I was listening to a recent podcast on the power of visual imagery and its place in the Christian Church.  One speaker noted how controversy has always existed in the Western Church over the use of icons or other devotional images.  In fact, at the beginning of the Reformation, the Protestant movement initiated what was called the iconoclastic fury as a push-back against the Roman Catholic papacy and its mores.

Of course, it was not long before the conversation turned to images in general and the recent toppling of statues of the Confederacy as well as those of Christopher Columbus.   While there were arguments for and against the recent events of image destruction, every participant in the discussion agreed on the way that images can evoke all kinds of emotions, driving both hearts and minds. The discussion centered around how much meaning is made around any particular image that is held in high esteem and elevated above the common, mortal, everyday person.

Then, we came to the portrait of Swedish Jesus.  Few people know that the often observed, most notable picture of Jesus in the Church in America was painted by the artist, Warner Salliman in 1940.  The portrait is of a Nordic-type Jesus with blue eyes and light-colored hair.  It turns out that the original sketch, pre-1940, actually had brown eyes but apparently there was a quibble about it, so now you might see either blue or brown eyes on portraits of Swedish Jesus.  The painting has been duplicated millions of times and has spread around the world as a popular devotional image.  I am sure you have seen it or even have one in your own home.

Even though I grew up with Swedish Jesus…every Christian home in the deep South had one, I never could get next to him.  Because my mother was an artist who painted portraits, she made sure that we kids understood the “artistic license” of the artist.  She reminded us often that the painting represented the artist’s conception of Jesus and in no way really represented neither Jesus nor God in real life.  Boy, was I glad; he looked too much like the police officers in my hometown.  He certainly was not someone I could or would pray to— much less worship!

The next day after hearing this podcast, I returned from vacation to discover a lovely gift in my office.  I was presented by an extraordinary artist with a most extraordinary gift: La Virgen de Guadalupe, Madre de Las Americas (The Virgen of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas…South and North).  This beautiful mural was doubly special because she looked like me!   

I have held a personal devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe for many years now, but my new mural is extra special because she not only looks like me, but she is in solidarity with me.  She knows and cares about the things of my heart and even prays with me herself.  Until we know God-with-us in whatever way assists us in that knowing, we remain bereft, frightened, and alone.  Spiritual images do that for us.  They are fingers pointing to the moon of the DIVINE PRESENCE.

As an embodied spiritual being, you may use other items that assist you in knowing Emmanuel—a garden, a rock, a tree, or your grandchild.  The incarnation of God made the potential for the holy in every created thing.  What we see, especially plays a strong role in how we easily or not so easily relate to God.  The American Church is coming to terms with the way it has limited God; making God much too small for all the human beings whom God has made.  It is realizing that its images are primary examples of this limited, bounded GOD.  Like the world outside of the Church, it is time to re-assess this deficiency just like the re-assessment of the Confederate statues placed during Jim Crow days of American history.

The times we are in are changing rapidly and they are all good changes to the faithful.  They are neither comfortable nor convenient, but they simply are. Our trust and our hope remain in the ONE who has already overcome the world, Jesus the Christ.  Consider religious visual images for your own devotions.  Maybe visual images are your thing.  Check it out and see.

By the way, I am happy to show off my mural, so come by and see it.  Call first though—and do not forget your mask!

Lots of Love,

Freda Marie+ 

Dear Redeemer,

Hello! My name is Rebecca Ogus and I’m the new Associate for Youth and Young Adults. I am so glad to be joining your community and so grateful for the opportunity to serve, worship, and learn alongside you. Thank you for all the ways you’ve welcomed me, and my husband, Zach, so far.

As I begin to learn about all of you and about Redeemer as a parish, here’s a bit about me:

I grew up in Beaufort, a little town in coastal North Carolina, just south of the Outer Banks. When I was eight my family moved to New York City so my mother could attend seminary (she’s an Episcopal priest). When she graduated, we moved back to rural Eastern North Carolina; I left in 10th grade to attend high school at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware. These communities were all full of their own, very distinct, cultures, and I can’t imagine life without each of them.

After high school I went to Kenyon College in Ohio, where I took as many classes as I could about women, gender, and Christianity. Ohio winters were a little too cold for me (and I missed my family), so after graduation I headed back to North Carolina for a year in the Episcopal Service Corps (ESC) in Chapel Hill. One of the hallmarks of ESC programs is living in intentional community (more on that another time). Sharing life so deeply with my seven housemates was one of the most formative – and challenging – experiences of my adult life. High school and college had shaped my intellect and moral conscience; in ESC I learned how to apply both and began to discover who and how I wanted to be in the world. A lot of that learning happened at our weekly house dinners.

These dinners were, on the surface, unremarkable: two people cooked, two people cleaned, we talked and laughed and grumped around the table. Except, the fact that they happened so unremarkably was kind of amazing. Three times a week we prioritized our community over everything else we had going on, no matter how much we wanted to be doing something (anything!) else. We showed up for each other, imperfectly: even when there was conflict, even when we were sad or tired, even when we didn’t want to, and that still fills me with wonder.

Deep commitment to a community beyond oneself is not new. Scripture is overflowing with stories about it! And there are plenty of examples in other faith traditions and in secular movements, too – think about the commitment of people who’ve been calling for racial justice and equity in the United States, this summer and for the last 401 years. Jesus is constantly inviting the disciples, and us, towards a life in committed relationship with one another and God, a life as members of the Body of Christ.

The work of life in intentional relationship with one another and with God is not easy.  It really does take work to keep showing up at the table, again and again, and I, at least, frequently get it wrong. But that work is part of our Christian vocation. And it’s how I strive to be in the world and how I will strive to be here, at Redeemer.

A few other things have happened since my year in ESC, but that can wait for another day. I look forward to meeting all of you – especially the youth and young adults of the parish! – and doing the good, hard work of life shared with one another and with God. I don’t know what the coming months and years hold, no one does. But I know the way we’ll get there is together.

With joy and thanksgiving,

Rebecca

Dear Folks,

Three times this week, small groups gathered for worship.

On Tuesday and Thursday morning, we drew into a close circle in front of Redeemer with just enough chairs and benches to keep us safe, put a placemat on a borrowed table with wafers and a bottle of Purell, and broke open our hearts to each other.  For the sermon, I asked each person to “share something that’s good and something that’s hard.”  Several spoke of the gift of racial reckoning and the difficult work of change.  Three grandparents rejoiced at the arrival of new babies and managing the loss of not being able to hold them.  One mom heard that morning that her daughter has the virus.  Another wept in thanksgiving over her son’s movement toward well-being.  A senior talked about wishing to go to the store to buy buttons, and the frustration with non-mask-wearers who don’t seem interested in the common good.  Most of us prayed for children and partners and friends and rest.  For a few minutes, the Spirit held the weight of our worries and gave voice to our thanks.  “It’s so good to see you,” said one after another.

On Saturday morning, we had a different kind of church in East Baltimore.  This time a dozen came together from the Johnston Square Community Association, Redeemer, Parks and People, and Troop 35 to clean up an empty lot.  We removed old bushes and pots, cut down a couple of trees, moved a very heavy sign, and created a meandering walkway that folks might use to imagine a new way to be neighbors.  “It’s the beginning of our Miracle Mile!” said BUILD organizer Regina Hammonds.  It was hot, but it felt so good to kindle old relationships and make some new ones.  One community leader prayed, “Open our minds.  Open our hearts.  Open our wounds, O God, that we might one day be well.”

Is worship what we do inside a building, the Hebrew people wondered, 2500 years ago, as they returned from their lonely exile to Jerusalem?  If we can’t gather for feasts and fasts, have we lost our way?  Why is this so hard, they cried aloud, as they confronted their missteps, tried to reconcile their differences, and prayed that God would help them fix the mess.  Sound familiar?  What they were desperate to know was whether God and grace are equal to their hard reality, whether there was strength for the struggles in which daily faith operates.  Can you heal us, God?

God’s answer to them, through the prophet Isaiah, was probably not what they were expecting.   If you want to be well, he says, loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the wanderer. That is true worship, he offered.  (What about this magnificent edifice, you can hear them saying… what about the altar and the trumpets, our liturgy and feasts?  We’ve been in the wilderness, and we want to go back inside.) The prophet goes on, When you do away with the yoke of oppression and spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, your healing will quickly appear.  If your people will rebuild the ruins of the city, and raise up the old streets and foundations, together you will be called repairers of the breach, healers of the broken places.

They were being called outside, into the streets and into the hearts of strangers and neighbors, and so are we.  It felt just right to worship and work that way this week, to gather together with old friends and new friends and reimagine a new way to be church.  In the courtyard at Redeemer, the Spirit is breathing new life within us.  With our partners at ReBuild Metro in Johnston Square, we are making a way where there was no way.  Construction on new homes has not stopped, and Redeemer has responded to the call with $170,000 from the Covenant fund for affordable housing.  83,888 meals have been served to 2700 people in the last 15 weeks, door to door, and the Covenant Fund has supported that effort, too.  And with every knock, volunteers have asked, “Are you well? Does your family need to be tested? Does your child have access to wifi for school?  Have you lost your job?”  It’s not what we would have expected, but relationships have been built and individuals strengthened through the exile of coronavirus.

Will you be a healer of broken places?  O God, open our minds, open our hearts, open our wounds to the light of your truth, and make us well.

Love,
David

Ahhhh, the things of which we are blissfully unaware and completely ignorant, as children …

As some of you know, I was a “12-year girl” at The Bryn Mawr School, just down the street from Redeemer. My family and I carpooled with a few other families who also lived in Timonium. I remember the daily treks up and down Charles Street; I knew we were getting close to school when we passed by the huge convent at Bellona & Charles.

Depending on buses and public transportation to get to school, or to any place, would not have registered anywhere on my brain, back then. Huh? What? Here in Baltimore?

These days, among the many things I notice and think about as an adult, that I never did as a child, is this very issue: public transportation here in Baltimore. I find myself asking, “What if I had to depend on public transportation, to get to work?” Having now had the experience of traveling to and living in other cities in our country and around the world, I find myself shaking my head at the comparison of what we have — and don’t have — here in my own hometown. And I find myself seeing and registering all the people waiting at the bus stops along Northern Parkway and around town, almost always black.

I cannot not see, anymore.

This past week, two items landed in my inbox. One is an article that helped me to learn and better understand why we are where we are, in terms of public transit here in Baltimore. The other link is about a public petition drive to get a question on the November ballot which, if passed, would create a commission to begin the process of forming a regional transit authority for Baltimore.

I share these links with you below, along with a quotation that also landed in my inbox this week, words spoken at the 1985 United Nations Decade for Women conference by Dr. Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder, Gangulu activist, artist and scholar from Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Let us indeed work together so together we may all obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

~Cristina

Charter Amendment – Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition

Segregated and Poor

 

It has been almost one year since The Church of the Redeemer initiated The Center for WellBeing as a part of its’ mission to provide resources and education for both the congregation and the Baltimore community in areas for spiritual, emotional and physical health. David’s vision was to create and expand an innovative program that would build upon the momentum of the Mental Health First Aid Training that had been offered for the last 3 years. He and I were in one accord that we wanted to be very open to areas that generated energy and curiosity from the congregation as well as meet with community leaders to hear of their needs and how The Church of the Redeemer through The Center might respond. In hindsight, that approach has been such a key to our success. We did not limit our thinking or our goals. There is a wonderful quote from an old Spanish Poet: “Walker there is no road, the road is made by walking”. That perspective has mirrored the events of the last year!

So….that ‘road’ has led The Center to the following ‘destinations’:

  • Maintaining a resource table in the narthex for articles of interest to our topics.
  • Meeting with several well-known members of the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry to form relationships that would give us access to their expertise to collaborate on a variety of programs in the future.
  • Meeting with several key people at The Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary’s Seminary to explore future collaborations.
  • Partner with Rabbi Nina Cardin to apply for and receive funding for a teaching program to Jewish ‘adult learners’ focused on pastoral issues. The grant came from the Johns Hopkins Foundation of Spirituality and Medicine.
  • Outreach to several congregations who wanted training for their pastoral care teams.
  • Prior to the pandemic, The Center hosted Mental Health First Aid Training for 4 classes that included both members of the congregation and staff from a number of local nonprofits.
  • Offered group spiritual formation for 6 weeks each to 3 separate groups.
  • Individual spiritual direction is being offered to 12 people, half of whom are Redeemer members and the others are in the discernment process for ordained ministry in the diocese.
  • Cristina has been offering breathing workshops through The Center.
  • Hosted a lay led workshop on death and dying.
  • I have been offering ongoing pastoral support and mental health education via Zoom to Chaplain interns and residents at both Bayview and Johns Hopkins Hospitals.
  • I am part of a planning team at Bayview to host a Substance Abuse Awareness Week this fall.
  • Provided a speaker for Adult Ed on trauma and another one on advance directives/Five Wishes.
  • Initiated a Monday edition of e-Redeemer to provide emotional support during the lockdown.
  • Initiated a Monday afternoon gathering via Zoom for the parish as a way to remain in touch.

On a personal level, what has been thrilling is the freedom to follow where the current interest is for The Center. While the pandemic ‘interrupted’ some plans in the near term, in a way, it also played right into the real need for The Center. You, the congregation, were already so comfortable speaking about issues of mental health and wellness that we could continue the conversation with vigor and truth telling. I am aware of other churches who have been timid speaking about depression, suicide, anxiety, etc.….topics that are so important in the chaos of today’s world.

Another favorite expression is: “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” As we look forward to the 2nd year of The Center, I think that is a good foreshadowing for the future. We will continue to be open to being a resource for the congregation and the community. I welcome your thoughts and reflections as the journey towards our wellbeing continues!

~Caroline

The Rev. Caroline R. Stewart
Executive Director
The Center for WellBeing

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