Story Circles

Story Circles

by the Rev. Dr. Kate Heichler

On an Advent Sunday [in 2021], a chunk of the congregation at Christ Church in La Plata gathered for our first parish lunch since the pandemic. Over chili and cornbread, we welcomed first-time visitors and longtime members, all there to share and tell the “Story of Christ Church” as part of the Tending Our Soil thriving congregations initiative. Two longtime parishioners, who came to the church at the ages of 0 and 5, respectively, took us through a timeline of the past 25 years. Then we moved the tables, circled up the chairs – with room for the big screen showing Zoom participants – and began a Story Circle.

Starting with “Once upon a time, in 1683, in Port Tobacco, a group of settlers decided they wanted an Anglican Church…” each person in turn took up the story, adding their part, all prefaced by a time reference: “Roughly 350 years after that, my family and I saw the rainbow-colored wind sock in front of Christ and thought, ‘I’d like to try that church.’” And “About 14 years before that, my wife and I moved to La Plata and found Christ Church, and two years later I was confirmed as an Episcopalian,” and “Two years ago I attended a HeartSongs Open Mic night here and Rev. Kate asked me, “How do you bring light into the world.” (She did? Yikes!)

As we went around the circle, a story emerged of a church in which many have found a welcoming home, sometimes after painful times elsewhere; of a sanctuary and worship in which many feel the presence of the Holy Spirit; of active and creative outreach; and warm fellowship. This exercise is to help us craft a succinct “Story of Christ Church” that people can easily tell others. It is one of the ways Tending Our Soil invites us to turn over our soil and aerate it, letting in light and air, making room for planting seeds that will bear abundant fruit of transformation in our community. The next step will be to learn the “Story of Our Neighborhood” – to better know the fields in which we are called to plant those seeds of gospel life.

Tending Our Soil is a rich opportunity for Christ Church in La Plata and our sister church, Christ Church Wayside, to get our hands dirty in our missional gardens. Over the course of three years it will help us to focus our mission, strengthen our lay leadership and ministry teams, and make a transforming impact in our regions. We are poised for growth, ready to pivot to where the Spirit shows openings.

We are living a story God has been writing since the beginning of time and invites us to add our chapters; a story of sorrow and joy, stuckness and movement, despair and hope. Above all it is a story of Jesus and how we make him known. God has written the end to that story already. We just get to live it out.

Advent Quiet Day for Clergy

Advent Quiet Day for Clergy

Join us for a time of quiet, reflection and prayer, an opportunity for each to ponder the question: “Who does Christ want to be for me just now?” The shadow side of ministry is the tendency to neglect our own receptivity to Christ, given the constant pull to attend to others. Two addresses by Fr Martin will offer suggestions for thought and prayer.

9.30 Coffee etc
10.00 Opening prayer followed by First Meditation
11.45 Second Meditation
1.00 Lunch with background music
2.30 Reflection and sharing with closing prayer.

The Quiet Day will be held at Loyola on the Potomac in Charles County. The cost is $45 for the day and includes lunch. Please make your donations to Loyola on the day of the event; if you’re writing a check, make it payable to “Loyola on the Potomac.”

Fr Martin Smith is well known throughout the Episcopal Church and beyond as a retreat leader and teacher and as the author of a series of enduring books exploring contemporary spirituality, including The Word is Very Near You, A Season for the Spirit, Compass and Stars, Love Set Free, Reconciliation. Washington is the base of his roving ministry of spiritual formation.

Register by clicking the link under “website” below.

5 Advent Resources to Grow in Faith

5 Advent Resources to Grow in Faith

5 advent resources to grow in faith, image of an angel appearing before a woman praying

Image comes from’s Say Yes: Advent Weekly Placemat

December is just around the corner. Not only is this one of the busiest times of year, it’s also one of the richest spiritual seasons in the Church. Advent–the four weeks preceding Christmas–is a liturgical season that invites Christians to remember God’s promise that God, in Jesus, came among us and will come to us again. We are invited to slow down and prepare our hearts for this truth. Given the busyness of the season, this invitation can feel a little daunting. But, it doesn’t have to.

There are many creative resources available to assist you, your family, and your congregation on the Advent journey. Below, you’ll find a curated list featuring five of my favorite Advent resources. Each one is fresh, imagaintive, and a fun way to engage the season and draw closer to the God who draws close to us.

Advent in 2 Minutes | Busted Halo
This video could be utilized as people gather for worship, in the parish newsletter, social media, or as a discussion prompt for an adult formation group about the meaning of Advent.

Illustrated Advent Resources | Illustrated Ministry
Illustrated Ministry offers beautiful advent themed coloring pages, posters, devotional guides, family activities, shadow box theaters, nativities, ornament sets, and many other illustrated resources based on scripture. This is a favorite for all ages!

Advent RoundUp | SALT
This overview of SALT’s highlights includes poetry devotionals featuring E.E. Cummings, Mary Oliver, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Maya Angelou, as well as family friendly resources. SALT’s customizable short films and printable resources can be tailor made with your church’s name and worship times, making it easy to extend the invitation to your community.

Creating Advent & Christmas Faith Practices in a Box | Traci Smith
Gift families a way to tangibly mark the Advent season and celebrate Christmas by engaging different fun-filled practices highlighted in the book, Faithful Families for Advent & Christmas.

Gathering to Write: An Intergenerational Advent Practice | Lauren Graeber
This activity for all ages could be done individually, as a family, or as a larger community. Check out the full Advent Roundup from Building Faith here.

Consider engaging one of these practices to deepen your faith life this December. Each resource has the potential to help you remember that God is present, inviting you to follow the path to Bethlehem and hear anew the good news that God chooses to be flesh and dwell among us.

The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell
Missioner for Faith Formation and Development

El regalo más grande

El regalo más grande

La fe, la esperanza y el amor. Pero el más importante de todos es el amor.
1 Corintios 13:13

Hay una canción navideña estilo country que cuenta la historia del nacimiento de Jesús desde la perspectiva de los ángeles. El corazón de la canción está en su estribillo de una línea: Y los ángeles lloraron.

Si alguna vez has tenido a un recién nacido en tus brazos, sabes por qué: lloraron por amor.

A lo largo del Adviento he estado reflexionando sobre lo que es esencial para la fe cristiana. Por esencial, no me refiero a lo que es indispensable, sino a lo que es su esencia, el fundamento sobre el que descansa todo lo demás y lo que quedará cuando todo lo demás se vaya. En las publicaciones anteriores, escribí de la fe como nuestra respuesta a los misteriosos movimientos de gracia en nuestras vidas y describí cómo la esperanza puede venir a nosotros en medio de las cosas más difíciles.

Ahora, a medida que se acerca la Navidad, escribo de lo que el Apóstol Pablo consideró el regalo más grande de todos.

Usamos la palabra amor para describir todo, desde nuestras preferencias personales hasta nuestras relaciones más queridas. La palabra de Pablo para el amor aquí es ágape, que se refiere al amor de Dios. Es más profundo que cualquier cosa que podamos entender o expresar por nuestra cuenta. El amor de Dios es inmerecido, incondicional y eterno. No podemos ganar ni perder el amor de Dios, porque es la esencia de Dios.

Cuando experimentamos el amor de Dios, no podemos evitar ser cambiados para mejor. Cuando presenciamos tal amor manifestado en otra persona, somos inspirados más allá de las palabras. Y cuando se nos da la gracia de ofrecer una expresión del amor de Dios a alguien más, nos sentimos bendecidos, incluso cuando se nos pide que vayamos mucho más allá de nuestras capacidades humanas y sacrifiquemos nuestros propios deseos.

A menudo se dice que este tipo de amor es más una elección que un sentimiento, lo cual es cierto en el sentido de que recibir el amor de Dios y compartirlo con otros no depende de cuán amorosos nos sentimos. Pero las emociones poderosas acompañan a menudo la experiencia del amor de Dios. Como los ángeles, podemos ser conmovidos al punto de las lágrimas.

Piense en aquellos tiempos en los que, por ejemplo, fue como si nos fueran dados ojos para ver como Dios ve y un corazón para amar como Dios ama, aunque sólo por un momento. A menudo ocurre al nacer un niño. Sosteniendo a un recién nacido, miramos a los ojos de un milagro y nuestro amor es puro y completo. También puede suceder cuando algo precioso en nuestra vida está llegando a su fin, o al final de la vida misma. De repente vemos claramente lo que habíamos dado por sentado anteriormente, y nuestros corazones estallan con amor por lo que ahora debemos rendirnos. Como los ángeles, lloramos.

El ex arzobispo de Canterbury Rowan Williams dijo una vez que si quieres saber cómo es Dios, no busques más que el pesebre y la cruz: “Dios actúa regalando toda fuerza y éxito a medida que los entendemos. El universo vive por un amor que se niega a intimidarnos o forzarnos, el amor del pesebre y la cruz.”

La verdad es que podemos desear una clase diferente de amor de Dios. Porque el amor de Dios, cuando lo experimentamos, no nos fija mágicamente al mundo en el que vivimos. Por razones que nunca entenderemos completamente, cuando Dios viene a nosotros en Jesús, él prefiere hacer su hogar en nuestros seres vulnerables. Dios no rechaza nuestra vulnerabilidad. Dios también es paciente, y espera que abramos la puerta. Siempre somos libres de decir que no. Como escribe Richard Rohr: “El Amor Divino es tan puro que nunca manipula, avergüenza o se impone a sí mismo sobre nadie. El amor espera ser invitado y deseado, y sólo entonces se apresura a entrar”.

Si te preguntas dónde aparecerá el amor de Dios a continuación para ti, podrías tratar de pensar en lo que está comenzando o terminando en tu vida. Entonces pide la gracia para ver como Dios ve y amar como el amor de Dios. Otro lugar para mirar es donde uno se siente más indigno del amor de Dios y pasa tiempo allí, invitando de nuevo a Jesús a revelarte su presencia allí. Otro lugar para mirar son los ojos de aquellos para quienes el amor llega fácilmente a ustedes, y a los ojos de aquellos que luchan por amar. Mira en el espejo; escucha el sonido de tu propia voz; considera el latido de tu propio corazón y el milagro que es. Luego, recorre con la mirada todo el mundo e imagine la posibilidad de que el amor de Dios se manifieste en lugares marcados por el dolor y el sufrimiento, la maravilla y la alegría.

Al igual que los ángeles, no hay que tener miedo de derramar algunas lágrimas por el dolor y la alegría de todo, la maravilla de la vida y el misterio del amor. Cristo viene a nuestro lugar de lágrimas con los dones más grandes, dados a nosotros desde el corazón de Dios.

El regalo más grande

The Greatest Gift

Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

There’s a country western Christmas song that tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of the angels. The heart of the song is in its one-line refrain: And the angels cried.

If you’ve ever held a newborn in your arms, you know why: they cried for love.

Throughout Advent I’ve been pondering what is essential to the Christian faith. By essential, I don’t mean what is indispensable, but rather what is its essence, the foundation upon which all else rests, and what will remain when all else is gone. In previous posts, I wrote of faith as our response to the mysterious stirrings of grace in our lives and described how hope can come to us amid the hardest things.

Now, as Christmas draws near, I write of what the Apostle Paul considered the greatest gift of all.

We use the word love to describe everything from our personal preferences to our most cherished relationships. Paul’s word for love here is agape, which refers to the love of God. It runs deeper than anything we can fathom or express on our own. God’s love is unmerited, unconditional, and eternal. We cannot earn or lose God’s love, for it is God’s essence.

When we experience God’s love, we can’t help but be changed for the better. When we witness such love manifest in another person, we are inspired beyond words. And when we’re given the grace to offer an expression of God’s love for someone else, we feel blessed even as we’re being asked to stretch far beyond our human capacities and sacrifice our own desires.

It’s often said that this kind of love is more a choice than a feeling, which is true in the sense that receiving God’s love and sharing it with others isn’t dependent on how loving we feel. But powerful emotions often accompany the experience of God’s love. Like the angels, we can be moved to the point of tears.

Think of those times, for example, when it’s as if we’re given eyes to see as God sees and a heart to love as God loves, if only for a moment. It often happens at the birth of a child. Holding a newborn, we look into the eyes of a miracle and our love is pure and complete. It can also happen when something precious in our life is coming to an end, or at the end of life itself. Suddenly we see clearly what we had previously taken for granted, and our hearts burst with love for what we must now surrender. Like the angels, we cry.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once said that if you want to know what God is really like, look no further than the manger and the cross. “God acts by giving away all strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the manger and the cross.”1

The truth is we may wish for a different kind of love from God. For God’s love, when we experience it, doesn’t magically fix us or the world in which we live. For reasons we will never fully understand, when God comes to us in Jesus, he prefers to make his home inside our vulnerabilities rather than remove them. God is also patient, and waits for us to open the door. We’re always free to say no. As Richard Rohr writes, “Divine Loving is so pure that it never manipulates, shames, or forces itself on anyone. Love waits to be invited and desired, and only then rushes in.”2

If you wonder where God’s love will next show up for you, you might try looking in the places where some part of your life is either beginning or ending. Go there in your mind’s eye and ask for the grace to see as God sees and to love as God’s love. Another place to look is where you feel most unworthy of God’s love and spend time there, again inviting Jesus to reveal his presence to you there. Another place to look is the eyes of those for whom love comes easily to you, and in the eyes of those whom you struggle to love. Look in the mirror; listen to the sound of your own voice; consider the beating of your own heart for the miracle that it is. Then cast your gaze across the globe and imagine the possibility of God’s love manifesting itself in places marked by sorrow and suffering, wonder and joy.

Like the angels, you needn’t be afraid to shed a few tears at the sorrow and the joy of it all, the wonder of life and the mystery of love. Christ comes to your place of tears with the greatest of gifts, given to you from the heart of God.

1 From a Christmas sermon Rowan Williams preached in 2004.
2 Richard, Rohr, The Importance of Practice