Good Sam Blog

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: A New Sermon Series You Won’t Want to Miss

“As divided as our country is, so is Christianity. We have, over time, developed on a more overarching level, two distinct and nearly opposite theologies. One I call ‘personal freedom theology’. . . . The other is a communion theology. It is based on a totally opposite idea, that the common good, the good of all, is the Gospel.”
—The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel

The above quote from Bishop Rickel’s recent blog article “A ‘Pissing’ Section in the Pool” underscores the reality that there are two primary, distinct versions of Christianity attempting to guide our national conscience. These distinct expressions of the faith are usually described as conservative vs. liberal, or fundamentalist vs. progressive, or Bible-believing vs. culturally relevant. While those descriptions do apply to some degree, there is a deeper distinction and tension at play. One popular version of the faith appeals to dogma, doctrine, and cultural dominance; the other attempts to shape belief and practice using the life and teachings of Jesus as its primary reference point. One is more focused on personal salvation; the other embraces a communal understanding of salvation. So, which one is true? Which one is more “Christian?”

The truth is no version of Christianity or denomination is absolutely right or true. It’s also true that often it’s not simply a question of “either/or.” Often truth is found somewhere in between. The Reformers of the 16th Century tossed around the phrase “Ecclesia semper reformanda est”: The church must always be reforming. In other words, we must constantly be exposing what we say and believe Christianity teaches to scrutiny. Anglicans/Episcopalians seek to do that using Scripture, reason, and tradition. Of course, the beginning point must always be the life and teachings of Jesus. After all, Christians are called to follow Jesus, not a religious tradition, a book, or a particular doctrine.

So, using our Anglican/Episcopal toolset of Scripture, reason, and tradition, what does the Christian faith teach about the Bible, God, and Jesus? What is salvation? What does Christianity say about racism, sexuality, economics, and politics? How do we talk with our non-Christian friends or Christians with whom we deeply disagree about our particular understanding of Christianity?

Join us as we begin 12-week series entitled “Christianity: A Faith of Paradoxes” on September 6. And then, beginning September 13 after the worship service, join in a deeper discussion of each week’s topic via Zoom. Invite friends or family members who are curious, questioning, or even turned off by Christianity to watch online or join in the discussion forum.

We’re excited about this great opportunity to explore and share our faith with one another and with others!

Sermon Topics

September 6 “Is the Bible really true?”

September 13 “God is out to get you!”

September 20 “Does Jesus matter?”

September 27 “Are you saved?”

October 4 “Where is heaven?”

October 11 “God’s favorite people”

October 18 “Who does God want you to vote for?”

October 25 “What keeps God up at night?”

November 1 “Is God transgender?”

November 8 “The end is near!”

November 15 “God’s economic stimulus plan”

November 22 “Is Christianity dying?”


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Pastoral Letter

Dear People of God,

As I sat down to write this letter to you, one of the best-known opening lines of a novel came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I’m sure you recognize that line from the opening chapter of Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Most of us have not lived through what many are saying about our current circumstances, describing them as the “worst of times.” We are indeed living in unusual and troubling times. On the other hand, in the midst of a pandemic and political unrest, many good things are happening. We see the best of human nature being revealed in many ways—medical personnel, caregivers, teachers, and many others who give sacrificially of themselves and their resources. Many of them are quite literally putting their lives on the line. Others are speaking out against injustice and racism, calling our nation to account for how we treat the vulnerable and marginalized.

Taking a more microcosmic view, since our founding in 1990, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church has never endured an extended period of time when we could not meet in person for worship, formation, meetings, and fellowship. When the bishop ordered the shutdown of all church buildings in mid-March, I put a sign on the door of the building stating, “The building is closed.” The words were chosen intentionally, because we have been operating under the assumption that although the building is closed, the Church is not!

I am writing to give you a brief update on how we have stepped into being The Church since March 15. As a member of the parish, I ask you to set aside a few minutes to read this entire letter and the attachments. It’s an occasion to celebrate and give thanks for God’s work in and through us, and also to prayerfully consider ways you can continue to support and be engaged in the ministry of this parish.

While most of what you read below involves events, activities, and doing the business of the Church, these things are not what have been most significant in our parish life over the past few months. I’ve observed a renewed commitment to communal prayer, a real hunger for Christian fellowship and the Sacraments, and a desire to grow deeper in faith. Folks have reached out to ask how they can serve and assist those in our parish who might need help. Our leaders have approached the challenges caused by the pandemic with energy, creativity, and passion. Conversations in small groups and Bible studies have been rich, with a healthy, life-giving vulnerability.

Jesus told us that he would build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Spirit of God has been, and is, at work among us doing just that: building up the Church and bringing about more fully God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace–not only in us, but in our community. Not even a pandemic can prevail against the in-breaking of God’s kingdom among us.

Since this pandemic began, I have thought often about Winston Churchill’s speeches to the United Kingdom during World War II. At a very dark time during the war, he gave a critical speech in which he urged his fellow citizens to resist despair and stay strong. He ended that speech by saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

I do believe that this can be one of our finest hours as the people of God known as Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. God is with us and will give us what we need to do the work he has given us to do, and to be the people he has called us to be.

Faithfully yours,

Fr. Steve+

What has been happening in our parish since March 15?

Our last Sunday of in-person worship was March 8, the day the Guatemala Mission Team flew home. Because of the excellent work of the staff and a few lay volunteers, we were able to begin offering online worship the very next Sunday, March 15. We’ve learned a lot since we began, and I think the quality of the online services has improved every Sunday. We are investing in a more professional grade video/audio live-streaming system, which will greatly improve the audio and video online feed. We began offering outdoor in-person worship in July, which has required quite a bit of preparation and administrative detail.

During the week, we began offering Morning Prayer and Compline. To date, we’ve hosted over 200 mid-week services! I am grateful for Joe O’Neil, Carol and Doug Stamper, and Charissa Bradstreet who, along with me, have been leading the services twice a day, five days a week.

Other highlights include:

  • A Regathering Task Force was created to do research and make recommendations on how to offer worship and open the preschool in accordance with government and diocesan guidelines as safely as possible.
  • The Facilities Team has kept the building and grounds maintained, as well as doing research on video equipment, overseeing cleaning in the building, evaluating our HVAC system, and, working with the Regathering Task Force to conduct a deep clean of the building in March.
  • The men’s fellowship breakfast group moved online, as well as the two women’s groups. I began a weekly Bible study on the Gospel of John. Youth continued to meet via Zoom on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.
  • We said goodbye to Rev. Chris and Rick Jillard and welcomed Charissa Bradstreet, our pastoral associate for formation.
  • The Vestry has continued meeting monthly and deeply engaged in the work of the three priorities set forth at their retreat earlier in the year. They have done really good, faithful work over the past few months.
  • The Faith in Action Commission, along with the Vestry work group, has met regularly and is about to make a major announcement about the new education scholarship fund.
  • A team of vestry members and others formed contact groups to keep parishioners updated on parish events and to offer help and support.
  • Financially, pledge giving has been steady and on track. Due to the generosity of our congregation, over $20,000 was given to boost the Rector’s Discretionary fund for COVID-19 relief and we have raised 93% of the $20,000 needed for the creation of the new baptismal font.

What should we expect in the fall?

My initial response is “who knows?” We are literally taking this one week at a time, just like you. With that said, we have done lots of planning for the fall. All of it, of course, is subject to change or modification should circumstances change due to the pandemic.

  • God willing, we will return to a modified form of indoor worship in September. Seating will be limited, but we believe we can do it safely. Our plan for resuming indoor worship meets and exceeds the state’s guidelines and was approved by our diocesan chancellor. The current plan is to offer two worship services on Sunday, both limited to 35 persons at each service. Service times will be 9am and 10:30am. The later service will be offered online, as we have been doing.
  • Beginning September 5, we will begin a new sermon series entitled “Christianity: A Faith of Paradoxes.” In this series, we will explore both the core teachings of the Christian faith and current social issues from our Anglican/Episcopal perspective. In this series we will attempt to address two questions: 1) What differentiates our understanding of the Christian faith from other expressions you’ve observed in our culture? and 2) How can we talk to others about those distinctions in a way that is reasoned and grace-filled? Topics include the Bible, the nature of God, Jesus, sexuality, politics, and racism.
  • Formation for all ages will be offered online until Phase 3. Adult formation will begin on September 13 and will be held after the 10:30am service on Zoom. We will dig deeper into the sermon topic for the day and have plenty of time for questions and discussion. Articles and videos about the topics will be sent out in the Weekly E-News on Thursdays. Children and youth formation will be offered in some creative ways online. Contact Charissa Bradstreet for details (charissa@goodsamepiscopal.org)
  • Consecration of the Baptismal Font and Bishop’s Visitation is set for Saturday, November 7, at 2pm. A preparation class for those desiring confirmation, reception, baptism or renewal of baptismal vows will be offered beginning the last week of September.

What are the challenges we face as a parish?

As we began 2020, all of us were faced with challenges we never expected. That is certainly true for the parish, as well. As I see it, we face three primary challenges as a parish:

  1. The first is engagement: making sure that we’re doing all we can to help all our members stay engaged in the life and ministry of the Church. Many of us have Zoom and Facebook fatigue! Watching services online or attending a Zoom meeting is just not the same as being present physically.
  2. The second is safety: making sure that we are strictly observing all the safety and health guidelines in our preschool, office, and services. This requires a great deal of work on the part of the staff, the facilities team, and the Regathering Task Force. The good news is that we’re doing a great job at this, thanks to the hard work of these groups.
  3. The third challenge is finances. We were fortunate in that we were able to obtain a Payroll Protection Program grant, which helped offset some loss in income. Because the enrollment in our preschool had to be reduced in order to meet state guidelines, and because of the loss of facilities rental income, our 2020 income will be reduced by approximately $35,000-40,000. The finance committee is working hard to deal with this deficit, but we will all need to do our part to make sure the parish is financially healthy this year and next.

How can I support our parish over the next few months?

  • Participate in worship either in person or online. Your presence is an encouragement to others!
  • Invite friends and relatives to watch the services online. We’re going to pull out all the stops to advertise the fall series because we want to get out our message about God’s Way of Love. You can put up a yard sign in your yard advertising the sermon series; those will be available in just a few days.
  • Volunteer to serve the parish in some way. We need more hands and heads engaged than ever before! To start, consider serving as a greeter or usher at outdoor services.
  • Give generously of your financial resources. Keep your pledge up to date, if you pledged. If you didn’t pledge or you are not currently giving, give. Give generously. Start praying about your pledge for 2021.
  • Pray for your parish. Pray for me, your staff, and your lay leaders that would make wise decisions as we navigate these strange times. Pray for and encourage one another.

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Remembering Jane Harrell

Jane Harrell, a member of our parish, passed away last Wednesday, August 5. Jane joined our parish about two years ago and immediately jumped right into parish life! She was a member of the choir, EfM, and was elected to the vestry in January 2020. Recently she became involved in the work of the Faith in Action Commission and was a strong advocate for establishing a scholarship fund to serve local underprivileged young persons seeking to improve their lives through education.
 
Jane was a woman of strong and deep faith. Before coming to us, she was an active member of the Methodist church. As many of you know, it was just a few weeks ago that she was diagnosed with cancer. Because the cancer was in an advanced stage and an aggressive form, we knew that her time here with us would be short. Jane responded to the news with a tremendous measure of grace, courage, and faith. In her final days, she expressed her love for and trust in God, and her love for this parish. She found a home here at Good Samaritan, and many of us had the privilege of knowing her well. She will be missed.
 
Our faith teaches us that at death, life has not ended but changed. Jane is at peace now and with God. She has joined that great cloud of witnesses that the writer of the book Hebrews tells us is cheering us on in our own journey of faith.
 
Jane is survived by a sister, her two children (Miller and Laura) and their spouses, and several grandchildren.
 
We want to make you aware of three ways to celebrate the life our friend:
  1. Attending in-person worship on August 16 (in person or online)
  2. Sharing remembrances and prayers with the parish on MyGoodSam
  3. Giving to Good Sam’s new Educational Scholarship Fund, which Jane helped create.
Read below for the details on all three of these options.

Attend Outdoor Worship on August 16

It was Jane’s desire that in light of the pandemic a burial service not be held but rather prayers be offered for her and her family during a Sunday service of Holy Eucharist. This Sunday, August 16, we will remember and honor Jane at our 10:30 am outdoor service of Holy Eucharist.
 
We will offer the Eucharist in thanksgiving for her life and witness and bless the hats she knitted for distribution this winter at Issaquah Meals. The service will be offered online on our Facebook page, as usual. Registration is required for those choosing to attend the service in person.
 

Share Your Remembrances in MyGoodSam

Since we will not be gathering in person to celebrate and remember Jane, we have set up a group in MyGoodSam so that anyone can share a story or a prayer for Jane with the parish.
 
Click the button below to go directly to the group. You may have to log in to MyGoodSam, but once you do, simply click the button in the top right corner that says “Join the Group.” To post messages, you can click on the MESSAGES tab and then the “New Message” button. Everyone in the group will receive the message.
 

The Good Samaritan Education Scholarship Fund

Several months ago, the Good Samaritan Faith-in-Action Committee set out to identify how we might help address inequities in our community, many of which are particularly acute in this time of unsettled and changing social dynamics. Our focus was sharpened by the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the renewed national conversation about racism and, in particular, its economic injustice component. We found ourselves increasingly drawn to creating opportunities to positively impact the lives of youth who are struggling to better themselves with limited available resources.
 
Working with Friends of Youth and The Lake Washington Institute of Technology, we are in the process of establishing a scholarship focused on disadvantaged youth of color who are ready to take a step toward advancing their learning and furthering vocational skills.
 
Jane Harrell, who spent a lifetime contributing to the betterment of those less fortunate in her community, was a member of the vestry work group focusing on mission and was instrumental in helping us understand the need among disadvantaged youth of color, and how even a small contribution can profoundly change lives. It is in this spirit that we have created the Good Samaritan Church Faith-in-Action Education Scholarship Fund, with our 2020–2021 grant in memory of our friend, Jane Harrell.
 
Jane and her family have requested that those wishing to honor Jane’s memory contribute to this scholarship fund. Contributions can be made by
  • sending checks to Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, with “Harrell” or “scholarship fund” in the memo line
  • giving online, using the button below. Choose the “Education Scholarship Fund” on the giving page.
For more information, contact Fr. Steve or any member of the Faith in Action Commission.
 

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Protocols for Outdoor Worship

Key Highlights

If you read nothing else, read this:
  • You are invited to join us for in-person outdoor worship in the parking lot on August 2 at 10:30 am.
  • Strict social distancing rules will be in effect, including masks, (see below), but if you are in the high-risk category, please stay home.
  • Registration is required to attend.
  • A checklist for attendees is at the bottom of this email.
 

Your Questions Answered

Here are some things you should know about the service.
 
Is it safe to gather, even outdoors?
For the August 2 worship service, and for all future in-person worship, we will follow the guidelines and directives of our health officials and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. Every precaution will be taken to ensure the health and safety of those who attend. Persons who are in a high-risk group, have fever, or any other symptoms related to COVID-19, should not attend. All attendees are asked to maintain social distancing (at least six feet) and a mask must be worn at all times. For those who do not come, we will livestream the service on Facebook as usual.
 
How will we gather?
We will gather in the parking lot and on the lawn directly in front of the main entrance to the church. Ushers will greet each car in the drive to give directions and instructions. We are committed to doing this as safely as possible. If you are planning to come, please share in the work of preparation by taking time to read through the following details:
  • We need everyone who plans to attend to register in advance online. This will help us know how many people to expect and how to set up the space where you or your family will be sitting.
  • As you drive onto the church property, an usher will greet you while you remain in your car, give you instructions about parking, and record your attendance. We are required to keep a list of all who attend the service in case there is a need for contact tracing.
  • Approximately 10 parking spaces will be available for individuals/families to park in and remain in their cars during the service. These spaces will be first come, first served based on the online registration process. We are offering this option especially for those who want to attend but may need an extra layer of social distancing.
  • The circle, lawn, and parking lot space near the main entrance will be cordoned off. Chalk circles marked for social distancing will indicate where you can sit. Circles will be marked for individuals, couples, and families. The church will NOT provide seating, so bring your own lawn chairs or blankets. Ushers or greeters will direct you to a spot when you arrive.
  • All worshipers must wear a face mask during the service, except children under age 10.

 

What about sanitation and restrooms?
  • The restrooms will be open for emergency situations. Before the service begins, the protocol will be described and an usher will be on hand to direct you. Only one person will be allowed in each restroom at a time (children may be accompanied by a parent). Instructions for safe practices will be posted in the restrooms.
  • Hand sanitation stations will be set up. You’re encouraged to bring hand sanitizer with you, if possible.
  • Remember to wash your hands regularly, especially if you’ve come into contact with surfaces not under your control.

 

What will the service be like?
  • The liturgy will be Holy Eucharist, Rite II and communion will be served to the congregation.
  • The service bulletin will be sent out a few days in advance, so we encourage everyone to download the bulletin on an electronic device or print a copy at home and bring it with you. We will have a limited number of bulletins at the service for visitors or those who forget, but in order to be as safe as possible, it’s best if you bring your own.
  • We will have a sermon and music. Offering stations will be provided, and you’ll receive instructions on how to leave an offering before the service begins.
  • The Peace will be offered during the service. Please don’t touch anyone outside your household! Waves or bows are appropriate.
  • Instructions for receiving Holy Communion (wafer only) will be given at the Offertory.  
  • The service will be informal, so feel free to bring coffee and/or snacks. All we ask is that you be respectful with your refreshments during the service and clean up your space when you depart.
  • We ask that you limit any socialization with others after the service. We will be dismissing people in small groups so that social distancing can be maintained. The playground will remain closed for health reasons.

 

What if it’s raining?
If the weather is not suitable for outdoor worship, notification will be sent out by 8:00 am via email that the 10:30 am outdoor service has been cancelled. Regardless of whether the outdoor service is cancelled, the service will be offered on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as usual.
 
Does this mean we are beginning in-person services again?
Yes, our plans are to begin in-person services soon. Because of state and diocesan restrictions, the number of participants is limited to 40 persons. Pre-registration is required. More information to come this Sunday and next week.
 

Attendance Checklist

  • Register online for the service.
  • Print a copy of the bulletin at home and bring it with you, or download it on a device.
  • Check your temperature, if possible, before coming to church. If you’re not feeling well, stay home.
  • Bring your mask, an umbrella (for shade), lawn chairs or blankets, a jacket, and hand sanitizer.
  • Bring your offering (unless you contribute online).
  • Bring coffee, water, or snacks, if you’d like.

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Introducing Charissa Bradstreet

Dear sisters and brothers,
 
You may recall that after Fr. Brian’s curacy at Good Samaritan ended in August 2019, I began the search for a person to give leadership to our formation ministries for children and youth, as well as assist me in the pastoral and worship leadership of the parish. As the search continued and I engaged in many conversations with parishioners and did some additional research and discernment, it became clear to me that the position’s scope of work needed to be expanded to reflect a more wholistic and comprehensive approach to Christian formation in our parish. So, the position of Pastoral Associate for Formation was created.
 
In November of 2019, I met a lively, smart young lady at the Commission on Ministry’s discernment retreat. I began talking with Charissa Bradstreet about her gifts and vocational calling and how that might intersect with the leadership our parish needed now in the area of formation. After many conversations, an interview with our vestry’s youth and families work group, and the blessing of Bishop Rickel, I have extended a call to her. Charissa will join our staff on June 1, which was the projected date for the funding of a new hire in our 2020 ministry budget.
 
Charissa will be half-time through the end of the year. God willing (and the bishop, too!) she will be ordained a transitional deacon with the possibility of becoming our curate in December 2020. Charissa will work to develop the programs and guide the leaders of our children, youth, and families formation ministries. She will also work with me on adult formation programs, confirmation preparation, baptism preparation, and give leadership to the women’s groups that have been formed. We hope to strengthen ministries to parents, as well as every age group of the congregation.
 
I am beyond excited that Charissa is coming to serve at Good Sam. You will love her wit, intellect, and winsome personality. Above all, she loves the Lord and has a deep sense of calling to be a pastor and priest. Please read her introductory letter, and stay tuned for the date and time of a get-to-know you Zoom forum.
 
Faithfully,
Fr. Steve+

More about Charissa

by Charissa Bradstreet
 
Back in January, I had the opportunity to come and worship at Good Samaritan. From the time I walked through the door to the time I left I was stunned by the kindness of the greetings that I received as a visitor. I am filled with excitement as I anticipate becoming a part of the Good Samaritan community, joining you with a focus on supporting formation across all ages and nurturing your spiritual leadership skills as we all live even more deeply into our gifts!
 
This week I was facilitating a conversation with a group at St. Paul’s, where I currently intern, and was floored when one of the participants had a moment of insight. The gospel suddenly came alive for him and he put words to what he was beginning to think might be God’s call and promise to humanity (and to him). What he named struck him as almost too good to be true. At the end of the Zoom call I realized that my face was flushed with joy; I love it when learning ignites excitement about who God is and what God longs for us to see and know for ourselves, and when it motivates subtle but profound adjustments to the way we live together. As a faith community we get to be companions with each other on the journey, and midwives for insights that will be birthed as we tend to each other’s questions and explorations. My sense is that Good Samaritan has a healthy and vibrant foundation for living into big questions and tending to each other’s spiritual needs.
 
Since we can’t meet now in person, I’d love to share some things to help you get to know me. Faith was woven throughout my family’s way of engaging life. We prayed at mealtimes and at bedtime, worshipped at church every Sunday, shared openly about our day and where we saw God, and practiced hospitality by inviting people from church home for lunch. When I was five, I accepted Jesus into my heart (as a good Evangelical child does). My father ensured that my young commitment grew in knowledge, overseeing various forms of Bible study throughout my childhood. Reading books aloud created a love for narrative that now shapes how I read the Bible and preach.
 
In my twenties I joined a Presbyterian church that provided ample opportunities for theological study, often with seminary faculty. I started to see women in leadership – not something I had experienced before. At thirty I went to seminary – and was encouraged to deconstruct some evangelical assumptions and discover new ways of reading the Bible. I found it energizing. My theological and counseling studies provided a more generous understanding of the gospel and the human condition, and I felt a call toward ordained ministry. Although I came very close to completing requirements for ordination with the Presbyterian Church (USA), I eventually found a theological home in the Episcopal Church. I have been a member of Epiphany Parish since 2009, preaching, teaching, and helping lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land. I entered discernment for the priesthood a couple years ago and am concluding an internship at St. Paul’s where I have been facilitating adult formation, including a Sacred Ground discussion group on issues of race and faith.
 
I enjoy traveling, reading, painting icons, cooking, watching BBC mysteries, and writing. In 2015 I went on a group retreat in Northern Ireland to learn about the work of reconciliation in the context of the Troubles. That trip, along with my first Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, has underscored my enduring interest in the redemptive possibility of reconciliation.
I can’t wait to join you in your mission to invite all people into a life-long journey with Christ, forming them to love God and neighbor and engage the world with God’s love and grace. If you like, you are welcome to introduce yourselves by email.

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From the Rector: The Easter Message

Sermon for Easter, April 12, 2020
By The Rev. Dr. Steve Danzey
Good Samaritan Episcopal Church
 
John 20:1–18
 
You may or may not remember the television series The New Normal, which aired for one season back in 2012–13. The storyline follows a wealthy Los Angeles gay couple, Bryan and David, who want to have a baby. They meet Goldie Clemmons, a waitress and single mother, who decides to become their surrogate, and she and her 9-year-old daughter move in with Bryan and David, forming a family outside what is considered the “norm.” This show, much like the TV series, Modern Family, satirized and critiqued what our culture considered “normal.”
 
In case you haven’t noticed, in recent days the word “normal” has probably become the most overused word in our national and personal conversations. “When will things get back to normal?” We ask. Or, in light of the pandemic, “What is the new normal?”
 
Mostly, I’ve heard, and I’ve said it and longed for it myself, “When can we just get back to normal?” “When can things get back to the way they were before all of this COVID-19 pandemic?”
 
I wonder, however, if the events through which we are now living and the event we celebrate this day offer us the opportunity to envision something more than getting back to normal, perhaps a new normal that has the potential to make the world a better place—more in tune with God’s dream for the creation. But because of something in our human psyche, the impulse to return and stay with what is familiar, predictable is strong; especially for those of us who are control freaks, which I am not. I’m a “control enthusiast!”
 
In John’s version of the first Easter, Jesus has not been dead for more than a few hours and the disciples are trying to adjust to life without Jesus and gain some sense of control over their own destiny. Mary Magdalene, however, ignores the stay at home order and ventures out to find the tomb empty. She does what any one of us would do, attempts to find an explanation that is reasonable and what anybody with any sense would conclude:
 
“Someone has taken Jesus’ body away. I know it was in there, because I was here on Friday when Joseph and Nicodemus helped us bury the body. I know—the officials who wanted him dead have delivered yet another blow—they’ve stolen his body. What other explanation could there be?”
 
Then Mary tells Peter and presumably John, who race to the tomb to verify what Mary has told them. What happens next is almost comical. John believes—Scripture doesn’t even tell us what he believed, but it couldn’t have been earth shattering, because the final sentence in that part of the story tells as that they went back to their homes. What on earth did they do when they got home? Cook breakfast, surf the internet? I get the sense they were dealing with their grief, fear, and shattered dreams and just wanted to go home and return to some sense of normality, or at least a place where they felt in control.
 
Bless Mary’s heart, she is struggling and troubled because she senses that something is not quite right. While the men skulk back home to check the stock market reports, Mary bravely returns to the tomb. Was the cause of here weeping a mixture of grief over her loss and frustration with a system that would not only kill a good man but desecrate his body.
 
And then it happens. The old normal is shattered, and though there is a sense of continuity with what was before, something happens that changes everything. The gardener says her name. “How did he know my name?,” Mary wonders, and then the old normal is gone forever and the new normal has begun. “It’s the Teacher; it’s Jesus!” She does what any one of us would have done, and, oh, how we long to do it in these days of social distancing. She reaches out to wrap her arms around him.
 
“Don’t hold on to me,” Jesus says, “I’ve got people to see, things to do, and places to be, and so do you!” It’s okay to grieve the loss of what was, Mary, but now it’s time to let go and embrace the new normal—the Resurrection normal.”
 
What does this current crisis and Easter Day 2020 say to us who are grieving the loss of what was normal and wondering what the new normal might be? What about the old normal should we let go? What are the possibilities for transformation wrapped in the caccoon of our current crisis that will enable us, if we are open to them, to live more fully into God’s intention for the human race and all of creation?
 
The book of Acts, which we’ll hear in church for the next few weeks, sets forth distinction between a world that wants to back to normal, back to a world without Jesus, and this growing group of Jesus-followers who have tasted the new normal of Resurrection life and refuse to go back to the way things were before.
 
The political and religious powers of the day did everything in their power to go back to the old normal, which at its heart was the attempt to maintain their control of the economy, politics, and religion. The followers of Jesus, however, energized by the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, choose to live in the new normal—the Easter normal. They make bold decisions to be inclusive; they sacrifice their reputation and their very lives; they give generously so that everyone in the community shares in the abundance of God.
 
Sisters and brothers, there are things about life the way it was before this crisis that are worth grieving over. I grieve with high school and college seniors who won’t be able to finish out their senior year. I weep with families who cannot hold the hands of their dying loved ones. I mourn that we could not celebrate Holy Week and Easter gathered in one place as a community of faith.
 
But there are some things about the old normal over which I will not grieve if we choose to let them go.
 
I will not grieve if we choose to put in the past the growing disparity between the rich and the poor that has become the norm for this nation. I will not grieve if we choose to let go of a broken healthcare system, where people cannot get quick treatment and die because they do not have health insurance. I will not grieve if Christians in our nation choose to let go of our obsession with political power, prosperity and celebrity so that we cannot do what Jesus told us to do: love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbors as ourselves.
 
I do not want to go back to the old normal of politics as usual, the disparaging of people and minorities in the public forum, and the disregard for truth and justice that has become all too common. Please, let us not go back to the old normal of over-scheduling ourselves and our children to the point that we can barely find time to breathe. Let us not go back to the old normal of taking our relationships, our vocations, and our faith for granted. Let us grieve over some things that we have lost during this time in history, but let us, for God’s sake and our own, choose to let go of things we know are dividing us, degrading our humanity, killing us and reeking havoc on God’s creation.
 
Thanks be to God, there are signs all around us that cracks are appearing the edifice of the old normal.
 
Did you read the news reports that folks living in northern India can see the Himalayas again because of the drop in emissions? Wildlife is returning the the canals of Venice. We are learning the names of next door neighbors. I see the Easter normal at work right here in our own faith community—people checking on one another, offering help, giving generously, worshiping faithfully.
 
Families have the time to work on puzzles and play board games. We have time to read novels, and take long walks, and check to see if the widow up the street needs Kleenex or toilet paper. Folks are returning to faith, or at least open to deepening their spiritual life, and realizing that their relationship to God is actually an essential part of their well-being.
 
Alan Lightman, a physicist who teaches at MIT, wrote in The Atlantic last week:
 
…there is something more to be regained [in this crisis], something more subtle, more delicate, almost impossible even to name. That is the restoration of our inner selves. By inner self, I mean that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me. My inner self is my true freedom. My inner self roots me to me, and to the ground beneath me. …perhaps the slower lifestyle in these months can help put the pieces [of our broken selves] back together. And perhaps a more contemplative, deliberate way of living can become permanent.
(“The Virus Is A Reminder of Something We Lost Long Ago,” The Atlantic, April 1, 2020)
 
The late poet John O’Donohue writes:
 
“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.”
(Excerpt from the blessing, ‘For One Who is Exhausted’ from To Bless The Space Between Us)
 
That Easter falls right smack dab in the middle of this pandemic is worth pondering. If God can bring new life and new creation out of the death, disappointment, and disaster of the Passion Week of Jesus, what might happen if we choose to live in the new normal that is possible on the other side or our own Passion experience? What new thing might God be up to? What new and wonderful things could be birthed in our own lives, our families, our church, our nation?
 
I love how the Easter story ends. Mary runs back to where the disciples are hunkered down in their old normal. The text tells us she announces, she declares “I have seen the Lord!” She is the first apostle of the new normal—Easter, Resurrection normal.
 
The good news of this particular Easter Day is that even in our grieving and weeping God is with us, not chiding us because of our tears but calling us—each one of us, by name—to see through our tears the vision of a new normal that started 2000 years ago in a garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And not just to see it, but to embrace it and let it take root in our hearts so that we, too, like Mary, can shout to the world this day: “I have seen the Lord!”
 
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

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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.
Amen.

With love for all of you,
Fr. Steve+


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