To Grow In Love: The Company We Keep

To Grow In Love: The Company We Keep

 Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with member of the band U2

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

My husband and I recently went to see the documentary film Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, which I had already seen once and would gladly watch again. In the words of  Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, “It is uplifting when someone who says he is a Christian actually behaves like one.”  

Our beloved Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is experiencing now a similar level of global admiration for his joyful, courageous, compelling Christian witness. Like Pope Francis, he is pointing us all to the love of Jesus, and how the world is changed for the better whenever someone chooses to live a Jesus-centered life.

As summer begins in earnest, I encourage you to spend time with the people who inspire you, and in particular, to draw strength and courage from the witness of inspiring Christians. We would be made of stone not to be sometimes discouraged, given the challenges we face and the pain of our world. It’s easy to become cynical when we see how the Christian message of love is routinely distorted or ignored. But there is a communion of robust saints all around us. They show us that it’s possible to live, here and now, as Jesus would have us live–with joy and compassion, gratitude for all that is good and wholehearted commitment to change those things that break God’s heart and ours. They spur us on, as is written in the Letter to the Hebrews, “toward love and good deeds.”

If you’re looking for inspiring summer reading, I can suggest Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, by Gregory Boyle. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. His book will make you laugh, cry and be proud to be a Christian. And he believes in the power of Christian witness:  

In a recent New Yorker profile of American Baptists, the congregation’s leadership resigned itself to the fact that “secular culture” would always be “hostile” to Christianity. I don’t believe this is true. Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.

 Bryan Stevenson

Another compelling Christian witness is Bryan Stevenson founder of Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the book, Just Mercy. For years Stevenson has worked to overturn death penalty convictions, especially for juveniles and the mentally ill, More recently, he has focused on work of deep racial reconciliation in this country, which he insists must be rooted in an honest examination of our history.

Given the weight of his work and inevitable discouragement he faces every day, he is often asked how he manages to stay hopeful. Here is a typical reply:  

I really do believe in things I haven’t seen. I actually believe that we can create communities in this country where people are less burdened by our history of racial inequality. I believe it, even though I haven’t seen it, and I think that hope has real power in how you live and how you function. I don’t think we’re allowed, frankly, to get hopeless and beat down, and I think that’s the upside to understanding our history. The more we understand the depth of that suffering, the more we understand the power of people to cope and overcome and survive. . . When you’re surrounded by a community of witnesses, it inspires you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do.

I’m also inspired by the steady faithfulness and quiet joy of many people in our diocese. I hope that you know who you are. You are the ones who offer to help, without complaint; who show up or share your resources when others are in need, who pray then rise from prayer with renewed commitment to follow Jesus.  Thank you. 

Next week our diocesan deputation will be in Austin, Texas, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. We expect to be inspired by the Presiding Bishop, who will preach several times throughout the week. Those sermons will be live-streamed, and I invite you to watch on both July 5 and 7. He will invite us all to engage the spiritual practices of a Jesus-centered Life. 

I will write more about that next week. In the meantime, take time to seek out those who inspire you. Let their example renew your soul and strengthen your resolve be a person of faith, hope, and love.

God’s Hands Among the Laity

God’s Hands Among the Laity

Small group work at AEL session

Excitement and nerves. An opportunity to engage a complex ministry challenge collaboratively. The realization that God had equipped each person in the room with unique gifts to move the process along in a reminder that it is better together than alone. (Ecc. 4:9)

I have no doubt that this swirl of hope and faith, anxious and enthusiastic in turns, lived inside the 11 individuals from five parishes in our diocesan Latino/Hispanic Ministry who attended Academia Ecuménica de Liderazgo (AEL – Ecumenical Leadership Academy) training at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) last November. As mentor to their group, I felt the rush, too. Something powerful was forming, a seed planted that held the potential to bear amazing fruit.

A “train the trainers” program for laity interested in starting and facilitating adult formation programs, the AEL format features an online and small-group hybrid approach shepherded by lay leaders. Before leaving VTS, the newly trained facilitators would develop a draft work plan to guide them through the implementation process in their home parishes.

AEL planning team

By early April, with support from their clergy, the final planning group of six lay leaders embarked on a journey to prepare how they would kick off AEL in their communities. As many of you know, the planning stage of any project is the most critical because you must address the elephant in the room — the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Now multiply that by a common language and add over 11 distinct cultural contexts. With time and intentionality, the planning group agreed upon sharing costs, facilities, a timeline, and out of the 12 possible courses ranging from evangelism to liturgy to the Book of Common Prayer, they would begin forming disciples by offering a class on the Bible.

The group announced the class within their respective congregations. The format for each session would include convivio (fellowship), prayer, hymns, games, video presentation and reflection. The reflection portion would provide space for all involved to synthesize where they encounter God in specific situations, including those simple things that happen in their daily life. In mid-May, they kicked off the first of eight sessions, with 20 participants (two groups of 10). By week three, they were at a maximum capacity of 30 (2 groups of 15). Truly, the Holy Spirit was at work.  

According to Araceli Ma, one of the facilitators and a member of the Church of Our Savior, the experience of AEL and learning to read the Bible among brothers and sisters from various congregations and at different levels of experience, allows everyone to connect, speak, and learn from one another. “There is a special energy that makes everyone collaborate — the participants come enthusiastically to help arrange chairs or equipment, share a Bible, eat together and begin to know each other at a deeper level, which makes it very motivating to do AEL.” Sarabeth Goodwin, Latino Missioner for the diocese, noted it is, “great to see the empowerment of laity as they become comfortable in leading others.”

As their mentor, witnessing and supporting the passion and commitment of these lay leaders has been a breath of fresh air. The excitement as they gather via Zoom week after week to do their lesson plan inspires me as a lay person, to see new paths to discipleship being embraced and created. This calling to incorporate new learning models and experiences that embody the teachings of Christ in Christian formation is extremely transformative. I have learned more than I have taught and look forward to seeing the fruits of all those involved. Knowing that God’s hands are at work among the laity reassures me that there is an eagerness to adapt to a new environment of forming disciples.

Are you interested in creating a laity-led adult formation group? Want to learn more about the AEL model and how it can work in your parish or regional context? Want to explore where your gifts, ministry, and mission can lead you and others? I welcome your questions and looking forward to hearing from you.

Mildred Reyes, Missioner for Collaborative Formation

Celebration of New Ministry at St. Mary Maglalene

Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:7-13; 15-16

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
John 15:9-16

I would like to begin with a word of admiration and gratitude for the people of St. Mary Magdalene, those who have served in leadership, been faithful in prayer, persevering in your commitment to follow Jesus and hold fast to the gift and responsibility of Christian community. You have weathered more than your share of storms, both in your personal journeys and as a community. Only you know what your life journey has required of you thus far, and yet you are here, singing, dancing, sharing life with one another. In the past year you have opened your hearts to welcome our newest Spanish language congregation, Misa Magdalena, a priceless gift of hospitality and community building.

I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Sarah’s family and friends, all who have loved and supported her on the remarkable journey of her life thus far. The more I learn about you, Sarah, the more amazed I am at where you have been, what you have been through, how God has been at work in and through you, and that you are here. And you are here, in no small part, because of the those who love you, those who have channels of grace and support, challenge and encouragement. I know how grateful you are for them.

I also acknowledge with gratitude our colleagues in ministry, your clergy partners in ministry in Central Montgomery County, throughout the Diocese of Washington, and our friends from other branches of the Christian faith. We are less without you, and we all abide from the same vine.

Finally, I give thanks to the Holy Spirit for bringing Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene together. We would never have guessed it; could never, on our own, have orchestrated it. Yet here we are, celebrating a new chapter of Christian discipleship and ministry that is already bearing the first fruits of God’s blessing.

On more than one occasion, Sarah has said to me that she feels as if everything about her life has prepared her for St. Mary Magdalene, that she truly understands the power of being called to a particular place. In my Sunday visitation here a few months back, I could tell there was a power and a grace at work here that is truly of God. This new beginning honors the joys and struggles of the people here, and in Sarah’s own life, and opens you to new possibilities.

One of the great miracle stories in Jesus’ ministry tells of a time when a large crowd of people had gathered to hear Jesus preach and teach. At the end of that very long day, his disciples suggested that he dismiss the crowds and send them home, for there was no food for them to eat. In one version of the story, Jesus asks them what they had to offer; which wasn’t much, and in another, a young boy comes forward with his lunch. In both versions, what Jesus has to work with is a few loaves and some fish. In the version featuring the disciples, they are very worried about not having enough. In the version where the boy steps forward, the doesn’t seem worried at all. He’s happy to share. In both accounts, you recall, Jesus takes the loaves and fish, asks God’s blessing, and in some miraculous way, all in their crowd eat their fill, with food to spare.

Sometimes I think if that were the only story we had about Jesus and his ministry, it would be enough to teach us about what it means to follow him. For what Jesus asks his followers, and asks us now, is to offer what we have, no matter how small our offerings seem to us in the face of great need, and to allow Jesus to do what only he can do. The amazing thing is that he seems to need our offering. He wants us to know we are part of the miracle, that our gifts are of great value.  

In the version with the young boy, after the story continues and everyone has eaten, Jesus instructs his disciples to gather up the fragments, so that none may be lost. That, I believe, is what Jesus says to you each day, people of St. Mary Magdalene. With Sarah as your spiritual leader and friend: gather up the fragments, all the bits and pieces of your lives and histories, all joys and sorrows, so that nothing is lost. Everything about you–who you are, where you have been, what you have experienced, your gifts and your broken places–is precious to God. There are no throwaway people in the Kingdom of God. The circle is wide enough for everyone.

As you experience the way Jesus gathers you up, so that nothing about your life and life story is lost, you cannot help but want to do the same for others, drawing your circle wider to invite others to share in the blessing you have received. While it’s not easy work, it’s not a burden any longer, but rather your great joy.

On this day of new beginning, I have but a few words of encouragement and, if I may, of exhortation.

First: Dare to believe that you are not only God’s beloved, but those whom Jesus is pleased to call his friends. Jesus is your friend–one who cares for you far more than he cares about what he might receive from you. While he cannot, as you well know, spare you from the storms and heartaches of this life, he is with you, always. Nothing about you is insignificant to him. In the words of one of the earliest church fathers, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Jesus wants that for you.

Make your friendship with Jesus a priority. For those of us who are in our elder years, it’s tempting to imagine that we already know all there is to know about him, that there are no surprises in store for us. Nothing could be further from truth. On the contrary: he calls each one of us, every day, to know and love him, and to become more like him in love, in our capacity for forgiveness, and to give of ourselves in service to others. What might you do to deepen your friendship to God as revealed to us in Jesus?

Second, go deeper in friendship with one another as well. You are blessed with the gift of extraordinary diversity–as the nearly 40 flags in today’s procession clear demonstrates. That diversity is a source of strength and love. But you don’t need me to tell you that there are also challenges, as you bump up against different life experiences, opinions on how to run the church, styes and practices of worship. Find ways to listen deeply to each other’s stories. Share your lives together. Pray with and for one another.

Third, lean into joy whenever you experience it. There is so much hardship and struggle in life and in the world, so much sorrow to hold and respond to. But there is also joy, laughter, and dancing. They are what sustain us.  They are also precious fragments to be gathered up and cherished. Jesus cannot promise us a joyful world in which to live, but he can give us joy in the midst of the world as it is. How we need that joy now.

Finally, hear again Jesus’ words again about fruitfulness: “I chose you,” he says to you, dear Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Think of all that is required for a tree or a plant to bear fruit. It needs rich and nourishing soil. It needs pruning from time to time, and careful attention to changing weather and seasons. If I were so bold as to make a guess, this is a new spring for you, after a long winter.

So pay attention to the tasks of spring. Tend to your soil. Marvel at the new buds of growth and invest in the rising generations, and give thanks for the first fruits, with their promise of an even more abundant harvest. Imagine what might be in a few years’ time.

You are not alone in this garden–we, your friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, are tending the soil right alongside you, and we’re here to help and pray. And today, we’re glad to celebrate this new season of life for the faithful of St. Mary Magdalene with your new rector, the Rev. Sarah Lamming.  

Immigration Becomes a Family Matter

I first met Fredy Diaz about 10 years ago at a meeting of Latino leaders of our Diocese. He was a leader at St. Mathew’s/San Mateo, where he was a member of its vestry. His charisma and energetic personality stood out immediately.  

I eventually came to know something of Fredy’s history: He came to the United States from Honduras when he was just 17, and over the next 20 years established a life for himself and his family here.  

In 2015, Fredy moved to Gaithersburg where he, his wife Berta and their three American-born children joined the Church of the Ascension. Fredy and Berta are both supervisors in their places of work, he with a landscaping firm, manages work teams and negotiates new contracts, and she as Manager of Housekeeping for a hotel.

At Ascension, Fredy stepped into leadership as a member of “La Mesa Latina,” the congregational leadership group. Fredy took charge of the grounds and kept them looking spiffy.  He began to manage the technology for the Latino congregation’s services, streaming Sunday services online, and producing the weekly PowerPoint for on-screen services. He participates in  Ministerio Felicidad, which provides lunches for day workers and homeless people. And Fredy is also a singer and composer. In the little spare time he has produced two albums.

Two weeks ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was waiting for Fredy as he was on his way to work. He is currently in a detention center in Glen Burnie, MD, where he remains incarcerated. The family is reeling. The children are bewildered. Berta is trying to remain strong as she doubles down to make ends meet while doing her best to comfort the children. The people of Ascension, Gaithersburg are supporting the family as they can through financial donations, as well as through a support network providing assistance in any number of ways, in the hope of making the children’s lives seem as normal as possible during their “Papi’s” absence.

We understand that Fredy’s attorney has been able to defer any deportation proceedings pending notification from immigration authorities whether they will reopen his case. We ask you to pray for Fredy, Berta and their children, and for all our immigrant families, who are eating the bread of anxiety during these terrible times.

If you are moved to help in a more direct way or wish to know more about Fredy and his family,  contact Church of the Ascension by clicking here.

 By The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, Latino Missioner

La Inmigración Es un Asunto de Familia

Conocí a Fredy Díaz hace unos 10 años en una reunión de líderes latinos de nuestra Diócesis. En aquel entonces asistía a Saint Matthew’s /San Mateo, donde era miembro de su junta parroquial. Su carisma y personalidad energética se destacaron de inmediato.

A través de los años, llegué a conocer algo de la historia de Fredy: vino a los Estados Unidos de Honduras cuando tenía solo 17 años, y durante los siguientes 20 años estableció su vida y comenzó una familia aquí.

En 2015, Fredy y su familia se mudaron a Gaithersburg, donde con su esposa Berta y sus tres hijos nacidos en los Estados Unidos se unieron a la Iglesia de la Ascensión. Fredy y Berta son supervisores en sus lugares de trabajo–él trabaja en una empresa de landscaping, donde maneja los equipos de trabajo y negocia nuevos contratos, y ella es Directora de limpieza y mantenimiento de cuartos de un hotel.

En Ascensión, Fredy asumió el liderazgo como miembro de “La Mesa Latina”, el grupo de liderazgo congregacional. Fredy se hizo cargo de los terrenos de la iglesia y los mantuvo con mucho cuidado y cariño. Comenzó a administrar la tecnología para los servicios de la congregación latina, transmitiendo los servicios dominicales en línea y produciendo las presentaciones de PowerPoint para proyectar los servicios en pantalla. Participa en el Ministerio Felicidad, que ofrece almuerzos para jornaleros y personas sin hogar. Fredy también es cantante y compositor. En su poco tiempo libre ha producido dos CDs.

Hace dos semanas, el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas de EE. UU. (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés), estaba esperando a Fredy cuando se dirigía a su trabajo muy de mañana. Ahora se encuentra en un centro de detención en Glen Burnie, MD, donde permanece encarcelado. La familia está tambaleándose. Los niños están desconcertados. Berta está tratando de mantenerse fuerte haciendo lo necesario para llegar al fin del mes y haciendo lo posible por consolar a los niños. La gente de Ascensión, Gaithersburg están apoyando a la familia como pueden, a través de donaciones financieras, así como a través de una red de apoyo que ofrece asistencia de muchas maneras, con la esperanza de hacer que los niños experimentan la vida en la manera más normal posible durante la ausencia de su “Papi.”

Entendemos que el abogado de Fredy ha podido aplazar cualquier procedimiento de deportación hasta que las autoridades de inmigración les notifiquen si van a reabrir su caso. Pedimos sus oraciones por Fredy, Berta y sus hijos, y por todas nuestras familias inmigrantes, que están comiendo el pan de ansiedad durante estos tiempos aterrorizantes.

Si quieren saber cómo pueden ayudar de manera más directa o por saber más de Fredy, contacten a la Iglesia de la Ascensión haciendo clic aquí.