In our ever-divided country, a lot of us are pointing our fingers to the left and the right and describing left-wing/right-wing fundamentalism. Recently, I read a blog article entitled, The Five Features of Fundamentalism by John Donaher. I was curious to see what the “pathology” of fundamentalist thinking looks like. I wondered, Do I behave like a fundamentalist? How would I know?
Here are the features of fundamentalism:
As people of faith, we are especially at risk. These qualities can happen even when we aspire to be liberal-minded and inclusive. I remember going to a church that prided itself on being open and affirming, but boy, did they get spiteful about those conservative Christians! It’s easy to find reasons to distrust and dislike. We are all at risk of fundamentalism. If you don’t agree with me, you’re banished! (just kidding).
Jesus was never a fundamentalist. And he could have been the very best one.
He could have divided the whole world by himself and us -sinners. He didn't. Jesus opposed the Roman Empire, but had mercy on the Roman Centurian and his servant. Jesus knew that they were going to execute him, and yet he never gave in to paranoia and distrust. Jesus predicted an apocalypse and admonished his followers to prepare for it, not prevent it. His life was wrapped in the life of God. His hope and agenda were God’s. No one got excommunicated when they walked away. No one.
I want to be like Jesus. Probably, you do too. The more we do, the safer we are from this trap. And the more whole our lives will be. So today, I’m putting aside my part-time fundamentalism for a full time commitment to following Jesus. Join me?
-- Pastor Rebecca
The 184th Convention of
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
Lay Delegate Report to the Vestry
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church
Saint Louis, MO
November 7, 2023
Conference Project Theme
“I love to tell the story; ‘twill be my theme in glory to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
Arabella Katherine Hankey (b. 1834)
· Arabella Katherine Hankey (1834-1911)
· born in Clapham, England
· daughter of a wealthy London banker
· Hankey and her father belonged to an evangelical group comprised of prominent evangelicals from the Clapham area
· the group opposed slavery and the slave trade and had a great influence in abolishing both in England
· they worked for social reform for the working class and fairness for all
Take away: Our Episcopal Diocese Convention’s overarching theme is instructive, as Hankey’s words reflect on the original church’s basic mission to go out and meet others with the love of Jesus.
“I love to tell the story,
Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory,
Of Jesus and His love.”
“I love to tell the story
Because I know ‘tis true.
It satisfies my longings
As nothing else can do.”
Day 1 Proceedings
Plenary Session I
Diocesan Renewal Reports: (link to pdf on pg. 5)
The 2023 Convention Holy Eucharist Service https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unchyFTRHT8
Here are the positions elected at the 184th Convention of the Diocese of Missouri in 2023:
Some conference feature links from FB.
Diocesan 2024 Budget Report link
End-of-Year 2023 Ministry Reports
What do you remember about being little? Do you remember how the ceilings seemed way way up high? Do you recall leaning up against an adult’s knee, or nestling against their body and feeling their largeness compared to you?
Sometimes it’s really helpful to remember we are small. Yeah, you might be six feet tall, but it’s likely you could push your body through three-foot-wide hole (ergo - not that big). Meditating on our puniness is not our natural proclivity. We like BIG! But our awareness of our true scale pulls us closer what’s real.
When Jesus became human, he went small. He entered the world in walking time. He engaged people in slow conversations. He performed miracles one by one.
Jesus models a small-scale spirituality that had huge impact. Awareness of my little place in the world is a solace. Jesus worked locally. Even God focused on the people, the places, the creatures, and comforts available at hand. So, then shouldn’t we?
As you move through your week, I encourage you to stay small. Your devices will invite you to pretend you can know it all, do it all, own it all. But you can’t. Your news feed will invite you to travel to every place of misery and hold every opinion. But your Divine Parent would much prefer that you stay right where you are and nestle in. Mundane as it is, the world around you is where you make the biggest difference. God is waiting for you to climb into the comfort of your smallness and the Divine bigness. May we together feel love, joy and peace in little spaces we occupy here and now.
Last week, I flew to both New York City and Atlanta for two different family visits. On all four flights, there were moments of looking out the airplane window from high above the earth.
Leadership gurus often talk about the advantages of finding the 30,000-foot perspective on our lives. From high up, you can see patterns and progress that are difficult to observe from close range. You can see further along the horizon, you can look way back on where you’ve been.
When I observe the last five years at St. Paul’s from 30,000-feet, I see a number of successes that are easy to overlook or take for granted. Our building is significantly improved and more eco-friendly, our communications are stronger and extend much further beyond our doors, our livestream and online sermons are attended by an average of 18 households a week - sometimes as many as 80, and our doors open both ways - inviting more people to more kinds of opportunities. These are very important landmarks of faithfulness to our call as Christians.
This 30,000-foot perspective brings me great consolation, especially as I, like you, grieve for friends who are no longer with us at worship. I miss Karin, Barbi, Debbie, Tammy, John, Belinda, Carri, and Sue, just to name most of those who have left us in the last few months. Attendance has dropped and I suspect, like me, that concerns and saddens you. Looking backwards, way back, we've been here before. We'll be okay.
As we enter the next chapter of life together, I’m eager to see us widen our invitation, develop new programs, and deepen our relationships and sense of belonging. God has been so faithful to bring just the right people for each season. I have no doubt that the same will be true in the weeks and years ahead. As the scriptures remind us: neither height, nor depth, nor anything under heaven can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38). As we continue to follow, God's love continues to bless and uphold us!
-- Pastor Rebecca
Meet, Darian Wigfall, the new Executive Director of Program and Facilities at St. Paul's! Darian has a bachelor's degree in Biology from University of Missouri - Columbia, He has worked as a lab manager, youth services provider, counselor, assistant manager at Nine Network (PBS), radio host, DJ, events coordinator for KDHX, and director of operations for a music collective called Farfetched. He is also an author of two books, podcast presenter, and sits on several boards including Forward through Ferguson. Darian brings a host of connections to this position and shares a vision for leveraging spaces in the service of belonging and enrichment.
Here is a portion from his letter:
My name is Darian Wigfall and I am a huge advocate for our community, and healthy community as a concept and construct everywhere. I was raised in the Baptist church in St. Louis so I understand the importance church houses play and once played in the everyday lives of people across St. Louis and across the country.
These days the church’s role seems to have been diminished...So, where do the spaces go that don’t have the capacity or congregations to facilitate these extra services? I think this hybrid position you’ve created, of the Executive Director in addition to the existing clergy, is a great idea to be modeled.
... I’ve facilitated all of these types of events and much, much more from tutoring to podcast and music recording, content creation and more than I can name in this short letter. I would love to also engage groups I’ve recently learned about via being a member of the Forward Through Ferguson Racial Healing and Justice Fund Community Governance Board. These groups operate in the area of the church and just need some space.
I truly learned the importance of having, making and holding space for the community when I ran a venue called The Fellowship (Treffpunkt). For over a year I hosted community events from sorority reunions to music performances and even social justice action planning and preparation. These are the same ideas and activities that I would bring to St. Paul if hired and would love to see come to fruition for the church and for the community in general.
We are so blessed to have such a qualified candidate accept our offer! Please pray for Darian as he takes on this new responsibility! Darian begins November 1, 2023.
A NOTE FROM YOUR TREASURER, TOM SCHROEDERYou have heard that Darian Wigfall will be joining us as our Executive Director beginning Nov 1st. The addition of Darian will allow Pastor Rebecca to focus on her pastoral and ministerial duties and hand-off routine building management and other administrative responsibilities.
So, how can we afford this? Darian will be working 19 hours per week, Pastor Rebecca is adjusting her hours to 15 per week.
The vestry approved this arrangement because total compensation and related expenses will increase by only $171 per month.
Members of the Personnel Committee who interviewed Mr. Wigfall were: Karen Watts, Laura Shields, James Ammon, myself and Pastor Rebecca.
We are working to be sure that you are able to meet Mr. Wigfall early in November. His regular working hours will be times between Monday and Saturday. You will see him often at events during the week.
I have stuff in my closet, drawers and, well, just about all over the place, that I don’t need or use anymore. Some of it has sentimental value, but most of it, I just keep…and I don’t know why. I'm just used to it.
Many church buildings reflect the same behavior. In fact, when I started at St. Paul’s, all of the closets in the parish hall were chock full of stuff --things that carried history and meaning, but were now moldy from disuse and poor ventilation.
In a recent podcast, leadership expert and pastor Andy Stanley, talked about church systems as “designed to maintain the status quo.” The status quo works for a while, but then it undermines growth and new opportunities. There are life cycles to systems just as there are to all things that grow.
Even furniture has a lifecycle. You can’t improve the living room without getting rid of the old couch. The one that you need to be hoisted out of. That couch. Those of us who hang out in the living room (speaking metaphorically of our community at St. Paul’s) know not to sit on that couch. We know to overlook that dim sanctuary, or the pew that looks like it’s ready to collapse. But that doesn't improve our welcome.
The question for us is: how do we stay faithful to our mission and vision for this place while also adapting to the new realities of our world? To use a catchy phrase, how do we “marry the mission, but date the model?” Our model for ministry needs to change over time for new generations and needs.
One answer is to look at how we give our time, abilities, and money. Are we supporting maintenance or mission? Are we just suiting ourselves (keeping the old couch) or investing in what God might do?
In the weeks ahead, we’ll be talking about stewardship regularly. I welcome your thoughts on how we might faithfully and creatively use our money, skills and time as a community. The more we offer these gifts to the Holy Spirit, the more effective we’ll be!
Part 2: The New Model
How do we stay faithful to our mission and vision for this place while also adapting to the new realities of our world? To use a catchy phrase, how do we “marry the mission, but date the model?” Our model for ministry needs to change over time for new generations and needs. Sometimes that means letting go of the "old couch" we talked about last week.
We’ve done a ton of “old couch kicking” in the last 18 months. Now, we are preparing to make a systemic change that is full of new potential.
Starting November 1, we will have a new Executive Director to oversee the campus and leverage current and new activities to maximize engagement with the greater community.
Think of it this way, we are uncoupling the worship community from the building so that the building can be accessible to people who would NEVER sit on our couch.
I will reduce my hours and focus on Sunday/Pastoral ministry, and Darian will focus on Administration, Programs and Facilities. We'll partner to serve the worshipping community and leverage the building and programs to invite all others.
Darian's salary will come from dividing the Rector's salary in two. So, the general fund/budget remains as before.
This systemic shift will enable things that we as a community haven’t imagined and probably don’t have the capacity to imagine. But God has had it in mind all along. God has never called us to hold on to "old couches". In the Bible, we hear again and again, Behold I make all things new! Come follow me, Be transformed, be reborn, grow! Our faithfulness often requires change. Even the treasures of the faith, like the Ark of Covenant, the Temple, and the hem of Jesus' garment have been lost to time. What endures is the Spirit - the vision!
So, here we go, on to a new thing. I assure you, all along the way, your leaders discerned and sensed the coalescing of the Spirit toward this path. I am so excited to see what the future holds, because already, God is doing beautiful things among us.
Monday, August 28 was the minor feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. He was a fourth-century theologian, whose extensive writings are still used today. (I have edition of “The City of Man” and “The City of God”.) I make a connection between him and that week’s sermon from Pastor Rebecca, because her theme was that God (and Jesus) did not want the Church ever to become the Empire. Augustine lived at the time when the Roman Empire had recently adopted Christianity as its official religion. This gave leaders such as Augustine, and Ambrose before him, opportunity to speak about the faith openly without persecution. But at the same time, it allowed the Church to become Empire-like. In fact, when Rome finally fell to the invaders some two centuries later, beginning what some have called the “Dark Ages”, it was the Church that kept what we call “Western Civilization” going.
Rebecca mentioned that we may be living with the last vestiges of Christendom—that is, the portions of the world where the institutional church has been a bulwark of society. The Catholic churches (both Eastern and Western, including the Anglican Communion)have empire built into their organization. Dioceses were originally Roman imperial units of government. The various vestments we wear trace back in one way or another to Roman official garb. And while Protestant and independent churches have mostly dropped these things, they still have an institutional, culturally-supported quality to them; especially in the long-established denominations. And some, even newer ones, remain rigidly hierarchical (in the general sense) and patriarchal, which has more to do with governance than fellowship.
This brings me to an article written by a writer I follow on a blog called “Backyard Church,” Dan Foster. Dan is a former pastor who is totally disillusioned with the institutional church, such that he cannot even attend worship any more; and he’s part of a segment of “Christian” society that, according to demographic research, is rapidly growing. This particular article is “Six Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Has Left the Church.”
The first of these is, “But my church is different”. That would be my default argument. “Can’t you just find a place like mine?” But he likens that to asking a battered wife to go back to her husband—or, I say, more precisely, it’s like telling her, “You just need to find a better man.” That could happen eventually, but not right away, until there’s been time to work through the trauma.
Dan says that behind this argument is “Your church was an anomaly.” Sorry, that won’t fly. Too many scandals and too much corruption about, only a small amount of which is covered in news media. I’m actually led to thinking that my church is the anomaly, which makes it ok to stay there and invite others when they’re ready. (I’ve never been much of a salesman, and I wasn’t a good evangelist of the door-to-door type either!) I might say that the current Episcopal Church is an anomaly among denominations, but that might be presumptuous. I do see some very encouraging signs, including the literal signs on out front lawns apologizing for the hurt the church has caused.
Dan’s second “never say” is “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” That‘s an old expression with interesting origins that I won’t go into here. One of my seminary professors used it often. However, he included a lot more with the “baby” than just Jesus. (Dan says he’s kept the baby—that is, Jesus, but thrown out the bathwater of the institutional church.) I think there’s more to the dirty, stinking bathwater than just the institution. That’s part of it, sure—especially when it presumes to dominate and silence people. But there’s also a lot of doctrine that I was taught explicitly in a Reformed seminary, that is also “baked into” our Episcopal liturgy.
What am I talking about? Mainly, the “substitutionary atonement.” That’s not a “good and necessary inference” from the New Testament, but from at least Augustine on it’s been orthodoxy in the Western church. That is, the idea that the death of Jesus was a sacrifice in the tradition of the ancient Hebrew sacrifices of animals to appease an angry god, who wants to punish people for sins. The people were made “clean” by offering the appointed sacrifices. In like manner, God is angry with us for “our manifold sins and wickedness” as the old General Confession puts it, and we need a sacrifice to appease him (or atone for our sins)—and Jesus is it! (The Agnus Dei, lamb of God.)
Well, Jesus as the atonement is good news. But there’s a lot of bad news behind it, which is why other people don’t buy it. First, the bad news that we are sinful—not just sinners, who continually mess thing up, but “totally depraved” as John Calvin put it. Then there’s the bad news that if we don’t “accept Christ,” or are not predestined the right way, or aren’t baptized, or just don’t buy the whole premise, the we’re eternally doomed to Hell. Yes, salvation from that is good news, but only over against all the bad news. And, playing on people’s fear of Hell has been the major tool of the Church to keep people “in line”—from keeping princes from disobeying the Pope, to the selling of indulgences that Martin Luther opposed, to the idea of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in New England, all the way up to contemporary preachers looking to maintain control and often to become materially wealthy in the process.
Phew! That’s a lot! And “Of making many books there is no end” as Ecclesiastes says.
Back to Rebecca’s sermon. She suggested one change in language that makes a lot of difference—“Kin-dom” rather than “Kingdom.” That’s one often used in more liberal churches today. Another is to parse “atonement” as “at one- ment”. That is, Christ makes us more “at one” with God and each other than we are without Him.
Rebecca also made a point that the Roman Empire crucified Jesus. Not “the Jews,” despite that language in the Gospel of John and the “let him be crucified” language in all of the Gospels. That idea has fueled two millennia of hatred against Jewish people by Christians. Jews, of course, have n=been hated by others as well, but Christians of all people ought to stand against anti-Semitism—and many have, as the history of World War II in particular has shown. We should not be anti-anybody. Here I’m coming almost full circle when I say the reason for that is God’s love for us all in Christ, and establishing that “Kin-dom.” And it’s all out of God’s grace—it’s not transactional.
In the end, though, we’re facing a perhaps darkening future not only as Church but of humanity in general. Give that, I want the fellowship of the church (or, to use less religious terminology, the deeper relationships of people who are all in this together) together. I may say more about this in another article. For now, I agree that the end of Christendom is not altogether a bad thing.
R.C. Byrne, September 2023
One of my favorite things about the Bible is how many stories tell about a restart. Moses gets a restart after he commits murder. Noah and his family get a restart after the flood. Lots of people get a whole change of life after their encounters with Jesus.
In our lives, there are those moments. Whether it is the change of season, circumstances, the result of things out of our control or things within it, we get to embrace a new thing.
Now, we are starting once again. Starting a new season of clergy leadership, starting the new school year, and starting to claim the next leg of our journey in Carondelet.
As is always the case, there is much we do not know about this new thing God is doing. But we know these things:
I'm so delighted to be a part of St. Paul's. I thank God for our life together. Let's get started!
-- Pastor Rebecca
At about 7:15 PM, just as the May 26 neighborhood barbecue was winding down, the 15 or so people still on the front lawn were stopped in their tracks by the very loud pop pop pop of gunfire. The sound came from Mott Street and Michigan Market, shown below. Witnesses saw people running out of the store, chasing someone away from the church, down Mott. (Photo below). We learned later that a fifteen-year-old boy was shot. As far as we know, he is in critical but stable condition in the hospital.
We are living in a world of increased gun violence. No one is immune to it, but our church has experienced more than our share lately. Our Alderwoman, police officers, and state representatives are working hard to mitigate the risks.
Here is what we are doing to keep you safe:
-- Pastor Rebecca
For St. Paul’s, our identity is summarized in our motto: Believe. Befriend. Be.Loved. These values are reflected in the features common to all communities and enhanced by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Like all communities, we share these characteristics: Ask yourself...
Shared identity. St. Paul’s community members share a sense of belonging defined by our common commitment to a life of faith expressed through liturgy and sacraments. We embody our faith by caring for our neighbors, the earth, and one another as we participate in worship and church activities. Where and how often do you participate?
Interdependence: Like every community, there are clusters of friend groups and family groups at St. Paul’s. There are also groups that gather for a common cause: Adult Formation, free-range choir, committees, and teams each provide mutual support. Have you found your place for relationships?
Communication: With the help of Metal Priestess, our communications specialist, we have gotten better at getting the word out about how we honor Jesus in worship and in action. But we all need to be communicators! Sharing prayer concerns, inviting friends, celebrating life events, and sharing opinions and ideas enriches us all and enhances our sense of being loved and belonging. Communication is essential for building and maintaining relationships at St. Paul’s. Are you communicating your joys and burdens with the community? Are you feeling connected and informed?
Diversity: One of the sweetest things about a church community is the diversity of ages and the socio-economic status of its members. We are also diverse in our gifts and capacities. As we grow in relationships, we learn to appreciate the gifts of those who are different from ourselves. This is one of the key reasons Jesus so emphatically modeled inclusion as a discipleship practice. How are you honoring those different from you at St. Paul’s and intentionally befriending them?
Shared spaces: We have a beautiful worship space and parish hall. We have a lawn that accommodates barbecues and events. There are so many ways our spaces cultivate community. What spaces do you use most and least (if you attend in person)? What insights does that give you about your participation in community here?
Collective action: We regularly host neighborhood meetings, support air quality monitoring, and share resources with our neighbors in need. We have determined that serving the poor, and sharing food, books, and Narcan/Fentanyl test strips supports our values. How else might we advocate for our community?
St. Paul’s is so important! The Bible tells us that the church is the embodiment of God’s very self (I Corinthians 12:27) That’s a high bar! So often we don’t meet it. But when we do, we become a city on a hill, a beacon of light in darkness, hope bringers and the voice, eyes, hands, and ears of Jesus Christ in this world. Our job is crucial.
Participating in a church community may feel optional, but for Christians, it isn’t.
We need each other, and the world needs us now more than ever. I’m so glad to be with you in this community!
God is at work among us, and the adventure is full of joy, hope and blessing. Thanks be to God.
Most of the blog articles are written by our Rector, The Rev. Rebecca Ragland