On the backs of the least of these

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Several years ago, a private Christian school that served special needs children was looking for a larger space.  One of our parishioner’s children attended school there, and so we began a conversation about offering space for the school.  This was about the same time that the Episcopal Church approved marriage of same sex couples, and the private school had a strong policy about homosexuality that was inconsistent with the Episcopal Church.  The headmaster and I met for a conversation that, although we approached our Christian faith from different perspectives, was one of the most holy that I have ever had–two Christians listening to each other, respecting each other, praying for and with each other.

As we talked, the headmaster mentioned that it was their policy not to accept children whose parents were in a same sex union.   I told him that this would be a deal breaker for St. Mary’s because no matter what our view on same sex marriage, the children had done nothing “wrong” and should not be denied access or punished because of what their parents had done.   The headmaster had an aha moment–he had never thought of their policy in that way.  Why should the children be hurt because of what their parents chose to do?

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I’ve been thoughtful lately about the burdens we have our children carry.  During the early days of desegregation, we bused children of color into places they were often not welcome in order to fulfill the law.  We didn’t do this to adults who had a choice–we did this to children,  the most powerless in our society.  Now, of course, I am not saying that desegregation was wrong, but we put the burden on the most powerless of the powerless.  We didn’t make adults do this–we forced children to do this.

I’ve seen this happen too many times–children who are punished because of choices their parents have made.  The children whose lives are made more difficult in order to force their parents and other adults to change their behavior.  Children who are compelled to be brave in a way that we adults are not willing.

I see the situation with the young immigrants along our border as yet one more time we’ve put our moral and political disagreements on the backs of our children–children who have nothing to do with their parents’ decisions, except, perhaps, wanting better lives for them.

When I came to St. Mary’s twenty years ago, because of limited space, portable classrooms had been set up and the children met there. Over the years those building had become musty and moldy. Some of us became concerned about placing children in a place that was so unattractive and most likely unhealthy. It would cost money to replace these buildings, and it was easier to set other priorities.

Until one night the Vestry had to meet in one of these portable buildings. They began to cough and sneeze–just like our children did every Sunday. Finally, when the adults had experienced what we’d been allowing our children to experience, we were ready to gather the resources to build what we now call the Holy Family Center.

It’s time.   To provide the very most basic needs to all of our children:  In education.  In health care.  In safety.  In emotional support.  In food and water.  We can do better.  Certainly, as Americans.  Without a doubt, as Christians.  If we won’t do this as Americans, please, can’t we do better as Christians?

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45)

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Leaving the Dominican Republic

I never thought I’d say this, but this past week in the Dominican Republic has been a kind of retreat for me. Last night the mission team gathered outside on a patio at Casa Pastorale for communion. We blessed the bread and wine by remembering other communions we had had on our trip and each sharing one moment we had seen Christ.

Thursday had been our last day, for now, serving in a batey. As we completed our mission work, we celebrated by worshipping with our friends in Batey 105 in the church built by another mission group.

The children gathered first, and Estela, an interpreter with our team, led the children’s worship including lively music. Then our team continued with Adelle reading the Gospel in Spanish, and I preached using an interpreter.

We talked about Jesus’s last act with his disciples before his arrest was to share a meal. He wanted us to know that he was always with us, especially when we ate together. Remembering that Jesus called himself the Bread of Life, we took the bread that had been set aside for our lunch and broke it and shared a piece with each person.

It was Jesus, and all were welcomed.

Yesterday was our Sabbath and we rode a boat out to a beautiful Caribbean beach. We were struck by the extravagance of all the shades of blue painting the sea and the sky. The boat ride back included dancing.

As I prepared to return to Houston this morning, I sat in the Casa’s dining room a final time with my coffee and prayed for each member of St. Mary. I do not know what God has in store, but I am still listening, Lord.

The body of Christ. The bread of heaven

Today was another medical mission to yet another batey.

This day had its own gifts.

Starting with our first patient of the day, Adelle.

The batey was more primitive than the one yesterday, and the ground was uneven and littered with trash. Preparing to walk into the house that was to be our clinic, Adelle fell and injured her knee and ankle. She was in a great deal of pain and dizzy and nauseous.

Adelle spent the day with her feet propped on a chair, ice packs placed to keep swelling down. If you have to be injured, doing it on a medical mission is handy. On the other hand, being injured on an medical mission miles from anywhere in stifling tropical heat is not so good.

However, here is the gift. Adelle, a Spanish speaker, spent the day on the porch unable to leave her chair, surrounded by children as she created her own impromptu VBS with only a box of crayons and paper airplanes and a heart for Jesus.

No tshirts. No schedule. No Bible except what Adelle had in her heart. She taught them St. Mary’s Good Morning, God prayer in Spanish, and it was the batey children’s prayer that blessed our food at lunch.

We had lunch of sandwiches and juice to share with the children. As I looked into each child’s eyes, and handed him and her a sandwich, in my mind I said, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. As the cup of juice was given, in my prayer heart I said, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

It was the Lord’s meal. All were welcome there.

After my time of praying with the patients before their clinic visit, I once again walked the dirt streets of the batey. Everyone welcomed me into their very simple home for a blessing. Everyone said yes to a prayer. Folks had visited the clinic earlier and children who had been blessed by Adelle were met again in their homes.

It was truly The Body of Christ. All were fed the true Bread of Jesus’ love. All were welcome. So very welcome. Christians from America. Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Everyone.

Healing Oil in a Batey

Today part of our group went to one batey to help build a basketball court (what the community had requested), and the other went to a batey about an hour’s drive from the mission to host a medical clinic. I went to the clinic.

A batey is a settlement built around a sugar cane plantation where the workers live. The one we visited today was a small settlement of humble green houses with a company store and a school. The source of water was a spigot in the middle of the village.

Our clinic was housed in the school. My role was to sit at the first station where blood pressure was taken and to offer to pray with the patient as they began their visit to the clinic.

My partner in ministry was Adelle who speaks good Spanish. However, about half of the people only spoke the local form of Creole.

As the clinic was being set up, a few of us sat outside with the children, making paper airplanes. The children also helped me knit, counting stitches as I cast on.

We saw the maximum number of patients we can serve, 50, though a few extra family members tagged along, too. Adelle introduced herself and me, and then one way or another we asked if we could pray. All but two patients said yes. I had overfilled my oil stock, and so those anointed with a healing cross on their foreheads were clearly marked. In fact healing oil soon covered everything I touched.

At the end of the day, Adelle and I, accompanied by a male translator, walked the batey. Last night at prayer, we had talked about having Christ’s authority to do God’s work. I felt that Christ Presence walking the dirt road of the batey. We walked up to individuals on porches and groups of folks sitting in the shade and offered anointing and a blessing. All said yes. At every open door, we offered a house blessing, and doorway after doorway was marked with an oil cross.

We were able to visit about a quarter of the homes before the bus was ready to bring us back to the mission.

I know that God is always present and is always with us, but despite a day in the heat with endless people, I rode home on a yellow bus over bumpy, dusty roads full of joy and overwhelmed with the beauty of the Lord.

Lord, set me on the road again

It’s a week of mission–I should say, particular intentionality of mission. Hopefully we are missioners wherever whenever we are.

Two years after I first hoped to travel on mission to the Dominican Republic, I am finally on my way here. Consequences due to the Tax Day Flood and then Harvey postponed those trips until now. I was delayed an additional two days because of commitment to teach at Iona School for Ministry this weekend. Our other DR missioners are serving in the bateys as I fly to join them.

A prayer journal for all on mission was prepared to remind us that we journey with Christ for Christ.

I was able to pray Facebook Live Prayers from IAH. We heard the Scripture for the third day of mission:

I’ve been listening to the playlist of music chosen for the trip:

I’m knitting stars to share with the friends I’ll meet in the bateys.

I’ve been working on pastoral Spanish, though the folks we will serve will most likely speak a form of Creole French.

Uncion de los Enferrmos.

Que Dios lo/la bendiga.

Puedo rezar con Ud?

And me. Madre Beth. Sacerdote.

And now I’m now at the Casa Pastorale.

I can’t wait to see what God has in store.

Lock Down Drill at Jewell Elementary

Austin, my seven year old grandson, brought home a letter he wrote to his parents about how he spent the week at school. Included with all the things he was learning like animals of the Amazon rainforest and eating healthy meals was that he’d done a lock down drill.

He was now “prepared” if a gunman came into his school.

Lord. Have mercy. My heart hurts.

What have we done?

I am thoughtful about how we make our children, our children, suffer the consequences of our less than good adult decisions. I am especially mindful these days of how often our short-sighted and even selfish choices cause such harm to those who depend on adults to do what’s best for them. What are we thinking?

Why do we allow our children to be placed in situations they have no way to change? Hungry children. Children without health care. Immigrant children taken from their parents. Children no longer feel safe in public spaces.

Why do we pay their teachers such a disrespectful wage? Why do we place responsibilities on teachers we would not be willing to carry our self?

Early days of my ministry at St. Mary’s, there was a mass gun massacre in one place or another. I was horrified, and I actually prepared a sermon in my mind where I invited all gun owners to bring their guns to church, and we’d take them to a place that repurposed guns. I imagined a ground swell of folks stepping up to say that though they had the right to own guns, that they cared more about guns getting into unsafe hands to continue to hold onto them. I imagined that St. Mary’s would lead this transformation of the world.

For one reason or another I never preached that sermon. I look back now and realize how naive I was.

But what if I had?

I pray about what to do even till this day.

Writing my elected officials feels futile since they are top recipients of donations from the National Rifle Association. Yet, I do. Research indicates that arming more people with guns (like teachers) does not keep us safe because it is more likely innocent victims will come into the range of fire.

Something, some things, must change.

We must all give up something of value to figure this out. But may what we give up not be one more person who walks through a door thinking it’s another ordinary day. Until it’s not.

I walked my grandson to the bus stop today. We told each other we loved each other, and then he merrily got on the bus the way only a second grader can.

I pray for all students, teachers, and school staff. I pray for all who believe violence is the way to communicate.

Truly, I pray I’ll see him again.

Church with my family

The thing about Church, as defined in Scripture, is that every time we gather, we are gathering as family. Truth is, sometimes we act more like distant cousins than brothers and sisters, but that’s for another day.

Today I actually got to go to church with my birth family. I’ve having a little vacation in Oregon with my son, my daughter in law and grandboys, and Sunday worship and teaching at New Hope is always on the Sunday plan.

New Hope, where my Bend family calls home, is part of the Evangelical Church, and the adults worship with praise music and Biblical teaching while the children go to their own age classes.

I always am very thoughtful about what Church really is whenever I go to New Hope and never leave without bringing something home to St. Mary’s. I am particularly thoughtful because I may retire to Bend, and I am full of prayer about what my ministry would look like if I do. Very few folks attend church here, and Bend has endless opportunities. I imagine what Church would look like in this place for me, and I pray about the possibility of partnering with Christ in creating some sort of missional community.

But back to today. It’s a joy to sit beside birth family in church. Today we had the rare gift of communion.

At the end of worship, ushers passed around metal plates of tiny pillows of cracker bread and trays filled with minuscule plastic cups of grape juice. We sang Jesus Paid it All accompanied by a band as communion was distributed. I was back in time to occasions of the Lord’s Supper in my own growing up days in the Baptist Church.

There was no instruction about who could take the meal or not. The only direction was to wait until everyone was served to eat. Standing in our rows of chairs, the ushers held the plates towards each of us one by one with a smile. It was Christ’s table and all were welcome.

When all were served, the pastor read from Scripture:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

And we ate our crisp tiny pillow of bread.

And then he read:

This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And then we drank our thimble full of juice.

And then he read still more:

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

( I Corinthians 11. 23–26).

I was fed and it was holy.

Jesus is in the neighborhood

The Word became flesh and blood,  and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1. 14, The Message)

Back in September, after Hurricane Harvey filled my home, the rectory, with five feet of water, the Vestry had a challenging decision to make.  With two floods in a less than two years, did we rebuild?  Did we rebuild and sell?  Did we sell as is?

After a lot of prayer and a lot of conversion and a lot of research, the decision was made to rebuild. Knowing that it would likely take at least two years for a buyout to go through,  we also made an application to FEMA  and Harris County to buy the rectory.

Although we knew that we had made the best of a difficult decision, I wasn’t certain why that was the holy thing to do until a while later.  I got a glimpse into why God was having me move home to Norchester in the midst of conversations with my neighbors.

I’ve lived in Norchester for twenty years.  People know that the house belongs to St. Mary’s and that I am St. Mary’s priest.  Slowly, over time, neighbors have begun to trust me enough to seek me out to have some conversations about Jesus.  After Harvey, the trust had built to the point where some neighbors allowed me to bring them communion and to pray with them.

This fall, whenever I’d come by home,  neighbors would ask me if I was moving back; so many folks were still trying to decide what to do.  I gave them my answer:

Yes, we were rebuilding.  The house belongs to St. Mary’s, and we want our neighbors to know that the Church is in the neighborhood.  You are not alone.  God is here.

It wasn’t until people began to weep when I said those words that I knew for sure that this was why I had to move back to my home in Norchester.

It wasn’t until I moved home during Eastertide and began to walk the neighborhood in the mornings that I really knew why I was coming home.

My neighborhood continues to look devastated.  Yes, some house are rebuilt and and look better than ever.  Others are in the midst of being rebuilt.  Others have been abandoned.  If there was ever a neighborhood that St. Mary’s and her priest needed to live, this is a place where folks need to be reminded that Jesus is in the neighborhood.

So I’ve bought a sign for my front yard.  It says:

+ St. Mary’s Rectory +  How can we pray with you?  stmaryprays@gmail.com

I’m going to invite parishioners to place the sign in the ground and bless it and the rectory on the Feast of Pentecost.  I chose that day because that’s the day we recall that we were all given the power to be Jesus in whatever neighborhood we are standing.

Then we will spend the summer imagining and living as Jesus.  In our neighborhoods.

Sisters of Grace.

I’m finishing up a near week long retreat at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. I lived in community with over one hundred Roman Catholic Sisters and Protestant clergy women. We gathered for a fifteen year reunion of three Women Touched by Grace classes, thanks to generous underwriting by a Lilly Endowment grant.

It’s been a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Singing morning and evening prayers in women’s voices everyday.

Attending a writing workshop with poet/singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. And yes, we wrote a song together.

So much laughter over cups of coffee.

Sharing stories of deep joy and deep sorrow the way that friends across time only can. Strengthened by the unique connection that women clergy and women religious share.

Watching Spring open wide.

Walking the labyrinth.

Being sung and blessed back into the world by the Sisters.

Oh, and of course, there were cupcakes.

Sister Ann Patrice has said it better than I can. This is indeed a glimpse into God’s beloved kingdom.

A litany on the day of the March for our Lives

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God the Father, You gave the Law that Your people might live in peace,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Son, You suffered violence for the sake of the world,

Have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, You bind us together in a community of love,

Have mercy upon us.

Holy Trinity, One God, You model for us the perfect and holy relationship in which You intend for all people to live:

Have mercy upon us.

 

For all victims of violence, and particularly for those affected by the shootings throughout the world, especially in our schools.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who have been injured, that they might be restored to health, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who are afraid, that they may know Your perfect love which casts out fear, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who mourn, that they may be comforted in their distress, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who have died, that they may be received into Your compassionate embrace, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

For the first responders, firefighters, chaplains, nurses, and all others who work to restore order, heal the wounded, and care for the needs of the community, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For all volunteers who give of their time and resources to meet the needs of those affected by this tragedy, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

For leaders, both in the Church and in the government, who strive for greater peace, compassion, and understanding in the world, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

That the world may one day be free of violence, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That war and bloodshed may one day be no more, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That we may no longer desire revenge when we are wronged, but Your justice, which is mercy and grace, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That each of us might be empowered and equipped to work toward a just and peaceful society, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

That all people might be united to seek the cause of Your Kingdom, we pray to You, O Lord:

Lord, hear our prayer.

 

We ask Your forgiveness for the ways in which we ourselves are complicit in the problem of violence in the world.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any harm we have done to one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any unkind words we have spoken against one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any prejudice, bitterness, or hate we harbor in our hearts.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for any ill we have wished upon one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for the times when we have repaid evil for evil.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for the times when we have been slow to forgive.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

We ask Your forgiveness for all we do, think, and say which falls short of Your command to us to love one another.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us,

And help us to show mercy to one another.

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Your name: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Yours is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.

O God, You made us in Your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus Your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish Your purposes on earth; that, in
Your good time, all nations and races may serve You in
harmony around Your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Litany written by Anna Howell.

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