Dear Folks,

I met producer/director Aaron Woolf in the summer of 2014 at the Grange Hall in Whallonsburg, New York.  Our daughter was in a musical there, and Aaron and his wife Carolyn had brought their five-year-old to see the performance.  In the small world department, Carolyn approached my wife with the words, “Miss Hoover?”, and we discovered that she had been Sarah’s 7th grade student 25 years before.  That summer Aaron was running for Congress in the 21st District of New York, which stretches from Saratoga Springs to the Canadian border.  A political newcomer, Aaron had spent a good portion of his life in the Adirondacks, whose small towns and wilderness make up most of the District.

He cares deeply about the people there—their shuttered mills and hard scrabble farms, the hikers and the well-to-do residents with houses that ring the clear water lakes and the folks whose trailers tuck into the mountain hollows and make the counties some of the poorest in New York State.  In the 1970’s, Aaron’s parents bought their own tumble down camp in Elizabethtown, the seat of Essex County, and some of his happiest memories are of scaling the rocks on the place, building forts with whatever he could find, and tramping through the snow.  In between movie projects, Aaron opened a grocery store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and a later restaurant in Elizabethtown, and his family somehow weaves both communities into their home.

Aaron spent his early years in Roland Park, and when he was old enough, he would skip out of Gilman School early and head downtown—looking for adventures and new places and people to meet.  He began making documentaries not long after he finished Middlebury College, drawn to stories ranging from beauty pageants in Venezuela to the global face of human trafficking.  His films are amiable and big hearted, even as they invite the viewer to face some significant current problem and get to know the individuals who struggle through it.  His works provoke concern and conversation and further inquiry.

He wrote and directed King Corn in 2007.  The film follows Ian Cheney and his best friend, Curt Ellis, on a yearlong odyssey to understand where our food comes from… by growing it. In what The Washington Post calls “Required viewing for anyone planning to visit a supermarket, fast-food joint, or their own refrigerator,” the city-slickers learn to drive a combine, cash in on government subsidies, and homebrew high-fructose corn syrup. The film’s Peabody-winning findings, shared with theatergoers in 60 cities and in a PBS national broadcast, may change the way audiences eat.  Following the success of King Corn, Aaron and his partners created Big River, which follows the journey of water flowing from those big farms, the pesticides the run-off carries, and the implications for life downstream.

Aaron will join us at Redeemer next Wednesday (5/29), from 7:00-9:30 p.m., using his films and the power of story to shed light on the human dimension of some of today’s most important policy decisions.  Bring a bag of popcorn and join me in welcoming Aaron back to Baltimore.

Love,

David

As David mentioned at our Annual Meeting, I will be taking a sabbatical beginning June 1 and returning August 20. This August, I will have served here at Redeemer for 9 years. When my family and I first arrived, Grace was 9, and Ben was 2. Today Grace finishes her last academic day of high school, and Ben and I will shop for snacks for his 11th birthday party.

I remember the day I finished my final “GOE” (General Ordination Exam) in seminary. Feeling relieved and elated these God-awful exams were over, I went to get my mail from my mailbox. Inside was a small envelope with a notecard from Paul Tunkle, then-rector of Redeemer, asking if I might be interested in beginning a conversation about serving at Redeemer. We spoke on the phone shortly afterwards and talked about me coming down from New York for a visit and to meet some key folks. It turned out that one of these key folks was one of my second grade teachers from Bryn Mawr, Mrs. Nancy Baker, who was the director of Redeemer Parish Day School back then. Ahhh, “Smalltimore”.

From my perspective these 9 years have gone by quickly. Thanks to all of you and to the staff here at Redeemer, I have learned what it means, and how to be, a priest and a pastor. I continue to learn, of course, everyday, and I hope to continue learning and growing into this vocation that is as life-giving and challenging as motherhood.

People have asked me, “What are you going to do on your sabbatical?” My truthful answer is not very exciting or inspiring. I am, simply, going to rest. Spend time with my family. Reflect on the past 9 years and dream about the next 9. Tend to physical, emotional and spiritual needs that need to be tended to.

In mid-July, I will attend a week-long “healers’ retreat” in Yelapa, Mexico with a close girlfriend of mine. In August, David, Grace, Ben and I will spend 2 weeks in Southport, ME, where I will be a guest preacher at All Saints-by-the-Sea (and where Henry Lowe will be playing the organ!). Shortly after, David, Ben and I will drive Grace to the University of Maryland, College Park, where she will move into her dorm room at Hagerstown Hall, meet her roommate, and begin her freshman year in the honors college. And then I will return to all of you, my body, mind, heart and soul the richer, for having been away for a time.

Thank you for being a community that supports this sacred and life-giving gift of sabbatical time. Thank you for being faithful travelers along The Way. And whatever the summer brings, may you and your loved ones enjoy your own sabbath times of rest, refreshment and renewal.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

Years ago I asked a group of teenagers preparing for confirmation to describe God.  “What is God like?  What does God do?” I wondered.  Not much happened, so we got out paper and pencils, and I asked them to make a list of God’s attributes, sketch a description, or draw a picture.  Maybe because we were sitting in a Sunday School classroom, they told me, “God has long hair and a beard, wears sandals, and throws lightning bolts.”  So I asked them what power this image of God had for them, and they looked at me with quizzical faces and silence.  Then I took a different tack. “Write down the questions you have about life,” I suggested, “questions that bother you and don’t seem to have any easy answers, things you would ask God if you could sit him down in front of you.”

Slowly the juices began to flow.  “Why does God take away people that you love,” they asked me.  “What happens after you die?  Why is there evil in the world?  Does God have a religion?  Why do bad things happen to people who haven’t done anything wrong?”  We scribbled it all down on the blackboard, and there was more silence.  “What are you thinking?” I asked, after a while.  They talked about the pressure they were under from parents and teachers.  They talked about fairness and a disciplinary action at school.  They talked about being asked to leave a store at the mall and if the manager there was racist.  They talked about how sports were fun back in middle school before adults started speaking to them about their resume.  They talked about a classmate with cancer.

“Your image of God has to do something for you,” I said again.  “It has to have power if it is going to make any difference.  The changes and chances of life pose for us incredibly difficult questions…”  Why did my sister die?  Why does my brother suffer from mental illness?  Do I have a purpose here?  Is this all there is?  “So an image of God worth holding onto will have currency.  Figure out what has value—and why—and throw away the rest.”

What about for you?  Try these images of God on for size: the Way, the Truth, the Door… Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer… Justice, Truth, Peace… Shepherd, Healer, King… Mother, Father, Neighbor, Stranger, Friend…  What do you think?  What works?  How do you use it?

Each one is a story we tell about God, of something which is beyond our conceiving; by definition, none of them is complete.  But how we talk about God is much more than an intellectual exercise.  The image we construct or intuit gives us what we need to confront the darkness that life hands us.  The image we have of God helps us make sense of our strengths and vulnerabilities and figure out how to use all of it for good.  The image we have of God gives us a mission, not only solace, and people with a mission can navigate through life’s storms and swirling losses toward a better place.

What are you working on right now, inside you or at home, in Baltimore or beyond?  Chances are it’s hard.  The way of the living God—truth telling, listening, reconciling, healing—is often dark and deep and down.  So thank you for your courage and commitment.  Thanks for working for the good of the whole.  Thanks for hanging in there.  And here are a few images that make a difference for me: Love conquers all, Light is not overwhelmed by darkness, and Life follows every death.

Love, David

I often tell people that one of the many things I love about Redeemer is the fact that every time I walk in the door, I grow.  That is such a gift, one I have never experienced at any other church of which I have been a part.  When I reflect on my five years here, I am amazed at the changes I see in myself and how strong my faith has become.  I would often wonder what I was being prepared for as my sedate, drama-free life didn’t really call upon me to have a strong faith to see me through.

Almost three years ago, David and Cristina approached me about taking on a new part-time role here at Redeemer as Director of Children’s Ministries.  I was flattered to be asked, and I wanted to give back to this place that has given so much to me, so I agreed even though nothing in my experience of teaching high schoolers Algebra seemed to indicate that I would have any idea how to develop and implement programming to teach young children about our faith.  And truth be told, most days I walked into the Children’s Ministries office and prayed, “Help me, Holy Spirit.”  The Spirit always seemed to show up to help me serve the families of our parish.

What I didn’t expect was how the experience would change me.  Any educator can tell you that when you are planning effective instruction, the key is to focus on the learning target.  What do you want the student to understand and what is the best way to make that knowledge stick?  What in their experience can you build on to lead them to that understanding?  How can they apply it in a meaningful way?

What I wanted to communicate to our children is that they are beloved children of God, created in the image of God and that God is good.  I wanted them to know that we are a family here at Redeemer, they are an important, integral part of that family and they have gifts and talents to help them to serve here and out in the world.  Every day, they are an agent of God’s love and light when they go out into the world being kind and helping those in need.

I have become aware through my time in this position that even though I could give lip service to those ideas, I didn’t really “know” them.  As I kept returning my focus back to these learning targets each week, they began to take root down in the deepest part of myself.

You may already know that in March my Daddy died quite unexpectedly.  He was the caregiver of the love of his life for 56 years, my 93-year old, wheelchair-bound Momma.  I was their only child although I am blessed to have an older sister from Momma’s first marriage who along with all her children and grandchildren have taken on the role of being very involved in Momma’s care at the nursing home we have found for her.  My part for the moment is to clear out their house and deal with all the many details that come up in times of change such as these.

Because of these obligations, I am no longer able to serve Redeemer as Director of Children’s Ministries, and David has accepted my resignation.   I am so grateful to all of you who have stepped in for our children at my sudden departure.  And I am also grateful to my Redeemer family for helping me grow and for giving me the opportunity to learn and to really know that I know that I know that I am a beloved child to God, created in God’s image with gifts and talents to share here and out in the world as an agent of God’s love and light.  And that God is good.  Always.  My prayer is that you will all know that too.

I look forward to seeing you all again when I can return from Texas and resume my original role here as your fellow parishioner.

Blessings and love,

Kathy