Tuesday, September 20, 2011

60 Years of Blessings

If truth be told, I am not thrilled about turning 60, even if my daughter Lisa says that 60 is the new 40. Many of my friends are already retired or counting the years, if not the months.

Not me. I plan to work at least another dozen years full time. I'm in great health, and I feel that I have lots left to do. My father worked as a clinical psychologist into his 80's, and my mother, at 85, lives on her own in the country.

If there's one life lesson that God does not let me forget, it's that the best way to get out of the doldrums is to do something nice for someone else. So on my vacation the first week of September, I began the 60 star project.

I'm knitting 60 stars from yarn in my stash. As I knit, I'm pondering the many people who have changed my life, blessed my life, taught me and loved me, mentored me and mirrored Christ for me. As I knit, I'm praying about which 60 people in my life will get stars from me in my 60th year. I'm aware that many of those who have touched my life the most are no longer around. How will I let acknowledge their influence in my life? What if I think of more than 60 people? Well, what a great problem that would be.....I'll simply knit more stars.

My birthday is less than a week away. So while I wait, I'm knitting.

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 20: Engagement of the Church in the Community

So this is the big question. On this final (formal, official) day of prayer.....we come to the so what. So what is God calling us to do in response to this week of prayer? Please listen, and then get a conversation going!

DAY 7 Engagement of the Church in the Community

Did you know that the Faith Community has the potential to transform our community? With more than 4,100 local churches in the Greater Houston Area and more mega- churches than any city in the United States, Houston is uniquely positioned to serve God’s purposes and plans for the children of our city.

Many churches and organizations are already engaged. Can you imagine what might happen if all of the churches across the city got involved in serving the needs of our students, educators and schools? Do we see this as our place of service?

We know God has instructed us to focus on children. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Let’s Pray

Father, you have called us to be your witnesses in our community and beyond. (Acts 1:8) We understand this includes expressing your heart and care for the children and youth of Greater Houston. Thank you that you have been helping us recognize the needs in our community. Thank you that you have been helping respond as your people - together. (John 17:23)

Our first action has been to seek you in prayer. We recognize that you alone have the capacity to meet the many challenges before our children. We are not relying on our own capacities but upon yours. (Luke 18:27)

Father, we are asking you to come and do more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20-21) Give us your heart for the children and youth of this city. Break our hearts with the things that break your heart. Raise up Houston to be a city that is know for whole and healthy children. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city.


Can We Be The Answer?

Tracks are forming to connect and network advocates for children in the following areas:

Senior Pastor Track

Children’s Pastor Track

Advocate Organization Track

Prayer Mobilization Track

What else is God asking us to do?

August 19: Prayer for College Readiness

DAY 6 Prayer for College Readiness

Did you know that only 24% of high school graduates (ages 25-29) have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher? We should encourage all students to prepare for college admissions, including taking college entrance examinations, completing college-level coursework, visiting college campuses, and completing college admittance and financial aid applications.

The best way for a child to make their way out of poverty is through quality education. We need to act as a guide and support for the children in our city, so their top priority is to attend college and become educated citizens.

Let’s Pray

Father, many of us have been through this process with our own children. We recognize it is a daunting challenge. We also recognize there is a wealth of experience across our city that has the potential to impact the lives of thousands of other children.

Help us respond to this opportunity to serve the youth of Greater Houston. Show us how to work together, with our many gifts, talents and experiences, so that we can address this need. (1 Cor 12:12) Connect us to those who are already engaged so we can be effective. Where there are few resources, raise up, call out and empower additional leaders for this task. (Matthew 9:37-38)

We know you have plans and purposes for each of our youth, plans that are greater than we can fathom. (Jeremiah 29:11) We also know that you want to use us, your people, to help others see those plans. Help us to steward this opportunity well. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city. AMEN

Can We Be The Answer?

Are there Youth Groups or others that are meeting this need effectively?


Project GRAD Houston (http://www.projectgradhouston.org)

Ed Pioneers (http://www.community.educationpioneers.org)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

August 18: Prayer for Parents to be the Best Advocates for Their Children

My son spent a year after college working for Americorps Vista, a national program that that places adults for a year of service in nonprofit programs which fight poverty. He worked for Amachi (which means who knows what God has brought us through this child?), a partnership of secular and faith-based organizations working together to provide mentoring to children of incarcerated parents. He did this through Big Brothers Big Sisters in Portland, Oregan. After doing that for two years, he moved with his family to Bend, Oregon where he now works for Deschutes Children's Foundation, another nonprofit that buys and manages facilities for organizations serving the needs of children and families. These properties cluster like-minded organizations together in welcoming spaces which it provides rent-free. Needless to say, I am very proud of the way he is giving back through his work.

Today we especially pray for organizations, like the ones that my son has served, that support parents in the challenging work of being the kind of parents God has created them to be. We pray for parents that they may be positive supporters and encouragers of their children and those who teach their children.

DAY 5 Prayer for Parents to be the Best Advocates for their Children

Did you know that there are people, programs and organizations all across Texas who faithfully serve the needs of at-risk and vulnerable children? Did you also know that your voice can and will make a difference in the lives of children? As parents become better advocates for their children and agents of change, they can choose the right schools for their children and get more involved in their kids’ education. There’s also a growing commitment by the Faith Community to reach up in prayer and out in love to reverse these damaging trends in the lives of at-risk children.

Let’s Pray

Father, your word declares, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” You are the ultimate parent and you want the very best for each of your children. We are so thankful.

Father, you have called parents to both nurture and impart your values to our children. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) But we need your help. Many of the families in our city are struggling. They are facing enormous pressures and are often lacking in the parenting skills they need to care or advocate for their children. Many among us are attempting to fill the role of both father and mother. Please help us, the Faith Community, to see how we can serve the parents and families of our communities. Show us what you have already raised up to engage and strengthen families. Help us to share resources, models and experiences that can effectively meet the needs of families, especially families of at-risk children.

Thank you for the commitment that is growing in our midst. Bless these efforts and cause them to multiply across the Greater Houston area. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city. AMEN

Can We Be The Answer?

Do you know groups whose specific mission is to empower parents to effectively advocate for their children? Share a story where a parent’s advocacy made a difference in the life of a child.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17: Prayer for Student Engagement and Extended Day

DAY 4 Prayer for Student Engagement and Extended Day

Did you know that Texas ranks last in the nation in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas; only 79.6% of Texans have a high school diploma. In 2009, 34% of Texas 4th graders and 27% of 8th graders tested below basic reading levels. Moreover, low- income children achieve approximately 23% below their more affluent peers.

Extended learning time opens the possibility of a wider range of study and exposure to subjects such as history, science, music, and art. Adding quality time to the school year would serve as an opportunity for our children to boost academic performance, to close achievement gaps, to stay in school and reduce drop-out rates, and to take advantage of expanded enrichment in order to compete in a globalized market.

Let’s Pray

Loving God, we find the fact that Texas ranks last in the nation in the percentage of high school diplomas to be unacceptable. We know you want our children to be equipped to succeed in life.

We are calling out to you for help. Please give us, your people, the wisdom and tangible strategies to turn this situation around. (James 1:5) We know that nothing is impossible with you so we are asking you to come to our aid. (Luke 1:37) Help us to engage this problem with vision and passion. Raise up a sustainable movement in the midst of our city to address this critical need head on.

Thank you for the many mentoring programs that enable local churches to adopt and care for at-risk students. We see the tangible fruit as 99.3% of students with a mentor demonstrate academic improvement. Thank you that every independent school district in Greater Houston is welcoming the church to provide mentors for students. Bless these efforts and multiply them until every at-risk child is served across our community. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city.

Can We Be The Answer?

Check out the many mentoring programs available across our community.

Neighborhood Centers (http://www.neighborhood-centers.org)

Kids Hope USA (http://www.kidshopeusa.org)

Cy Fair ISD Partners in Education (cfisd.net/newsmedia/press/2011/0809mentors.htm)

Tomball ISD (Mentors)

Klein ISD (Volunteers)

At the Faith Summit at St. Martin's last week, one of the presenters was from Mission CyFair. Mission Cy-Fair was started by a Cypress church, Lifepath, as a way to put faith into action. If you want to amazed with what God can do through a handful of faithful people, see where the ministry is today. What could God have in mind for St. Mary's?

As individuals, many of us can offer our time through volunteering in schools, one student at a time, one hour at a time. Many businesses give employees time to volunteer in schools near their place of business. What could God have in mind for you? For me?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16: Prayer for our Educators to be Extraordinary

Before I was a priest, I was an educator. I worked nearly twenty years in three public school districts. The truth is that teachers and school personnel are with students for a longer length of time Monday through Friday than most any other influence. So of course, we pray for all those who serve in schools, most of which have daily challenges that are beyond our imagination.

For years at St. Mary's, we have had a cycle of prayer for schools. Two schools are prayed for each week, four times on Sunday, and again at Morning and Evening Prayer other days of the week. We send post cards letting the schools know that we are praying for them, and from time to time we get a reply.

The Sunday before the beginning of school, at the Offertory, we invite all students and educators to come forward for a blessing. Well over half of our parish is part of the education system is some way. This coming Sunday, students, backpacks, and all who serve in schools will be receiving a blessing.

What else is God calling us to do?

DAY 3 Prayer for our Educators to be Extraordinary

Did you know that while every child has the capacity to achieve at high levels, there are a variety of social and economic circumstances that threaten a student’s potential? Effective teachers can help students overcome these barriers, and excel academically and personally. Quality education is the anchor for success in career and life in the 21st century; every student deserves a highly effective teacher to provide him/her with the high level knowledge and skills he/she needs to prepare for the college and career.

We need to recalibrate our educational system to ensure that we are providing every student with a highly effective teacher that will provide them with the tools they need to reach their full potential.

Let’s Pray

Father, we understand that teaching is more than an occupation. It is a gift from you. (Rom 12:7) First of all we want to thank you for the many dedicated teachers and educators that serve the children of our community. We ask you to strengthen them with your wisdom, counsel, knowledge and power. (Isaiah 11:2)

Where our educational system is functioning ineffectively, we’re asking for your help. Give grace, courage and creativity to our policy makers, administrators and educators. Help them to make decisions that will provide students with the most effective teachers and educational resources possible.

Father, thank you for raising up ministries that have a vision and a strategy to adopt and cover every school in prayer. Your word teaches us that we are to pray for all those in authority and we know that teachers and educators have a place of authority in the lives of our students. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Raise up a movement of prayer that will touch every school and every educator across our community. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city.

Can We Be The Answer?

Moms In Touch is making a difference, one school at a time www.MomsInTouch.org

Teach for America (http://www.teachforamerica.org)

Generation One Academy (http://www.generationone.net/academy)

Yes Prep Public Schools (http://www.yesprep.org)

KIPP Academy (http://www.kipphouston.org)

Other resources that you know? Please share below!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Monday, August 15: Prayer for Children from Disadvantaged Homes

This week, St. Mary's parish family is invited to pray daily for children at risk in the Houston area. We are joining people of faith as we pray seven days for the specific needs of children and youth.

Sunday at St. Mary's, nearly 250 people prayed for children who are hungry and struggle to focus in school. Some of the parishioners came to me afterwards and talked about ways that St. Mary's could be an answer to that prayer. Our hope is that as you join us in prayer, that you will leave your own comments, ponderings, and thoughts as we share how we can be God's answer.

Will you pray with us today?

DAY 2 Prayer for Children from Disadvantaged Homes

Did you know that 23% of Harris County children live in poverty and in 2009, 50.6% of children in Texas were living in low-income families, compared to 42.2% nationally? This means that one half of the children in Texas are set up to be unsuccessful.

There are many long term risks associated with child poverty, as children living in poverty have a higher risk of dropping out of school, poor adolescent health and adult health, poor employment outcomes, and experiencing poverty as adults. Child poverty can have life- long repercussions for those children and the future of our community.

Let’s Pray

Jesus, when you began your ministry you declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoner and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)

We understand that the poor and disadvantaged are at the very top of your priority list. You have called us to follow in your footsteps. (John 17:18) We’re asking you to help us have those same priorities.

You instruct us by saying, “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10)

Help us to see them with your eyes and to serve them as if we were serving you.

Your word says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.” (Proverbs 19:17)

Empower your people across Greater Houston to make a difference. Let your Spirit rest upon us to serve the poor and the oppressed. All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city.

Can We Be The Answer?

to hear one of their stories of impact.


Change Happens (http://www.changehappenstx.org)

Communities in Schools (http://www.cishouston.org)

Citizen Schools (http://www.citizenschools.org)

Collaborative for Children (http://www.collabforchildren.org)

Other resources that you know (please share!)

P.S. St. Mary's Feast Day blessings!

You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and have lifted up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things, and the rich you have sent empty away.
Luke 1 Song of Mary

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday, August 14: Prayer for Children who are Hungry and Struggle to Focus in School.

Back Story:
At St. Mary's, we love to eat. Most, if not all of our children, have plenty to eat, and if they skip breakfast or lunch, it's a choice not a necessity.

In 2011, State funding for free/reduced price breakfast and lunch was cut $300--500 per child (speaker at Faith Summit, St. Martin's Houston, August 11, 2011). In Cypress, Texas, approximately 25% of the elementary students are signed up for free/reduced price lunches (elementaryschools.org/texas/cypress.html).

Today we are invited to join with faith communities throughout Harris County to pray for children who come to school hungry because of their family's limited financial resources.

DAY 1 Prayer for Children who are Hungry and Struggle to Focus in School

Did you know that many of the children within our community don’t have enough to eat? In 2009, 24.1% of households with children reported they did not have enough money for food within the last 12 months. While a School Breakfast Program and a National Lunch Program are available in a number of our schools, many children in Harris County do not participate because of the stigma associated with receiving free meals.

School breakfast is not only effective in reducing hunger among needy children, it is also effective in improving nutrition; preventing obesity; improving students’ attendance, attentiveness and achievement. With growing budget challenges facing our families and our schools, it is likely that more of our children will be affected.

Let’s Pray

Father, none of us would want our own children to struggle in school because of a lack of food or proper nutrition. And yet we know this is true for many of the children in our community.

First of all we ask you to help our policy makers to make the right choices for our children as they address this important issue. Give them wisdom and direction from heaven.

Jesus, when your disciples told you that the crowd of 5,000 was hungry, you said, “You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) Awaken your people across this city to be involved. Raise up advocates who can make a difference in the lives of children, families and schools. (Matthew 9:38)

Give us your heart of compassion for those who are hurting. Fill us with your wisdom, power and grace so that we, your people, can respond in tangible and practical ways. (Isaiah 11:2) All of this we ask in your name, the name of Jesus, and for the sake of the children of our city.

Can We Be The Answer?

Children at Risk wants to see the universal free school breakfast programs made available to every school that has at least 80% of their students living at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. Perhaps you can help. Other Resources Related to Hunger:

The Houston Food Bank: www.houstonfoodbank.org

Mission Centers of Houston: www.missioncenters.org

Cypress Assistance Ministries www.cypressassistanceministries.com/

One community decided to get involved – after hearing a presentation during the first Week of Prayer, a staff member from Sterlingwood Church, Melanie Ayers, went to the Galena Park ISD to lobby for Universal Free School Breakfast. Because of her voice, the information provided by Children at Risk, and all of our prayers, GPISD has instituted this program. Do you know other stories that you can tell about where people are making a difference.

Do you know other stories that you can tell about where people are making a difference?

How is God inviting us to share the abundance of our food with others?

Tomorrow, August 15, the Feast Day of St. Mary the Virgin, we will pray for children from disadvantaged homes.

There's an app for that

I've been praying a lot lately for the families of St. Mary's the suburban Houston parish where I serve. I've been particularly praying about how the parish can best serve them, and how I can serve them as their priest. Monday night I'd joined Momtime, a Monday night fellowship for mothers of all ages, and I came home with my mind busy with prayer requests and thoughts. Right before I was ready to go to sleep, something led me to pick up my iphone and go to the app for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

Even though it was past time to go to sleep (I left Momtime past 10, and I understand the conversation lasted into the hours of the next morning), I began scrolling through the various news items, and saw a notice for a lunch at St. Martin's on Thursday, three days hence. What piqued my interest was that it was called a Faith Summit for a week of prayer and service for our children and youth. I went to the link that showed the prayer guide for daily intercession for the children of Houston, and I was even more curious.

The next day, I sent an email out to the moms of St. Mary's and our prayer group, the Daughters of the King, inviting them to go with me. I knew it was short notice, but I offered to pay their way and to pay their child care costs. I wanted them to know that I was going on their behalf even if they couldn't rearrange their schedules to join me.

This is the third annual faith summit and week of prayer for children and youth. Because of the tremendous cuts to educational funding in the state of Texas, this year all of the prayer power is focused on issues of children and education. Some local non-profits which serve children and youth as well as communities of faith sponsor this endeavor. What makes this prayer week different is that it's focused on needs of our local community. Children at Risk, a Houston research and advocacy group, provides specific information of tangible needs.

I'm inviting all of the people of the parish where I serve to this seven days of prayer for the children and youth who are our neighbors. If we think these neighbors are far away, in the affluent area where I serve, the Cypress area, over 50% of the children served by Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, the third largest school district in the state of Texas, are eligible for free lunch.

Don't take my word for it. Go do a little surfing and pondering yourself. What I especially like about the prayer guide is that after it's given us a prayer focus for the day, it gives us some specific facts about the needs for the children and youth in our area followed by specific prayers that we can use if we wish. What I like the best, however, is after the prayer is the response: Can we be the answer? We are then given specific ways for us to be the answer to prayer.

To bring this important piece of response home, one speaker talked about the importance of God's people to be faithful in prayer. The speaker reminded us that when we got up off of our knees (either literally or metaphorically) at the end of prayer, we were then standing . This is the posture to go and be an answer to our prayer.

So if you are willing to be an answer, will you join me in prayer this week?

Two men of St. Mary's, being an answer to prayer as they resurface St. Mary's playground, a place to play for St. Mary's children as well as the children of our neighborhood.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How is that rhythm thing working for you?

For this blog to make any sense, you have to read last week's. I was on an unexpected retreat at Camp Allen as the "chaplain in residence." I was intentionally exploring the difference between a balanced life and a life lived in rhythm with God.

I was living mindful of being as Spirit led as possible--praying about the people whose lives would intersect with mine as I traveled about Camp Allen, praying about when and what to eat, when to rest and when to walk, when and what to read and to do. It was blissful.

Then. Ahh, the dreaded then. I'd been having some problems with my teeth, and as I wisely cared for them, I'd been praying for God to heal anything amiss. Friday morning, I'd just prayed for healing, and decided to snack on a banana. A banana! I took a bite, and began to chew, when I felt something big and foreign mixing in with the banana. Turns out that a bridge made up of a crown attached to two healthy molars had come loose with the two molars breaking off at the gum line.

That it didn't hurt was a miracle. The dentist called me back right away with kind words. She gave me a prescription for a healing rinse, and since I already had an appointment for my six month check up on Tuesday, I was set for the next four days of Memorial Day weekend.

But the bliss was gone. For my final thirty hours at Camp Allen, rest had met reality. The rhythm of retreat had taken a most discordant turn. As much as I'd loved for the joyful, peaceful give and take of the past two days to continue, if I couldn't dance with God when I didn't like the music I was hearing, I wasn't much of a dance partner.

Back home this week, one morning as I was walking, I heard a lovely prayer on a podcast I enjoy, On Being. A wise woman (Sylvia Boorstein, a celebrated Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, mother, and grandmother) had been interviewed and talked about her practice of metta or loving kindness. Her metta is a time of breathing and stillness as she prays first for herself and then for a variety of others:

May I feel safe. May I feel content. May I feel strong. May I live with ease.

As I've followed the rhythm of God this week, this is the beat of the dance God and I are doing. I have some expensive visits to the oral surgeon and then the dentist over nearly the next year. In the meantime I get to go to Austin and dance with my daughter on her birthday and then dance the airport shuffle as I fly to dance with my grandson and his mom and dad. The beat of the rhythm of God for me today is the breath prayer:

May I feel safe. May I feel content. May I feel strong. May I live with ease.
May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live with ease.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Moving on to the Fifth Week of Easter

I’m pondering a midlife correction. I was inspired by a column in this week's Christian Century by Martin Copenhaver called, "In praise of an unbalanced life."

I’ve taught and preached for years about leading a balanced life. For several years the diocese had me come and do a presentation that I called Sabbathkeeping for the newly ordained clergy.

After reading Martin's thoughts, I’m rethinking this. Based on his words, I am no longer sure that Scripture tells us to live a balanced life or that Jesus lived a particularly balanced life. The metaphors that Martin uses are that keeping work/rest/play/study/worship balance is like seeing how long I can stand on one foot or how far I can walk with a tray full of glasses before dropping one of them and breaking it.

What we read about in Scripture and see Jesus doing is living fully into the rhythm of life. The Bible tells us to work six days each week and then to cease from working. Scripture sets days for feasting and other days for atonement, and many other days to live the ordinary.

What I see Jesus doing well over and over again, is being in rhythm, as he is fully present wherever he is, for as long as he needs to be. He spends an evening teaching his disciples five chapters worth of last things. Then he spends three or so hours on the cross, three days in the tomb, forty days meeting and greeting and eating post-resurrection, ten days of absence, before day fifty when come fire and wind on Pentecost.

It seems to me today-- to be on Jesus’ way, to live a Jesus life, to know the Jesus truth, to ask Jesus to help us do even greater things than he did--knowing he’ll say yes every time that we get our lives lined up with his--it won’t be about balancing on one foot. It will be about being in Jesus rhythm; it will be more like a dance than a balancing act.
Sometime awkward.
Sometimes slow.
Sometimes feeling alone.
Sometimes with a partner.
Sometimes all night long.
Something only tapping our feet.

There will be lots of dancing rooms--
Ballrooms and restrooms. Kitchens and closets. Gardens and offices.

As God would have it, this week I have an unexpected four day retreat at Camp Allen, our diocesan retreat center. Each week they schedule a "chaplain in residence," clergy or lay, to pray the daily office of Morning and Evening Prayer in All Saints Chapel. We are to be on call for other needs, but my experience has been that for an hour of liturgical prayer, I get twenty three hours of rest and recreation in a cabin by the lake. I've decided to take these four days and ponder living in rhythm rather than balance. As I left yesterday to travel here, I grabbed Macrina Wiederkehr's Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully through the Hours of the Day. I'm using it as my retreat guide these four days.

Balancing or dancing? Some of both? Or something brand new? I'll let you know.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Third Week of Easter: From HP to St. Mary's to China

I've been pondering what I've been calling the quotidian [meaning ordinary, everyday, common place] Gospel. It is my experience that God is most spectacularly present in unspectacular moments. We had one of those spectacularly unspectacular encounters some time ago that I only found out about recently.

A member of the parish, Greg, was in Shanghai, China on business (for his company, Hewlitt-Pakard, a major employer at St. Mary's) earlier this year, and the man working closest with him was a Chinese man who was also a Christian. It’s still not a common thing in China to be a Christian, and recently the government has clamped down on open expressions of religion. As the man and Greg were talking about their faith, the man told Greg how he came to be a follower of Jesus.

A few years back, the man had traveled to Houston for a meeting at HP. He flew in Saturday for his Monday morning meeting, I guess to give time to recover from jet lag, and on Sunday morning he decided to get out of his hotel room and take a walk.

He took a long walk, I’d guess three or four miles, and was hot and thirsty and tired. He saw a building on the corner of Eldridge Parkway and Louetta, and decided to go inside for a drink and to call a cab to take him back to his hotel. The place of refreshment was St. Mary’s, the parish where Greg is a member.

When the man arrived, worship was going on. It was Sunday, after all. I don’t know which service or when or who was preaching. It doesn’t matter. I only know that he walked into our building and sat down in a worship service. During that service, this man, who did not know Jesus as his Lord and his Savior, in worship his eyes were opened. He said it all made sense for him. At worship, at St. Mary’s, he became a follower of Jesus Christ.

But there’s more. After church, he was moved by the warm welcome he got and the many kindnesses offered to him, a stranger. A Chinese stranger. In fact one member of the parish gave him a ride back to his hotel.

When the man returned to China, he was baptized and began a church in his home, which is how most Christians gather to meet in China. He has, in turn, introduced many others to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus, and they have become followers of Jesus and baptized.

Do you hear this remarkable story of one man’s own walk to Christ in an ordinary church on an ordinary Sunday with ordinary folks? Who somehow, simply in worship, had everything explained to him by the Spirit of Christ? God worked spectacularly through unspectacular worship--though can we say that any worship is ever unspectacular?

Do you know how unlikely it was that the man in China would then meet a man from Texas from the very church where he found Jesus? Who, except the Spirit, could have put together this Christian man in Shanghai, China with another Christian man from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Cypress, Texas so that this story could be shared with the people of St. Mary's? To let us know, less we forget, that Christ is here with us. Right here. Right now. Especially spectacularly in the unspectacular.

There are so many pieces of grace in this story, but I believe the whole community of St. Mary's is part of this man’s journey with Christ to Christ, and every person he has brought to Christ in China. It may have simply been by our prayers or our smiles or our presence or our welcome or the shining brass or the tidy gardens. I don't know what the Holy Spirit used to open up the man's heart--so I only assume that all of those quotidian pieces were used spectacularly by God.

This means that without leaving Cypress, Texas, we at St. Mary's have become missionaries in China! The Holy Spirit wanted us to be sure that we know it-- that our life and ministry, on an ordinary Sunday, has touched lives in China in an extraordinary way.

It is our custom at St. Mary's, as a place of mentoring new clergy, to pray daily for the parishes where they go to serve after they leave us. This week we'll add a new worshiping community to our daily prayer---for our brothers and sisters in the house church in Shanghai.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Second Week of Easter: Looking backward, looking forward

I was struck with a paradigm shift on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is usually a high attendance day at St. Mary's. It's the one Sunday when most of our regular attenders all show up on the same day. When I've looked at all those beloved folk gathered on the first day of Holy Week, I feel like I have a glimpse into what the possibility is for more ordinary Sundays.

But not this year. Palm Sunday was a pretty average day, attendance wise. There were quite a few regulars off at the MS 150, volleyball tournaments, and other outside activities. It was at that moment that I realized that the lures of the world had even reached into the Bible belt.

For some time, I've known that it takes about a month's time to see all of our faithful members. This was reinforced on a podcast I listened to last week that said that the trend is for active members to make it to Sunday worship once or twice a month on average.

I don't see this as necessarily a bad thing. Sure, I'm at church every Sunday minus four for vacation and another two for continuing education, but it means that folks in the parish are out in the real mission field. How can we in the parish help them be the presence of Christ when their activities in the world trump worship? How can we in the parish make sure they have opportunities to be spiritually nourished enough to be that presence of Christ? Of course this is not a new thing, but I think that we in the Church have to find better ways to connect church and places where we are being Church.

I was at book group, one of my favorite non-St. Mary's activities, several years back when we joined with another book group and met at a local book store to discuss the same book. I was definitely not there as a priest or a rector but as a woman who loves to read. However, in the midst of the conversation, somehow I was outed as the rector of the church on the corner. There was a lovely young mom there with nursing baby in tow, and she remarked that she had driven past St. Mary's a number of times and thought about trying it out. She wanted to get her children involved in regular church worship and was curious about St. Mary's. Another member of the group, a member of St. Mary's, but frankly, one that doesn't make it every Sunday, launched poetic into what a wonderful, welcoming place St. Mary's was and what a wonderful priest I was.

That family of six, several years later, is one of our most active families. They have brought so much wonderful stuff to St. Mary's by their participation--and I often think if I hadn't gone to book group that night that they might not be at St. Mary's. If I hadn't had a life outside St. Mary's, they might not have ever come. If that member of St. Mary's hadn't been there, too, to talk about her experience, they might not have ever given us a try.

Don't get me wrong. I want everyone who calls St. Mary's home to join us for worship every Sunday, but of course they won't. It is one reason that we have Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer six days a week--so if they can't come Sunday, they can connect with us at a more convenient time. But I pray about how we can empower them on those Sundays where they are off in the mission field--first by helping them be aware that they are in the mission field whenever they aren't at St. Mary's. That distraught dad standing next to them on the lacrosse field may need a praying, loving parish to help him have a little more of that peace that passes understanding. A kind word may be all that it takes for him to give us a try. No, we aren't the parish for everyone, but I'm pretty certain that we are the parish for an awful lot of folk that haven't had the courage to come and check us out. Our smile or invitation may be an answer to a prayer they don't even know they are praying.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Wednesday

St. Mary's Stations of the Resurrection: Station Five

O God,
whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread:
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may behold him in all his redeeming work;
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

From Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him..............
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Tuesday

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
destroyed death and brought lif
may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be dominion and praise for ever and ever.

Every Holy Saturday, the Stations of the Cross that are on the wall of the nave of the church where I serve are taken down and replaced by the Stations of the Resurrection. These Stations celebrating the events in the life of the risen Lord remain until Holy Cross Day in September. Though the Stations of the Cross have been prayed by the faithful since the fourth century, the Stations of the Resurrection, or Stations of Light as the Roman Catholics call them, are a late twentieth century practice.

St. Mary's Stations of the Cross and Stations of the Resurrection are both collages created by our talented Music Director, Celeste Booker. The third station, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene, is the Gospel reading appointed in the lectionary for Tuesday in Holy Week.

Christ is in the Midst of us!

He is, and ever shall be!

John 20:11-18
Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter Monday

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast
may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Walking with Jesus: Good Friday

Almighty God,
we pray you graciously to behold this your family,
for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed,
and given into the hands of sinners,
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.