Dear Folks,

When I listen to my running mates who are in their twenties, they tell me the church is irrelevant.  “To tell you the truth,” one friend told me, “I don’t even think about organized religion anymore.  My generation has moved on to other things.”  A neighbor recounted similar thoughts: “When I came to Baltimore three years ago, I went to an event that combined information about community engagement, meeting other young folks, and beer tasting, and that led me to THREAD.  Have you ever heard of that organization,” he asked me.  “I’m not sure religion understands what’s meaningful to people my age,” he continued.  The team captain at Back on My Feet said to me one morning before dawn, as we rounded Mt. Vernon Square, “When I was a teenager, the church missed the boat on human sexuality and gender identity—good friends of mine felt excluded—so I gave up on religion in solidarity with them.”  My whole block near Patterson Park is taking concrete steps toward making Baltimore more inclusive, more vibrant, better at educating its children, and safer for everybody, but only one family calls themselves religious.  “The Christians I grew up with were talkers not doers, and that seemed wrong,” my friend across the street told me last week, “So I’m really interested to know how you and your wife have stayed in the church and kept your integrity.”

I don’t think the young people I’m listening to are unusual.  Their movement away from organized religion is not reactive—it is a thoughtful, considered response to how the tradition inadvertently got stuck propping itself up instead of running to connect with what matters, which sometimes beats most strongly in the hearts of teenagers and young adults.  The movement that crystallized around Jesus 2000 years ago found its energy then in reforming the good but misguided intentions of the power structure, which had lost touch with the living spirit of God on the margins of polite society: with women and the poor, with the sick and the lost, with the stranger and the refugee.  Jesus’s vision was to recreate God’s beloved community, and he did that by reminding the religious community that their work was justice, not piety.  So it seems possible that the palpable rejection of our “old ways” by 15-to-30-year-olds today is in fact a call to discover again what following the living God really means.

The Vestry and I are responding to this call by creating a new Associate for Youth position, an additional full time person to be added to our clergy team.  This exciting vision is to add a young leader who will re-imagine ministry to and for young people, from 6th grade to 30 years.  I have interviewed candidates by phone and in person, and an advisory committee will now consider five individuals and make a recommendation to me.  Each of the applicants is currently employed and is not available until the new year, most likely after Easter.  To create program continuity between Paul Smith’s departure and the new position, parishioner Vivian Campagna will act as interim youth director during the 2018-19 program year.

To afford this bold move, our annual giving will have to increase to meet the need.  As you consider your 2019 pledge to Redeemer, pray about how you can help build the next generation and strengthen the church that will shape our grandchildren.  And next weekend, October 27 and 28, please welcome with me our new stewardship chairs: Carrie Goldrick, Noel and Tom Morelli.  Their vision is to support a relevant, faithful, courageous, church that is building God’s beloved community in Baltimore now.

Love,

David

Last Sunday at the 10 am service and later that afternoon with Evensong we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the building of our main sanctuary. It was a glorious blending of liturgy and music at both services. The purpose was twofold: to look back with gratitude and to look forward to the future.

In preparation for the celebration, I had the opportunity to speak with two current members of the parish whose fathers played significant roles in the decision to proceed with the building. Janet Evans Dunn remembers her father’s influence in both raising the money for the building and as well as being a statesman to bridge the differing opinions about the contemporary design. At the time it was a bit controversial. In addition during this period, Mr. Evans served as Head of the Building Committee. Relie Garland Bolton also remembers her father, Charles Garland, Sr., being in support of the new church. He expressed his progressive outlook saying that the new space was for the young people coming along and that perspective should be the deciding factor in the choice of architecture. Both men, among others, were clear visionaries for the future…and that “future” is now “our reality”.

But now “our reality,” like the congregation 60 years ago, compels us to look forward for our younger generation. That is why earlier this summer, David asked Molly Hathaway and me to coordinate an initiative to invite individuals to remember the Church of the Redeemer in their estate plans. That was the beginning of the Next Generation Campaign, a means to ensure that Redeemer remains vibrant and strong.  We have been so pleased with the response. At this point, 55 individuals (or couples) have indicated that Redeemer is included in their will. In the afterglow of the events of this past weekend, we want to encourage others of you to join us. For your convenience the proper form is here. How wonderful if in the next 60 years, (2078!) there is another celebration that recognizes our collective vision for faithful stewardship of our church!

Should you have any questions, please contact the Rev. Caroline Stewart.

Dear Folks,

75 people came together last evening at Redeemer to make space, to carve out some silence in the midst of a noisy, disorienting two weeks created by the Supreme Court nomination process, to share pain and hope and rage, to pray.  We followed the practice of a Quaker meeting, speaking out of the silence in response to the Spirit quaking within, believing as one person said “that God is in everything” and so, in everyone.  Because we are Episcopalians, we started with a hymn, and I heard the lyrics in a way I’d never heard them before: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.”  Politics feels very narrow right now… partisanship constrains us, paints us into corners, threatens to break old relationships, even within families… but mercy is the true measure of righteousness, the lyric said to me.  Kindness is at the center of justice.  The wideness of God’s love calls us as surely as the ocean meets the shore.

Several people wrote to tell me they were nervous about the gathering, and I admitted that I was, too.  “I’ve got a pit in my stomach,” said one as we began.  For me the anxiety turned on the seeming competition between women’s voices and men’s voices, and more pointedly, between the testimony of a sexual assault survivor and the testimony of a man defending his record and reputation.  I’ve spent some time putting myself in Dr. Ford’s shoes, praying for her capacity to speak the deepest truth, giving thanks for her dignity and courage.  I knew Judge Kavanaugh in college—he was a freshman when I was a freshman counselor, and we lived in the same dorm—and so I’ve been interviewed along with many from those days about what we knew and what we saw.  I have spent some time putting myself in his shoes, praying that he can speak the deepest truth within him, praying that he can have the courage to stand for women in a society that still privileges male voices, to stand for every survivor of sexual assault, to speak with those who have been silenced by shame and circumstance, to be a man for others as he pleads his case.  Mercy is the true measure of righteousness.  Kindness is at the center of justice.

I don’t know what I expected last evening’s gathering to be, but it was a revelation in the truest sense.  For an hour we shared with each other our deepest selves.  The silence held us as person after person offered a wideness of vision that was paradoxically rooted in some narrow and intense pain or loss.  We offered our frustration and our kindness and prayed for hope and change.  It was gut-wrenching and beautiful, at once, to trust each other in this way, to hear how rare such honesty is right now in other parts of our lives, and to witness that even decades-old wounds can know healing.  The difficulty of a very public debate called us to honor something very profound within each other and ourselves.

We ended by singing these words: And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod, then they find that selfsame aching deep within the heart of God.

Deep listening and wide loving, especially in the narrowest of corners, will help us find our way.

Love,

David

Would you have the courage to jump out of a moving car, in order to save your life? Or do you know someone, with that kind of courage?

Turns out I do know someone with that kind of courage; I just didn’t know it, until a couple of days ago.

This past Tuesday, several of us from Redeemer went to Turnaround Tuesday, a second chance jobs movement of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development). To date, since its inception 4 years ago, Turnaround Tuesday has helped 535 individuals secure living wage employment with its various partners across the city, including Johns Hopkins Hospital and University of Maryland Medical System. (To view PBSNewsHour clip of Turnaround Tuesday, click here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/in-baltimore-more-employers-hiring-formerly-incarcerated-people)

Folks who come to Turnaround Tuesday (TaT) are encouraged and trained to tell their whole story, not just the parts they think potential employers would want to hear. “Fill in the holes [in your employment history] yourself. Tell your story,” Co-Director Terrell Williams coaches, “otherwise, other people will fill in the holes for themselves.” TaT uses role playing and modeling to teach this and other skills and life lessons, to empower their clients.

And so it was this past Tuesday that, as part of a role play, a TaT staff member told some of her own story. She began by describing the beauty of Hawaii, where she used to live: the sun, the ocean, the palm trees. But the idyllic scene she painted turned dark as she went on to describe how her husband of over a decade became a monster of “roid rage” from anabolic steroid abuse.

One day, he surprised her with a gun, taking her hostage in his car and instructing her to phone their 3 daughters to tell them goodbye. Understanding that if she stayed in the car with her husband, she was going to be killed, she jumped out of the moving car, only to be pursued and caught by him, on foot.

As he held her arms and body hostage-like, and an off-duty police officer on the beach shouted from a distance to try to intervene, she freed herself from her husband’s grip by slipping out of her T-shirt and running for help, which she found and gladly received. She separated from her husband and went on from that dark day to raising her daughters as a single mother, finishing her education, and securing solid employment. As a staff member TaT, she now helps others to do the same.

“What did we learn about Brie from her story?” another TaT staff member asked.

“She is courageous,” one client offered.

“She is strong,” another said.

“She is dedicated,” a third observed.

We all agreed that any potential employer, listening to her story, would remember her and want her on his/her team.

So what about you? Are their parts of your own life story, that you are ashamed of? That you’d rather hide and not share? Could it be that, by bringing them to light in front of another, you might find liberation, and not only for yourself?

Cristina

Dear Folks,

I was a Freshman Counselor at Yale from 1983-84, and the Dean’s office worked hard on training us to guide our counselees through their first months in New Haven.  We had workshops on academic advising and how to balance work and play.  We met the Bursar, walked through the debits and credits of a typical bill, and found out how to register for classes when you are on financial hold.  We talked with coaches whose athletes were Rhodes Scholars.  We met professors whose students wrote poems on their Calculus exams.  We studied the varieties of sexual expression, alcohol use and abuse, depression, anxiety, and then practiced what we might encounter through role plays.  I feel like we were well equipped to deal with the ups and downs of Monday-Friday college life.  In hindsight, I wish we’d spent more time learning how to clean up the messes that confronted us on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

I’m not talking about beer cans and solo cups left in entryways, but the conspiracy of silence that often settled on a fun party gone bad.  One of the worst was a young woman assaulted in a stairway by an upperclassman as others looked on.  A visual artist and sometime model, the woman had shaved half of her head the week before in an experiment on beauty and objectification.  (This was the era when Calvin Klein hung nudes several stories high in Times Square.)  The man said he “didn’t like the way she looked” and punched her hard enough to leave her doubled over in a heap on the steps.

Where do you start to debrief with a person who now feels like her “home” is not safe for her?  What do you say when she tells you she could never tell her parents what happened?  How do you engage the young man and his friends when they don’t even remember being at the party only a few days later?

Basements filled with loud music and laughter and parties fueled by alcohol and flirtation are part of adolescence for many of us.  That’s the way it goes on weekend nights, we tell ourselves.  Crossing boundaries is the point, we sometimes to say.  Thank goodness by 2018 we assert that “Yes means yes, and no means no.”  But by and large we still don’t teach our “almost adults” how to have the awkward and necessary conversations as daylight dawns if things have gone too far.  We can learn to ask questions and to listen deeply: “How are you feeling?  What are you thinking?  Are you O.K.?  Can we talk about last night?”  We can put ourselves in the other’s shoes.  We can give the person who’s hurt the benefit of the doubt.  We can look at patterns of behavior, take an honest inventory, and make amends.

How many of us have forgiveness work to do?  Even if some significant transgression is years in the past, if you haven’t dealt with it, its poison lingers.  On our best days, our children may listen to what we have to say, but they are always watching what we do.  Whether we are a political appointee, a CEO, or a soccer parent, are we modeling accountability and reconciliation?

The next time a relationship falls apart or a line gets crossed that should have been respected, don’t go silent or hide in the shadows of regret.  Have an awkward morning conversation instead.  When we’re courageous enough, the dawn shines through the broken places.

Love, David