Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Memory of Dust

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

With these familiar words Lent is off and running.  Every year we gather in this place to have the soot of burned palm crosses spread across our foreheads.  And every year we gather to remember the central truth put forward by the 7th verse in the 2nd chapter of Genesis:
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
We are formed by God and animated by God.  We are both dust – of the earth – and breath – of God.  We in the Christian tradition add to this mix the water of baptism, moistening our dust and breath so we can be like clay in the hands of a Holy Potter, shaped by Christ for Christ to be like Christ.

That is a lot to think about and it is a lot to remember!  You are dust.  You are breath.  You are water.  Perhaps a good way to begin the reflective season of Lent is to ponder each of these realities of your life. 

The dust represents your physical, earthy existence.  It is what you eat and drink.  It is how your body works.  It is how you allow your spirit to live and move and have its being in the things of the earth: in the warmth of the sun, under the flickering light of the stars, in the comfort of a soothing bath, in the arms of a tender embrace.  Your dust needs its day.  How is your dust doing?  When do you pay attention to your dustiness?  What more might you do to give your dust its due?

The breath represents God within you.  Think of your own breathing.  Most of your breaths come about through an unconscious process.  You inhale and exhale most often without giving it a thought.  So too, most of God’s presence in our lives happens because God is present without our conscious awareness.  But then there are those times when we need to stop and “catch our breath.”  In these moments we are very much engaged in the breathing process.  These are the times we reach out to God for help or grace or guidance or forgiveness.  The act of worship and regular prayer is something like the mindful breathing of yoga.  The intentional inviting of God’s breath affects us.  It does something to our dust.  It helps our dust to settle down when it is being blown about by something other than God’s breath.  It makes us healthy and whole and restores us to who we are to be.  What might you do to be more mindful about inviting God’s breath into your life?

The water represents your baptism.  Your old dust and breath drowned in this water so that you can rise to new life with Christ.  It cleanses you.  I refreshes you.  It renews you.  It allows you to be molded and shaped into the image of Christ.  Where is your life like Christ’s?  How might you acknowledge and celebrate the ways your life is a reflection of his?   Is there an aspect or two of your life you sense you are ready to allow the Potter to reshape?  Are there things about your life you do not want the Potter’s hands to touch?

Remember you are dust.  What happens if you don’t remember this truth?  Perhaps pondering the definition of the word “remember” might help.  After a brief Google search here is what I found:  Remember – “have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past)."  To remember is to bring to mind an awareness of something you have known in the past.

Why remember you are dust?  Well, I find my life goes better when I am aware of the world as God has made it – when dust is dust and breath is breath and water is water.  I have had so many experiences of great clarity where each is what it is supposed to be.  These are the times I feel most fully alive.  The reality is these moments don’t last forever.  They give way to forgetfulness, and sometimes to confusion, and sometimes to absolute distortion.  I begin to treat the dust as if it is the breath – as if it is the thing that gives life.  I treat the breath like it is dust – just another demand on my time.  And there are times when I allow myself to be formed by liquids other than the water of baptism.  Placed in the hands of other potters, and, at times, trying to be my own potter, my life begins to lose its distinctive, Christ-like shape.

Our remembering tonight is an act of recalling – remembering who we are – and it is an act of re-calling – accepting God’s invitation to live as dust with God’s breath in us and water of baptism working through us. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

St. Paul's Pilgrimage Sunday

“The Brick Church”
at Reid’s Ferry
The earliest permanent settlement along the Nansemond River and its tributaries dates back to 1630.  By 1635, people gather in private homes to read services from the Book of Common Prayer.  In 1642, the Virginia General Assembly divides Nansemond County into three parishes—South (Upper), East (Lower), and West (Chuckatuck). 
Within a few years, the Upper Parish builds a church on high ground overlooking the Western Branch of the Nansemond River near Reid’s Ferry.  Its design is unknown, but most likely it is a simple structure with a rather plain interior. 
It is possible the farm land surrounding the site today served as a Glebe Farm used by the church’s minister.  For many years there was a very old house on the property known as “The Abbey”, and it may have served as church-supplied living quarters for the minister and his family.

“The Handsome New Brick Church”
at First and Back Streets

In 1746, the Vestry decides to build a new brick church in a location where it can serve the greatest number of people.  It places the church near Constant’s Wharf in the newly established “Towne of Suffolk.”
This decision is not popular with everyone.  Some do not like the site.  Most object to the Vestry attaching a levy to every person in the area to fund the project.  Still, the work is completed by July 26, 1753. 
The building, damaged during the Revolutionary War, is badly in need of repair.  Funds are difficult to find as the church now is disestablished from the state.  In addition, the Episcopal Church, with its historical ties to England, falls out of favor in the newly formed country. 
By 1820, the building is torn down and its bricks are sold off. 

“The Episcopal Church on the Hill”
The Union Chapel

Ninety clergymen serve parishes in Virginia at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  By the end of the war there are only twenty.  Suffolk Episcopalians have no minister, our building is in disrepair, and our numbers dwindle. 
Still, people want a space for special services and burials.  A piece of land at the end of Cross Street is donated and a small chapel is erected on the site.  The building is used by Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, and O’Kellyites.
A representative from Suffolk is present at the 1827 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  Minutes indicate he is a member of St. Paul’s Church, the first record of the use of our parish name.  On February 28, 1828, Bishop Richard Channing ordains Jacob Keeling, an active member of the congregation, to serve as our priest.  He leads our congregation until 1843. 
By 1872, the chapel is torn down and moved to 127 Pine Street.  The cemetery remains, expands, and today is known as Cedar Hill Cemetery.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
300 Block of North Main Street
Episcopalians gather on April 25, 1845 to lay a cornerstone for a new building.  A brick Gothic-style church is completed a year later. 
Our current bell dates back to this site.  The tablets in the Chapel can be seen in a photograph of the interior.  The Altar Rail from the church has been repurposed as an accent piece in our Parish Hall Entrance. 
The building sees much use during the Civil War.  Northern Episcopalians occupying the city use it to hold worship services, much to the consternation of Ms. Mattie Prentiss who, in a letter, writes she is worried what the rector will say when he returns.
By the end of the century, the congregation outgrows the building.  Mrs. A.S. Darden, who owns land to the south and the west of the church, offers to donate a small lot for expansion, but the Vestry determines it will not be adequate for the church’s future needs.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
213 North Main Street

Prior to our church’s construction, this site is home to the Allegheny Hotel.  The lot is narrow and deep, with 70 feet of frontage on Main Street and running westward 273 feet to a creek now running under Clay Street.
Our first service here is held on June 16, 1895.  The original building includes the present sanctuary and a hall with a footprint following our current mezzanine library and chapel entrance.  Randolph Hall is built in 1914.  A u-shaped addition is wrapped around it in 1922.  Our current Christian Education wing is built in 1962.  The chapel is expanded in 1967.  A major renovation in 1989 adds our current office space and bathrooms. 
In addition to the original piece of property, over time we purchase six more lots to make up the grounds we now call our parish home.
All told, we have been worshipping at 213 North Main Street in downtown Suffolk for 122 years.  We will want to celebrate our 125th anniversary at this site in 2020!

The Holy Communion
A Eucharistic Prayer for St. Paul’s Pilgrimage Sunday:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good, and joyful thing,
always and everywhere to give thanks to you,
Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
through Jesus Christ our great High Priest,
in whom we are built up as living stones of a holy temple,
that we might offer before you
a sacrifice of praise and prayer
which is holy and pleasing in your sight.
Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with Angels and Archangels,
with the members of St. Paul’s
who gather now around your glorious throne,
and with all the company of heaven,
who for ever sing this hymn
to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
      Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
      Hosanna in the highest.
Loving God,
You appeared in a dream to our ancestor Jacob
and told him you are with him and will keep him
wherever he may go.

So too you have been with the faithful people
of St. Paul’s Church, the Parish of the Upper Nansemond,
for three hundred seventy-five years. 
As our church has moved from site to site,
and as the generations of our members
have tended to the demands of our various occupations,
You have been with us and you have kept us.

You have bound us together with your Holy Spirit
that we might manifest in our midst and to the world
your light and your love
made known to us in your Son, Jesus Christ.
His teachings have guided us to life in all its fullness.
His acts have demonstrated for us
your justice and kindness and mercy.
His offering of himself on the Cross
has destroyed death, cleansed us of the stain of sin,
and opened to all the path to eternal life.

Gathering in community with his friends,
as was his practice,
our Lord Jesus Christ took bread;
and when he had given thanks to you,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said,
“Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine;
and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said,
“Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant,
which is shed for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

Therefore, according to his command, O Father,
We remember his death,
We proclaim his resurrection,
We await his coming in glory.

We bring before you this bread and this wine,
our offerings of deep thanksgiving and devotion.
We give them to you in grateful recognition
all we have is a gift that comes from you.
We ask you to accept them
as symbols of our life and our labor and our love for you.

Send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts
that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ
and his Blood of the new Covenant.

And even as you make these elements holy gifts for us,
send your Holy Spirit upon us
that we may be your holy gifts
for one another and to the world. 

Strengthen us by receiving this precious meal
that we may be sustained and enthused
for the work and the witness you give us to do
in and through this church in our time.
Through this sacrament remind us
that you are with us and will keep wherever we go.

And at the last,
gather us with all the faithful members of our parish
who have received the crown of life
and heard the blessed benediction of your words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

All this we ask through Jesus Christ;
by him, and with him, and in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father,
now and for ever.  Amen.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving after Communion:

Let us pray.

Lord God, our watchful shepherd,
we thank you for the gift of our parish
and the legacy entrusted to us.

We thank you for giving us this place
where our faith is nurtured,
our joys shared,
our wounds healed,
and our sorrows comforted.

On this day we are deeply grateful
for the heritage we have received
from generation upon generation
of Suffolk Episcopalians.

And we are honored to be a part of an on-going witness
to your goodness and glory.

May this day, and the holy meal we have just shared,
encourage us and sustain us in our pilgrimage of life.

And may it assure us you are always with us,
and always keeping us,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

“Life is to be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards”  - Søren Kierkegaard