Days of Grace and Pentecost Musings

23 05 2010

Today was the last Sunday at Grace Church in New York, the Church that has been my spiritual home for the past five years as well as the place that had birthed me as an Episcopalian.   As many of you know I had found Grace after a year or so of wandering, having become disenchanted and rather angry at what seemed to be the epistemic closure of the Evangelical mindset.   It was with great sadness that I saw the branch of the faith that nurtured me as a child become taken over by the religious right and increasingly became more and more rigid in its ethos.   I could write about my issues with modern Evangelicalism for quite a while, but that is for another time.

Grace Church in New York is a bit of an anomaly in that principal service on Sunday is Morning Prayer, Rite I.  For feast days and the first Sunday of the month, we use Holy Eucharist, Rite I.  The other Sunday services are always Holy Eucharist Rite II.  We don’t use incense, our main altar still faces east, and the vestments are tastefully understated.  Grace is also interesting because while the congregation is mostly upper middle class white folks, there are quite a few conservatives, quite a few progressives, and quite a few folks with no ideological slant who are committed Christians who want nothing more than to spread the Gospel through the world by championing Social Justice issues.

I decided to try Grace church out not only because it was a beautiful building, but mainly because of an inside joke between me and my boyfriend at the time would have about the building.  Ironically enough it was the first Sunday of Advent, and since it fell on the last Sunday of November, there was no Eucharist, but I have to say that the traditional language of Rite I and the service of Morning Prayer really spoke to this refugee from the Evangelical world.  What I thought was really really REALLY awesome was that the the psalms and canticles were chanted.

Anglicanism has contributed a great deal to the edification of the Body of Christ but I think one of the most profound gifts we have is that we sing the Bible.

Let me repeat that.  Anglicans sing the Bible.  I was home.  I was confirmed the next time one of our bishops came to visit and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward five years and a half years.

Pentecost is a big day in the Church calendar, but goes relatively unnoticed in much of the Church.   But it’s a big deal.  It’s the fulfillment of  Jesus’ promise that he would pray to the Father who would send us an Advocate, a Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who would abide with us forever … The Holy Spirit.  Once again, God gives Himself for us as He gave Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

My first Sunday at Grace Church was the first Sunday of Advent, and my last Sunday is the Day of Pentecost.  I served as an Acolyte today along with three others, including the Rector’s son.  (As an aside, there was a great Kodak moment when he was spotted riding a skateboard in the hallway while vested … wish i had a camera!)  At coffee hour, I said my good-byes to everyone and promised I will be back to visit.  (And I will be back….One does not give up one’s Manhattan apartment, remember!)

One of the Pentecost readings for today is invariably the second chapter from the book of Acts.  Two phrases stand out from that passage … Peter quotes the prophet Joel and says “In the last days, God declares, I will pour my spirit out on all flesh,” and later he says, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.”

The inclusiveness of those passages is astonishing especially when you consider the context of the times in which they were written.  God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone.  Everyone who calls on the Lord experiences salvation.  This isn’t limited to a class or tribe or any group of people, the Gift of the Holy Spirit is for everyone.

The 50 days of Easter were days of fear, awe, wonder and some serious soul searching as the disciples of Jesus probably wrestled with what to make of their sitings of The Risen Lord and especially what to do after Jesus’ ascension.  Then like violent wind, the Holy Spirit descends and tongues of fire appear over the heads of those gathered in the upper room in a building in Jerusalem.  Long after the tongues of fire vanished the wind continued to blow … sending Paul all across the Roman empire bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Legend has it that the winds of the Spirit blew apostles to far flung places like India and Ethiopia.  This is a Spirit who doesn’t recognize gender, race or class.  This is a Spirit who recognizes the whole human race.

That wind is still blowing 2,o00 years later.  Maybe … just maybe … the Spirit is sending me away from New York.  I have no idea what is in store for me when I get to Key West, but one thing I do know.

Following God is never dull.

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Holy Week in Review

13 04 2009

Well, we have come through the solemnity  of Holy Week and have come through to the other side into the brightness of Easter.  Our Easter celebrations were absolutely wondeful.

At our Easter Vigil we welcomed 12 newly minted Christians into the Body of Christ, about half of whom were adults.

Had the usual Great Red Neck Easter Brunch with SIR and some fellow southerners.  My dish of choice was the “Kentucky Hot Brown” at Bar Americain.  A Kentucky Hot Brown consists of a piece of French toast topped with turkey, cheese grits, some melted cheese, gravy, bacon and a tomato.

Gastronomical heaven.  Bliss.

We had a special guest at our 11am service on Sunday.  Former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and their daughter Chelsea attended services at Grace 😀 .   According to the rector, they were very attentive, engaged in the sermon, and genuinely seemed happy to be there.  The sermon was excellent (and, by coincidence, had a few of the same points I made in my own reflection) and one of his best.

Our evening service was well attended and the congregation was also more engaged than they usually are.  Our 6pm service on Easter is full of those who look at all the goings on and listen to the sermon and basically dare you to move them.  I wound up doing everything but preaching and celebrating as we didn’t have a crucifer scheduled for the night … so in addition to that I also had altar guild duties, was a lector and a chalice bearer.

It was a very busy day, but very invigorating and fulfilling on many many levels. Our attendance was also up from last year (about 2000 between the Easter Vigil, 9am, 11am and 6pm services).

Reports of the death of the Episcopal Church, I am happy to say, are greatly exaggerated, at least in one corner of the East Village in New York City.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!





Palm Sunday

6 04 2009

Below is a paraphrase of a sermon delivered yesterday in  my parish.  I am going from memory, so apologies if i missed something or get something wrong … Once I get a transcript if there are any errors i’ll correct them …

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Consider a couple of stories ..

In one of Aesop’s fables, a group of mice wanted to keep watch on a cat.  One of the wise mice came up with an idea to put a bell around the cat’s neck so as to give clear warning when it was near.  The problem was that no one could figure out how to bell the cat without causing the death of one of their own.

There were two basketball teams, one from a Christian school in Texas and one for children with learning disabilities.  The Christian school slaughtered the other team, 100 – 0.  As the game progressed, the Christian school’s (called the Covenant School) enthusiasm for winning kept on getting stronger and stronger until when they reached 100, they went absolutely wild.  For days, local papers kept criticizing the poor sportsmanship of the Covenant School.

In both instances, the mice and the school for children with learning disabilities were perpetually on the defense against forces that were beyond their control.  We can call the cat “death” and the Covenant School’s advantage (not to mention their behaviour), “sin.”  Without having a good offensive strategy, neither the mice nor the children’s school stood a chance.  And so it is with our own subjection to the powers of Sin and Death.

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Reset

9 03 2009

Reset.   Reload.

Oy what a past few months!!!  Will go into parts of it later.  I don’t want my first post from such a long absence to be too heavy.

My rector led a class last night on the sacrifice of Isaac from the reading in Genesis.  He started off by asking whether the story was grounded in history or grounded in myth.

To clarify what he meant by “myth” he wasn’t talking about myth in the sense of Greek and Roman myths, but more along the lines of being in the sense of parables.  For example, we know that in all likelihood the story of The Prodigal Son isn’t a true story in the sense that it actually happened or contains facts.  It does however, contain truths which Jesus was attempting to teach the disciples and anyone else who was listening.

A question the rector asked was, so is the story of Abraham and Isaac grounded in history or myth?  Did God speak to Abraham on top of Mount Moriah, or did the story develop over time to teach the ancient Hebrews that human sacrifice is not something that God wants his children to participate in?

There was a bit of back and forth and then someone piped up and said “I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive,” to which my rector replied, “Andrew*, that is a very good Anglican answer!  Congratulations.”

The point my rector was making was that regardless of the factual-ness of the story, the important thing is what it teaches.  Our faith is grounded in history, and of course no one is denying Abraham and Isaac were real people, but the truths the Bible teaches may not be actual factual accounts.





Happy Birthday!

21 12 2008

Today, December 21st,  is the 200th anniversary of the founding of my parish, Grace Church in New York. She is, for lack of a better phrase, a “spin-off” of Trinity Wall Street in lower Manhattan.  Back in the early 1800’s, Trinity’s pews were all rented, so they built the first Grace Church on the corner of Broadway and Rector.  Less than fifty years later, the congregation moved to its current location at 10th Street and Broadway, just south of Union Square.

Here’s a picture.

churchoutside

Grace is a bit of an anomaly in that her prinipal service on Sundays is Rite I, Morning Prayer.  On the first Sunday of the month and for special occasions or major feasts, we will have Rite I Eucharist.  Its other services during the week are Rite II Eucharists.

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