Saying Goodbye to the Gregorys

This Sunday, August 4, we will say goodbye to the Gregorys as they leave ministry in our parish to serve the people of Guatemala in Christ’s name. At the 9:30 am service, Fr. Brian will preach and celebrate, and I’ll lead us in a liturgy to acknowledge the end of Fr. Brian’s pastoral relationship with Good Samaritan and to commission the Gregorys to serve as missionaries to Guatemala. You are invited to write a note of encouragement and appreciation and place it in the large basket in the Narthex on Sunday, along with a financial gift or pledge to their mission, if you have not done so already. Notecards and envelopes will be provided just in case you forgot! A BBQ will ensue after the service, and you can go here to RSVP or here to sign up to bring food.
 
It really will be an emotionally mixed day for our parish and for me. Fr. Brian came to us as a freshly ordained Deacon in July 2017, and was placed in our parish as a Curate. (A Curate serves for two years in a parish setting as a priest-in-training, in case you are unfamiliar with the ordination process of the Episcopal Church.) We had the great privilege of hosting his ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests in February 2018. Fr. Brian has given a great deal of attention to our children and youth ministries, played a major role in our identity/vision/mission work, vastly improved our communication and online presence, led the youth mission trip last summer to Mt. Vernon, led us to establish relationships with La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrección and Primm Tabernacle AME Church, in addition to preaching, celebrating, pastoring, and doing the work of priest. I believe his ministry among us will have a lasting impact on our parish. His family has become dear to us, as well. Kelly initiated and led our women’s ministry, and we have been so blessed to watch Ellsley and Westin grow two years older and be a part of their formative years.
 
I have had the privilege of watching Fr. Brian grow in and embrace his calling to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. He has been a trusted colleague, adviser, and fellow presbyter. His love for our Lord and the Church has been a constant source of encouragement. I am grateful that God brought him to our parish. I am thankful, too, that the work we have done is not ended, but all part of the larger work we all do together for sake of the Kingdom of God. God will take the good work we have done together—Brian’s, yours, and mine—and multiply it in ways that we can never imagine this side of heaven.
 
Some of you have asked for some more specific information about the money we are raising to support the Gregory’s mission to Guatemala. The Gregory’s need $53,000 to pay for their living expenses while in Guatemala. This includes airfare to Guatemala, housing, transportation, food, medical insurance, pension contribution, repatriation, and any other expenses needed to support a family of four for a year. To date, approximately $43,000 has been raised in gifts or pledges, about $13,000 of that amount coming from our parish. Another $10,000 is needed to reach the goal, and I believe that goal will be reached before the Gregory’s leave for Guatemala. Your monetary gifts of support will be housed and administered by Good Samaritan, so whatever you give is tax deductible. You can write a check to Good Samaritan with “Guatemala Fund” in the memo line, or visit the Gregorys’ website to find out how to give online.
 
I ask for your generous support of their mission to Guatemala, and, more importantly, for your prayers as they leave us to serve the Lord in a different place.
 
With gratitude,
Fr. Steve+

Read more

Off the Rails?

A couple of weeks ago Fr. Brian mentioned in his sermon that over the course of the summer we were going off the rails of the Lectionary track for a few weeks. The rubrics (instructions) in the Book of Common Prayer allow for this, and although I rarely do it, I chose to focus our attention over the summer on the Fruit of the Spirit. I did this for two reasons.
 
First, since the beginning of 2019 we’ve been on a Journey with Jesus, walking with him from his Baptism to the Resurrection. Then, walking with the early Christians on their journey from Easter and the promise of the Holy Spirit to Pentecost. Because the Holy Spirit fills us with the Spirit of Jesus, what does it actually mean in very practical terms to be a follower of Jesus filled with his Spirit? What difference does it make in our lives? How do we live and grow deeper in that reality?
 
The second reason has to do with our national conversation and, in particular, the co-opting of the Christian faith for political purposes. When one claims to be a follower of Christ, what does that actually mean? Does it mean simply that Jesus saves us from our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, but we can do pretty much whatever we please in the meantime? Does it mean that we can recite the Creed and with the same mouth vilify people who are different or disagree?
 
This is why I believe we as Episcopalians have a clear message to share with our friends and neighbors. To be a Christian is to pattern our lives after Jesus of Nazareth–to talk about and treat others with the respect we ourselves would expect were we the subject. I believe St. Paul wrote his description of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians with Jesus as his example. If we are followers of Christ and his Spirit lives in us, then we take on the characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. To be a Christian—a Christ follower—means that we are seeking, with God’s and each other’s help, to form our character after the character of Jesus.
 
Now, I want to be quick to say that none of us perfectly manifests all of the Fruit of the Spirit. We are on a Journey, as our mission statement suggests. Sometimes we are very patient, and then we blow our cool in traffic! We seek to be more loving, then we listen to the news or something happens that makes it hard for us to respond with love and grace. So, we take two steps forward, and when we take one or two steps back, we lean into God’s mercy and ask forgiveness from those we’ve offended. Then, we continue to move forward, asking for God’s help to open our lives to grace, so that we actually reflect the character of Christ more and more. This is not an option for Christians. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and, yes, to love our enemies. Jesus was clear that how we treat the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the marginalized is how we treat our Lord himself.
 
The good news is that God, by the Spirit, will help us bear all the Fruit of the Spirit. We have God’s help, and the help of fellow Christians. That’s why worshiping and learning together as a Christian community is not just important, it’s absolutely critical if we want to live a Jesus kind of life. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to live a life overflowing with joy, love, peace, patience, and generosity? And the really great news is that this kind of life is possible.
 
So, I hope you’ll be in church as often as you can this summer as we “go off the rails” of what we normally would do in preaching to drill down on what life in the Spirit is all about. God knows I need to hear it, and so does our hurting, broken world.
 
On the Journey,
Fr. Steve+

Read more

From the Rector: The Least of These

Jesus replied, “Whenever you did it for the least of these, you did it to me.”
 
We are all aware that issues related to immigration to this country and the situation at our southern border have been thrust to the forefront in recent weeks. For persons of faith and anyone of good will, the images and reports of conditions at immigrant detention centers, especially for children, are deeply disturbing. Issues regarding immigration in this country are not new. Chinese immigrants faced opposition and persecution on the West Coast in the 19th century. Irish and European immigrants in the early 20th century faced similar treatment. In recent years, our national conversation about immigration policies have degenerated into partisan battles, name-calling, and—let’s face it—the tendency of many in our country to treat and talk about immigrants in terms that are less than human. The fear of the “other” stretches way back into our human history, beginning with the story of Cain and Abel. Remember when God confronts Cain for his treatment of his brother Abel? Cain responds to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the writings of the New Testament answer that question for Cain and for us. Yes, we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.
 
For Christians of any political persuasion, when faced with any ethical, moral, or social issue, the final authority is the founder of our faith: Jesus. As trite as it may seem, we have to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” How would Jesus instruct us to treat immigrants, to talk about them, and yes, to talk with one another about the issue? If you’re unsure about how to answer those questions, read the Gospels. Jesus seems to be pretty clear on how we treat the stranger and the vulnerable. Jesus often excoriated religious and political leaders because of their mistreatment of the vulnerable. And, yes, it was political because Jesus spoke to the political authorities and leaders of his day about the unfair and inhumane policies directed toward persons who, despite their social class or racial identity, were not treated with the respect due to persons created in the image of the Living God.
 
I am not naïve. The issues related to immigration are complex. Our political leaders have tried (or not) to address these issues, and yet here we are. As Christian citizens, we have a moral obligation to engage in the conversation, to call for the protection of the most vulnerable and challenge our political leaders when policies and actions fly in the face of Jesus’ teaching. We also have an obligation to pray for our leaders, regardless of political party, and the many government personnel on our borders who go about their jobs with compassion and integrity. We are to pray, too, for justice and mercy for all people—not just those who look and think like us.
 
This week the bishops of the Episcopal dioceses bordering Mexico released a joint statement. I commend it to you. You can find it here. Join me tomorrow night, too, for the prayer vigil at CWU. However you decide to respond and engage on this or any other human rights issue, remember that whatever you do in serving the “least of these” you are doing for Christ himself.
 
In Christ,
Fr. Steve+
 
 

Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps Friday, July 12, at 7:45 pm (CWU Sammamish)

Plateaupians for Peace are organizing participation with Lights for Liberty to hold a vigil protesting the inhumane conditions faced by refugees along our very own borders. If you would like to join a group from Good Samaritan going to this vigil, contact Fr. Steve.

Read more

From the Rector: Celebrating Freedom

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” —The Declaration of Independence
 
A good way to celebrate the 4th of July is by reading the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by Benjamin Franklin 246 years ago. It is an amazing document. It announces to the world that the thirteen British colonies in the New World are now independent, and it eloquently expresses the reasons why.
 
It is signed by the delegates elected by the thirteen colonial assemblies and sent to Philadelphia to meet as a Continental Congress. John Adams signed there in his neat, legible hand. John Hancock signed with a flourish easy to spot. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Rush signed too. Not surprisingly, 32 out of the 56 signers were Anglican.
 
If you look carefully in the next-to-last column, about two-thirds of the way down, you will see the signature of John Witherspoon. I respect the wisdom and intellect of Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams, but Witherspoon is a particular favorite character of mine. He was a Presbyterian minister, the president of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University, originally a thoroughly Presbyterian institution. He was the only clergy to sign the Declaration, and when he did, he said something about it being better to sign that document and be hanged as a traitor than to die of old age.
 
When the 56 signers declared that all men are created equal and that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, they were contradicting at least 5,000 years of human experience and history. Equality and consent of the governed were radical new ideas. The new republic and its founders were not perfect, but think of how that new, fragile concept of liberty has evolved and grown over the years. It was launched in 1776 by a group of white men, most of whom owned slaves. The Constitution was ratified in 1789, the Bill of Rights was added in 1791, and the project didn’t get around to abolishing slavery until 1865. In 1870, nearly a century after the founding, the Fifteenth Amendment declared that no person could be denied the right to vote on the basis of color or race. Women were not added to that list until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. Add to the list the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, two acts still in recent memory for many. We are a work in progress.
 
Perhaps the best part of the whole experiment, along with religious freedom, is the idea of the dignity, autonomy, and worth of the individual. Of course, looking at it from the Christian perspective, this idea of the dignity of every human being is rooted in the biblical revelation of God. God creates humankind, gives them autonomy, dignity, and purpose, and even when they abuse these divinely given gifts, the Creator does not abandon them or withdraw his blessing, but through the redemptive work of Christ and the Church reveals and restores the imprint of the very image of God on every human being. For Christians who are a part of the great American experiment, living in a country where there is freedom to explore what it means to respect the dignity of every human being is a great gift, as well as a great responsibility.
 
So, we give thanks for this freedom and for those who gave fortune, reputation, and life to secure it, but as the Scriptures tell us, we have not arrived in the Promised Land. One of the great errors the American Christian can make is to believe that America is our Promised Land and, in these troubled days, to go to any extreme to make it so, even at the risk of blatant disobedience to the way of life Jesus called us to. For the Christian, the Kingdom of God is the ultimate allegiance. Our faith calls us to a greater freedom—freedom not enshrined in the Constitution or the laws of the land, but in what we Christians call, interestingly, the law of Christ: loving God with all that we are and have, loving our neighbors as ourselves, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving our enemies, protecting and speaking up for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. For Christians, freedom is not license to do whatever we want when we want, but rather the freedom to live in such an authentic way that the Kingdom of God actually becomes a present reality in our own lives, and in the lives of the people we touch in some way every day.
 
So, on the 4th of July we celebrate two birthrights: the birthright of freedom we have because we are fortunate enough to live here in this country, and the birthright of the freedom we are given in baptism, the freedom to become who God has created us to be, the freedom to work and pray that God’s Kingdom may come and his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven, and the freedom and the call to respect the dignity of every human being.

Read more

By Our Love

Yesterday evening, on June 19, about two dozen Good Samaritans worshiped with the congregation of Primm Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pastor Mercedes reminded us that June 19 was the celebration of “Juneteenth,” the day when African American slaves in Texas finally learned of the Emancipation Proclamation made effective on January 1 of that year. She remarked that we had come a long way, evidenced by our worshiping together, but still had a long way to go in the work of racial reconciliation. Our choir then sang an arrangement of “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.” This song was written in the 1960s by Peter Scholtes, a Roman Catholic priest in Chicago, for the parish youth choir. He wrote the song to be used at ecumenical and interracial events in the city. If you lived through the ’60s, you’ll know firsthand the sentiment behind the text of the song.
 
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that our unity may one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
 
I remember the first time I heard the song. I was a freshman in college, and attended what was considered a “liberal” Assemblies of God church in Springfield, Missouri. They were considered “liberal” because of the racial mix of the congregation and their emphasis on social justice. I was struck by that last line, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Not by our doctrinal purity, or how religious we are, or what church we belonged to, but “by our love.”
 
The 19th century English writer Henry Drummond wrote, “We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. Well, we are wrong.” The greatest thing, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, is love.
 
In Galatians 5, St. Paul mentions love first in his list of “the fruit of the Spirit.” Why? Come to church on Sunday, June 23, and find out! We begin our summer series on the Fruit of the Spirit. I will give you a teaser, however. I think Paul listed love first because all of the other fruit—patience, kindness, peace, etc.—flow out of and are, in a way, elements or expressions of love. Living in love is possible, scripture tells us, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
 
Two weeks ago we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and now we are in the season of Pentecost. It’s a good time to reflect upon and consider the work of the Spirit in the transformation of our own character and the Spirit’s work to help us fulfill our baptismal promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” The best place to start is love.
 
“They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
 
—Fr. Steve+

Read more

Note from the Rector: Come, Holy Spirit

This Sunday, June 9, we will recall and celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his first disciples: that he would send the Holy Spirit who would make Christ’s presence known throughout the whole earth to every believer until the end of time. Pentecost, as some of you may recall, is actually a Jewish feast (Shavuot) and was primarily a thanksgiving festival for the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. It was later associated with a remembrance of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The church’s transformation of the Jewish feast to a Christian festival was thus related to the belief that the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus was the firstfruits of a new dispensation that fulfilled and succeeded the old dispensation of the Law. The gift of the Spirit also serves as the source of our unity as Christians, and our call and empowerment for ministry and service in the Church and the world.
 
This Sunday our Journey with Jesus does not end; it is just the beginning! Walking with Jesus through his life, death and resurrection, learning from his teachings and example how to walk in the Way of Love and seriously considering what it means to be his Beloved Community where we are is really the groundwork and foundation for actually doing the work of Jesus in our own context. In other words, now the real fun begins! As part of our celebration on Sunday, we will meet one last time this spring for adult formation at 9:15 am to discuss the next step in our journey to be God’s Beloved Community here in Sammamish. Please join us for this important conversation!
 
After we celebrate the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, we will delve into how the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, helping us to become more Christ-like in our character and strengthening us to do the work he has given us to do. Beginning on June 23, the same day we begin the summer worship schedule (one service at 9:30 am), we will begin a 9-part summer sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit. Plan to be at church on these Sundays when you’re in town as we explore love, peace, patience, joy, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
 
With much anticipation,
Fr. Steve+

Read more

Note from the Rector: Fr. Brian Is Moving On

Since the first of the calendar year so much of what we’ve done in our preaching, formation, planning, and conversation has been centered around the theme Journey with Jesus. Last week, The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers touched on this theme in her talk on “Becoming Beloved Community” and expanded our vocabulary to include thinking about this journey in terms of a labyrinth. A labyrinth, you know, has a beginning point and a destination, but the way is never linear! There are twists and turns, and often the way forward is surprising. As I reflect on my four years (as of June 15) as your Rector, I remember the twists and turns and many surprises we have encountered in our journey together. We have done good work, and I am grateful and hopeful for our future as a parish.

One of the surprises in our journey together occurred two years ago, when Fr. Brian Gregory came to serve as Curate. (For those who don’t know, in our tradition, a Curate serves for two years as a priest-in-training.) Not only did he bring years of expertise in youth ministry, but his beautiful family, as well. Kelly, Ellsley, and Westin have become dear to us all, and made their own mark on the life of this parish. Another surprise was that we had the honor and privilege of hosting his ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests. He has done good ministry here among us over the past two years. He has been a particular blessing to me as a trusted colleague and friend.

Most of you are aware that Fr. Brian and Kelly have been in discernment for quite some time about the possibility of serving the Lord in Guatemala. Last Sunday I announced that Fr. Brian and his family have come to a decision; they will be leaving the States in mid-August to serve at least one year in Guatemala. I will leave it to Fr. Brian and Kelly to give you the details of what they’ll be doing—as a start, you can read Fr. Brian’s letter to the congregation here.

Fr. Brian’s last Sunday with us will be August 4. He will preach and celebrate at both services that day, and the vestry is planning a celebration to express our gratitude. I will lead us in a brief commissioning service that day, and we will send them on their way with our thanks and blessings. Stay tuned for more details. I will also be making an announcement soon about how we can continue to support Fr. Brian in the work to which God is calling him.

In the meantime, the vestry leadership and I will be in prayer and discernment about staff leadership for our children, youth and family ministries. As I stated on Sunday, the vestry and I are fully committed to reaching and serving families with children and youth, which makes up the vast majority of our community demographic. I will keep you updated as we move along in this process.

Please keep Fr. Brian and his family in your prayers as they prepare to move to Guatemala, and for our parish as we continue on our journey to become the Beloved Community that God desires for us!

Blessings, Fr. Steve+


Read more

A Note from the Rector: “Becoming”

On Tuesday evening, Stephanie Spellers reminded us that the first word in “Becoming Beloved Community” is “becoming.” We don’t just arrive at a point where it’s perfect and where we don’t have any more work to do. Becoming a life-giving, liberating, loving community is, as our mission statement puts it, a journey.
 
Last week, most of us who walked the Portugues Cominha arrived back home from a two-week journey from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago de Compestela, Spain. Our journey took us over 140 miles, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that it was an inward journey of the soul as well. As I told the folks in worship last Sunday, what developed in our journey was a sense of real community—we got to know the good, the bad, and the ugly (especially those blisters!), and yet our love and care for one another grew deeper with every mile. It was truly a transformative experience.
 
That is my hope and dream for Good Samaritan: that we would enter more deeply into the journey of Becoming Beloved Community. Not just for ourselves, but for the families who attend our preschool, the people who live down 244th, and, indeed, this parish’s circle of geographical influence. Jesus has given us not only the example of what that looks like, but through the power of the Spirit, the ability to actually pattern our lives and the life of our community after the way of Love. The conversation has begun, and I promise you that it will continue!
 
I invite you to join the conversation we are having about “Beloved Community” at adult formation the next three weeks. This Sunday we’ll do some unpacking of what we heard and discussed on Tuesday evening with Stephanie. If you weren’t able to attend, we’ll bring you up to speed so that you can join the conversation.
 
-Fr. Steve+

Read more

And on the sixth day…

Week 6 REST

 
The earliest recorded account of Creation (Genesis 1) shows us a pattern of labor and rest. Scripture tells us that for six days God created (worked), and on the seventh day, God rested. Other parts of the Old Testament tell us that the ancient people of God saw in the creation story a pattern of working and resting, and sought to instill that pattern in their own communal life. As the group discussed on Sunday at adult formation, the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. Dedicated time for restoration and wholeness is not only critical for our bodies and minds, it’s also an act of trust that God will take care of us, as well as all those things that occupy our time when we’re not resting.
 
As a priest, one of my greatest concerns for the spiritual life of my parishioners is schedules that are so full that there is little time left for God, community, and family life. Lent is a good time to reflect on our schedules and ask ourselves if we are really taking time during the day or the week to reflect, rest, and enjoy the blessings of life. Last Sunday, the formation group read the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1–14) and discussed how that related to Rest. Perhaps the lesson is that without intentional times of rest and renewal, our lives can end up dry and joyless.
 
Take a few moments this week to reflect on the passage, and these questions.
  • What gets in the way of practicing sabbath rest? Is it hard to rest? Why?
  • The act of rest and restoration is a part of the cycle of rebirth that is God’s hope for us and gift to us. What does this mean to you?
  • How can I encourage others to rest?
  • How do I practice sabbath rest within my body, mind, and soul and within communities and institutions?
 
Thanks to Philip Ballinger and Claire Nold-Glaser for leading adult formation last Sunday. Join us this Sunday for a discussion of how we can give witness to the love, justice, and truth of God by crossing boundaries.
 
—Fr. Steve+

Read more

To Pray Is to Change

On Sunday, March 3, your new vestry met for its first official meeting. We always begin the meetings with a meditation and prayer, which I heartily recommend before any discussion of finances, building issues, the abandoned car in the parking lot, and why the copier keeps breaking down! At this meeting I read a paragraph from Peter Steinke’s A Door Set Open.

“Mission is the expression of the church’s deep, abiding beliefs. Mission provides the major standard against which all activities, services, and decisions are evaluated. Mission is the preserver of congregational integrity. It is about God’s love for the world, not about what I like or don’t like about my church” (p. 78).

Then I had the group list and discuss those things we deal with as vestry that would fall into the categories of “maintenance” and “mission.” We had a good discussion, then I led the group in prayer.

On the way home it occurred to me that we could have skipped the prayer I led, not because we didn’t need to pray but because we had already been praying! Having a conversation about how we lead the church in its mission was the prayer. If God is listening all the time, then God was a part of the conversation. And that’s what prayer is in its essence; conversation with God, talking, listening.

A few hours earlier on Sunday, we held our second session of “The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life” at the adult forum. The topic was PRAYER. We broke up into groups, then gathered back in the big group and had great discussion on some really practical questions and observations. The materials provided by the Presiding Bishop’s office describes prayer this way: “…when we pray we invite and dwell in God’s loving presence.” I shared with the group this quote about prayer from Richard Foster:

“To pray is to change. This is a great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control” (Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 6).

My guess, if you’re like me, is this: “I want all the love and joy and peace I can get!” Conversation with God, dwelling in God’s loving presence, helps us grow in these virtues.

If you missed last Sunday, you’ll find the scripture passage we used for our discussion and some reflection questions. I hope you’ll join us this Sunday, 9:15 am, for the next step in our journey on the Way of Love.

Prayerfully,

Fr. Steve+


Read more