What are your most memorable experiences, of fire? Are they over campfires, perhaps as a child? Warming yourself by the fireplace in a living room? Or simply sitting by candlelight and staring into the flame?

The year I lived in Israel, a wildfire broke out on the mountain down from the monastery where I was staying. From the windows of the main guest house, you could see the smoke rising. Other volunteers, who were living in small huts between the guest house and where the fire had broken out, became engaged in trying to keep it from spreading. It was a hot, dry summer afternoon.

Eventually the fire was more or less contained, but because of the intense dry heat, other bushes, olive and carob trees, and shrubbery close by continued to smoke. Some would spontaneously burst into flame. We all watched vigilantly for these smaller, spontaneous fiery outbursts and would dash immediately to them, to put them out as quickly as possible; it felt like an eerie, surreal game of whackamole.

Prior to that afternoon, my experience of fire had always been pleasurable, domestic and tame. That day, for the first time, I encountered something entirely different: a living, awesome and awful creature, unpredictable, powerful, and frightening, capable of consuming anything in its path, be it trees, houses, people, and yes, even ancient, hallowed cathedrals.

I later learned from a friend of mine, a wildland firefighter, that fires are also a natural part of many forest ecosystems and can actually serve to renew and invigorate them. She herself had helped with several prescribed fires or “burns” as a way of managing and caring for forests in Colorado. Forests recover from fires through the germination of seeds stored in the forest floor; in fact, some tree species, like certain pines, actually need the high temperature of a fire for their seeds to be freed from the resinous bond that seals them closed.

So fires have both the power to destroy and to help bring forth new life.

This Saturday at the Easter Vigil, our first service of Easter, we will light the Paschal Fire; it is from this fire that our Paschal candle — the big, white, stand-alone candle brought out for every baptism and every funeral or memorial service — will be lit. As we light the Paschal fire, we will pray these words:

“O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light.”

As we pray these words, I will be praying for our brothers and sisters in Paris and Roman Catholics around the world, that the Holy Spirit may inspire them with new life and hope. I will also be praying that each of us, through the celebration of Easter, may find our faith rekindled and reinvigorated, so together we may truly be Christ’s living body, here and now, helping to heal that which is broken in our precious world.

~Cristina

I love good poetry. Not the vapid stuff of greeting cards, but meaty, thoughtful, challenging poetry that pulls me toward new understandings. As a poet friend wrote in one of her hymns, I want poetry to “capsize my mind”, to have my preconceptions, my current ideas, all my interpretations dumped all over the floor. In their place, then, I have room for new ideas, new appreciations, new comprehensions.

I also love good music. Not the insipid jingles of TV commercials, but well-crafted works whose phrases, sometimes jagged, sometimes filled with longing, other times bursting with joy, pull me in new directions. Perhaps this is why I love church music, because much of it is a marriage of profound poetry with deeply moving music. This unique marriage creates an even stronger pull toward new insights. As a recent journal article put it “It is simply that imagery presented in melody, meter and rhyme commits itself to the memory and imagination more readily than prose ever will”.

In the Passion narrative, which we will hear on Good Friday, Jesus says to Pilate “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth”. If ever there was a person who capsized the minds of those he encountered, it was Jesus. He was constantly dumping their preconceptions, their ideas, their interpretations all over the floor and presenting them with new ways of thinking, of acting, of living. He challenged them to open their minds and hearts to Truth.

As we enter this Holiest of weeks, I invite you pay attention to the poetry which is sung in hymns and choral music, to listen to the sometimes jagged, sometimes longing, sometimes exuberant melodies and harmonies, and let them “capsize your mind”. I encourage you to sweep away the clutter that has been dumped-out, and create room for new understanding. As we listen to the stories and the liturgical music of Holy Week, may our minds and hearts be opened to Truth and our lives transformed.

~Bert

Dear Folks,

In an exciting move toward accessibility, the Vestry authorized in February the construction of an elevator which will provide entry to multiple levels of our building.  Located in the vestibule to the right of the stage and the parish hall, the elevator will enable individuals who have trouble navigating stairs to take part in programs in the Women’s Council Room, Baker Room, on the stage and more.  Ironically, houses of worship are exempt from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, but Redeemer leaders felt strongly the moral responsibility to welcome everyone to participate more fully in our ministries.  Here’s how we came to the decision:

In a conversation about stewardship, I introduced the Greek word for household, oikos, which is the root of the words economy, ecology, and ecumenical.  In this context, economics describes the action of arranging and managing what is necessary for the well-being of a system.  Moving beyond numbers, we focused on the people within a system and what they need to function and thrive.  I asked everyone to consider the various households they are part of—home, Redeemer, Baltimore—and to further embrace our ability to respond to the needs of each. “Responsibility,” I suggested, is not a burden, but an opportunity; it literally means “the ability to respond” which invites us to assess our capacities and act for the good of the whole.  I asked us to consider Redeemer as a place of nourishment and healing for parishioners, community partners, and the city we love, and to think especially of folks who struggle for meaning and life-giving community.  Our work, I suggested, is to make the functioning of these households better than we found them.

Clearly our ability to respond to these various “household needs” depends on the health of our finances, and Redeemer is in an extraordinary place, as I write to you.  Our pledge goal for 2019 was $1.375 million, and to date 423 pledges have been received for a total of $1,412,000.  The Heritage Fund, whose income is restricted to the care of buildings and grounds, is valued at $3.381 million.  The endowment, which contributes a 4.7% draw to the operating budget (down from a 5% draw in 2015 and moving to a 4.5% draw by 2021) stands at $6.162 million.  Moreover, attendance has grown steadily in the past four years, even as we have buried a number of our old friends.  The Parish Day School again has waiting lists for many of its classes, and soon I will be able to announce the names of our new clergy associates.  I believe our vitality is a reflection of our commitment to serve.

In a unanimous decision, the Vestry authorized utilizing up to $400,000 from the endowment to build an elevator which can accommodate a person in a wheelchair plus an attendant and a companion.  They endorsed enthusiastically our capacity to respond to this pastoral need of the community.  Yesterday, the Buildings and Grounds committee chose A.R. Marani, Inc. from five bidders, with a base bid of $325,000.  Even with contingencies for unexpected surprises, the total cost will be well under the approved limit.  When word leaked out that we were moving toward building an elevator, a financial gift appeared on my desk, with a note hoping others might also respond.  If making our buildings accessible in this way moves you, too, I would welcome your help.

A poem I discovered this Lent ends this way: Blessed are those who carry, for they shall be lifted.  Thank you for all you do to be the body of Christ in the world.  I am glad to be building the household of God in Baltimore with you.

Love,

David