When the topic of conversation centers on individual’s health, what does that mean? A simple response is attention given to the personal well-being of your mind, body and spirit. Rephrased another way might be to care deliberately for your overall welfare. But are individuals the only ‘group’ that we might consider when it comes to the subject of ‘health’? Actually within the church world, the term ‘healthy (or unhealthy)’ congregation is not uncommon as a point of reference for how strong (or weak) the organization of the individual parish is working. Thanks be to God, The Church of the Redeemer is considered a very healthy congregation when using that criteria.

But, is there a different lens through which to consider the ‘health’ of our congregation?  I believe there is. Let me offer 3 perspectives that reflect new and evolving initiatives for the ‘health’ of this parish:

  • About 18 months ago, we trained a small group of lay members to offer the laying on of hands for healing. This group called St. Luke Ministers faithfully engaged in this liturgical practice the first Sundays of the month. The congregation has responded with enthusiasm and gratitude for this ministry from their fellow parishioners. It had been our long term hope to expand the number of Sundays for this offering; consequently we have trained an additional group. Beginning this month, the opportunity for healing will be the 1st and 3rd Sundays at both 8 and 10. Healing at Faith at Five will coincide with the Taize services. Laying on of hands as a lay ministry contributes to the ‘health’ of our congregation.
  • Last winter Redeemer began conversations centered on issues of mental health. The tag line for the topic evolved into: “Mental Health at Redeemer: Let’s Talk About It; Let’s Learn About It.” The interest from the parish has exceeded our expectations. As a result we have sponsored speakers and offered the Mental Health First Aid Workshop to almost 90 individuals, some of whom came from our community engagement partners. There are 2 new workshops planned: Tuesday/Wednesday Oct 2/3 from 11-3 and another Friday Oct 12, 2-6pm/Saturday Oct 13, 10-2. There is a minimum of 6 individuals and a maximum of 12. Please email me should you wish to enroll: cstewart@redeemerbaltimore.org Mental Health awareness is very important to the ‘health’ of our parish. 
  • Several years ago, a lay initiated support group for those experiencing loss (relationships, death, job loss, etc) was started. It is now offered 3 times a year and is a 6 week experience. Led by Ruthie Cromwell and Nancy Bowen, the fall session begins Tuesday, Sept. 25 from 10-11:30. Please contact me to enroll. Grieving well is a part of good health. 
  • We are delighted to announce the formation of a Pastoral Care Team. This group will supplement the efforts of the clergy when it comes to providing pastoral care to the congregation. They will increase our potential to support the parish family. While not replacing the role of clergy, they will actually enhance our priority of caring for one another. Betsy Willett will coordinate the efforts of the group which is comprised of Laila Roth, Hilary Klein, Ruth Cromwell, Ann Gavin, Ann Warfield and Nancy Bowen. All seven of these individuals graduated from the Center for Spiritual Support Training at GBMC; a 30 week educational program. We are fortunate that they have accepted our invitation to use their gifts and experiences here at Redeemer. Again, this is an example of how we are elevating the topic of health within our congregation.

A ‘healthy’ congregation is not limited to the physical or spiritual or emotional components of her members but those are ingredients that contribute to the church being wholly holistically capable of living into our mission.

~Caroline

Dear Folks,

Yesterday I sat with a group of friends, and we struggled to make sense of the gospel assigned for this Sunday.  In it, Jesus encounters a Gentile woman whose daughter is very sick.  Belying her first century understanding of illness, the mother begs him to “cast the demon out” of her child, but Jesus’ initial response is hardly healing: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  What?  His words are stunning, exposing something narrow about Jesus at this juncture, the Teacher in this moment embodying the limits of any closed religious system.  Now many scholars have defended Jesus’ language here, suggesting that he spars with this clever woman and uses playfulness to make a point, but the fact is that his words equate reaching out to the girl with casting food to a scavenging animal.  Why go so low if his aim is higher ground?  “It’s like the curtain gets pulled back here—something about the way things usually work, about our unfinished business and about how things could be,” said one of the people in the circle yesterday.  “God needs us,” offered another.  “It’s the desperate mother who turns this situation to the good,” and the living God is opened up in the process.  Healing is no longer for any narrow notion of the tribe, but for all, the story suggests.  Maybe that’s how miracles work?

The passage goes on to include an exchange between Jesus and a man who cannot hear.  “Be opened,” Jesus sighs and says, touching the man, and “immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”  I want a miracle like that, the group admitted, but I wonder if we know what we’re asking for.   If these stories are any example, healing is not about fixing a particular problem, but about having some part of our narrowness broken open so that the community is more complete.  The first thing the formerly deaf man does is speak, and the implication is that everyone needs to hear what he has to say.

In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes at length about both our longing to see and hear and live in new ways and our tendency to throw up roadblocks to such opening up, whenever such wholeness is offered.

When Western surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, Dillard reports, they ranged across Europe and America operating on dozens of men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts since birth.  The doctors expected the patients to be overjoyed by their new ability to see, but the gift of sight was for most, a mixed blessing, and for some, a horror.  Dillard writes, “It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair.”

How is God inviting you to be opened, and what will be healed if you see and love more broadly?

It is hard work to open up, to hear and feel and act in new ways, and I appreciate that Jesus struggles with it, too.  But when we are willing to see beyond the limits of our sight—the ways we love too narrowly, the habits which hold us and others back, the people on the margin we neglect to see, the challenging opinions we refuse to hear—when we let the living God lift us up to see more clearly, the world opens up, and us along with it.

Love,  David

One of my most influential mentors is  a man named Robert Burkhardt, the founding head of Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center in Estes Park, CO. Robert was known on campus for his many sayings, which were on the tip of his tongue, ready to be offered to anyone and everyone for the purpose of building and strengthening community; they became part of the ethos and fabric of Eagle Rock, like the pinon- scented mountain air we breathed. Favorites included: “Find a need and fill it“; “Leave a place better than how you found it”; and “If you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.” Another favorite was “The only thing you can count on in life is change.”

Last Tuesday evening, another head of school, Mary Knott, spoke to a chapel-full of parents who have entrusted the early education and nurturing of their children to Redeemer Parish Day School. Mary’s talk focused on the gift of natural mindfulness that our young ones model and can teach us grown-ups. Little Maddie hasn’t yet learned how to be distracted by cell phones and multi-tasking and the latest headlines and the worries about tomorrow … and … and … and ….  She is fully present and engaged in whatever her play or task at hand is, whether drawing a picture or pretending she is flying; swinging on the swing set or scooping up sand in the sandbox. Often when we are not “fully present” ourselves in the presence of a beloved young one trying to get our attention, they will re-mind us, tugging on our clothing or repeatedly calling our name, bringing us back to the here and now.

On this Thursday before Labor Day weekend, most of us find ourselves once again on the brink of some kind of change: a change of seasons, a change of scenery, a change from summer-mode to fall schedules and fall routine. Some may find ourselves glancing longingly backwards, not quite ready to say farewell to summer; others may on the contrary be looking ahead with a measure of excitement and anticipation, ready for what the fall brings.

In his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, theologian Henri Nouwen writes: “God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful.” In this season of change and amidst the “changes and chances of this uncertain world”, may we find life-giving ways to anchor ourselves in the Holy, being mindful of the gift of the present moment.

Looking forward to being present with you here at Redeemer!

Cristina

That was the title of the article that caught my eye last week and captivated my curiosity! The commentary was an extensive summary from the well-known Pew Research Center which has just published the results of a new survey that tracts detailed data about church attendance. In recent years the percentage of US Adults who say they regularly attend religious services has been declining, while the share of Americans who attend only a few times a year has been growing. Let me offer a snapshot of the results but if you really want more details, the link to the complete report is http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/01/why-americans-go-to-religious-services/ (I must admit, I feel a bit geeky admitting that I found the full report fascinating!!)

Top Reasons US adults who attend at least once or twice a month give for choosing to attend religious services:

  • To Become Closer to God 81%
  • So children will have a moral foundation 69%
  • To make me a better person 68%
  • For comfort in times of trouble/sorrow 66%
  • I find the sermons valuable 59%
  • To be a part of a community of faith 57%
  • To continue family’s religious traditions 37%
  • I feel a religious obligation to go 31%
  • To meet new people/socialize 19%
  • To please my family, spouse or partner 16%

Top Reasons US adults who attend religious services a few times a year or less who say that they do not attend more because:

  • I practice my faith in other ways 37%
  • I am not a believer 28%
  • I have not found a church that I like 23%
  • I don’t like the sermons 18%
  • I don’t feel welcome 14%
  • I don’t have the time 12%
  • I am in poor health and it is difficult to get around 9%
  • There isn’t a church in my area 7%

There are several other tidbits of interest:

  • 8 in 10 regular attendees say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ experience a sense of God’s presence when they attend worship services. Nearly ¾ say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ fee; a sense of community with people who share their religion when they attend religious services and 6 in 10 say they feel a sense of connection to a longstanding tradition.
  • Catholics who attend Mass regularly are significantly less like than other Christian churchgoers to say that the sermons they hear are what keeps them coming back. Indeed, among those who attend church regularly, Protestants are roughly twice as likely as Catholics (71% vs. 36%) to say valuable sermons are a very important reason. David, Cristina and I are making note of that statistic!

I would be so interested in hearing your reaction to this summary….and if you were curious enough to click through to the full report. Lots to nibble on!

Bottom line for David, Cristina and me, whatever reason YOU come to church, we are so grateful!!

Caroline

Dear Folks,

The heat and humidity of summertime in Arkansas trained me to slow down between June and September.  There was still work to be done, for sure—meetings and deadlines still called, practices and performances continued apace, and camps began—but the weather forced us to change our patterns, grabbing everyone by the ankles around Memorial Day and not letting go for 12 weeks.  If I was going to run, I had to do it before 6:30 in the morning or after 9:00 p.m.  If my grandmother’s house needed to be straightened, she cleaned before breakfast.  The Farmer’s Market on Main Street in Little Rock thinned out considerably after 10:00 a.m., and the men on my father’s street work crews had to knock off by noon.  Except for downtown, midday streets were empty enough to hear crickets, or in some neighborhoods, the cycling of air conditioners.  With no electrical cooling, we sat on the back porch until late telling stories, and went to bed with ice cubes in our mouths.  This subdued rhythm got into my bones, long before I ever took a real summer vacation, and led me to appreciate the fruit that only quiet can bear.

I hope you have laid on your back at least once and watched the clouds form and dissolve.  I hope you have gotten up before the sun and listened to the city waking up, and stayed up late listening to the crickets or the radio or your people telling stories.  I hope you have let your mind wander and wonder, and that a way has opened through some old problem or hurt.  I hope you’ve taken a nap, and stared into space, and called an old friend.  I hope you’ve found time to read.  (If not, don’t worry… Labor Day is still weeks away!)

We have a screened in porch in the Adirondacks, and several rocking chairs, and between hikes and the lake, I read.  Here’s where my mind has wandered:

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, 2018 Pulitzer prize in biography by Caroline Fraser.  I didn’t read the “Little House” books as a kid or like the 80’s TV show of the same name, but I grew to love the young adult series when we read it aloud to Helena.  Wilder’s life was harder and grittier than the novels reveal, a “relentless struggle” of rootlessness and poverty.  In the biography, I was especially interested in the conflict between the mother and her daughter, Rose, and the evolution from the hardships the family experienced to the truth Wilder sought to convey in her fiction.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson.  Larson’s detective work discovering a serial killer who lured his victims to the 1893 Columbian Exposition is riveting and awful, but I was more interested in how the World’s Fair came to be.  The monumental task of transforming swampy lakefront property into a stage set designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted was as riveting as the murder mystery.  The Exposition brought us Cracker Jack, Shredded Wheat, the Ferris Wheel, and a dazzling evening display that used more electricity than the entire city of Chicago.

I Make Cups by Ehren Tool.  Tool is a veteran of the first Gulf War, a Marine, and a peace activist who has made and given away over 18,000 cups since 2001.  He says the cup is the appropriate scale to talk about war, because they go into the world hand-to-hand, one story at a time.  Using his own memories and mementos sent to him by other veterans, Tool creates graphically challenging, sometimes disturbing vessels that are also quite delicate.  Tool writes, “I hope that some of the cups can be starting points for conversations about unspeakable things… between veterans and the people close to them… about war and its causes.”

Prodigal Father, Wayward Son: A Roadmap to Reconciliation by Gifford and Sam Keen.  Trading chapters, written as a conversation between a leader of the late 20th century “Men’s Movement” (see Fire in the Belly) and his middle-aged son, Sam and Gif finally address the pain and dis-connections in their relationship.  Healing comes when they each from his own perspective tell the “often told stories” that shaped them, which helps them remember the even more important stories they had forgotten.

Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison.  Jamison’s book is not a biography, but rather a study of how a person with an “extraordinary will, an unwavering sense of vocation, and a huge talent,” dealt with the fact that his artistic gift was also the source of his considerable suffering.  Lowell’s naturalistic and yet transcendent poetry is even more meaningful for Jamison’s research on the author’s bipolar disorder.

What are you reading?  What are the gifts that this summer is bearing?  I look forward to catching up.

Love, David