Message from Carol and Tami
October 10, 2017
In Monday morning Bible study, the day after the Las Vegas mass shooting, a member of the group asked if we could begin with a prayer for the victims. After the prayer, someone asked, “Why do these things keep happening and what should the church be doing about it?” From there, the conversation turned to the fear, hatred, and division people are feeling. The question was raised if the political climate in our country is contributing to the divisions and how and when and where the church is called to speak to those issues. The conversation was hard to have. Feelings have been tender over the past year and people with particular political viewpoints (across the political spectrum) have felt silenced, judged, and stereotyped for expressing opinions, advocating for particular candidates, for marching or not marching for particular causes, for speaking up and for staying silent.
We as your clergy have struggled as well. We have been accused of being “too political” in our preaching as well as “not being political enough”. Tensions are high in our world, our country, our community and our church, and they will only continue to be with each shooting, natural disaster, election, and news cycle.
We as a church (on a national, diocesan, and parish level) need to negotiate these waters and we don’t claim that we will always do so perfectly. But we have some thoughts and some challenges that we want to share with you, our beloved parish members.
1. The gospel is political. Jesus did not come to earth to pat us all on our heads and tell us what a good job we are doing. Jesus came to bring new life, to show us a different way to live together, to give us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God can and will look like. Doing that means that we as Christians live differently in the world. We subscribe to a different set of ideas about how we live our lives. We come together to sing words we don’t always understand, pray prayers written by other people in different times, to pour water on the heads of infants, children and adults, to eat bread and drink wine because we believe that it all makes a difference.
2. We are called to speak the truth as we see it and that means speaking out about injustice in its many forms: racism, sexism, discrimination, violence, and poverty. We may have differences of opinions about the best way to achieve these goals, but those differences should not and cannot keep us from speaking about them and struggling with them as a people.
3. We, your priests, are called to preach the gospel. And we will continue to do just that. If you hear what sounds “political” in one of our sermons, come and talk with us….it may well be or it may not. But talk with us. Part of the reason we are having weekly sermon discussion on Sundays is so that people have a forum to talk about their beliefs, questions, doubts, but also for us as preachers to hear what you are hearing, what you are taking away from our preaching. We like hearing “good sermon”, but what we really want to hear is what specifically touched you or made you think? What comforted you? What challenged you? What made you laugh or cry? What made you so angry you wanted to get up and leave? What confused you?
4. We need to keep having the tough conversations. We as Christians are called in our baptismal promises to renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. These are not just nice words to say and hear….they are our marching orders if we are going to be true to the gospel of Jesus. They require us to talk about the evils of racism, poverty, and gun violence. They require us to speak about drug addiction and mental health issues which destroy beloved creatures of God. They demand that we look at who our neighbors are and whether we really see Christ in them or if we turn our heads from anyone who seems too different from us. We need to look deeply and have awkward conversations and risk hurting others or embarrassing ourselves….not from a political ideology, but as people who are seeking to engage these issues as Christians. As trite a phrase as it may be, “What Would Jesus Do?” might be a starting point. Our world seems to have lost its way. Humankind does not value civility, decency, kindness, courage and thoughtfulness as we should. We have done this to ourselves, all of us. We have fostered a culture of divisiveness. The pecking order gets stronger each day, and we do nothing to stop it.
5. We need to do all of these things in love, with kind and open and loving hearts. We cannot resort to stereotypes, to name-calling, to quick retorts or to shutting down when the conversations get too uncomfortable. We cannot simply gather in corners to talk with those whom we know agree with us…although that can be a source of comfort and strength, it won’t help us to listen and to love one another. And we need to keep gathering for worship. That is where the community of faith comes together for strength and nourishment for the journey. Brene Brown, an American author, recently said that there were three main reasons she went to church: “to pass the peace with people I don’t like, to sing with people I want to punch in the face, and to break bread with people I don’t get along with.” A jarring image, but that’s what church is for….to recognize that the world is broken, the church is broken, I am broken. But the world is also wonderful and amazing and full of promise. The church is also wonderful, beautiful and full of promise. We are wonderful and beautiful and amazing and full of promise. And God loves us all….all the time. The church is at its best when we come together to be broken people who don’t always like each other, who don’t always agree with each other, who come wanting to be loved but not always wanting to love in return. Or who want to love and be honest with one another but aren’t sure how, people who get it wrong and want to just crawl into a hole. But Jesus says, “come. It’s ok. I love you anyway. I love your brokenness, your wonderfulness, your terrifiedness, your tears, your laughter, your confusion, your questions, your everything. Come and offer it all to me and to each other.”
6. When we say we….we don’t just mean Carol and Tami. We need your help. We cannot carry the burden of this alone. We have talked about discussion groups, about a series of prayer vigils, about sponsoring community forums on race, gun violence, refugee/immigration where people could come to talk, to share and to learn from one another. But we can’t do these things alone when we are already doing so much to run the church. We need people to step up and say, “I will help organize and publicize a prayer vigil.” “I will show up at the Wednesday night discussion group ready to listen and share with an open mind.” Wherever your heart tells you you are needed in the church…come and talk to us and we’ll figure out to how to make this happen.
As was stated at the Bicentennial luncheon, the literal translation of the Greek word for church – ecclesia – defines us as an assembly of Christians. Not a building, not an address, but people gathered together in Jesus’s name. People are what make a church. YOU are what constitutes St. Thomas. You are our lifeblood. You are our future. Let’s work together to build an even stronger, faith-formed community, ready to march to the Gospel, to be Christ’s hands and heart in this world.
In gratitude, hope, and with blessings,
Carol and Tami
ON THE OCCASION OF ST. THOMAS CHURCH’S BICENTENNIAL
The word origin for church or congregation comes from the Greek language, the word being ecclesia. The original meaning was defined as a political assembly of persons; by the time of the New Testament, we had appropriated the word for our use, now defining it as an assembly of Christians. Not a building, not an address, but people gathered together in Jesus’s name. People are what make the church.
Today we gather to celebrate 200 years of the life of a particular assembly of people known as St. Thomas, Mamaroneck. St. Thomas is the first incorporated congregation in Mamaroneck. What this means is for 200 years, regardless of resources – or lack thereof – or the events on the local and world stages, people have gathered in worship to pray, to praise, to be inspired, to be commissioned, to be formed; to be baptized, to be married, to be buried. All this, but more importantly, to be a beacon of light for the seeker, the searcher, the doubter; to be shelter in the storm for the marginalized, the heartbroken, the lost. This unbroken commitment to walk the Gospel has enriched the lives of numerous people in Mamaroneck and beyond, and for this we give thanks and joyfully celebrate this momentous occasion.
Being the hands and heart of Jesus in the world is not always an easy task. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we are too late. Sometimes we cannot do enough. But despite that, our faith carries us, enlivens us, empowers us. There is always work to be done, and the people of St. Thomas over two centuries have endeavored to do that work. Be it in our prayers, or be it in our outreach, St. Thomas has been on the forefront of the mission field. Be it the work in Tanzania of the Carpenter’s Kids, our monthly community dinners, our weekly Brown Bag, the work of Hillside, or with the men’s shelter; our pastoral ministries, our inreach, St. Thomas has been, and will continue to be there, as living witness to the Gospel.
We are well aware that for far too many people, the necessity of church as part of one’s life has lost its importance and luster. Its sense of irrelevance and / or hypocrisy overtakes one’s need for the anchor and comforting presence of our loving Creator. We need to fight and resist this. There is purpose here. There is welcome here. We can be the people of God we are called to be.
In our joyful celebration there is also what should be an exhilarating challenge to discover what it is that we as individuals and as a church…as followers of Jesus… are willing to do to ensure that St. Thomas continues as that beacon of light, that shelter in the storm, for all of those who come after us. As we look back and celebrate, let us also look forward and dream dreams and be visionaries, asking ourselves, “How are we going to be Christ’s hands and heart in this world here and now,” so that in fifty years, one hundred years, our children and our children’s children will be able to gather and celebrate St. Thomas ministries and presence in an ever changing world we can now only imagine.
A toast to our first 200 years!