave enough to see his light and to be his light in the world. Each question posed at baptism also asks us to be Christ’s light in the world: Will we teach, pray and gather – even if by Zoom? Will we persevere in resisting evil and then repent when we stray? Will we model the Good News by our words and our actions? Will we love one another? And will we strive to make our world more loving and more just?

Whenever we live into our baptismal promises – wherever we are and however minor our actions might seem – we shine a light that others can see. We might heal someone’s wounds with a kind word; we might lend a listening heart to a shut-in – or someone wearied by the persistent isolation of quarantining; we might encourage a spirit of community; we might help someone make an appointment for a covid-19 vaccination. This is how we reveal Christ’s presence in the world.

Even in the midst of pandemic, racial injustice, social and political turmoil, and isolation, we can be brave enough to look for and to see Christ’s light – there in the seemingly never-ending shade. For, as Ms. Gorman reminds us, there is always light.

Gifted

by Demi Prentiss

Creative Commons arsenat29 – G-55801-U1H

For many of us whose faith is shaped by the traditions of the Christian year, we’ve been thinking about gifts for two or three months. From well before Christmas Day all the way through Jan. 6, Epiphany, we’ve been asking questions:

  • What gift can we choose to put under the Christmas tree to convey our love to those we cherish?
  • How do we best prepare our hearts and homes for celebrating God’s greatest gift to each of us – the Christ Child, God incarnate?
  • How can we join with the Three Kings in offering our gifts to Immanuel?

At this point in the Christian year, our attention has moved on to the baptism of Jesus, traditionally the focus of the readings on the first Sunday after Epiphany. We’ve moved from focusing on gifts to getting down to the work of ministry. In the context of our own baptism, and of the Baptismal Covenant, perhaps that “doing” focus overlooks an important message that baptism conveys, to us and to the world:

Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.

Baptism sets in motion God’s sending of each of us into the world as God’s gift. Our person, our presence, and our distinctive perspective on the world – all God-given – are gifts that no one else can offer. Wherever we find ourselves, we have a part we can play that is unique. It is that self-offering that is the essence of our ministry in the world. We best serve as God’s ambassador when we show up as the precious, gifted, and called Child of God we are created to be. Claim that. Claim your identity as God’s gift for healing the brokenness confronting you. Perhaps less by what you do than simply by being who you are – a Christ-bearer. Be the change you long to see. Be the gift that keeps on giving.Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.Because of God’s gifts to us, and because of the covenant between us and our Creator that baptism represents, we can claim an important part of our identity. We are not only gifted; we are also gift.

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.

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.”

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.)

Same mission, new name

by Fletcher Lowe 

Partners for Baptismal Living: PBL.   That’s the new name for Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM).

Why the change? We feel it is more inclusive. After all, all the Baptized are partners.  We feel it makes our group more accessible by inviting all the Baptized – including the ordained – to become partners with us, in claiming the dignity and the power of our baptism.

“Assembling the tents at Base Camp” by markhorrell is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

One of our important metaphors is a base camp.  If you give it some thought, a base camp is not the destination. It is a way station for the hikers whose destination is beyond.  The base camp is there to empower, equip, guide, heal, support, and encourage the hikers.  Translated to the local congregations, like the basecamp, it exists for the members, not vice versa.  It is not the destination, but a fueling stop on the way to the members’ real mission in their daily lives of work and community and home.

Let me share PBL’s recent statement of who we are and what we are about, from the upcoming edition of the Episcopal Church Annual, aka “The Red Book”:

A partnership dedicated to the ministries of all the baptized in their daily lives. Formed in 2006 as Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM), PBL’s mission within the Episcopal Church is to recognize, affirm, and empower the Monday through Saturday ministries of baptized persons, grounded in the Baptismal Covenant; to explore common ground and natural alliances with other Episcopal, Anglican, and ecumenical groups; to assist congregations, dioceses, provinces, and seminaries in planning and implementing educational events focused on the calling of all the baptized ; and to provide a communications link among partners through our email listserv and blog, www.livinggodsmission.org.  PBL is led by a steering committee of laypersons, priests, and bishops. Membership is open to all. Contact: Rev Cn J Fletcher Lowe Jr at jflowe@aol.com.

If you’re interested in learning more about us, check out the other pages here at Living God’s Mission, and feel free to send us a comment or question using the response form.

Stay safe, stay well and stay grateful.

Who do you say that I am?

by Demi Prentiss

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks (Matthew 16:15, Mark 8:27, Luke 9:18). And how do we answer? The response that we express through our daily life speaks more loudly than any creed or prayer or promise that we might read or recite.

And what might God say if we were to ask the same question? “Dear God, who do you say that I am?” That’s a question that launches many a quest and walks alongside us on the spiritual journey that is our life. “Who has God made me to be? How do I live into that calling?”

Brother Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE, provides encouragement to all the baptized, guiding us to listen with the ear of our heart:

If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation!  So what is a vocation?  Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get.  You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation!  I don’t think that’s quite right.  I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity.   It is discovering who it is that you most truly are.

There are particular moments in life, perhaps when you experience something, meet someone, hear some words, which touch that deep core within, and it resonates.  And you say – “Oh – that’s who I am,” or “That’s what I want to do or be in life.”  Sometimes you forget it, or you try to put it out of your mind, if it doesn’t fit in with other plans.  But it usually comes back, and deep down, you just know that it’s truly who you are meant to be.

The Creator’s call can be powerful and persistent. Some would even say that God calls everything and everyone in Creation – baptized or not – to walk God’s Way of Love.  Baptismal living embodies our choice to live the truth that God proclaims in each person, so that through our God-given identity we are blessed to be a blessing.