Dear Creator Family,
So much is happening for us this summer, a time when tradition says we “wind down,” that we must pause now to take stock. There are several areas of transition and change where God’s guidance and our action will set the course for our parish for years to come.
As far back as the recession, our parish has faced the evolving landscape of cultural faith perspective and the priority of Christian worship. This cultural shift, now the trend, marked the closing of our Pre-school and the loss of our Boy Scout Troop well ahead of their national scandal. With the arrival and lasting repercussions of the COVID pandemic and the move to online worship, the necessary and faithful change in practice by the church fueled forces already advancing in our society.
Transitions in church family life are normal: a sign of God moving in a faithful Body in unexpected and creative ways, but always to His glory. I must confess to being troubled by the transitions we have experienced over the past two and a quarter years from the pandemic. As in all families, ideologies and opinions can run deep, and no amount of prayer and devoted effort of our Vestry and staff have been able to mitigate the “fall-out” from the divisions that COVID-19 caused. We have sadly lost members of our Parish Family because we masked too long/didn’t mask enough, didn’t offer Communion/offered Communion, met/didn’t meet in person, and perhaps saddest of all, because we are trying to address these issues, but “not hard enough.”
The litany of reasons why parishioners have left is not specific to our parish; nationally parishes have echoed these concerns and lamented this trend. I have personally spoken to parishioners and priests who are fearfully and faithfully addressing these same issues, though they share our desperation and division over the matter. We are now at a transition place in our Parish life and how we proceed will require the faith and dedication of all our Family.
When the pandemic hit, our Sunday worship was only canceled for two Sundays. We were quickly able, though roughly, to offer online worship in multiple settings and ultimately from our own sanctuary. The blessing of electronic media kept us together in a time of radical isolation and provided multiple opportunities for gathering and sharing. Even now, as we are fully in-person, we are able to offer a much more refined virtual experience which we will continue as a regular part of Sunday worship. The transition to a new media, new forms, and new format of worship, and worship access has provided us with a template and a witness of possibility in faithful development and spiritual growth.
Our Parish Home
Our beloved Creator will be 60 soon! Seems like only a few years ago we celebrated her 50th with such festivity and fellowship. No wonder, and maybe in part because we are emerging thinned and changed from the pandemic, we can see her age is showing. There are many areas of renewal and repair that must be addressed, but there are several major repairs that cannot be avoided. Anyone maintaining an older home will relate to the litany of demise I can relate to you: in the past two years our church A/C failed, our septic system collapsed, our heating system burst, our drainage system washed out, and our sidewalk was destroyed. In a parish with small means, that is too much! And, not surprisingly, the way we have operated for 50+ years, that’s a lot of in-house calling and waiting, and investigating and waiting, and relying on one or two individuals to carry the burden of seeing through these needed repairs. We have never been in a position to call in the professionals, write the check, and get ‘er done, and we’re not now. In a word, it’s daunting. The good news is, we have been able to replace our church A/C and our septic system, but our heating system, drainage system, and sidewalk are all in process. To worship in the Church, safeguard the property and provide access to our facilities these three remaining areas must be completed, but there is a problem.
During this same extended period and for the same reasons, our Parish income has fallen and our fiscal stability in now in flux. Creator has always struggled with fiscal stability, and though we had many years of fiscal security, finances have always been a concern that overshadowed the best of times. Presently, we are running a deficit budget for our daily operations, and we have exhausted almost all of our reserves. The Finance Committee has met this month to discuss and double-check the numbers.
Your Vestry met yesterday to discuss all these areas and to seek God’s guidance as to how we are to move forward. It has been my experience, having served on multiple boards, that emotions run high in meetings like this. For two hours the Vestry focused primarily on our financial issues, but of course, we touched on all areas of Parish Life. We are faced with finite resources and limited abilities, we are overmatched by the tasks ahead, and challenged by forces beyond our control. What was our outcome?
Praise, Hope, and Humor
It may sound strange at first, but it was wonderful! Your Vestry met these concerns head-on by dreaming and brainstorming and hoping in all that God calls us to. With clarity and humor, your Vestry addressed the issues that face us all and have set forth a series of inquiries and short-term goals to inform and direct our next steps.
We are reinitiating our Parish Hall rental possibility, reassessing our fundraising, initiating a trend analysis of giving and expenditures for the next 30 days, discussing resources and assistance with the Diocese, and writing this letter to let you all know.
For our part, we can all revisit our stewardship and parish support. Planned, regular giving is part of faithful Christian living. Always has been, always will be. Yes, it’s a practice that makes for healthy and growing parishes, but it starts with the individual believer considering the priorities of life. I’ll save the deeper theological and spiritual considerations for a stewardship letter but suffice it to say that now would be a good time to review and recommit to your stewardship of our parish. Energy and attention can go a long way, as well. I take the crepe myrtle as my sign on that: every day I arrive and every time I leave, I pass by that glorious tree and thank the faithful stewards who wouldn’t give up and who have transformed our whole portico into a place of beauty. And the beautiful downstairs kitchen – clean and freshly painted by another faithful steward. And the upstairs bathroom, a joint effort to transform and update our aging spaces. There are plenty more opportunities to apply your time, talent, and treasure. For starters, everyone is asked to brainstorm and share every idea and dream—no matter how BIG or small.
There is a lot here to ingest, I know, but there is so much more to be had. God is faithful and seeks the fulfillment of His grace and love in each of us and through us, as witnesses in the world. This is an opportunity to receive the gifts of God through our concerns and our actions. This is the moment when our devotion to God will guide us as we steward God’s house and through our devotion, we will grow and be blessed, no matter the outcome for our Parish!
I will keep you all informed as things change and evolve. Please keep me and your Vestry informed as we grow and change together.
Peace in Christ,
Last week after the service, a member of our Parish family observed that the categories of “Doers of the Word” and "Hearers of the Word” (described in my sermon) are a distinction similar to the modern-day personality definitions of ‘introvert' and 'extravert'. I found it an intriguing observation, one which points to practice or a method of speaking and thinking that will further your spiritual growth and deepen your faith.
Why did I choose to use the language I chose in my sermon when there is such an obvious overlap in ‘doer’ and extravert, and ‘hearer’ and introvert? To help explain my intention, allow me to introduce a few more words.
Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘coincidence’ as the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection. While this is a common definition and one which is found in like form in all the dictionaries I looked at, it is not a Christian one.
The word coincidence is used only once in the New Testament. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:31), Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” Synkyrian, the Greek word translated as coincidence, is a combination of two words: sun and kurios. Sun means “together with,” and kurious means “supreme in authority.” Thus, a biblical definition of coincidence would not point to a random act of chance, but “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”
Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘luck’ as “to prosper or succeed especially through chance or good fortune.” (As with many definitions, this one breeds the opportunity for further research by introducing other words such as ‘chance’ and ‘good fortune,’ but for today we will stick with ‘luck.’) Again, this is a common definition and one which most people get behind.
The word luck is not found in Scripture; more than this, though, the concept of luck is rejected by the biblical witness. Throughout Scripture, it is clear that God is in control of all of His Creation and is somehow able to take the random acts of natural law, the free will of both good and evil humanity, and the wicked intent of demons, and combine them all to accomplish His good and perfect will. Genesis 50:20 states, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but if God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." In the Book of Job, the ultimate witness is of God’s oversight and plan in all things. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explained that the blind man was not blinded because of his sin, but that his blindness (caused as result of original sin) is allowed by God in order to show forth God’s glory (9:3). St. Paul admonishes the Romans that “...we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
So, it is with single words (and there are many more), but especially with concepts that we have a likeness. At times, as in the case of Doers/Extraverts, Hearers/Introverts, there is a very real synonymity (two things that are, at are some level, actually the same), but also the wonderful opportunity to lift the common definition expression/word to express the divine intention. Simply put, in all our conversations, and in our meditation and reflection, we should extoll the Christian definition above instead of the cultural one.
Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘providence’ as “divine guidance or care.” A fuller definition is “…God’s caring provision for his people as he guides them in their journey of faith through life, accomplishing his purpose in them. God’s mission is to save people and shape them to be more like Jesus” (GCU College of Theology). The practice of replacing the words “coincidence” and “luck” in a conversation with the word “providence,” or introvert and extravert with hearer and doer, opens the opportunity for teaching and witness.
Using the word “providence” in our meditation and reflection opens our spirit to the presence and purpose of God in our lives. In all cases, deferring to the Christian word(s) brings glory to God and illumination to ourselves and others.
Through the providence of God,
In a conversation I was having during a retreat some years ago, I was asked, “What is the value of prayer, if I can't pray?” The person asking this question told me that they were unable to pray and that they believed that since they were “cut off” from God in prayer, prayer had no value. Perhaps many of us can relate to that feeling of spiritual disconnect or "wilderness' that so many faithful before us have encountered -- and that praying to God just seems like a fruitless conversation with yourself. This conversation quickly led us to the more general question, “To pray or not to pray?", especially in times of God's perceived silence.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” Philippians 4:6-7
The issue of prayer is one of the most addressed topics of the church. Throughout to Bible, and especially in the New Testament, prayer is not only directed and assumed as the standard of faith but extolled as a means of grace and blessing. In the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and in the eleventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, ‘How do we pray?’ Jesus' response is the foundation of what we recite as the “Lord’s Prayer.” More than the prayer, though, is the witness that prayer was on the minds and in the hearts of the disciples. Prayer was an established practice—its value was not questioned; moreover, how to pray was an expected component of what they would learn from their Master.
Jesus teaches throughout the gospels on the regular and necessary practice of prayer:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Matthew 11:24
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:19-20
It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers. Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46
Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Matthew 21:21-22
Matthew 24:20, Mark 13:18, Mark 11:23-26, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:45–47, Mark 13:33, Luke 6:46, Luke 10:2, Matthew 9:38, Luke 11:1–13 are only some of the passages in which teaches about prayer.
As the church grew in the first three centuries, the Fathers of the Church wrote and taught extensively about prayer. They recognized that prayer, for the Christian, is as water to the fish or air to the bird. It is what we live by, move through, depend on, and it is what we absolutely need in order to “become.”
Saint John Chrysostom wrote, “Prayer transforms hearts of flesh into spiritual hearts; tepid hearts into zealous hearts; human hearts into Divine hearts, with what reverence, then, should we converse with God!”
“Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature.” "Prayer is the light of the spirit." excerpt from a homily by the saint. (Supp. Hom. 6 De precatione: PG 64, 462-466).
Saint Augustine asked, “Is there anything more excellent than prayer? Is there anything more beneficial in our life? Anything sweeter to the heart, or anything more sublime in our holy religion? Prayer is the groundwork of all virtues, the ladder by which we mount to God. It is related to the angels, it is the foundation of faith.” Letter 130
Saint Gregory wrote, “Of all things that we esteem and treasure in this life, there is nothing more precious than prayer.” Sermons, 92
And Saint Ephrem exclaims, “Oh, the magnificent and sublimity of prayer! Happy he who prays zealously. Satan cannot approach him, provided he is free from all deceit. Oh, the sublimity of prayer!”
So many more of our great spiritual and theological fathers and mothers through the ages have affirmed that which we all intrinsically know: prayer is everything.
Perhaps what we can learn from such a great cloud of witnesses is what we concluded in my retreat conversation: that even when we “cannot” pray, pray we must! Prayer is the ‘great conversation!’ It is the channel, the pipeline, the connection with God that God will travel through to us—despite our resistance or our perceived distance. Prayer is the healing avenue we must walk to be healed of the inability to walk, and through God’s grace, in the healing, we will run!
Prayerfully in Christ,
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3, ESV)
I have been announcing for several weeks that we are starting a study of The Book of Revelation for our Thursday night Rector’s Bible Study. The Book of Revelation is a challenging and misunderstood book and, consequently, the least studied book of the Bible. It was no surprise then when I was asked, “Why study Revelation?”
First, what is the Book of Revelation? The Apocalypse of John or The Revelation to John is most commonly recognized as simply, The Book of Revelation. The title of this book is taken both from the content of the book and as a direct translation of the Greek word apokalypsis, meaning "unveiling" or “uncovering,” translated “revelation,” from the first verse of the Book, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John,” (1:1)
The Book of Revelation is the only prophetic book in the New Testament, and it reveals how God will usher in peace, prosperity, joy, and universal love over all the earth. The Book also reveals the tumult and destruction (apocalypse) which will accompany this transition.
With that in mind, here are a few reasons to study the book of Revelation:
Jesus! Jesus is the one revealing this information to John, and he is telling John to tell us all that is being revealed. These are Words of the Word, the same as the Words of the Word found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Our privilege and our duty is to study what God has told us in order to grow in our “knowledge and love of the Lord” (BCP 423).
Communion. We are assured that Jesus is with us--providing for us and caring for us no matter what, and the “what” in Revelation is a BIG matter. We are in communion and fellowship with each other and with Christ as we approach what is to come, and in that fellowship it’s all going to be OK!
Patience. The prophecies contained in Revelation are often seen as "fire and brimstone" with an emphasis on judgement (and worse), the God we encounter in the last book of the Bible is not that. In these final scriptures, Jesus is teaching us yet again that God is patient and gentle and kind and loving. Jesus tells us judgement will eventually come, but even when it does God will proceed slowly and with the utmost patience to allow everyone time to get on board. Jesus is showing us the way to live, with all the upheaval in our lives, we have the example of God’s patience as we wait for better things.
Joy and Fulfillment! Jesus witnesses to us that God is sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega, and that what God began God has always been a part of. Jesus reminds us that all our hopes, dreams, and longings will come to fruition and that we will know true joy and be filled!
Worship and Encouragement! We are affirmed in our focus and in our pattern of adulation when we gather in Church. The focus we read about in Scripture and hear about in sermons is described in Revelation, which can encourage and inspire us on our faith journey.
Confusion and Estrangement. Perhaps I should have said, “the end of…”. To study the Book of Revelation is to open a new avenue into the mind and heart of God. Studying this book, we are no longer afraid of what it says or separated from the message it conveys. Studying Revelation is the pathway to understanding that “it” is actually the Word made flesh reaching out to us to dwell within us.
Blessings. There are seven blessings in the book, and they are ours for the taking! Who doesn’t want blessings?!
We study Revelation to understand what lies ahead, and how we are already a part of God’s plan. We study Revelation to understand how we are already part of the Good News and enfolded in the events yet unseen. We study Revelation to see that it contains the most remarkable message of hope ever written.
Thursday nights 7:30 to 8:30 via ZOOM, see you there!
Apokalypsis in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†