Dear Folks,

How about some good news?!  A newly minted, young priest has said “Yes” to Redeemer’s call.

Our young people have been ably led and served by first Paul Smith and then Vivian Campagna over the last four years, working with a dedicated group of volunteers.  Paul pioneered new service opportunities for youth, connecting recent graduates and other young adults with community partners.  He added experience portfolios to our confirmation curriculum and invited young people and their parents together over dinner to celebrate this milestone.  When professional opportunities beckoned Paul, I asked Vivian to lead youth ministries.  Vivian brought her extensive yoga experience to the work, integrated Sunday morning leaders and learning into the youth program, and deepened the experience of silence, reflection, and worship.  She is now discerning a call to ordained ministry.  I am so thankful for both Paul and Vivian.

Listening to graduates and teenagers currently in RYG, I felt called to further support the life of youth at Redeemer, to draw more people to our programs, and to expand our vision to serve young adults in their 20’s.  With several middle, high school, and colleges nearby and so many young adults drawn to live in Baltimore, I asked the vestry to create a new clergy position, Associate for Youth and Young Adults, and they unanimously agreed.  One said recently, “In this time when so much is being re-imagined within the church and in our world, it is exactly the right moment to redouble our efforts on behalf of young people.”

I am excited to announce that The Rev. Rebecca Ogus will join our clergy team on August 3.  Rebecca graduated from Berkeley Divinity School (Yale) three weeks ago.  While there, she was the program director for the Episcopal Church at Yale, mentoring student leaders and providing undergraduates with pastoral care.  Prior to Yale she was an Americorps volunteer at Benevolence Farm in Graham, North Carolina, a farm-based residential program which assists women in transition from incarceration to re-entry.  Beyond her work with the women, Rebecca supervised service learning volunteers from Elon College and UNC Chapel Hill.  Before her time at Benevolence Farm, Rebecca lived in an intentional community with seven other young adults, developing spiritual practices, communication, and conflict resolution skills.  A year ago Rebecca married Zach, who just completed his PhD at UNC and accepted a position at NASA in Greenbelt.

Rebecca wrote to me this morning and said this: “I feel called to Redeemer because it seems to be a place of honest conversation, reflection, prayer, and action. From talking with staff and parishioners, the parish seems full of people who are actively engaged in their community and life together, figuring out how to live out God’s love in the world. In any moment, and during this moment in particular, I cannot think of a better place to be. In particular, I’m looking forward to getting to know Redeemer’s youth, and to learning how God is speaking and acting in their lives. How are they being called by God right now? How can the church support that call? And what can the rest of the church learn from youth and young adults? Baltimore is a city that sparks deep allegiance from its residents, with a distinct history and personality. As someone new to the area, I can’t wait to learn more about it!”

We are blessed to welcome Rebecca and Zach to Baltimore.

Love,
David

In JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins, discouraged by the seemingly impossible task before him — to destroy the evil ring he carries by returning it to the fires of Mordor — a task on which the whole salvation of Middle Earth depends, bemoans: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened …” to which the wise wizard Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”

I imagine each of us, in our own way, has felt something similar lately to what Frodo expresses in Tolkien’s mythological tale. I wish none of this had ever happened. Whether the yearning is to turn the clock back hours, months, decades or centuries for a “do-over”, this ache is familiar.

But as we all know, unlike the opportunity to take part in our new weekend worship videos (which usually allows the time to record a few takes as needed), our individual and collective lives play out in real time with no “rewind” or “re-record”. We cannot take back the words we said in the heat of anger. We cannot return to life pre-COVID. We cannot erase centuries of injustice inflicted upon fellow human beings because of race.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.

A beloved “icon” of our parish, Dottie Hopkins, returned Home earlier this week. She was 92 and headed up our altar guild for over 40 years. She loved the church, loved Redeemer, and loved the ministry to which she devoted her time and energy for decades. When she came to understand during a recent visit that we as a parish would not be worshiping together indoors in the numbers and manner that we have been accustomed, until perhaps sometime next year, it was as if the last “question mark” was finally answered for her. Next year was too long to hang on and wait around for.

“How do you want to go?” she asked me as we sat in the sun on her back patio, six-feet apart.

“Do you mean, how would I like to die?”

“Well … yeah …” she said.

I thought for a moment. “Well if I have a choice, I’d like to live to a ripe old age and die in my own bed, in my sleep, with my loved ones nearby.”

“Yep, that sounds about right,” she said, softly and matter-of-factly.

And that’s how she went.

May we, like Dottie, with the time given to us, set our hearts and minds to tasks which demand our best efforts, so that we may, when our Time comes, “Go in Peace,” having loved and served Our Lord in one another.

Cristina

Dear Folks,

With the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, it is not possible to remain silent.  This moment presents itself as an opportunity, for some to wake up and for others who have been awake to go more deeply, to consider and confront the systems of racism that we have created, perpetuated, and from which many have benefitted.

We stand with black Americans and especially with young people in your anger.  Systemic racism is not right and should not continue.  As people of faith, we believe that racism is a sin, not just a sociological issue, so there is personal and corporate repentance to be accomplished.  Racism denies the humanity of another, privileges one class or group of individuals over another on the basis of skin color or ethnicity.  It has played out over 400 years in our country, and so its perversions will not change overnight, but we believe it will change if we work together, beginning today.

The ancient scripture is our foundational resource, which studied in community is speaking now: every human being is created in the image of God, deserving mutual respect and compassion.  Loving the neighbor and the stranger, seeking the wellbeing of those who have been cast out, privileging the common good over selfish aims define our faith in God.

We feel the gospel calls us to action—to coalesce our power and gifts on the side of the marginalized, to discover mutual self-interest with people of color and others who have been cast down, to work to raise each other up.

At this moment in the city of Baltimore, we feel particularly called to focus on public safety and reforming the criminal justice system; on public education and providing necessary funds for both students and schools to thrive; on job training and work readiness with a commitment to a living wage; on safe, affordable housing for all.

Systemic change will only come through creating and strengthening relationships with each other and across superficial divides of race, class, gender, and sexuality.  When we know each other, someone else’s pain is not theoretical.  When some suffer, all suffer; when one person bleeds, everyone bleeds.  Societal structures will only change as individuals consistently ask one another: How are you? What hurts? Can I help you? Can you help me?

We believe the church is particularly called to engender these kinds of transformative relationships through action: the courage of personal and mutual accountability, the creation of multi-racial faith communities, and working across faiths to restore our city.

We are people of prayer, but what do you do after you pray?  We build the beloved community by dismantling systems that privilege white people over others.  Black lives matter.

Love,
David, Cristina, Freda Marie, Caroline

Dear Folks,

As our public officials invite a gradual re-opening of Baltimore City, many of you are wondering about Redeemer.  When might we gather again for worship?  What about small groups and classes?  What about fellowship and prayer and communion?  I hear your longing and grief, and want to respond to them.

I have asked a group of parishioners to help me imagine a safe and sensible way forward.  They are Keri Frisch, senior warden and MPH; Matt Buck, Calvert School; Noel Morelli, physician assistant; Doug Riley, vestry; Fern Riley, MD, Shepherd’s Clinic; Ruthie Cromwell, community partner and Blakehurst retirement community resident; Bert Landman, Director of Music and choir director; Ellen Chatard, Director of Program; Helena Ware, college junior.  The group includes expertise in medicine and public health, and we are reading closely the guidelines set forward by our Diocese.  Bishop Sutton is in regular conversation with the Bishop of Washington and the Bishop of Virginia, and together they have created a phased approach to re-gathering.

The difficult truth continues to be that in-person worship is still a long way off.  Strict limitations on how close we can stand or sit together, advice against reading out loud in a group or responding with vigor to the liturgy, the expectation of good health for all who attend, the requirement of face masks, and the prohibition of singing together for the foreseeable future all challenge us to be patient.  Since our desire is to be together, but our safety depends on our being physically separated and mostly silent, meaningful worship will have to be re-imagined.

We should expect not to gather for in-person, outdoor worship until after August 1.  Given the intimacy of church activities and the vulnerability of so many of our members, it seems prudent not to gather for worship in this next phase of civic re-opening.  The two months between now and that date correspond to an expected increase in cases of COVID-19, due to the inevitable contact that resuming normal activities will bring, as well as offering time for authorities to ramp up adequate testing and tracing.  With that said, if public health directives allow small groups to meet in this period, prayer groups and fellowships will be invited to meet outside, separated by six feet, and in limited numbers, including the 14 recovery groups that utilize our space.  Redeemer Parish Day School is following the lead of the Maryland State Department of Education, modifying their practices where necessary, utilizing outdoor spaces whenever possible, and hoping to open on time in the Fall.

We will continue to offer online prayer every weekday and online worship on Saturdays and Sundays.  Centering Prayer, Women of Wisdom, the Men’s Fellowship, the Dad’s group, choir check-ins, Knitting, book groups, Center for Wellbeing, the Rector’s Bible Study and more are thriving.  Facebook Live, Zoom, and YouTube have become a part of our pastoral and liturgical repertoire—we have welcomed many new people and re-connected with old friends who had drifted away.  The gifts of this virtual ministry are varied and real, and we expect to incorporate them into our lives long after the pandemic has passed.

Let me know how you are feeling about our plans: I’d love to hear from you. Please send me an email at dware@redeemerbaltimore.org .

Love,
David

Dear Folks,

Poet Gregory Orr writes, “I want to go back to the beginning.  We all do.  I think: Hurt won’t be there.  But I’m wrong.  Where the water bubbles up at the spring: isn’t that a wound?”  The unrest felt across the country is a response to the violence of racism.  Our human spirit has been bent for generations by first slavery, and then racist laws, and now behavior that still privileges white bodies over brown and black bodies.  George Floyd is only the most recent example of this death-dealing status quo.  And the question is not whether this particularly American sin wounds each of us—it does—but whether we are willing to be a part of the change to which God is calling us.

I want to be part of the change, and so I am listening.

I want to be part of the change, and so I am praying.

I want to be part of the change, and so I am reading: Waking Up White, by Debby Irving; White Fragility, by Robin DeAngelo; Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston; The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley & Malcolm X.

I want to be part of the change, and so I am acting: with BUILD partners to make sure that COVID-19 testing is available in zip codes that are predominantly black and brown; with ReBuild Metro, to create affordable housing and neighborhood health in Johnston Square; with Turnaround Tuesday, to support job readiness and job training, especially for returning citizens and the working poor.

How can you be part of the change?  Listen, pray, and ACT with me.  Don’t be silent!  Speak the painful truth—of the things we have done and left undone.  Speak the healing truth—that we are truly sorry and we humbly repent.  Speak the compassionate truth—that every human being deserves dignity and respect.  The water bubbling up through our wounds is the Living Water of God.

Love,
David

I admit it.  I need a new pair of sandals.  No, really; and DSW is not open yet.  I’ll bet I’m not alone either.  Come clean.  There is something you would be going to buy or do if not for this pandemic.  I HEAR you!  So, while I’m pining for new shoes, I’m feeling contrite, too.  After all there is a lot more going on in our world of way more importance than whether I have my toes out for warmer weather. So, why am I sharing my contrite heart and petty wants with you?

Well, I started my new bible study on the book of Revelations.  One of the themes that has arisen in my study has been the nature of waiting.  In fact, one biblical commentator notes that the discipline of waiting is a major theme for the seven churches to whom this letter from John of Patmos is addressed.  Reflecting on waiting as a discipline is good for me to hold on to, it seems, because I feel like I have been waiting a lot lately.

The ongoing violence against black bodies whether by word or action, the most recent being (George Floyd) remains a prominent fact in our country and I, for one, am tired of it.  I have asked, like I am sure my forebearers did long ago, “how long, O Lord?”  But it is in turning to this concept of waiting as discipline that I am heartened.  From the Latin, disciplina, discipline is to instruct or teach and is related to the disciple who is a student or pupil of the subject being taught.

As a disciple of Christ, (a student of His teachings) I am learning how my spiritual forebearers endured as well.  Apparently, I am engaging this pastoral letter alongside those early Christians who, under persecution and oppression, wondered when Christ would return as he promised.  My conception of His return is not like theirs I am sure, but I want the same things that they did— deliverance, justice, peace, LIFE.  John’s letter was written to give them HOPE.  I seem to be in very good company as I employ this discipline of waiting. 

I still want those new shoes.  But I can wait for DSW to open and can actually do without those sandals.  It is the other things—justice, peace, LIFE—that is much more difficult to wait for even though I KNOW they will come.  The evil that engages us will NOT rule forever.  That is the promise of GOD; that is the Good News.  I am placing an arsenal of tools in my “waiting kit.”  I hope you are, too.  All that meets the eye is not all there IS.

Faithfully waiting on God,
Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

Several weeks ago, in order to keep our neighbors and ourselves safe, we stopped gathering at Redeemer, but the church never closed.  Buildings can be padlocked, but God’s spirit and the good will of people cannot be constrained.  Thank you for understanding the difference, both before COVID-19 and now.

Thank you for believing that God is present, even when you are alone at the kitchen table. Thank you for discovering new ways to connect with each other, and remembering some long forgotten ones.  Thank you for ringing bells and banging pots and driving by to wave.  Thank you for continuing to reach out whenever you sense a need, both down your own hallway and down some new street.  Thank you for the masks made and donated, the food purchased and served, the Covenant Fund support shared with community partners, the organizing for education and health equity. Thank you for being a part of online worship services, for your patience and sense of humor as we invent ways to make ancient practices fit these extraordinary times. Our doors may be closed, but your hearts are broken open to God’s healing grace.  Thank you for sharing it.

Not too long ago I began to ask people what they missed about Redeemer and what they thought was most essential about it, as we reimagine our church.  I have heard about community, a place of trust and safety.  I’ve heard about a shared sense of purpose and time carved out to talk about what really matters.  I’ve heard about making music together, in all its rich variety, and of sacred rituals that help make sense of scattered lives.  I’ve heard about finding God, and being found, and about the palpable longing for a handshake and a hug.  I’ve heard about a Way that serves the common good and delivers us from our selfishness.

This morning I got a note from a friend who is sad and wondering when we’ll be together again at church.  I wrote back, “We will go very slowly.  It is distressing that even opening churches has become politicized.  But we have remained “open” throughout this time… I miss the gathering, too, the being together, the hugs and affection, communion.  And I have been overjoyed at the ways that individuals and families, streets and neighbors have reached out to help and connect with each other.  We’ve remembered that the call to worship God is in fact a call to serve humanity, that God is praised when folks who are cast down are being raised up.  We’ve remembered that when we stop to listen to others and to the still, small voice inside us, that healing begins.  When we see each other again, I hope our eyes won’t be as likely to settle for superficialities or snap judgments—that we will carry with us our rediscovered longing to know God, to know each other, and to be fully known ourselves.  We have lost a lot through this time of sickness and separation—but I hope we also have lost our easy willingness to accept the status quo when it benefits the few over the many.  There has been dying, and the individual deaths are always difficult to face and accept—but I hope we won’t soon forget what our eyes now see: the ways of being that we had come to embody before the pandemic, like inequality and injustice with regard to healthcare and housing and education.  Those unfair ways were as death-dealing as any virus, and only through facing that truth and making change will the rising come.  That is God’s dream for us, I believe, that we all can rise.  For me, the essential quality about Redeemer is that we are committed to lifting up each other and our city.”

We will not gather physically until health providers tell us it is safe to do so, as weeks turn into months.  And yet I have never felt so close to you.

Love,
David

Dear Folks,

Governor Hogan spoke from Annapolis yesterday and announced a first move toward relaxing his stay-at-home order.  Replacing it with a safer-at-home advisory, the State will allow retail, manufacturing, and worship services to resume with limitations.  Some things do not change: face masks must be worn in indoor public areas, individuals with underlying health issues should continue to stay inside, and employees who can are encouraged to work from home.  Physical distancing continues to be required.  Laid alongside the governor’s advisory is guidance from Bishop Sutton, who is working closely with the Bishops of Washington and Virginia.  Importantly, the Diocese said yesterday that in-person worship services are not allowed this weekend, giving us time to respond, and that more specific directives will be issued next week.  The through line for me is this: appropriate next steps for gathering the faith community will be the guided by public health experts, the wisdom of medical providers, and sound spiritual leadership.

To this end, I am forming a small group of parishioners and staff members to envision what a way forward looks like for Redeemer.  The group includes a medical doctor, a public health leader and educator, a senior who is a long-time parishioner, a nurse with school-aged children, and a young adult.  Our work is spiritual and emotional, as well as being practical and informed by science.  Some questions that will anchor us: What is the most thoughtful way to gather a community when some members are safer at home?  How do we foster togetherness while staying physically distant?  What is the best use of our indoor and outdoor worship spaces?  And perhaps most importantly, as we reclaim rituals that we remember and love, how do we remain mindful about what the pandemic has revealed?

I am struck by how many ways the soil at Redeemer is being prepared for our new life ahead.  Each week our choirs meet by zoom to check-in, to share losses and victories, and even to try singing a little.  The community they are fostering on computer screens is certainly different from what they might experience in a rehearsal room around a piano, but it is strikingly vibrant and healing still.  With courage they are asking how to sing the Lord’s song in a new way, before a vaccine is developed.  Each Monday the Center for Wellbeing invites an on-line conversation about spiritual and emotional health, and the laughter and thoughtful reflection are a balm.  On Wednesdays the Rector’s Bible study is reading the story of Ezra to remember how the Hebrew people returned to Israel after their exile.  “The Temple they are rebuilding is not just made of stones,” one member reflected this week.  “They are restoring themselves as they return.  Maybe they have discovered that the Temple was inside them all along, never limited to a building.”  A zoom group is gathering to ask “How can we be the change that COVID-19 has revealed to us?”  Young people and seniors are meeting through texts or emails; some have realized that their iPhones can make phone calls!  And look at all we are discovering about worship on-line…

How are your eyes and ears different, through the gifts and the grief of the last two months?  What do you know today that you don’t want to forget?  What changes are calling, what new life is rising, what is the Spirit asking you to finally put down?   Dying and rising, it feels like we are discovering ways of being that have been there all along.  Step by step, spade by spade, day by day—See you when the time is right.

Love,
David

I’m getting towards the very end of the story that’s helped me navigate the wee hours of the morning recently, when my “monkey mind” kicks into full gear. The book is All the Light You Cannot See, and (without spoiling anything for anyone who has yet to read it and would still like to) I’m at the part where the voice of one human being, transmitted over the radio, becomes like light in the darkness to another.

I imagine you, like me, have come to appreciate many things over the last few weeks that you once took for granted, or that you didn’t quite really notice or appreciate in the way you do now. Take, for example, the gift of a human voice …

In this prolonged season of physical distancing, perhaps you too have been spending more intentional time connecting with people over the phone than you have in a long time. And so perhaps you too have become keenly aware of the uniqueness and power of each and every human voice you hear: the power of hearing the voice of someone you haven’t seen in awhile, the voice of someone you miss  — or that you didn’t even know you missed, until you hear that particular voice. The unique timbre, tone, warmth of your friend’s voice. The way he or she laughs or pronounces certain words, the speed at which s/he talks. The emotions, memories, feelings this voice calls up, for you. The image of his/her face. The quality and depth of soul.

Studies over the past decade have drawn attention to the way our human brains develop the mechanism to process human voices in utero, long before we learn how to speak https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125123354. To this day, I remember the way my daughter Grace, just seconds after she was born, craned her neck towards the sound of my voice, the same voice she had heard singing and talking to her all those months before she emerged into the light.

Our Gospel passage from John this past Sunday speaks of the power of the voice of our Lord, calling to those who would follow him: “… the sheep hear [their shepherd’s] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

To hear the voice of a beloved is to know and to be known. It reminds us and revives in us a sense of connectedness, relationship and belonging. And it has the power to convey his/her presence with us and for us, despite the separation of physical distance. Like our fingerprints, our voices are unique; they have the power to convey the essence of who we are, each of us made in the image of the Divine Mystery who called us into being.

So my friends, I invite and encourage you today, if you haven’t already, to pick up the phone and connect with someone whose voice you’d like to hear.

Chances are, they’d like to hear yours, too.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

As I shared with you on Sunday, Sarah and I ran into two neighbors late in the evening last week.  Because of the virus and its impact on lives and health and jobs and the economy, one friend was quite mad and the other was very sad.  Both needed to talk, and we stayed with them for a while.  I was mostly quiet, except for a word here and there to hold the space between us.  It was a challenging half hour for sure, but a gift, as well.  One friend said, “It feels critical to communicate how things really are right now.”  Amen.

Late in the day on the first Easter, when news of the empty tomb was spreading through Jerusalem, two downcast followers of Jesus head out of town to forget about the whole thing.  They had heard the stories of stones rolled away, of neatly folded graveclothes, and a vision of angels, but those glimmers of hope were no match for their feelings.  Did we really ever think a peasant movement was a match for the Roman empire, they wondered.  Sad and confused, they withdraw to Emmaus, which is where we run to “when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do… it’s the place of escape, or forgetting, or giving up.” (Kate Huey) But then a stranger appears (spoiler alert: it’s Jesus!), and he listens to them, and gives the pair what each of us longs for: the dignity of their doubts and their questions, the space for their fears and frustrations, the time to say what hurts.  He doesn’t try to talk them out of their sadness, he honors it, and then places their feelings in a context that is larger than they are able to see for themselves.

“I hear you,” he says.  “I hear that you are scared and suffering.  I hear how unmoored you feel because of the present circumstances.  But there’s more.  Your life is anchored, in your spirit and in this moment, and in the experience of your parents and their grandparents, all the way back to the beginning of time.”  He tells them that the stories of scripture are in fact an organized, stylized version of their own family story.  “You matter,” he tells them.  “Your family, with all of its warts and all of its accumulated wisdom knows something about being lost, something about being exiled, something about being enslaved.  But if you have ears to hear it, you and your people know even more about making meaning out of your toughest stretches, about finding and being found by God.”

It is important to be honest with each other about the challenging period that we are in.  Bishop Sutton is working collaboratively with the bishops of Virginia and Washington, as well as with local and state authorities, both to keep us safe in a time of required social distancing and to plan steps toward the re-opening of churches.  The hard news first: the bishops tell us that complete gathering of the community is not likely until comprehensive testing and a vaccine are available, and that may take two years.  And since the way of Jesus is all about inclusion, we won’t be fully The Church of the Redeemer until our doors are wide open again, and everybody can safely and joyfully come. I am sharing this sobering thought now so that as a community we can work backwards from that endpoint and envision a life-giving way to get from here to there.  More and better on-line worship? Ways to meet on-line for fellowship and study?  What about singing together, praying together, serving together in this time of exile?  How can we create manageable cells of Redeemer that serve each other now, working hard to ensure that no one is left out?

In all likelihood we can begin to gather in small groups face-to-face sometime in the next 1-2 months, when Governor Hogan directs businesses to resume.  We should expect in this period to maintain six feet between individuals and to continue wearing masks.  It is not clear when we will be invited to gather in larger groups, or if outside gatherings might be possible before meeting together indoors.  At this moment the staff is taking stock of our spaces to understand how we can creatively use them in the next phase. I will keep you posted as I learn more.

Yesterday I asked our staff to consider all of this, and Freda Marie posed the pivotal question: Why do we gather… as a faith community, as followers of Jesus, as folks who love the Lord?  Here’s what was shared: “For strength, for inspiration, for community… to be part of something bigger than me, to learn, to be vulnerable in a safe place… to sing together, to pray together, to be welcomed in, to take part in something ancient… for solace, for shelter, for health, for communion… to be changed and to make change, to serve, to laugh, to weep, to grow…” I believe our answers can help us to shape a dialogue I would like to have with each of you.  Why do you gather at Redeemer?

Here’s what I think: we know something about being lost, something about being exiled, and even more about finding and being found by God.

Love,
David