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Hoping and Waiting

On Sunday, November 29, we lit the candle of hope in our Advent wreaths and were reminded that for Christians hope is not fantasy or wishful thinking. Fantasy and wishful thinking can give us a momentary escape, but when we are up against a raging pandemic, the insanity of our current politics, and the widening gap between rich and poor, justice and injustice, truth and lies, wishful thinking is powerless to bring a real sense of peace. In the Scriptures, hope is expectation rooted in God’s love for us. Hope takes root and grows as our trust in the God Who Is With Us deepens.

But let’s be honest. For many of us it’s hard to grab hold of hope right now. And my supply of hope varies from day to day, often from hour to hour! May I offer you three things I’m doing right now to sustain and strengthen hope in my life?

First, I’ve declared a fast of sorts from social media and the news outlets. I check Facebook in the morning and sometime in the evening, limit posts, and avoid clicking on sensational news posts. As a priest and pastor I want to be informed about what’s going on in the world and around me, but if I’m not careful I’ll read posts or watch a news program until my blood pressure goes up and I’m ready to move my family to a desert island and give up on the human race! The constant dribble of news and talking heads can really do a number on our hope index. You might also want to watch the film “The Social Dilemna,” which underscores how our feelings and moods can be manipulated by media.

Second, I’ve ratched up my reading of the Gospels and books written about how human beings rose to the occasion during difficult and dark times. Reading about the life and teachings of Jesus have a way of centering us and reminding us about who we are as Christians. The sheer beauty of Jesus’ way of love inspires hope; hope that we, too, can actually experience God’s deepest desire for us. I’ve been reading about and watching documentaries about WWI and WWII, as well. Those generations faced desperate times and unspeakable horrors, yet many millions of people became heroes in their own right by resisting evil and making sacrifices. We simple would not be where we are as a nation today without the courage of those generations—a courage that I believe was built on the hope that the world could and would be a better place.

Another way that brings and builds up hope in me is mentioned on page 16 in the Advent booklet we distributed last week. Scott Stoner writes, “And because we know that God often works through others, putting our hope in others can be an expression of our hope that God is, and will be, present to us in and through other people.” Whenever I get discouraged or feel hopeless about what’s going on in the world and in our country, I think about the people of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. Your engagement and generosity over the past year has been a source of hope and joy to me. So many people, staff and lay leaders, have worked hard behind the scenes to offer worship, prayer, and formation opportunities. We’ve sent a mission team to Guatemala, established a scholarship fund at Lake Washington Technical College, and distributed hundreds of worship packets. Folks have taken care of the facilities, planted flowers, deep cleaned the sanctuary, given of their time. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

As I write this, the people of this parish have pledged over $230,000 toward the 2021 ministry budget. We have pledged 94% of the amount recommended by the finance committee ($246,000). That may well be a record for this parish, and is already a healthy increase over the 2020 pledge amount. Earlier in the year the people of the parish gave over $20,000 to my discretionary fund and even as I write are making contributions for coats and gift cards for families in need. Those contributions have helped families and individuals make mortgage and rent payments, pay utility bills, and buy food. What all of that says to me is that our hope is not grounded in the stock market or who’s in the Oval Office; our hope as a parish flows out of our belief that Jesus’ Way of Love can change the world. God has been present to me this year in you, and for that I am deeply grateful.

No better way of expressing Christian hope is found than in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes:

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3–5, The Message)

I love that Eugene Petersen translates “hope” as “alert expectancy.” Because of what God has done for us in Christ AND because we are part of the living Body of Christ in the world, we can live in alert expectancy that Love will overcome.

With great expectation,
Fr. Steve+

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Church as Hospital

by Charissa Bradstreet, pastoral associate for formation
When I was growing up, one of my pastors used to say, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” He said this in the ’80s, at a time when consumerism was in full glory and our culture celebrated icons who had “made it” who “had it all together” and were seemingly immune from suffering, complications, or want. For this pastor, the church was a contrast society, one in which people were unashamed of their need, their suffering, and their struggles because they had found a God who embraced them as they were, and a place that supported healing and called forth expression of the gifts they had to offer. Gifts born from the knowledge of woundedness, not perfection.
I have spent the last year working part-time at Harborview Hospital, a hospital that specializes in trauma. It is not a metaphorical hospital, for in that place I sit at actual hospital beds and at tables in psych wards and talk with people who face amputations, brutal burn recovery, homelessness, a lifelong battle with schizophrenia, or a loved one who has been declared brain dead. I have been engaged in the work of learning how to hold hope in these settings. And most days I do find hope there. I have watched the mentally ill carry out the difficult work of forgiveness and grace—at speeds I rarely see elsewhere. I have seen a paralytic do the difficult work of releasing spiritual platitudes to get more real with God, and then see his legs begin to work again. And some days I sit in a stairwell and cry because of a story I’ve just heard.
My experience at Harborview has helped me recognize signs of trauma, and not just the signs of trauma that accompany disease, accidents, and homelessness. Trauma visits pretty much every person on the planet, and comparative affluence can mask the wounds that many of us carry inside. We may say, “Well, I’m hardly a Syrian refugee, or an indigenous child born with fetal alcohol syndrome, so how dare I think of my issues as trauma?” However, trauma is trauma, regardless of who it happens to or any attempt to compare and minimize harm. At least at a hospital no one pretends there isn’t a wound. If the church is a hospital, then it is also a place where we don’t pretend, a place where we actively seek the healing we need. A place where we collectively tend to internal ruptures through encounters with God, and the image of God as expressed in one another. It’s not the place we come back to after we get ourselves all better. It’s the place where we learn what better feels like by placing ourselves in contexts that support the soul’s communion with God. Sometimes it’s through spiritual practices. Sometimes it’s through service. Sometimes it’s through small groups or friendships. Sometimes it’s through respecting what science has taught us about our brains and our bodies and interrupting bad habits.
We have just completed the “resilience experiment,” which has been all about playing in that space of spiritual practice, service, connection, and science—of exploring ways in which church is more than something that happens on a Sunday morning. Being church involves making seemingly minor adjustments and discovering what God can do within contexts of exhaustion, despair, and anxiety. Presiding Bishop Curry has spoken of the “two pandemics,” the pandemic of COVID and the pandemic of racism. All of us in this church are feeling the effects of these two pandemics—these two significant traumas—consciously or not. Let us truly be a hospital for the soul. Let us be a place where we do not pretend to be perfect or become isolated, and instead let us reach together toward that which heals. Jesus spoke of a kingdom that we can experience here and now, even in the very midst of suffering. Let us be that kingdom!

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From the Rector: God’s Love Is Constant

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

This has been a roller-coaster week, hasn’t it? At first, we saw measures and changes to our daily lives introduced on a daily basis. Now it seems that the response and reaction to the spread of COVID-19 occurs almost hourly. While our lives have been disrupted, and many of us feel as though they’ve been turned upside down, there are a number of things that are constant, things to which we can anchor our lives during these unpredictable times.

God’s love for us is constant and never-changing. God’s love for us expressed in Jesus does not fluctuate like the stock markets; it is consistently given to us with no strings attached. Another constant is the relationships we have with our families, friends, neighbors, and, in particular, our parish community. Your response to requests, participation in online services, financial generosity, and offers to help others in need have been remarkable, and they have been a great blessing to me.

Today the bishop directed all parish churches to be closed through Easter Day, April 12. While that announcement distresses me greatly as your priest and pastor, it is necessary in order to slow down the spread of the virus. We will have Sunday services and all Holy Week services and Easter online. I’m going to be working with the clergy, staff, and altar guild about ways you can celebrate these events in your home as you watch online. I will send out a pastoral letter over the weekend outlining how we can stay connected and continue to do the work of this parish over the next few weeks.

Although the building is essentially closed for public gatherings right now, the work of the church continues. The staff is meeting and planning, the office is operating, leaders are meeting, parishioners are reaching out to one another, and the worship life of our community continues. Of course, we’re doing that differently and in new ways, but the work we do in partnership with God here in this place continues. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to work on additional ways to keep us connected and in touch with one another, and will be asking some of you to help with those initiatives. Watch for those, and please do read the communications that come from the parish.

Some have asked how I’m coping with all of this. To be completely honest with you, I’ve had a few sleepless nights lately. However, what has been helpful to me during all of this is really simple.

  • Before—and I emphasize before—reading or watching the news in the morning, I get coffee, find a quiet place, pray or just stare out the window, and usually give attention to Abi, our lab, who just can’t get enough attention. Begin the day with a centering practice of some kind; perhaps morning prayer or contemplative prayer. Read Scripture, especially the Gospels and the Psalms. For those new to the Episcopal Church (and some others who have been around for a while!) this would be a great time to explore the riches of The Book of Common Prayer. Meditate or practice yoga. The possibilities are endless!
  • Make a list, either mentally or on paper, of the things for which you are grateful. Gratitude for what we do have can help us frame and put into perspective what is going on in the world around us.
  • Stay in touch with others. Staying connected with family, friends, neighbors, and your parish community is vital. Use this as an opportunity to get acquainted with neighbors you don’t know or reconnect with friends. You might want to consider joining a group that is meeting online—a community service group, our women’s and men’s groups, youth group, or a special interest group.
  • Take care of yourself physically. Get out and enjoy this beautiful weather! Take a walk, work in the yard, enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in our part of it. Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, take a nap. Our physical well-being has a direct impact on our emotional/spiritual well-being.
  • Find ways to serve others. If you need ideas, reach out to me. Our Faith in Action Commission is meeting next week, and we may have additional ways to serve to share with you next week.
  • If you have time on your hands, learn about or explore something you’ve always wanted to know about but didn’t have the time. Although I’m pretty busy right now, I want to do some more research on greenhouse gardening.
  • Make the worship of God a priority. For Christians, this should go without saying, but one good thing that can come out of this is restoring the corporate worship of God to a central place in our schedules. Worship is not only for our comfort and encouragement, it is one of the ways God’s Spirit works in our lives to transform us.

Know that I am praying for all of you daily, and that our parish leadership stands ready to serve you in any way possible during these times. Since we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day earlier this week, I leave you with this blessing:

As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.

May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.

May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
the host of God save me.

May Christ shield me today.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

With love for all of you,
Fr. Steve+

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From the Rector: You’re Invited into Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy of our Church, the Presider says the following: “Therefore, in the name of the Church, I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent.” For many centuries, and still to this day in some parts of the Church, an invitation to Lent was about as exciting as receiving an invitation from the dentist for a root canal! All that talk of fasting, prayer, penitence, discipline, and figuring out what to give up for Lent that won’t be too overbearing or inconvenient. I remember breaking the Ash Wednesday fast at a restaurant near the parish church I served in Chicago after the service. I was talking with a server at a restaurant in Chicago about Lent (I still had remnants of ashes on my forehead, which, on my forehead really stand out!) and he said to me, “Oooh, I grew up in church, and Lent was always absolutely the most horrible time of the year!” Somewhere, somehow, someone missed the point, don’t you think?
As the early church grew and developed, the liturgical year came into being as a way of recalling, celebrating, and learning from the life of Christ. In time, the period before Easter was set aside as a time of preparation for the great celebration of the Resurrection. In fact, the word “Lent” comes from a word which means “spring.” Beside our deck there are several dozen blooming crocus plants, announcing to the world that spring is right around the corner. They also announce to me that it’s time to prepare the flower and vegetable beds, plant some seeds in the greenhouse, and start the pruning of the rose bushes. That’s what Lent is really all about—giving attention to the soil of our souls so that God can bring new life, new growth. Therefore, I invite you to prepare for the new thing God wants to do in your life.

Prepare the Soil

We’re offering several ways to prepare the soil of our heart this year:
  • On Sundays, the adult formation offering and the sermons will be geared toward finding ways to be more open to God’s work in our lives.
  • On three Wednesday nights during Lent, March 11, 18 & 25, we’ll explore how prayer is an essential part of our Lenten preparation work, and the different ways in which we can pray.
  • During the week, you can engage in a fun spiritual practice called Lent Madness.
Serving by giving of your time and resources is “heart work,” too.
  • The youth are collecting items for personal hygiene kits,
  • Issaquah Meals will prepare and serve dinner on March 14, and
  • we’ll collect the Good Friday offering that goes to support the social ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Often, it’s helpful during Lent to think about what to subtract so there’s more space to just relax or enjoy time with family, friends, or yourself. I read an article over the weekend on the spiritual discipline of doing nothing. In our culture, doing nothing really is a spiritual discipline.
Whatever you decide will be helpful to you during this holy season, I encourage you to be intentional and consistent. After all, Lent is about responding to God’s invitation to the full and joy-filled life Jesus promised us. You’re invited!
Hoping you’ll RSVP “yes,”
Fr. Steve+

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From the Rector: On the Seventh Day, God…

I recently read an article published some years ago in The New York Times by the neurologist Oliver Sacks on the topic of Sabbath. Sacks abandoned his Jewish faith as a teenager, but later in life came to be somewhat of a spiritual seeker. As he moved toward the end of life, his appreciation of the Jewish observance of Sabbath deepened because he saw in it a metaphor for how life is to be lived: “doing good in one’s work and activity and enjoying the peace of the Sabbath.”

Let’s face it. As American Christians we take the “doing good in one’s work and activity” and run with it! We fill our schedules with activities and social events. Busy-ness has almost become a sign of moral uprightness for most of us. Don’t get me wrong. Doing good in one’s work, engaging in activities that keep us healthy and growing, taking on projects that help others—all those things are good, and Scripture is clear that God sees those works as holy. Scripture also tells us that after six days of creative activity, God rested. One of the ten commandments, remember, is to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (set apart). Jesus observed the Sabbath, too, although he flipped his lid when the religious leaders objected to his healing work on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them that humans were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for them. In other words, Sabbath is a gift.

As Christians, we don’t observe Sabbath in the ways that Jesus or our Jewish sisters and brothers do. Nevertheless, the principle of Sabbath—a time for rest, worship, and renewal—is a gift from God, and is part of our faith tradition. Keeping Sabbath, after all, made it into God’s top ten things to do or not to do! So, what does Sabbath mean for us and how do we unwrap the gift that it is in our own day? How do we make space in our busy schedules and in our cluttered minds for rest and renewal?

During the season of Lent, we are going to explore what Sabbath means for us today, why it’s essential for living a healthy life, and how we can open our lives to the rest and renewal God desires for us, even in the midst of our busy lives. We’ll address it in sermons, discuss it in adult formation, and explore the role of prayer in Sabbath on three Wednesday nights in March. We’re working to make this teaching as practical and accessible as possible. I hope you’ll commit to engage as much as you can as a part of your Lenten observance.


Fr. Steve+

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Pilgrimage Progress: Foster Photos 2

More photos from Steve & Terry Foster! These are also posted on Facebook.

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Pilgrimage Progress: Foster Photos

The Fosters have been posting amazing photos on Facebook of the Good Samaritan pilgrims walking the Camino Way from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago, Spain.



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The Deacon’s Corner: Celtic Spirituality

by Deacon Kathryn Ballinger
One of the primary marks of Celtic spirituality is its belief in the essential goodness of creation. It believes that the natural world is infinitely deep. Everything in creation has issued forth from the invisible and contains something of the unseen life of God; otherwise it would cease to exist. Because God’s life is like the heartbeat at the center of life, pulsating within, it sustains all that is. All created things are an expression of God for our souls to experience, to see and feel. God is forever communication his life and love in and through the outward forms of creation so we can come to a knowledge of God through the universe.
Join us at Celtic Evening Prayer on Sunday, March 17, at 6:30 pm.

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