When I was pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Springfield, Missouri we lived in an older home on a spacious lot just outside of town. A tired and overgrown pasture bordered the back of our property and Dayna and I delighted in sitting on our deck in the evening to watch the variety of wildlife come and go. The pasture had a resident deer herd and a doe and her yearly fawns often leapt over the fence to eat our fallen pears and apples. A small herd of Longhorn cattle often stood at the fence staring at us.
When we were both away at a conference the Longhorns found a break in the fence somewhere and migrated to our yard. After generously fertilizing our yard, they proceeded to munch contentedly on our mum bed in the front yard. It must have been an exciting afternoon. The sheriff, leery of the long, pointed horns, contacted the owner and the cattle were finally rounded up and returned to the pasture. When we returned to Springfield a few days later I looked around to assess the damage, in addition to some flowerbeds in sad need of repair, I was surprised to see that the Longhorns ate only the yellow mums and left the purple ones alone. I didn’t know that cows won’t eat purple mums. I had tried to plant flowers and shrubs that deer do not like, and decided then and there to plant only purple mums in the future!
When Jesus spoke about the kingdom, his images did not contain fences that would keep people out, and when he spoke of enclosures like the sheep pen, there was always a way to get in. Jesus is the gate to the kingdom. If the church is supposed to continue the work of the kingdom, then neither should the church have fences to keep people out. And, if there are fences created by others, then the church should be the gate so that people can freely enter. Jesus also compared the kingdom to an abundance of nourishing food: to vineyards, to bread, to fish. The church also should have food in abundance for those who hunger for spiritual food.
Thousands of people live around St. Paul’s Church and around each one of our homes. If we added up all the churches in these areas with all of their attendance each Sunday, we would discover that the majority of people living in the surrounding community of our church and our homes are either under-churched or unchurched. All people, churched or unchurched, hunger spiritually, seeking someone or something to fill their hunger. Those of us who have found Jesus Christ know the answer and our spiritual hunger is being fed, but the unchurched are not. In some ways they are like those Longhorn cattle because misguided ideas and ideals fence them in. The job of the church, that is, we, the people of God, is to break down those fences and invite the unchurched in so that they too, can be fed with the spiritual nourishment of Jesus.
Each of us needs to look at his or her attitudes and actions. “What am I doing to break down fences?” “Am I being a gate like Jesus?” “Am I sharing the food that is nourishing with those who have none?” If you are doing these things, then you are being a faithful servant, a steward of the kingdom, and living out your discipleship. On the other hand, if you are building fences to keep others out, and planting things that do not appear nourishing to others, then you are planting only purple mums. Every day opportunities to live the kingdom life are presented to each of us, what we do with those opportunities has a direct effect on those who are marginal (under-churched) or who have fenced themselves in (the unchurched). What will you do: build fences and plant purple mums, or break them down and plant yellow ones?
~ Fr. Al Jewson
In Sacramental theology there is a principle called “ecclesia supplet”, Latin for “the church supplies”. The term is most often applied to circumstances in which the clergy person forgets something in the sacramental rite, thus the Church supplies what is lacking in the minister. You see, we clergy are adjuncts of the wider Church and cannot act by our own authority or initiative, but rather, are agents of the Church; in reality it is the Church performing the sacramental ritual, thus if the clergy person forgets something the Church supplies the validity.
Enough of Sacramental theology – what I really want to share with you today is another notion about the church supplying what is lacking. You know, summer time is a time of leisure, going places, laying back and relaxing, and other non-taxing activities. It’s really a neat thing for individuals, couples and families to go on a vacation; perhaps a weekend camping or hiking, or fishing, even visiting old Aunt Georgia. I commend all who are able to get away for a while during the summer.
At the same time, St. Paul’s Church continues to operate. We continue to have to pay the utility bills, pay expenses, meet payroll, pay our assessment to the diocese, etc. The problem comes when a parishioner forgets that vacation time still means to give one’s pledge or offering to St. Paul’s Church. In other words there is no “eccelesia supplet” for our financial responsibilities during the summer time.
Another way to always make sure your pledge or contribution always gets to St. Paul’s Church is to arrange for your bank to deduct it from your account and send a payment to the church.
Please do not forget your commitment to the wonderful work that is going on at St. Paul’s Church and remember to mail your pledge or offering to the church when you are away.
For your convenience: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
6518 Michigan Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63111
As always, God love you and keep you safe.
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Spectacular displays lit up the skies on the evening of Independence Day and we were once again awed by brilliant light shows. Family barbeques, July 4th Fairs, and all the celebrations have come and gone. I think we celebrate our precious freedom with greater gratitude each year because of the vileness of terrorism that struck our nation on 9/11 and continues to strike peoples throughout the world. Isn’t it amazing how we can take something as precious as our freedom for granted and do not realize that we are doing such until some horrible tragedy awakens us.
It is just as amazing that we take for granted the freedom won for us by Jesus Christ. We do not intend to take it for granted it just seems to happen. We live in a country that built into its constitution the freedom to practice our religion, from worship of God to worship of idols; the law protects our right to worship the true God or to worship sticks and stones. Perhaps if we had been among those early Christians it would be easier to appreciate the great and wonderful gift given us by Christ. Those early Christians (as some Christians today) were not granted the freedom to practice their faith in Jesus Christ and were hounded, tortured and killed for professing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Yet, we were not among the first disciples, no, we are the spiritual descendants of those disciples by at least fifty generations, but I do not believe that the fervor of our faith is diluted by the number of years between Jesus Christ and us. Jesus beckons to each of us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[i]
What we have received is a free gift, not earned, not by right, or by heritage, but only because God loves us and eagerly desires our companionship. Let each of us be thankful for the freedom won for us by Christ, just as we are thankful for the freedom won for this country by our fore bearers. Let each of us thank God daily for both. Let each of us live our lives in thanksgiving for our freedoms.
[i] New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 11: 28-30
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Ten years ago, in late June I attended an Intensive Retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. Twenty-two men and women from a variety of religious traditions attended this silent retreat to learn more about Centering Prayer and its practice. Part of the retreat program was to watch certain conference videos featuring Fr. Thomas Keating teaching about the reasons for and practice of Centering Prayer. In addition we also visited with Fr. Keating in person. About 40 years ago, along with Fr. Basil Pennington, he founded Contemplative Outreach, a program designed to introduce centering and contemplative prayer and their spiritual healing power to lay and clergy from various religious traditions.
One of the conference sessions dealt with Brother Bernie, who entered the Trappists at a young age and prior to the changes that came about from the 2nd Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church. By the time I attended my retreat the Trappist monks no longer practiced strict silence and rigorous dietary restrictions that were in vogue when Bernie entered. Even in silence, Br. Bernie used silent hands gestures and signals with such flourish that it troubled the older monks. It almost seemed that he talked without talking and this was a bit much. Although he didn’t seem to fit in to the life style of the Trappist tradition, Br. Bernie persisted and eventually became a professed monk.
He was assigned to do the cooking, but because of his dyslexia, he had to painstakingly recopy all the recipes so that he could interpret them. Eventually he was assigned to the monastery in Snowmass. By this time the restrictions that were once commonplace in Trappist life had been relaxed and Br. Bernie was never happier that he could talk to everyone he met. Because of his duties as cook, he often traveled into Aspen, Colorado to shop and became a local favorite of the residents because of his congenial and outgoing personality. He even began to introduce desserts – only on special feast days into the diet of the monks. One of his favorites was a Bernie Sundae – several scoops of chocolate, vanilla, and cherry ice cream smothered with maraschino cherries, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream.
Bernie delighted in the mountains and the flora and fauna of the area. In his free time Bernie would explore the hillsides and mountains. To this day, one of the mountains is known as Bernie’s Mountain because of the time he spent there. He even built a little hermitage there so that he could spend time alone with God. The time he spent there was good for Bernie and the other monks: for him because of the need for periods of silence in his spiritual walk; and the other monks because it was a break from Bernie’s loquacious nature.
Br. Bernie died suddenly in 1992 and is buried in the monks’ cemetery on a hillside that faces Bernie’s Mountain. There is a saying that “life is 10% of you how make it and 90% of how you take it.” I think that Br. Bernie exuded that model. He loved God, accepted his limitations, developed his gifts, praised God for the blessings given to him, accepted all persons he met as brothers and sisters in Christ, loved nature, and learned that, at times, silence is the best way to be, for it is in the silence that God most effectively meets us.
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.